Photo credit: Simon Matzinger / Unsplash
Summer Vacation Ideas That Won't Break the Bank
April 7, 2019
Summer break is the time when most of us get the urge to take a vacation, whether it’s close to home or across an ocean. Some prefer to spend leisurely days just relaxing under the sun, while others want to enjoy action-packed days surrounded by natural beauty. Alas, the hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions at the best summer vacation spots tend to raise their prices during the peak season, putting some of the most enticing summer vacation ideas out of reach for those on a budget. But don’t despair, and certainly don’t rule out the possibility of a summer vacation: There are many cheap summer vacation ideas to consider, and they can be just as enjoyable as any pricey getaway.
Explore National Parks
U.S. National Parks, by definition, protect the most magnificent natural treasures in the country and open them up to visitors for a nominal entrance fee. This combination of big-ticket appeal and low-budget access makes national parks ideal destinations for a low-cost vacation, especially if you opt to stay at a campsite rather than a hotel. More basic in-park and park-adjacent lodging can be inexpensive, as well, but be sure to book early as summer is always peak season.
The National Park Service has properties in every state except Delaware, and 27 states feature national parks, putting at least one within reach wherever you’re traveling from. Among the most celebrated are Everglades, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, all UNESCO World Heritage Sites and world-famous destinations. Some of the less-explored national parks, such as Pinnacles in California, the Petrified Forest in Arizona, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, might be better for small-budgeted visitors and anyone who wants to avoid crowds.
Whether it’s a national or state park, nature preserve, or beach, a camping vacation is always easy on the budget, especially if you already own or can borrow a tent and other equipment. Drive-in sites and hike-in sites suit different groups. Those who don’t want the full rustic experience can spend a little more on a glamping trip, which can mean sleeping in a fully furnished cabin or yurt complete with a private bathroom and plush bedding. Daytime activities compatible with camping, such as hiking, beach days, and campfire cooking, are also naturally low-cost. Plus, the value of the experience of spending time surrounded by nature and away from urban life is incomparable.
It’s usually cheaper to take a vacation close to home but crunch the numbers and you might discover an overseas vacation is within reach, as well. Consider destinations where the cost of living is very low. Also look into the costs of basic accommodations, such as those catering to backpackers, or splitting the price of an Airbnb rental with friends. Any lodgings where you can cook your own meals give you the option to save a lot on food. Spending just a few dollars a day in an inexpensive foreign country might leave enough in your budget to cover a flight.
Foreign destinations that are famously inexpensive include Vietnam, Guatemala, Greece, and Bosnia. You might also look into less-visited destinations within any countries that appeal to you. For example, if you can get a cheapish flight to the U.K., stay in Bristol instead of London; for a trip to Canada (which is possible as a road trip for those in northern states), try Calgary or Winnipeg instead of Vancouver or Toronto.
Consider a Cruise
You might not consider taking a cruise to be your thing, but cruise vacations are a great way to travel on a budget. Last-minute deals are ideal for those with flexible schedules, while booking far in advance offers significant savings too. If you live in or near a cruise port, the costs are even lower, as you don’t need to find accommodations immediately before or after the voyage, nor travel long distances on land.
There’s no other way to see multiple destinations in one vacation for a relatively low cost than by cruising. Prices cover your accommodations, transport, food, and drinks, although first-time cruisers should be aware of additional costs, such as tips, Wi-Fi, alcoholic drinks, and some activities. You’ll also want to skip pricey shore excursions in favor of free or low-cost outings in port, such as walking tours, beach days, and visiting parks and historic sites.
Stay Close to Home
“Staycation” sounds like a cutesy name for “no vacation,” but it doesn’t have to be a disappointment. We all tend to skip over even the biggest attractions in our own hometown, and figure we’ll visit places within a day-trip’s distance from home some other time. These places tend to get saved for when you need to entertain out-of-town guests or avoided because you don’t want to mingle with tourists.
Try to change your perspective and pretend to be a tourist in your own home. Search the internet for lists of things to do in your home city or region, and you might be surprised to find some you’ve never heard of along with the better-known sites. When you decide to take a vacation close to home, be sure to clear your calendar and designate one or more days for fun only—no regular chores allowed.
You might spend the day at a theme park or historic landmark. It could be a walking tour of a neighboring city or a picnic in the park. Discover a new hiking trail, hit up a farmer’s market two towns over, or explore an art gallery you read about online. You might just find that the best summer vacation spots are right outside your door.
Written by Joanne Thomas for Knockaround