Cheap Summer Vacations for an Adventure on a Budget

Stephen Sheehan
Jun 18, 2022

Searching for affordable summer vacation options that won’t take a big bite out of your wallet? While rising inflation rates and gas prices have made life more expensive, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your hopes of going on a much-needed getaway. In fact, if you’re willing to think outside the box, your whole family can enjoy a blissful, budget-friendly vacation with zero worries.

Instead of stressing about the costs of round-trip airfare, all-inclusive hotels, and theme park entrance fees, get excited about spending more time in nature and taking advantage of low-cost activities and travel resources.

More importantly, by implementing some simple savings tips, you can set yourself up to have a cheap summer vacation that everyone will reminisce about for years.

Fun and Affordable Summer Vacations

You may be surprised at the number of inspiring vacation spots you can visit that don’t involve expensive costs and hidden fees. You can find plenty of places to go that provide ample opportunities for budget-friendly adventures.

For the ultimate combination of fun and affordability, here are some ideas to consider this summer:

1. Rent an electric vehicle for a road trip

Trying to avoid paying hefty gas bills? Leave your vehicle at home, rent an electric car and get ready for a road trip that’s not only less cost-prohibitive but also better for the environment. With electric vehicles gaining more popularity, there are plenty of free charging stations available across the country.

Looking for ideas on where to go? A multi-day adventure through the south is a great place to start. You can find some terrific campgrounds and hiking trails in Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Plus, you’ll get a chance to taste delicious food and experience the true meaning of southern hospitality!

Or, take a trip to Canada to see what our neighbors north of the border have to offer. (Check your rental agreement to make sure your rental car can go outside of the country!)

2. Make your way to Mexico

While Mexico does have many luxury resorts, it also has much more affordable options. Best of all? Summertime is actually ideal for budget-conscious travelers to cross the border and spend time in this culturally rich country.

You can score serious value from the end of April till mid-December, as prices drop 20-50%. So, if you’re interested in crossing Mexico off your bucket list, the summer months are the prime time to do so.

3. Take a trip to the Caribbean

How can you go wrong with sunny skies and beautiful beaches? (Hint: You can’t!) Like Mexico, the Caribbean is a gorgeous area to visit, especially for those who spend significant portions of the year in cold-weather climates. And like Mexico, the Caribbean can be a great cheap summer vacation destination.

Whether you go with a traditional hotel or find a more affordable Airbnb, it’s easy to have fun without spending a lot of money. All-inclusive deals can help keep costs lower, as you’ll be able to dine and partake in activities at your leisure.

Tip: Make sure you keep an eye on the weather, as hurricane season could make your vacation plans more interesting than intended!

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4. Spend a long weekend in a beach town

Sometimes, peace and tranquility are what we truly need. So, if you want a getaway location that provides both, a quiet beach town most certainly fits the bill.

Typically, they have family-run bars and restaurants that aren’t overpriced, and the friendly atmosphere and calm vibes can be the perfect way to clear your mind and enjoy the moment.

Don't have the cash for a beach hotel? Look for local campgrounds for a budget-conscious option.

5. Book a stay at a bed-and-breakfast

Want the comforts of home without all the work? A bed-and-breakfast is the way to go. Although you may not get the high-end feel of staying at a big-name resort, you will get first-rate service and a chance to spend time with other travelers.

Cheap Summer Vacations for Families

Family vacations are meant to create lasting memories. And it’s entirely possible to accomplish that feat for a fairly low cost.

So, if you’re looking for ideas that’ll keep everyone entertained, here are some places to start:

1. Camping

Whether you stay at a popular campground or go a little more off-grid, camping is a cheap summer vacation for families that can be done just about anywhere.

Not only does it allow you to learn more about nature but it also gives you a chance to unplug from technology and disconnect from the stress of everyday life.

Concerned about a lack of experience? Although many low-income families have not gone camping, there are groups and resources aimed at changing that. For example, Melanated Campout offers a three-day weekend trip that encourages people of color to enjoy the outdoors and fall in love with camping.

Plus, there are other organizations that provide free tents and other equipment to take some of the burden off of low-income travelers’ budgets.

2. National parks and state parks

Summer is a great time for the whole family to visit a national park or state park. These destinations are ideal because they’re fairly inexpensive.

Top ones to consider include:

  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
  • Yosemite National Park (California)
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas)
  • Popham Beach State Park (Maine)
  • Niagara Falls State Park (New York)

3. Water park resorts

It doesn’t get more family-friendly than a local water park. Luckily, the prices are often more affordable than major theme parks.

The kids can have fun all day long, and you can get some much-needed relaxation while floating around the lazy river—with a watchful eye on them still, of course!

Check to see if your local park offers a season pass or student tickets. It can bring the cost down and give your family a destination for the dog days of summer.

4. Budget-friendly cruises

Sure, cruises can be quite expensive. However, you can also find deals that will allow your whole family to enjoy a cheap summer vacation that doesn’t require anyone to lift a single finger.

A weekend Caribbean cruise can be affordable, fun, and most importantly: budget-friendly. Shop around, read reviews, and you could be surprised by what you find.

5. Day hiking locally

Don’t want to deal with vacation rentals? If you have the opportunity, look for places in your area where you can go hiking.

Portland has a variety of breathtaking waterfalls you can explore on a day out. Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is a hiker’s dream. Meanwhile, the view from Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park is truly one of a kind.

Do some research to find hiking destinations you can explore in your area. Don't do forests? Urban hiking may be more your speed.

6. Create your own staycation

You don’t even have to travel to make your summer unforgettable. Instead of sinking money into a hotel room, change things up at home and treat yourself (and your family) to a staycation.

That could involve cooking up delicious recipes together, taking day trips to museums and attractions you’ve never been to before, or having game nights and other activities that involve everyone.

Tip: Want a safe place for your family to enjoy the outdoors? Pitch a tent in your or a friend's backyard and get the experience without the expense. (And access to indoor plumbing.)

Summer Savings Tips to Keep Activities in Budget

When you don’t have a ton of spending power, you need to do everything possible to save where you can. Luckily, there are several ways to ensure your summer vacation won’t go over budget.

Here are some tips to follow that will keep both your family and your bank account satisfied:

1. Make your own meals

Every good summer getaway needs to include delicious food. However, why eat up precious room in your budget when you don’t have to?

Rather than spending money on dining out, make a pre-trip or post-arrival grocery run to get items to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Plus, cooking your meals together can be a fun way for your family to spend quality time together.

2. Keep snacks on hand

Want to save time, money, and potential headaches? Stock up on snacks. Instead of relying on processed ones from drive-throughs, rest stops, or gas stations, make sure you pack healthy options for yourself and the kids.

In addition, have a solid supply of water so everyone can stay hydrated throughout your thrilling, affordable summer vacation.

3. Pack efficiently

If you plan on flying this summer, think about how you’ll fill your suitcase. On top of airfare, you need to consider the cost of carry-on or checked luggage.

Packing efficiently can cut down on the weight, and you may even be able to put clothes for multiple people in a single bag.

This can help you save valuable dollars, giving you more room in your budget to splurge once you arrive at your vacation destination.

4. Look for local deals at your destination

One of the best ways to make the best of your summer travel experience is to get familiar with what you can do once you reach your vacation destination.

Taking a trip to Miami or another part of Florida? Look for deals on kayaking and other water-based activities. Thinking about visiting Colorado? Do some research on local breweries that offer tour packages.

If you’re going to a metropolitan area like Houston or Chicago, instead of pricey nightlife spots, find the best happy hour so you can have fun without spending too much money.

5. Take advantage of travel deals with mobile apps

Another savings tip that takes little effort? Download travel apps like Skyscanner, TripAdvisor, and Kayak. Many companies offer exclusive discounts on their mobile apps as an incentive for users.

Moreover, you can compare airfare and hotel prices and set up alerts to get notified about the latest deals.

6. Use a travel rewards credit card

Want to plan more cheap summer vacations in the future? If you don’t already have one, apply for a travel rewards credit card. Most credit card companies let you earn rewards like airline miles or travel miles based on your purchases.

Once you’ve accumulated enough points, you can redeem them for hotel stays, rental cars, or even flights.

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The Bottom Line

Just because you don’t have the budget for a five-star hotel doesn’t mean you have to lower your standards for your summer vacation.

Whether you discover hidden gems and boutiques in small towns or use Airbnb to score a deal in a major city—like Los Angeles or New York City—you have the power to plan a trip to remember. There are many family-friendly destinations both domestically and abroad that are ideal for cost-conscious folks.

Ultimately, all it takes is some creativity, smart budgeting and an adventurous spirit to make your summer travel dreams come true.

Stephen Sheehan

Stephen Sheehan is an experienced writer and editor with a diverse portfolio. The two-time University of Florida graduate gained a deeper appreciation for his financial health while living abroad, and aims to help others become more financially independent. When he's not writing, Stephen enjoys playing rugby, strumming his guitar, working out, and cooking.

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