Cheap Summer Vacation Ideas That Are Fun Too!

Sun… sand… road trips…

… and debt?

Seems like somewhere along the line we got it in our heads that summer vacations were a “must”, even when we can’t really afford them.

Why rack up debt to go on vacation when you can have a whole lot of fun on a cheap summer vacation without burning through a whole lot of cash?

With a little planning and preparation, you can have a blast this summer AND stay on your budget. After all, your big goals are much more important than a week of steel drum music or theme parks. There’s no reason you can’t make your cheap summer vacation fit your budget rather than trying to warp your budget (or blow up your credit cards) to accommodate a overambitious vacation.

The way we see it, there are three main ways you spend the bulk of your money on vacation: getting there, staying there, and eating.

Here are our expert tips to help you save money on each.


Getting there

Cheap Summer Vacation: Save money by driving instead of flying

  • Drive instead of fly. This may limit the distance you can go, but there are so many cool things to do all around the US! Check out the links at the end of this article for ideas from coast to coast.
  • If you have to fly, shop for airline tickets one at a time. Apparently, airlines (and resellers like Travelocity and Orbitz) group tickets in to “price buckets”. If you are shopping for 4 tickets, the site will start at the lowest “price bucket” and move up one level at a time until it finds a level that has 4 seats in it. If you go one ticket at a time, you will get the maximum number of seats at the lowest price available. If you are traveling with young kids, search for parties of 2 or 3 so each kid is sure to have an adult with them.

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Staying there

Cheap Summer Vacation - Find a place to stay that has a kitchen

  • Choose a hotel about 15 to 20 minutes away from main attraction of your destination. You’ll get better rates and probably enjoy a less crowded hotel.
  • Instead of a hotel, look for condo, apartment, and house rentals at sites like Airbnb, OwnerDirect, and VRBO. You’ll likely pay less than a you would for a hotel and get access to a full kitchen and more room to spread out. Travel with another family to split the bill and save even more.
  • Try to time your trip so the local kids are still in school or already back for the new school year. Why? Vacation destinations are busiest (and charge the highest rates) when the local kids are out of school. Kids in the south and west tend to get out of school in May, so heading to the northeast where kids stay in school until mid-June can save you a bundle. But, kids in the northeast don’t usually go back to school until mid-September, so heading south or west at the end of the summer makes the most financial sense because kids there have already gone back to school.
  • Think waaaaayyyyy off-season. Did you know that ski lodges offer great summer packages for hiking, horseback riding, biking, and other fun outdoorsy activities? The slopes are their big money maker. They need to capture all the business they can when there’s no snow on the ground.

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Eating There

Cheap Summer Vacation - Cook For Yourself

  • Take advantage of free breakfasts at hotels. Yeah… English muffins and DIY waffles get boring, but free food is free food! (And if you take a second to think about it, it’s not really free. The cost of those little cups of yogurt and barely-ripe bananas is built into your bill one way or another.) Eat up and don’t be shy about grabbing an apple or box of cereal for a mid-morning snack on the road.
  • Cook for yourself! Opt for a hotel that has a suite with at least a fridge, wet bar and microwave. Some extended-stay vacation hotels even have a whole kitchenette (like Holiday Inn, Residence Inn, Comfort Suites, among many others.) Eating out three meals a day plus snacks can cost more than your hotel and travel. Making simple meals yourself at least once a day will save hundreds of dollars.
  • Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, you can still pack lunches to bring with you for the day. Just scout out nearby grocery stores for salads, pre-packed lunches for the kids, deli sandwiches, drinks and snacks.
  • Search on line for restaurants that have free kid’s meals. Different restaurants have Kids-Eat-Free specials on different days of the week, so, with a little bit of homework, you may be able to snag free food for the kiddos every day of your vacation! Start by looking here: to search for free kid’s meals by zip code.

Helpful Links to help make your cheap summer vacation awesome:

This post from the Travel Channel has great info about inexpensive family vacations across the US, like a family camp in Maine, beach vacations in Myrtle Beach, SC, an Adventure center in West Virginia, and  more.

The Travel With Kids blog offers 15 tips for saving money on vacation, including how to get deals by staying at brand new resorts, a looooooong list of hotels that have kitchenettes, a gas price tracker, and where to find the best free entertainment.,13007/?page=1

Budget Travel offers reviews of 10 inexpensive places to vacation, including Yellowstone National Park, the Great Smokey Mountains, Chicago, Morro Bay (California), Mackinac Island (Michigan), and others spread across the country.

The Cheapism blog gives practical advice for 10 cheap summer vacation ideas, like backpacking, houseboating, and canoe trips.


If you have any questions, please give us a call at 770-952-5168 or contact us online.

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Like saving money? Here are some other articles you might be interested in…
Save More By Paying Yourself First
19 Ways to Get Out (And Stay Out) Of Debt
How To Make A Million Dollars Like a Turtle (Or: The Story of Compound Interest)

This information is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not as legal advice. If you have concerns about your credit report, harassment, identity theft, illegal collections activity, garnishments, or property liens, you should consult an attorney who specializes in consumer rights and defense.

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