Schools are closing and Fridays at the office are getting emptier, which can only mean one thing—it’s time for your summer vacation. I’ve rounded up 10 affordable summer vacations for this year, including two bucket-list trips that are more accessible than they’ve ever been.
The Most Affordable Summer Vacations This Year
Grab your favorite travel companions and get to booking these cheap summer vacations. Warning: the savings won’t last.
Summer is arguably the best time for a European vacation because of the great weather and easy accessibility, but popular cities are crowded and expensive. Check out Albania as an alternative to pricey Mediterranean destinations. While direct airline routes are hard to come by from the U.S., Tirana (the country’s main international airport) recently opened up routes with Wizz Air, and has affordable fares from London-area airports for under $200 round-trip.
G Adventures is also offering 15 percent off select European tours, some which feature multiple stops in Albania, including the coastal town of Saranda. Or, head to the port city of Durres (about 45 minutes from Tirana), where four- and five-star accommodations are well under $100 per night.
With mild weather and plenty of museums to explore, Denver is a family-friendly and affordable summer vacation this year. According to WalletHub’s Best Places to Visit in Summer, Denver ranks sixth, earning a spot for its low travel costs and minimal hassles. KAYAK’s 2018 Travel Hacker guide also lists median airfare to Denver under $250 round-trip from the U.S. and Canada for the summer months, and median hotel nightly rates around $150. Flights found on Fareness are cheapest ($145 round-trip) from Los Angeles and New York City ($182) in September.
Snag deals while you’re exploring Denver with the newly launched CityPASS, featuring 30 percent savings on attractions like the Downtown Aquarium, Denver Zoo, and Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.
For more on Denver, check out the SmarterTravel Denver destination guide.
San Antonio, Texas
Embrace the summer heat with an affordable summer vacation to Texas’ emerging city, San Antonio. Plenty of free attractions, including The Alamo, plus low costs for food and drink make it an affordable summer vacaiton. Round-trip airfare averages around $300 round-trip from both Los Angeles and New York City for the summer months.
San Antonio also serves as a great starting point for a Texas road-trip or multi-city trip with one dollar bus fares to Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Don’t miss a spectacular 4th of July celebration along the River Walk and the free jazz concert series on Fridays at the outdoor Amphitheater at Wonderland of the Americas.
Washington, D.C., Metro Area
D.C. is WalletHub’s top destination for summer travel this year, and with average domestic airfare at $300 to DCA for the season, you can travel to the city cheaply from almost any U.S. city, with the least expensive month for airfare in September. If you live in the Northeast, look into Amtrak’s summer fare deals on the Acela Express (up to a 25 percent saving) or one dollar bus fares between D.C. and New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. An abundance of free attractions—including all of the Smithsonian museums and the zoo—keep costs low without sacrificing fun.
For more on Washington D.C., make sure to check out the SmarterTravel Washington D.C. destination guide.
If Tanzania’s Zanzibar is on your bucket list, don’t wait to book this summer vacation at an affordable rate. While it’s difficult to get to, Intrepid is offering 30 percent off its Zanzibar Spice Islands Sailing Adventure this summer, which works out to be under $200 per day per person.
For the most savings, fly into Dar es Salaam via a stopover in Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, Abu Dhabi with Etihad, or Dubai with Emirates. This way, you can get two vacations for the price of one flight … since you’ll already be spending a decent amount on airfare. Once you’re in the Tanzania port city, you can take a 90-minute ferry for $35 to Zanzibar.
Another affordable European destination for this summer is Budapest. Here, you’ll get two cities for the price of one—Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. With new routes from American Airlines launching this summer to/from Philadelphia, competition is driving airfare prices down. Average airfare from New York and Boston for the summer is under $700 round-trip; I also found deals under $600 round-trip from Chicago.
Once on the ground, U.S. travelers will find a favorable exchange rate to the Hungarian Forint, including drinks are especially cheap (think a few dollars for beer and wine). European travelers can save as well: Budapest earns the third spot on the list of most affordable city breaks for Londoners by London Luton Airport this year. For the most savings on accommodations, stay in Buda, rather than Pest. You won’t be in the city center, but still are close to nearby attractions via walking or the tram.
And if you’re planning on visiting a few other European countries or cities this summer, look into getting a budget-friendly Eurail pass. Depending on your destinations, you can save on things like ferry tickets, hostels, and even city passes with your rail card.
If you’re located on the West Coast, this year is one of the most affordable times to head to Tahiti. Why? This May, French budget airline Frenchbee launched nonstop service from San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti (PPT). Searches for summer airfare yield results well under $1,000 round-trip, which is unheard of for this exotic destination. Travel in August to take advantage of fares under $750 round-trip. United will also fly directly to the South Pacific islands starting in October of this year, meaning prices will continue to be competitive through the fall.
For accommodations, look to save by staying in a Tahitian Guesthouse, or pension. These family-operated lodgings provide a more authentic glimpse into Tahitian culture without an expensive price tag. Many prepare meals in the house kitchen and offer excursions, like pearl diving with a local guide. With only a few rooms or bungalows onsite, you get a more intimate (and less expensive) experience than you’ll find at larger resorts.
San Juana del Sur, Nicaragua
If you’re looking for an affordable but exotic beach getaway, check out Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast. Often overlooked by U.S. travelers, Nicaragua is only a three-hour flight from Atlanta and has a very favorable exchange rate ($1 USD to C$31 NIO). You’ll find San Juana del Sur about an hour-and-a-half drive from the main city of Managua.
With flights less than $500 round-trip this summer from cities like Atlanta, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Toronto, and Vancouver (or even under $250 from Fort Lauderdale), summer is an affordable time to visit before the rainy season hits the hardest in October.
For accommodations, stay at the jungle hotel, TreeCasa Resort, which offers free guided hikes and daily yoga. Summer is the cheapest season with rates starting at $99 per night.
San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
You’ll find savings and a favorable exchange rate in Mexico this summer—Squaremouth reports the average cost of a Mexico summer vacation as the lowest cost of international destinations. Skip out on party-centric Cabo San Lucas and head to “the other Cabo,” San Jose del Cabo, instead. Low airfare to Cabo stands out this season; the average cost of a round-trip flight to/from Los Angeles is around $300 and $500 to/from New York City.
Located close to the airport and with a town center that still maintains its charm and local artistry, San Jose is filled with galleries and even a brewery. If you’re looking to just spend a few days at a resort or lounge by the pool, San Jose has plenty affordable resorts, many with happy hour specials and package deals.
While the weather and crowds are at their peak, median airfare and nightly hotel rates are lower this summer in Orlando. The amusement park mecca takes WalletHub’s second spot for best places to visit this summer and KAYAK’s third spot for wallet-friendly destinations. Median round-trip airfare from U.S. and Canadian destinations is about $200, and nightly hotel rates hovering around $125.
If you’re looking to save money when going to Orlando’s amusement parks, look to travel in September during midweek and stay at a non-affiliated park hotel or one of the area’s campgrounds. Other money-saving tips for the parks include budgeting in a non-park day and instead relaxing at your hotel’s pool. If you’re a AAA member, you may also be entitled to hotel discounts and special packages with Universal Studios.
Other money-saving ideas include flying into another airport, like Miami—for under $40 (one-way) you can travel between Orlando and Miami with Amtrak’s Saver Fares. Beyond the parks, check out Orlando’s up-and-coming food scene, plentiful zoos and museums, or Old Town USA, a walking district for shopping and dining in Kissimmee.
For more on Orlando, make sure to check out the SmarterTravel Orlando destination guide.