Summer is just around the corner, along with it ice cream, short-sleeved shirts, and relaxing vacations. But with airline fuel surcharges, recession threats, and unfavorable exchange rates also looming on the horizon for summer travel, it’s more important than ever to make every vacation dollar count.
A few weeks ago, we asked our readers how they save on their summer vacations. You wrote in with great tips about how to save on everything from Alaska cruises to road trips to the beach. Here are some of our favorites:
Finding affordable accommodations
Accommodations make up a sizable part of most vacation budgets. Choose well and you’ll benefit from way more than a place to sleep.
Families and large groups heading to Disney World can save money by heeding reader Mike R.’s advice: “You can save some bucks by renting nearby vacation homes with private pools and game rooms. They rent for about $75 to $125 per night depending on the season and size, and you can find three, four, five, even six bedrooms. Then you can save more money by eating at restaurants outside the park or barbecuing at the home. There are many sites which have listings for these homes and they’re really nice.”
Beverly M. suggests heading to Miami Beach during the slower (and more affordable) summer season, and saves even more money by skipping the pricey hotels in favor of well-equipped vacation rentals: “I found a website, ReliableRentals, that rents privately owned condos right on Ocean Drive and privately owned hotel suites at the popular oceanfront Shelborne Resort & Hotel for as low as $75 per night starting in June. The condos on Ocean Drive come with full kitchens and are a much better bargain than a standard hotel room.”
Anne W. employs the same money-saving tactic on her Europe vacations, and enjoys both savings and a richer cultural experience: “Here’s a way to keep costs manageable in ever-more-expensive Europe: Book a vacation rental (we usually use VRBO) rather than staying in a hotel—you can save on meals in addition to experiencing a much more authentic taste of the country you’re visiting. Even better—find a rental that you can pay for in dollars rather than euros.”
But vacation rentals aren’t the only way to save money and make the most of your summer vacation. Jayna M. shares her secret for splurging while staying within budget: “My best tip for saving money, both as a traveler and a former travel agent, is to go all-inclusive! Choose your resort carefully, pay for it up front, then just take a little cash for the beach vendors or what have you. No worries deciding if you can afford to splurge in a restaurant or have another drink, you’ve already paid for it. That way you can relax, knowing there won’t be bills coming in months after you get home.”
Beth R. has found a way to make the most of her family’s hotel stays, and has ideas for saving time and money by planning ahead: “Book a hotel room with a kitchenette. They are usually larger than a regular room, and have a table, chairs, and a sofa. Do a grocery trip so you can drink, snack, and eat a leisurely breakfast in the room. We also pack snacks, water bottles, and sack lunches to take on the go. It saves a fortune, and we don’t waste two hours of premium vacation time every day, eating lunch out.”
Ways to eat and play for less
Eat out three times a day for your whole vacation, and it quickly adds up. A number of you wrote in to share your strategies for eating affordably and well.
Debbie and Abe E. aren’t scared away from France’s famous culinary delights by the weak dollar: “When we are traveling in France, we always look for a patisserie in the morning. We buy a ready-made sandwich, which is usually very inexpensive. We then get to look for a place to buy some wine and fruit, and we have a picnic for later on in the day. It’s tasty and low-priced.” (For more tips on keeping dining costs down in Europe this summer, check out this recent Tip of the Day.)
Terri D. doesn’t need a kitchen to eat well and keep expenses down: “When we first get into a town, we stop at a local drugstore and buy a $5 Styrofoam chest, orange juice, milk, lunch meat, cheese, bread and other items. We eat breakfast in our room and we pack sandwiches, chips and fruit for lunch. We eat out for our evening meal only. This saves us $20 to $30 a day.”
Likewise, Sandy L., who road-trips to a beach house in Galveston on her summer vacation, does some advance cooking to save money and free up time: “Since we live within driving distance, I will pre-cook a brisket, ground hamburger meat, or lasagna and freeze them. When it comes time to leave, I’ll pack them in coolers. Having pre-cooked main dishes allows me time to enjoy a glass of wine during my favorite time at the beach—watching the sunset with my feet in the water!”
Outsmarting dining expenses isn’t the only way to save once you arrive. This tip about seeing the most for the least amount of money comes from Linda B.: “If a destination you are traveling to offers a season pass, take a look at it. Many parks and science centers are affiliated with other parks and centers where you can use the pass. If your entertainment is paid for in a little more than 1 1/2 times the single admission, buy the pass and use it at another attraction. What may have been only one outing could wind up being a season of adventure. Be sure to check out visitor centers too for discount tickets and some hidden treasures that might be off the beaten path.”
More ways to save
You might think that saving on accommodations, food, and activities would cover most of the vacation budget bases, but still more readers had ideas of other ways to save.
Pat O. makes looking for good deals a regular habit: “I am on a lot of email lists and I read them every day. We know what we are looking for and pretty much what our schedule is, so when a good offer comes along—we grab it.”
Andy K. had a clever bit of advice for anyone looking to cruise in Alaska: “I suggest using Seattle as your embarkation point. If you sail with a round-trip from Seattle, you can save on your airfare as compared to a round-trip out of Vancouver, BC, or a one-way flying into or out of Alaska. If you plan far enough in advance, Southwest Airlines usually has competitive rates.”
IndyBob outsmarts summer prices by reframing what it means to travel in summer: “We travel in the summer time, we just do it before June 1st or after Labor Day or go to the southern hemisphere.”
Wherever you go this summer, you can combine your own savings strategies with these tips to turn what could be an expensive travel season into an affordable, and enjoyable, experience.