Everyone loves a good vacation, but taking one without planning ahead can be a surefire way to empty your bank account. It always costs more to book airline tickets or hotels when you do it last minute, after all.
If you’re thinking about planning a summer vacation or even just a weekend trip away from home, here are some steps you should take to make sure you have the time of your life on the smallest budget possible.
Book Far in Advance — Or Super Last-Minute
You’ve got two money-saving options if you’re planning to book a flight to your vacation destination. You can book at least three weeks in advance or you can book at the very last minute. According to a study done by Expedia, Sundays are the best day to book flights if you’re booking far in advance. Just don’t book on Friday — that’s when the experts say prices are higher because of weekend business trips.
On the other hand, if booking in advance doesn’t appeal to you, try booking as last-minute as possible. Wake up the morning you’re supposed to leave, see what cheap flights are available that day and choose your destination that way. You might end up somewhere you’d never have visited otherwise!
Skip the Trip and Choose a Staycation Instead
Sure, staying home sounds like the opposite of a summer vacation, but how much of your local area have you actually explored? Chances are good there are plenty of amazing restaurants you’ve never eaten at, shops you’ve never explored and attractions you didn’t even know existed just a few hours’ drive away from the comfort of your home.
Just plug your city’s name into Google with the words “attractions” or “staycation” after it and see what amazing things you’ve been missing out on just outside your front door.
Stop Working for the Weekend
It might be tempting to plan your vacation around the weekend. We get it — that’s fewer days you have to take off work and more vacation time you can horde for later. If you want to save money, though, use those vacation days and avoid the weekends.
Specifically, avoid visiting popular attractions and restaurants on the weekends. They won’t just be crowded — they might also be more expensive.
If you’re planning on visiting theme parks, an off-season visit can also help to save both your wallet and your sanity, especially if you’re heading to popular tourist attractions like Disneyland. Summer and holiday dates see the park filled with both domestic and international visitors.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
This country is filled with more than 400 national parks that cover upwards of 84 million acres of land. These parks vary from expanses of untouched wilderness to memorials, historical monuments and everything in-between. Do a quick search to see what national parks are located in your state or region if you’re up for a longer drive and start planning your trip around those parks.
If you’re feeling up to it, camping is a great way to explore the parks and save money on your vacation. If camping isn’t your thing, don’t worry — cabins can be rented in some of the parks for a reasonable price and there are always nearby hotels in a pinch.
There’s no way we could get through a list of cheap summer vacation plans without mentioning a road trip! There’s nothing quite like seeing the country from behind the wheel of a car instead of from 30,000 feet up. Pick some destinations you’d like to visit, plug them into a website like RouteXL and let it plan your route for you!
Just make sure that your car is in good enough shape to make the trip before you head out on the road. Do all your routine maintenance, make sure your car is in good shape and keep an emergency kit and the number for AAA in your car at all times in case of emergency.
Think Outside the Hotel Box
Hotels aren’t the only option for accommodations for your summer vacation. There are so many other types of buildings to choose from. For example, you can rent a tree house in Oregon for $130 per night and sleep 20 feet off the ground or rent one of the many abandonded fire lookouts that dot the Midwest for $80 per night.
The possibilities are endless! There are tipis and yurts and even covered wagons available to rent in some locations. Do a quick search to see what’s available in your area, or a little beyond, and plan your trip around these unique sleeping accommodations.
Summer vacations don’t have to empty your bank account if you plan ahead and think outside the box a little bit. Just be prepared for anything and let the road carry you along — you never know where you might end up!