Summer is just around the corner. And if you’re like most families, it’s busier (and more expensive) than ever. The culprits? Summer camps, swim lessons, passes to the local waterpark, trips to the ice cream shop . . . and the list goes on.
With all those summer extras poking a hole in your wallet, a fancy vacation isn’t really in the cards. But with these cheap vacation ideas, a well-oiled budget and some creativity, you can still hit the open road, making family memories that will last a lifetime.
15 Cheap Vacation Ideas in the U.S.
No need to stress about ways to go on a great family vacation at a fraction of the price—we’ve got you covered. Here are 15 cheap vacation ideas in the U.S. that will help you stick to your budget. So, now’s as good a time as any to turn up your favorite playlist, bust out those shades, and start making your travel checklist.
1. Tour your own city.
When we say tour your own city, we don’t mean you should go to the same restaurant you eat at every Sunday and call it a night. We’re talking about being a tourist in your own town! Explore local art galleries, get lost in the trails nearby, and check out that new restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. The best part about touring your own city is that it’s super easy to be thrifty . . . which definitely keeps your budget and your bank account happy.
2. Go camping.
Okay, so you can go the traditional “let’s sleep outside” route, or you can rent a cabin. Get out there and enjoy the great outdoors!
If you want the whole RV/camper experience but don’t actually want to drive the thing, Airbnb has you covered for as little as $100 a night.1 Their hosts offer decked-out campers that stay put while you’re cozy and indoors. Some will even deliver the camper to you!
3. Go to a less popular beach.
Certain beaches are more popular and pricier than others (looking at you, Key West and Laguna Beach). But if you know where to look, you can save a pretty penny and still watch the tide roll in. The key to a cheap beach vacation is going off-season, hitting up the closest beach to your home, and going to the less popular spots.
East and West Coast beaches are more expensive than beaches along the Gulf. Sure, the water might look a little different (depending on where you go), but when you’re coming from a landlocked area, a beach is a beach, right? Staying in a two-bedroom beach condo in Miami could cost at least $100 more per night in comparison to the same type of lodging in Galveston, Texas. Plus, the Gulf beaches will have less expensive hotels, food and activities.
4. Book travel packages using warehouse stores.
We promise this isn’t as weird as it sounds. Club stores, like Costco, actually offer pretty good deals on vacation packages. If you’re planning a more elaborate vacation, you might want to consider what they have to offer.
For example, one Costco deal we found bundles five days of accommodations for two adults at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Universal Orlando tickets for about $1,306.2 But if you pay for your hotel stay and Universal passes separately, it costs $1,861. That’s a savings of about $550 just by being smart about who you book with.
We know travel packages like this change pretty quickly, so you might not find this exact deal. The point is: When you’re on the lookout for a bargain, you should be able to find one if you know where to look!
5. Stay with friends or family.
It’s not glamorous—and some people might not even consider it a true vacation—but staying with friends or family is definitely an easy, cheap vacation idea. Plus, you’ll get to spend time with the people you love!
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More than likely, you won’t have to pay for lodging or maybe even some meals. That means you’ll only have to foot the bill to get to your destination. This should drastically cut back on your costs.
But make sure you’re a great guest while you’re staying there. Don’t be a mooch! Pay for groceries or cook some meals to show your gratitude. Maybe even treat your loved ones to dinner or dessert while you’re in town! You want to score an invite back, don’t you?
6. Travel during the off-season.
Everyone loves vacationing in the summer, but pushing it out just a few more months could save you a bundle. Traveling during fall break (or any time after Labor Day weekend) can be a great cheap vacation idea.
Remember, though: Peak season and off-season will change depending on where you’re planning to go. If you’re trying to go to Colorado at Christmas, chances are, it’ll be double the rate. A good rule of thumb is to avoid traveling during the summer months, winter break and holidays. Do your research before you book!
7. Go away on a weekend trip.
If you need to get away, leaving town for the weekend can be just what the doctor ordered. Is it as restful as a 10-day trip? Well, no. But you can still have a great time, and it’s not nearly as expensive. Budget for a quick weekend getaway, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how affordable it can be.
8. Take a vacation on a weekday.
All right, this is the exact opposite of the last idea, but hear us out. Most of the time, booking a hotel or Airbnb for the weekend is pricier than staying there during the week. So, if you can afford to use some paid time off at work, try booking a quick midweek vacation.
9. Visit a national park.
The greatest thing about nature is that it’s usually free to enjoy—not to mention beautiful! But you don’t have to live near Yosemite or the Grand Canyon to appreciate it. Did you know there are actually 63 national parks across the United States?3 Find a park near you and go exploring! Just know most parks charge a small entrance fee per vehicle or person.
10. Stay at a bed-and-breakfast nearby.
Sure, some B&Bs are known for being over the top—especially when it comes to pricing. But many bed-and-breakfasts can actually be budget-friendly if you roll meals and activities into the price of a nightly stay.
Rates for a bed-and-breakfast in Nashville generally start around $128 per night depending on the season.4 But considering you’ll get homemade breakfast at the very least (hence the name) and other meals throughout your stay, it’s really not a bad deal.
A lot of B&Bs even throw in extras, like coffee and cookies, or wine and cheese, in the lobby area. Depending on your location, some bed-and-breakfasts offer kayaks, bikes or canoes for you to take for a spin for free.
11. Get insider tips.
Okay, let’s say you already know you’re going to go big and plan a vacation to Disney World, but you still want to be smart and do Disney on a budget. You need to make collecting all the insider tips your part-time job. Scour the internet, ask friends and family, and do your research across the board to learn all the things you need to know before booking the trip.
Just because it’s “the most magical place on Earth,” it doesn’t mean you can’t do it on the cheap!
12. Explore your own region.
If you’re looking for cheap vacation ideas in the U.S., look no further than your own region. You don’t have to go to Disney, Paris or even book a cruise to create family memories. All you have to do is take a little drive.
Go somewhere that’s maybe just one or two hours away from home. You’ll get out of town, avoid the sticker shock of busy areas, and have the chance to explore a town you’ve never been to. Score!
13. Book in advance.
One of the best cheap vacation ideas is booking your trip as far in advance as you can. We’re not saying you have to plan it years out, but your chances of getting good prices are a lot higher when you don’t wait until the month before you want to leave.
However, booking in advance isn’t always possible. If that’s the case, online travel hubs, like Groupon and Expedia, pride themselves on offering great last-minute vacation deals. And if you’re just trying to find a last-minute hotel in a pinch, look into HotelTonight. You can score major deals on a room by booking the day of! (The only time procrastination is a good thing.)
14. Go on a day trip.
The most expensive part of any trip is the cost of room and board. So, why not skip it altogether? Look up a cute town near you, pack up the family, and hit the road. The only thing you’ll have to budget for is gas (it’s a good thing with these prices) and activities. You can even pack your own food for the trip and have a picnic!
15. Try a home swap.
Know another family wanting to take a staycation? Why not do a home swap for the week? It might take some convincing, but swapping homes will give both of your families that “out of town” feeling you get when you stay in an Airbnb! (Just make sure to leave their house better than you found it.)
The Best Cheap Vacation Idea
No vacation is possible without the cash to make it happen. And you don’t really know if you’ve got the cash unless you do one thing: budget.
It’s true. Doing a monthly budget is so important. A zero-based budget will keep you on track with all your financial goals . . . including saving up for that cheap vacation.
Because look, we’re all for you having the vacation of your dreams—but if means going into debt, it’s not worth it! When you save up, pay in cash, and try these tips, you can enjoy your vacation and never worry about bills following you home.
So, if you really want to take your family on vacation this summer, it’s best to start budgeting and saving right now. And if you want to get really serious, you can host a garage sale or skip that weekly latte. There are plenty of ways you can save up cash quickly starting with our 14-Day Money Finder. We’ll send you tips every day to help you make extra money to put toward your next vacation!
So, what are you waiting for? Download EveryDollar and start budgeting so you can make that cheap vacation idea happen this year!
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