How to Plan a Summer Vacation on a Budget

May 17, 2024

How to Plan a Summer Vacation on a Budget

May 17, 2024

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When it comes to making the most out of our summer vacations, the art of budget travel can be the gateway to exploring new destinations without straining your finances. Traveling on a budget—whether you’re still working or in retirement—doesn’t mean cutting corners on the quality of your experience; rather, it’s about smart planning and spending. With thoughtful preparation, you can embark on a vacation that’s both affordable and unforgettable. 

From choosing the right destination to finding the best deals on accommodations and activities, these guidelines are designed to make your summer travels both budget-friendly and rich in experiences. Let’s explore how you can stretch your dollars further and still create lasting memories during your vacation. 

Setting Your Budget 

The foundation of any successful budget vacation is, unsurprisingly, setting a realistic budget. Determining this budget requires an honest assessment of your financial circumstances, ensuring that your travel plans don’t interfere with your essential expenses or financial goals. Here’s how to start: 

Assess Your Financial Situation 

Begin by reviewing your current financial status. Look at your savings, monthly income, and upcoming expenditures. This assessment helps you understand how much you can afford to spend without jeopardizing your financial health. 

Determine Your Travel Fund 

Based on your assessment, decide on the total amount you are willing to allocate for the vacation. This is your travel fund, which should cover all your vacation expenses, including transportation, accommodation, food, activities, and some buffer for unforeseen expenses. 

Create a Detailed Budget Plan 

Break down your total travel fund into categories:  

  • Transportation: Estimate costs for flights, car rentals, or public transport. 
  • Accommodation: Set a budget for where you’ll stay, whether it’s hotels, hostels, or rentals. 
  • Food and Dining: Decide how much you’ll spend on meals, whether cooking or eating out. 
  • Activities: Allocate funds for tours, tickets, and other entertainment. 
  • Miscellaneous: Include a small portion for unexpected costs or souvenirs. 

Importance of Sticking to Your Budget 

It’s crucial to adhere to this budget once it’s set. Overspending in one area can lead to cutbacks in another, potentially spoiling parts of your vacation. Staying within budget helps avoid post-vacation financial stress, ensuring that your getaway is enjoyable both during the trip and after you return home. 

Use Tools to Track Spending 

Consider using budgeting apps or spreadsheets to keep track of your expenses as you book your trip and while you’re traveling. This real-time tracking can prevent overspending and help you make on-the-spot adjustments if necessary. 

Choose Your Destination Wisely 

Selecting the right destination is crucial when planning a summer vacation on a budget. The location you choose can significantly affect your overall expenses, from travel costs to local prices. Here are some tips on how to pick a destination that won’t break the bank. 

Focus on Budget-Friendly Destinations 

Some destinations are inherently more affordable due to lower cost of living, cheaper accommodation options, and overall price levels that favor budget travelers. Countries in Southeast Asia, parts of Eastern Europe, and Central America often offer incredible experiences at a fraction of the cost you might incur in more popular Western European or North American destinations. 

Consider Lesser-Known Locations 

Instead of heading to tourist hotspots, explore lesser-known areas that are just as beautiful but far less crowded and expensive. For example, instead of the French Riviera, consider the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. Opting for these alternative destinations not only saves money but also provides a more unique and authentic travel experience. 

Leverage Off-Peak Travel Benefits 

Traveling during the off-peak season can lead to significant savings on both airfares and accommodations. Aside from cost benefits, visiting destinations in the shoulder season (just before or after peak season) means fewer crowds and a more relaxed atmosphere, allowing you to enjoy the locale more thoroughly. 

Research Local Cost of Living 

Before settling on a destination, research the local cost of living. Websites and travel blogs offer insights into daily expenses in different areas, such as the cost of meals, transportation, and leisure activities. This information can help you estimate your potential spending and decide if a destination fits your budget. 

Use Destination Flexibility to Your Advantage 

If your vacation dates are flexible, use flight comparison tools that allow you to compare prices across multiple destinations. Sometimes a slight change in destination can lead to huge savings, which could be better applied to enhancing your travel experience in other ways. 

Timing is Everything 

When it comes to planning a budget-friendly vacation, the timing of your bookings can be just as important as the destination itself. Strategic planning of when to book your travel and accommodations, as well as choosing the right times to travel, can save you a considerable amount of money. Here’s how you can use timing to your financial advantage: 

Best Times to Book Travel 

  • Early Bird Bookings: For many destinations, booking several months in advance can secure the best rates, especially for airfares. Airlines often release tickets at their lowest prices about 6–8 months before the departure date. 
  • Last-Minute Deals: Alternatively, if you’re flexible, last-minute deals can also yield significant savings. These are often available as airlines and hotels try to fill seats and rooms that would otherwise remain empty. 
  • Mid-Week Bookings: Booking flights and hotels mid-week can often lead to better deals. Prices tend to spike on weekends when demand is higher. 

Timing Your Travel Right 

  • Shoulder Seasons: Traveling during the shoulder season—the period between peak and off-peak seasons—can significantly reduce your costs. During these times, destinations are less crowded, and prices for flights, accommodations, and activities drop substantially. For example, visiting Europe in late spring (April to early June) or early autumn (September to October) can offer pleasant weather and lower prices compared to the busy summer months. 
  • Avoiding Major Holidays: Travel costs surge during major holidays and school vacation periods. By scheduling your trip outside these peak times, you can avoid the premium prices and also enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere without the crowds. 

Weekday vs. Weekend Stay 

Staying over on a Sunday night can often reduce your hotel rates as hotels experience lower occupancy following the departure of weekend guests. Additionally, beginning your vacation on a weekday can lower your travel costs, as flights and train tickets are typically cheaper on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays compared to Fridays and weekends. 

Accommodation Hacks 

Finding the right place to stay can make a big difference in the overall cost of your vacation. By comparing various types of accommodations and utilizing discount strategies, you can significantly lower your lodging expenses. Here’s how to optimize your accommodation choices for budget travel: 

Compare Types of Accommodations 

  • Hotels: While hotels offer comfort and convenience, they can also be the most expensive option. To save money, look for budget hotel chains or consider hotels that are a bit further from major tourist attractions but well-connected by public transport. 
  • Hostels: An excellent option for solo travelers and those willing to share space with others. Hostels are not only economical but also offer opportunities to meet fellow travelers. Private rooms are often available if you prefer more privacy. 
  • Vacation Rentals: Platforms like Airbnb or Vrbo can be cost-effective, especially for groups or families. Rentals often come with a kitchen, allowing you to save on meals by cooking at home. This also allows you to experience cooking with some of the food and ingredients of the country you’re traveling in. 
  • Camping: If you’re adventurous, camping can be the cheapest accommodation option. Many scenic destinations offer well-equipped campsites at a fraction of the cost of hotels. 

Using Loyalty Programs and Booking Sites 

  • Loyalty Programs: If you frequently travel, join loyalty programs offered by hotel chains. Members often enjoy perks like discounted rates, free nights, and other exclusive offers. 
  • Booking Sites: Use online booking platforms that compare prices across multiple hotels and rental services. Sites like, Expedia, and often feature competitive rates and might offer additional discounts for creating an account or subscribing to their newsletter. 
  • Discount Codes and Coupons: Look for promo codes or coupons before finalizing your booking. Check websites dedicated to discount offers or join travel forums and groups where members share the latest deals. 

Additional Tips 

  • Extended Stay Discounts: If you plan to stay in one location for a week or more, inquire about extended stay discounts, which can be significantly cheaper than the nightly rate. 
  • Flexibility: Being flexible with your travel dates can also help you find cheaper accommodation. Rates can vary significantly from day to day, so use date comparison tools on booking websites to find the best deals. 
  • Book Direct: Sometimes booking directly through a hotel’s website can be cheaper than booking through a third-party site. Direct bookings might also offer more favorable cancellation policies, which can be beneficial if your plans change.

Smart Transportation Choices 

Transportation costs can eat up a significant portion of your travel budget, but with some strategic planning, you can minimize these expenses. Here are some tips for making smart transportation choices that keep your budget intact while allowing you to explore your destination thoroughly. 

Choose Budget Airlines 

For longer distances, consider flying with budget airlines. These carriers often offer no-frills service at a fraction of the cost of traditional airlines. Be sure to read the fine print, as these low fares often do not include baggage fees or seat selection. 

Utilize Public Transportation 

  • Public Transport Systems: Once you arrive at your destination, using public transportation such as buses, trams, and subways is a cost-effective way to get around. These options are usually much cheaper than taxis or rental cars and provide a more authentic travel experience. 
  • Day or Week Passes: Many cities offer special tourist passes for unlimited travel on public transport over several days. These can be a great value, particularly if you plan to visit multiple sites spread across the area. 

Embrace Train Travel 

  • Trains: In regions like Europe, Asia, and parts of the US, trains are a fast, convenient, and scenic way to travel between cities. High-speed trains can be more expensive, so consider slower regional trains for shorter distances to cut costs. 
  • Rail Passes: If traveling extensively by train, investigate rail passes, which can offer significant savings for multiple train journeys. 

Renting Vehicles 

  • Car Rentals: In destinations where public transport is sparse or you want the flexibility to explore remote areas, renting a car can be economical, especially when split among a group. Always compare rental options to find the best deal and check for any hidden fees. Don’t forget about gas and parking expenses with rental cars, which can add up quickly!  
  • Bike Rentals: For shorter distances or smaller cities, renting a bike can be an enjoyable and inexpensive way to get around. Many cities offer bike-share programs that allow you to rent a bike from one location and drop it off at another. 

Finding Transportation Deals 

  • Booking Platforms: Use platforms like Skyscanner or Google Flights to compare airfares. For trains and buses, check operators’ official websites, as they often have the best offers and advance booking discounts. 
  • Off-Peak Travel: If your schedule is flexible, traveling during off-peak times can result in lower fares and less crowded transport. 

Eating and Dining on a Budget 

Food is a central part of the travel experience, but dining out for every meal can quickly become one of the biggest expenses during a vacation. Fortunately, there are several strategies to enjoy delicious meals without overspending. Here’s how to save on food expenses while traveling: 

Choose Accommodations with Kitchen Facilities 

  • Self-Catering Options: Opt for accommodations that include a kitchen or kitchenette. This could be a vacation rental, hostel with a communal kitchen, or even a hotel room with a small cooking area. 
  • Cook Your Own Meals: Preparing some of your meals can significantly reduce your food expenses. Even simple dishes like breakfasts, sandwiches for lunch, or a basic pasta dinner can save you money. Shopping at local markets also lets you try fresh, local ingredients and is often a fun experience. 

Eat Like a Local 

  • Local Eateries: Steer clear of restaurants in the main tourist areas, which tend to be more expensive. Instead, venture into neighborhoods where locals eat. Not only are the prices usually lower, but the food is often more authentic and tastier. 
  • Street Food: In many places, street food is not only affordable but also reflects the area’s culinary culture. It’s a way to eat well and on a budget while immersing yourself in the local dining scene. 

Enjoy Picnics 

  • Picnics: Purchase supplies from local supermarkets or farmers’ markets and have a picnic in a park or at the beach. This is particularly enjoyable in scenic locations and has the added benefit of no restaurant markup on food. 
  • Portable Meals: Bringing along some portable, non-perishable foods can also help reduce costs. Items like granola bars, nuts, or fruit can be great for snacks or light meals during your excursions. 

Smart Dining Choices 

  • Look for Special Offers: Many restaurants offer ‘happy hour’ specials or discounted meal deals during off-peak hours. Take advantage of these offers when you do eat out. 
  • Share Meals: Consider sharing meals to save money. This is common in many places and can be a good way to try different dishes without overpaying. In some countries, it’s frowned upon to request to take leftovers with you, so this can also help you avoid having excess food while respecting cultural norms. 

Free and Cheap Attractions 

Exploring a new destination doesn’t have to be expensive. Many places offer a wealth of free or inexpensive attractions that can enrich your travel experience without costing a fortune. Here’s how to make the most of these opportunities: 

Research Free Local Attractions 

  • Local Websites and Travel Blogs: Before you travel, do some research on local tourism websites and travel blogs. They often list free attractions such as historical sites, galleries, and cultural events. 
  • Social Media and Forums: Platforms like Reddit, TripAdvisor, and Facebook groups can also be great resources. Locals and past travelers often share tips on free or low-cost attractions in various destinations. 

Take Advantage of Free Entry Days 

  • Museums and Galleries: Many museums and galleries offer free entry on certain days of the month or year. For example, state museums in many European cities offer free entry on the first Sunday of each month. 
  • Check Local Calendars: Some attractions have specific times or seasons when admission is free or discounted. Check their official websites or call ahead to plan your visit accordingly. 

Explore Public Parks and Natural Reserves 

  • Natural Parks: Visiting state or national parks can be a low-cost way to enjoy a day out. These parks often have a minimal entrance fee, or you might find that smaller parks offer free entry. 
  • Hiking and Biking: Many parks offer free access to hiking and biking trails, which is not only cost-effective but also a great way to see the natural landscape. 

Participate in Free Walking Tours 

  • Free Walking Tours: Most major cities around the world offer free walking tours led by local guides. While these are usually ‘free,’ they are often based on a tipping system, so you pay what you think the tour was worth at the end. 
  • Self-Guided Tours: If you prefer to go at your own pace, download a free walking tour app or print out a map and guide from the internet. Rick Steves, a popular travel authority, offers free audio tour guides for over 60 destinations. 

Engage in Community Events 

  • Local Events and Festivals: Look for local events and festivals happening during your stay. Many of these are free and offer a fantastic glimpse into the local culture and community. 
  • Concerts and Performances: Some cities offer free concerts, outdoor movies, or theatrical performances, especially during the summer months. 

Utilize Travel Deal Websites and Apps 

By being proactive and utilizing these tips, you can snag travel deals that make your vacation more affordable. Whether it’s through last-minute bookings, strategic use of package deals, or leveraging discounts and coupons, there are numerous ways to make your travel budget stretch further. 

  • Travel Deal Websites: Websites like Kayak offer tools to compare prices across multiple airlines and booking platforms. They also provide features like fare alerts, which notify you when prices drop for your specified destinations. 
  • Deal Aggregator Apps: Apps like Hopper and Travelzoo aggregate travel deals from various sources, offering a convenient way to browse discounts on flights, hotels, and packages in real-time. 
  • Newsletters and Loyalty Programs: Signing up for newsletters from airlines, hotels, and travel deal websites can often give you access to exclusive discounts and early notifications about sales. Additionally, joining loyalty programs can sometimes unlock members-only prices. 

Prepare and Pack Smart 

Efficient packing is essential for a budget-friendly vacation, helping to avoid costly purchases during your trip. Here’s how to pack intelligently: 

Essentials First 

  • Create a Packing List: This ensures you don’t forget necessary items, which are often more expensive to buy on the go. 
  • Check Weather Forecasts: Pack weather-appropriate clothing to avoid buying extra items unexpectedly. 

Versatile Clothing 

  • Layering Options: Bring clothes that can be layered to adjust for different temperatures. 
  • Mix and Match: Select clothes within a coordinated color scheme to maximize outfit combinations with fewer pieces. 
  • Multi-Functional Items: Include items like zip-off pants or jackets that double as travel pillows. 

Minimize Toiletries 

  • Travel-Sized Toiletries: Opt for travel-sized items to save space. These can often be refilled. 
  • Hotel Amenities: Utilize complimentary items provided by accommodations like shampoo and soap. 

Buy Locally 

  • Local Purchases: Buy snacks and sundries at local markets to save money and support local businesses. 
  • Reusable Accessories: Pack a reusable water bottle and a portable charger to avoid unnecessary purchases. 


Remember, the essence of a great vacation lies in the experiences you gather and the memories you create, not the amount you spend. By taking advantage of deals, embracing local culture, and utilizing budget-friendly tips, your vacation can be both enriching and affordable. Start planning early, stay flexible, and use the guidance provided to ensure that your next summer vacation is as enjoyable as it is economical. So, pack your bags and set forth on an adventure that proves a lavish budget isn’t necessary for a fantastic and fulfilling holiday! 

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This blog expresses the author’s views as of the date indicated, are subject to change without notice, and may not be updated.  The information contained within is believed to be from reliable sources.  However, its accurateness, completeness, and the opinions based thereon by the author are not guaranteed – no responsibility is assumed for omissions or errors.  This blog aims to expose you to ideas and financial vehicles that may help you work towards your financial goals. No promises or guarantees are made that you will accomplish such goals. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, and any expected returns or hypothetical projections may not reflect actual future performance or outcomes. All investments involve risk and may lose money. Nothing in this document should be construed as investment, tax, financial, accounting, or legal advice. Each prospective investor must evaluate and investigate any investments considered or any investment strategies or recommendations described herein (including the risks and merits thereof), seek professional advice for their particular circumstances, and inform themselves about the tax or other consequences of any investments or services considered.  Investment advisory services are offered through Liberty Wealth Management, LLC (“LWM”), DBA Liberty Group, an SEC-registered investment adviser.  For additional information on LWM or its investment professionals, please visit  or contact us directly at 411 30th Street, 2nd Floor, Oakland, CA  94609, T: 510-658-1880, F: 510-658-1886, Registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or any state securities authority does not imply a certain level of skill or training.



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