Summer Travel on a Budget

Tent CampingMy daughter’s summer break is nine weeks away but I started daydreaming about our summer plans right around Thanksgiving, before the holiday decors were up. I know, I know. I’m a planner, but I also remember not having a lot of choices last year because I waited too long.

So this year, I started looking up camp sites, cabins and other low-cost vacation options while Christmas carols were still being played. One good thing that came out of procrastinating last year was that I discovered Airbnb and I am now in love with this hosting service. Last summer, I found a $30/night bunkhouse on the Utah-Arizona border. Running on almost 100% solar power, the bunkhouse was just perfect for my daughter and I. The three national parks (Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon) were all about an hour’s drive away. Every morning, we were woken up by the sound of roosters and cows. I couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic vacation.

For this summer, I looked at Airbnb again but didn’t find any accommodations within my budget for our intended destinations. My next option was campsites at our national parks. After all, I have all the equipment from my recent backpacking trip. For about $20-25/night, did you know that you can camp inside our national parks? If you’re into camping and backpacking, this is a steal! I started my research on nps.gov. From there, you can look up the various national parks and campsites within.

Here are other ways I’ve made summer travel possible, without breaking the bank or blowing my tax refund:

  • Start a vacation fund. This is an ongoing thing for me, not just for summer travel. I set up automatic transfers between my checking account and a dedicated savings account for vacations. It’s a no-brainer. I don’t see the money but I know it’s there, and I’m not tempted to use it for anything else, other than vacations. 
  • Cut back on spending three to six months before a planned vacation. Knowing there’s a big vacation coming up, I give up other non-necessities like haircuts and movies, then I add the savings to my vacation fund.
  • Set a budget even before you leave the house. Usually it’s daily or weekly. My daughter likes eating out and I indulge it when on vacation, but I tell her to choose one meal per day. We go to the grocery stores for our other meals or we reheat leftovers. Inside the national parks, meals can be costly and choices are limited and not always healthy. We usually bring in our own sandwiches.
  • Do your research. If you like camping like we do, you probably have your own tents and sleeping bags by now. But you don’t always need to purchase equipment. especially if you are new to it. Borrow from friends or rent from places like REI. If you desire something more comfortable but not as pricey as hotels and villas, there are cabins, bunkhouses, yurts or rooms in other people’s houses that you can rent. Or see next tip.
  • Stay with friends and relatives. Three years ago, we drove from SoCal to Vancouver and stayed with friends along the way. We saved a ton of money and used the savings to explore local museums and landmarks. If this is within your comfort zone, go for it!

Where are you headed this summer? How are you making it work money-wise? Do share!

Mira Reverente

Mira Reverente is a journalist, editor and blogger based in Southern California. She is always on the look-out for uplifting and local stories to tell from personal finance to fitness to family events. She currently writes and edits for a few regional publications. More

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