The New Year usually means a couple of things to me – it’s a time to put holiday decor away and to start planning for summer vacation. Actually, even before the onset of the holidays, I usually have my eye on a couple of destinations or adventures already.
I have pretty straightforward criteria: budget-friendly and kid-friendly. I recently read a blog post about train travel that instantly planted a seed. Considering that this blog post has been shared 3.9 million times already, I thought I must be onto something here.
So I researched rail passes, which I found out you can purchase for 15, 30 or 45 days on amtrak.com, allowing you to make 8, 12 or 18 stops respectively. I purchased the 15-day rail pass for $459 ($229.50 for children 12 and under), which my daughter and I are planning to use soon to tour the Midwest and the East Coast. You can’t beat that price for a seven-state tour!
Lodging can get pretty pricey too. Fortunately, we’ll be staying with a college friend for the DC-Virginia-Maryland leg of our tour. For all of the other stops, I have found good deals on Airbnb. Depending on your comfort level and privacy needs, you can choose from many options: anywhere from a parked RV to a couch, to a private room or even a villa.
Always keep an eye on extra fees like cleaning, security deposit, extra occupant, etc because they do tend to sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. I have had great experiences on Airbnb over the years and I have even received good reviews from the hosts as well.
If you are the adventurous and outdoorsy type, summer and camping probably go hand-in-hand for you. With a few one-time basic investments: a tent, a sleeping bag and a small stove, you are good to go camping.
In the past, I have found affordable campsites on recreation.gov and reserveamerica.com. The main difference between the two is that the latter includes state and private parks. You can book popular campsites like the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park on recreation.gov. Last summer, our Glacier campsite was only $23 per night, while Yellowstone was $28 per night.
From my hiking buddies, I have heard that campendium.com is also a good resource for free campsites in eight states including CA. Just remember that although there may be no nightly rate for camping, there may be permits needed and they may not always be free. Another site, hipcamp.com, though not free, seems to have an enticing listing of camping deals and new destinations.
More budget-friendly summer travel tips:
- First rule of summer travel, avoid it if you can. (just kidding) Some child-free friends of mine avoid it by traveling during “shoulder season” in early May or mid-late September when the kids are still/back in school. Prices also drop as soon as summer break is over.
- Set a budget and stick to it. We all get carried away by dreamy pictures of the sand, sea and sangrias, but they all come with a price. Get on the same page with your spouse, significant other and family members as to how much you can afford to spend, so there are no surprises long after the vacation thrill has worn off.
- Research. Use social media to find good deals and tips. Ask friends if they’ve been to your intended destination(s).
- Plan well. If you are planning to visit NYC for three days, for example, and would like to hit the museums and popular landmarks, you can save money by buying discounted passes such as a CityPass.
- Stay in places which have basic kitchen facilities. Those restaurant meals out tend to add up quickly. Look for lodging with a kitchenette or a microwave at the very least, for heating up leftovers and preparing basic meals.