A Guide to Fun and Frugal Summer Vacation Activities

The summer of 2021 is shaping up to be one of the busiest travel seasons on record. The travel site Hopper forecasts that the rise in plane ticket prices that began this spring will continue through mid-summer, and vacation rental bookings are up sharply as well. That means that vacationing this summer is going to require more planning and budget-friendly deals will be harder to come by. Don’t despair, though. With a little planning and creativity, a fun summer vacation is still within reach.

Budget-Friendly Getaways

The perfect vacation is different for each family. If your idea of a vacation is a plane ride to a distant location, hope is not lost. There are still ways to frugally get away this summer. These tips will help you stay on budget while still hitting the important items on your vacation bucket list.

  • Skip the rental car. The huge drop in demand last year resulted in many rental car companies selling off their fleets. That means that this year, as demand skyrockets, they simply don’t have enough cars to keep up, and prices are climbing as a result. Look into destinations that don’t require the use of a rental car. That could be a resort that offers airport pickup service, cities with great public transportation, or simply committing to using ride-sharing apps while on vacation.
  • Venture off the beaten path. This is the perfect summer to try new places. For example, in Oregon, the beaches closest to Portland are perennial favorites, but the beach communities in southern Oregon are also beautiful and much less busy, meaning that your vacation will be more affordable and the beaches will be less crowded. The same is true across the country in Maine. Acadia National Park is a beloved vacation spot, and the areas around it also stay busy, but venturing farther up the coast allows vacationers to discover hidden gems that offer the same beautiful landscapes and outdoor activities as Maine’s popular resorts.
  • Go incognito. No one is suggesting that you wear a costume on vacation (unless, of course, that’s a favorite activity of yours!): What this means is that you should incognito browser windows while researching and booking vacations. Websites leave cookies after you visit them, meaning that travel sites can start predicting your favored destinations and travel dates and raise the prices you see accordingly. Incognito mode helps preserve your anonymity and prevents sites from raising their prices based on your browsing behavior.
  • Make money off of your travel. There are several ways to do this. Many credit cards give additional points for traveling with their partner companies. If your card offers cash back, see if they have any bonus offers that can help you earn extra money when you book your trip. Another alternative is cash-back sites like Rakuten.

Road Trip Tips

After a year spent at home, does traveling on the open road appeal to you? Even though gas prices are higher than last year, there are still ways you can design a great road trip that will make lasting memories while still staying within your budget.

  • Figure out how much you can spend before you start planning your trip. Knowing exactly how much money you have for a vacation empowers you to make choices to fit your budget and your vacation goals. If you spend beyond your means, you might end up having to get a personal loan when an emergency expense comes up later on.
  • Do your research. Make sure to check travel advisories and re-opening information for the places you want to go. Not all attractions or cities are back to functioning at full capacity, and you’ll want to plan accordingly.
  • Apps are your friends. Download apps like GasBuddy to find the cheapest places to fill up on your route. Also, consider downloading apps for fast-food restaurants you like. The apps often offer special deals that can help you save money on quick meals.
  • Consider packing your camping gear and using an app like The Dyrt to locate free camping spots. When traveling to larger cities, sites like Hotel Tonight can help visitors to score great last-minute deals on lodging.
  • Splurge on “worth it” activities. Most destinations will offer a plethora of things to do. Which ones are worth spending your hard-earned bucks on, and which can you skip? Try asking questions like, “Can we only participate in this activity in this specific place?” “Will we regret skipping this activity?” “Will we regret this splurge if it leaves us short on money for another activity we’d like to try?”

Staycation Ideas

Staycations can be fun, too, and this summer might be the perfect summer for your crew to stay close to home for a variety of reasons. Staying close doesn’t mean sacrificing a good time, though. Focus on making sure your days aren’t taken up with errands and regular life as you create the feel of a vacation in your very own home.

  • Cheer for the home team! A staycation is a perfect time to take in a local game. Stadiums are reopening, so seeing a game in person is once more an option. If your state doesn’t have a major-league sports team, try finding a minor league team. The tickets and concessions will be cheaper, but you will have just as much fun.
  • See your city as a tourist. Everyone takes for granted the things they have readily available to them. Many people see the sights in places they visit while foregoing notable attractions right where they live. Look up tourist guides for your area and make a list of things you’d like to do. Look on sites like Groupon to save money on admission fees.
  • During your staycation, instead of running to your typical grocery store for dinner items, try local farmers’ markets.
  • Commune with nature. What better time is there than a staycation to check out local walking and hiking trails? Even better, this is activity is typically free or nearly free (some parks have parking fees). Sites like All Trails help users find trails near them and plan their hikes. Remember to bring sunscreen and water!

Fun at Home

Your own home can be the focus of fun, too. There are a variety of easy (and cheap) ways to use your outdoor space to give yourself that resort feel on your own property.

  • Pitch a tent! Just because you are staying home doesn’t mean you have to sleep in your bed. Host a camping adventure in your own backyard. Not only will you save money, but the luxuries of a kitchen and bathroom are just inside.
  • Host a cooking night. It’s so great to be able to host family and friends again, and if one of your favorite things about traveling is discovering new cuisines, it’s easy to re-create the experience at home. Compile new recipes, shop for the ingredients, and let everyone pitch in to prepare fun new dishes.
  • Use those bikes! Rediscover your own neighborhood with long bike rides.
  • Create your own water park at home. Set up a sprinkler over a plastic tarp and you’ve got your own spray park and waterslide.

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