7 Best Summer Vacation on a Budget Tips You Should Know


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So you want a great summer vacation on a budget this summer but money is tight?

I think you’ll agree with me when I tell you that there’s nothing quite like a great vacation.

We come back feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and more connected with our spouse and family. But sometimes if we don’t plan and budget for it, the after effects of that great vacation can leave us stressed out, frazzled and deeper in debt.

In this post, we’re diving deep into the world of budgeting for vacations.

We’ll look at the best ways to plan and pay for a great vacation, but we’ll also explore a lot of money saving tips.

Specifically, though, we’re talking about the best ways to plan a summer vacation on a budget. That way you can truly come back re-energized and ready to take on the world.

How to connect on vacation

My family always has a great time on vacation.  Whether we’re in Costa Rica or the Waco zoo, we have a blast.  We spend less time on electronics and more time having genuine connections.

  • Too broke to fly out of the country?  Fly local
  • Too broke to fly?  Drive cross country
  • Can’t afford the gas?  Camp local
  • Too hot to camp? Consider HomeExchange.com

With HomeExchange, you essentially you switch homes with another family; no cost to you or them.  And because they are affiliated with TripAdvisor, you know it’s safe!

Another good tip I learned from my very astute wife was to buy (or convince grandparents to buy) annual passes to zoos, museums and places like Six Flags.  Then when you want to vacation when broke, it becomes a great day or week for next to nothing.

Plus many of the zoo and museum passes work nationwide in large networks of affiliated zoos and museums.

Jolie Campbell on the back of an elephant statue at the Dallas Zoo summer vacation on a budget Middle Class Dad

How to pay for your summer vacation on a budget

We all live on tight budgets.  We’ve all seen expenses go up over the past 10 years and many of us have seen slow or stagnant wage increases.  That can make traveling on a budget a real challenge.

The good news is that even the most frugal among us have room to cut in our household budgets.

As Mike over at NinjaBudgeter.com explains in a great post called How To Make It As A One-Income Family, there are a number of steps any family can take to cut monthly expenses.  You should cut things like:

  • Get rid of cable – Get the top-rated digital antenna from Amazon for under 30 bucks, or get a Roku stick and stream Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and other similar channels. Don’t have Amazon Prime? It’s got tons of channels, movies, and TV shows. Try Amazon Prime free for 30 days! You’ll also get their famous free 2-day shipping on all qualified purchases.
  • Cut down on eating in restaurants
  • Prepare meals ahead of time (my family loves the crock pot)
  • Do as much home and auto maintenance as possible (last year I changed my wife’s brake pads with only a YouTube video to guide me!)

Related: 1 Simple Lawn Care Tip to Save You $50 Per Year!

I would also add that if you typically buy brand new cars you’re wasting a crazy amount of money.  I get that a new car is nice, but if you’re on a tight budget, it makes way more sense to buy a late-model well maintained used vehicle.

We just bought a 2012 Mazda5 minivan and couldn’t be happier and we spent almost $20k less than what it would have cost to buy a brand new mini van.

Even with upkeep and maintenance, we’ll still come out on top! Not sure buying used is right for you? Check out my guide How To Buy a Car!

San Francisco CityPASS banner ad summer vacation on a budget Middle Class Dad

Trouble Saving for a Budget Vacation?

If you find yourself having trouble disciplining yourself to save for your summer vacation on a budget, then you need a good system.  It could be dumping your pocket change in a jar at the end of each day.  Perhaps you resign yourself to skip Starbucks every other day.  Put that money right in the jar too.

Keep that jar somewhere you can’t miss it; bedside table or maybe an end table right by the front door.  Out of sight is out of mind.

What I do know is that having a written budget each month is key to making sure your hard earned dollars are going right where you want them to.

Related: 5 Effective Household Budget Template Tips – Make Your Money Work Smarter!

Need help to budget for a family vacation?

I have a copy of my Monthly Budgeting Spreadsheet available at no charge

– a key step in improving cash flow and helping you vacation when broke!!

This is the very same spreadsheet my wife and I have used for about 7 years.

It’s a simple, highly customizable, Excel spreadsheet and you can download it quickly and easily FOR FREE!

free budget spreadsheet banner summer vacation on a budget Middle Class Dad

When to plan your budget-friendly vacation

If you’re on a tight budget, then starting early is the key to your summer vacation on a budget.

The longer you have to save, the more you’ll have to spend.  Often too, the earlier you pay for reservations, the better deals can be had.  Thus if you’re looking at a traditional summer vacation on a budget, starting 4 to 6 (or more) months ahead of time is truly optimum.

Related: 7 Summer Vacation Steps You Should Start Taking Now

pile of books and a pair of glasses on a table near the beach summer vacation on a budget Middle Class Dad

Purchase cruise tickets either way early or last minute.

Like most airlines, cruise ships raise prices as it gets closer to sail date.  However when it gets really close, whatever isn’t booked often gets deep discounted.  The biggest downside is that you may be left with less than optimum quarters (like near an elevator).

But hey; you’re on a cruise to the Caymans and got a great deal.  Plus are you really there to hang out in the room?

Inexpensive vacations for families

When trying to figure out where to go to on your summer vacation on a budget, think about where everyone else wants to go.

Then do the opposite! 

Disneyland is PACKED during the summer. But because Orlando is much hotter, I bet Disney World is less crowded.

People crowd into Vail, Colorado during ski season.  Guess what they can’t do during the summer in this amazing and beautiful town?

I don’t want to repeat some of the destinations I already covered in my above-mentioned previous post, so here are some additional great destinations on a budget.

  1. Yellowstone National Park
  2. Nashville, Tennessee
  3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
    • Endless white sand beaches
    • Boardwalk family fun
    • Ripley’s Aquarium – sleep with sharks, swim with stingrays and much more!
    • Check out the BEST places to stay on Trip Advisor!
  4. Puerto Rico
    • No passport needed if you’re a US Citizen!
    • The US Dollar is the common currency
    • Most cell phones work just fine
    • The average year-round temp varies between the low 70’s and high 80’s; perfect year round!
    • One of the top 25 beaches in all the world is in Puerto Rico – Flamenco Beach
    • Fly for less booking with Travelocity!

sign near a beach saying please leave nothing but your footprints summer vacation on a budget Middle Class Dad

Best Things to do for a staycation

I alluded to some of these at the very top, but staycations are great and under-rated!  Unless you live on an uncharted desert isle (is your name Gilligan?), you’ll have plenty of fun stuff within driving distance.

Having a great summer vacation on a budget doesn’t necessarily mean leaving town.

In my town (technically Wimberley, but essentially the greater Austin area), we have a great resource called Free Fun in Austin.  I bet your town has a website or Facebook page like it too.  This is a great resource for kid-friendly things to do for little or no money. Perfect when you have to vacation when broke.

blond mom laying in the grass near the ocean with a baby on her back and palm trees in the background summer vacation on a budget Middle Class Dad

I also bet many of you have only scratched the surface exploring your own towns. We live our lives working, parenting & doing housework.  Those things and sleeping account for 90% of our lives (groan!).

In my town, we have some really cool and fun things that most Austinites (myself included) probably take for granted. I bet your town has cool, funky, family-friendly things to do for virtually no money too.  I love the following which is near me:

  1. The Cathedral of Junk
  2. The Zilker Botanical Gardens
  3. Or just pack a picnic lunch and head out to Zilker Park

I also think a family volunteer afternoon at a local food bank would be a great way to connect while doing some good for your community!

If you have a little money, then some of the following options are also great for a stay-ish summer vacation on a budget:

  1. Great Wolf Lodge or other waterparks
    • Sure this will cost you a couple hundred, but compared to flying the family to Disneyland, you’re hardly spending anything.
    • Great Wolf Lodge is also great year-round and offseason since most of the park is indoors
    • They don’t have a ton of locations, but they are spread out around the US near major metros
  2. Zoos and children’s museums
  3. Camp at a nearby lake or state park

boardwalk dock leading out over a beautiful lake at sunset summer vacation on a budget Middle Class Dad

So what are my . . .

7 Ways You Can Have a Great Summer Vacation on a Budget?

1. CUT YOUR HOUSEHOLD BUDGET

  • Trim the fat to allow extra saving each month
  • Do a written household budget each month so you know exactly where your hard earned $$ are going

2. START, PLAN & SAVE EARLY

  • The earlier you start planning, the earlier you can start saving
  • The longer you have to save the more dollars you’ll have to spend
  • Booking early (or last minute) will usually get you the best deals

3. HAVE A SYSTEM FOR SAVING MONEY

  • Whether it’s a coin jar on the nightstand, a large bowl in the kitchen, an online app or some other method, have a system to keep you on track with saving leftover cash each day or week

4. SEEK OUT LESS WELL KNOWN DESTINATIONS

  • It’s simple supply and demand
  • When places are crowded, that means high demand and low supply
  • That equals expensive
  • Seek out lesser-known gems

5. TRAVEL TO OFF-SEASON PLACES

  • Like lesser known places, places that have one peak season are often way cheaper the rest of the year
  • But there’s usually still plenty of reasons for their on-season popularity you can enjoy; scenery, food, music, and wildlife

6. PLAN A STAYCATION AND EXPLORE LOCALLY

  • The best vacations are ones where you simply connect with your family; you don’t need fancy locales to get that
  • Explore your town in ways that aren’t possible when everyone is busy with work and school

7. USE ANNUAL PASSES PURCHASED EARLY TO GET IN FREE CROSS COUNTRY

  • Buying annual passes to zoos, amusement parks, and museums is a great way to have family activities when money is later tight or non-existent
  • Many of these memberships have sister cities and businesses around the country that will honor them or at least give a nice discount

Did help you plan your next summer vacation on a budget?  

In today’s post, we took an in-depth look into the world of vacation planning.

We explored the top travel tips, cost-saving strategies and my best suggestions on where to go and not go.

But we also looked at the best ways to do a summer vacation on a budget. Just because you’re short on cash doesn’t have to mean you and your spouse or family can’t find the perfect getaway to recharge and unwind.

What is your favorite vacation destination?

summer vacation on a budget Jeff Campbell Middle Class Dad bio


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Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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