5 Tips for Planning a Summer Vacation on a Budget

vacation on a budget

Summer vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but planning a vacation on a budget can often be the opposite. That’s where your experts at Liberty Bay can help out! There are always ways to trim expenses and be financially savvy without giving up your fun. Read our 5 tips for planning a summer vacation on a budget to keep your costs under control.

1. Plan your vacation in advance to avoid surge pricing

When you’re planning a vacation on a budget, it’s best to book things ahead of time so you can snag as many early bird discounts as possible. As you plan, keep the following in mind:

  • Travel during less busy times. Midsummer tends to be peak travel time, especially for families with kids. If you’re from the northeast U.S., late summer is one of the best times to travel the southeast because students start returning to school in early August.
  • Try underrated travel destinations. Popular tourist areas tend to have higher traffic and prices. A little research can help you find alternative fun vacation spots that are still budget-friendly while being a little kinder to your wallet.
  • Compare your options. Hotel or vacation rental? Flight or car rental? Depending on where you go, what you plan to do, and how early you’re looking, exploring your options and comparing prices can help you save some money right away.
  • Keep an eye on price drops. Give yourself some time to grab deals that pop up over time. Even after you book things in advance, don’t forget to check back in now and then. If the price drops below what you paid, you may be able to rebook and get some money back.

So, how early should you start planning your vacation on a budget? According to CheapAir’s guide on When to Buy Flights, the best domestic flight prices can show up anywhere from three weeks to six months before your planned travel dates. Even if you don’t start booking your vacation right away, it never hurts to start looking early.

Planning ahead also allows you to tighten your daily budget now to give your vacation budget an extra boost. For example, if you’re a coffee-lover, try drinking coffee at home or in the office instead of buying from a shop. Every little bit can help!

2. prioritize your vacation budget based on what matters most to you

Make the most of vacationing on a budget by prioritizing what matters most to you. A general rule of thumb for planning your vacation budget is dividing up your budget like this:

  • 25% for transportation
  • 40% for lodgings
  • 25% for food
  • 10% for activities

This breakdown is a great place to start, but you can tailor it to your priorities. If you’re all about food, consider spending less on your lodgings and indulging in meals out. If you prefer adventure, try preparing snacks and meals or eating cheaply so you can splurge more on activities.

3. Stick to your vacation budget by tracking as you go

Putting in a bit of effort to track what you spend will help you stay aware of your spending and how well you’re sticking to your budget. Enjoying your vacation on a budget shouldn’t strain your household budget later. These tips will help you stick to your vacation budget:

  • Set a daily spending limit. If you overspend one day, try easing up on the next. If you don’t hit your budget on a different day, you might have wiggle room for something extra later.
  • Purchase as much upfront as you can. It’s much easier to keep track of your budget – and you may enjoy things more! – if you’ve already paid for certain key purchases.
  • Curb your credit card spending. Credit can make it tempting to overspend, but you may be left with debts and fees later. Try using your debit card or a prepaid card.
  • If you do use credit, earn extra rewards whenever possible. Many credit cards offer cashback deals if you spend at participating restaurants and other companies. Travel cards also offer rewards that you can put towards future vacations.

Once your vacation is over, your tracked expenses aren’t there to guilt trip you for having fun. Actually, they make a great travel journal! Not only will you have all the happy memories from your trip, but you’ll also have an even better idea of how to budget effectively for your next vacation.

4. Hunt for discounts, freebies, rewards…

Free local activities are ideal when you’re planning a vacation on a budget. Check if local newspapers are promoting events with low or no admission fees. You can also ask around when you get to your vacation destination. If you have kids, restaurants and entertainment facilities often provide free or reduced pricing for children under a specific age.

There are tons of other ways to hunt for discounts, freebies, and rewards to cut costs for your vacation on a budget. Here are a few places to look to help you get started:

  • Group or early bird discounts at amusement parks and other businesses
  • Free or reduced admission to children’s museums, art exhibits, and more
  • Deals for buying through apps and websites like Kayak, Living Social, and Groupon
  • Price drops for email subscribers to airlines and local restaurants or activities
  • Credit card or membership rewards through work, AARP, big-box stores, etc.
  • Special promotions such as Restaurant Week

Other vacation ideas can be both fun and free of charge. If you road-tripped, take a scenic drive to sightsee instead of paying for a guided tour. If your vacation spot is known for being scenic or historical, go for a walk and take some memorable photos. You could picnic in a park, lounge on the beach… who said having fun has to cost anything?

Then again, if an extra purchase or treat catches your eye here and there, try not to feel too guilty about the occasional indulgence. A healthy relationship with your money is all about balance! Learn more with our free FA$Ttrack course about building healthy financial habits.

5. Be flexible and think outside the box

Flexibility is crucial to vacationing on a budget. If you rigidly stick to a set plan or idea, you may get stuck spending more than what is comfortable for your budget. Flexible, out-of-the-box thinking is how all of these “vacation on a budget” tips really come together.

For example, you may cut costs by driving instead of flying, or staying at a friend’s place or a campground instead of a luxury hotel. If your dream destination is too pricey, think about something similar you could do nearby or at a different location. Try to avoid set-in-stone plans or focusing on an ideal dream vacation – sometimes, out-of-the-box or improvised plans can end up being even more fun!


Were these tips helpful for planning your vacation on a budget? You might benefit from our FA$Ttrack courses on Creating a Budget and Budgeting for Families as well!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to your team at Liberty Bay. We’re always here to provide you with Uncommon Courtesy and service with a smile.