How to Make the Most of Your Summer Travel Budget

The words “summer” and “travel deals” don’t often seem to go together. Summer is peak travel season in many destinations around the world, which means massive crowds of tourists, higher hotel rates, and skyrocketing airfares. Even the cost of a road trip can be too much, thanks to rising gas prices in North America.

Finding summer travel deals isn’t impossible, but it does take a little bit of work, some flexibility and creativity, and a dash of sacrifice. Here are some tips and tricks to help you stretch your summer travel budget further, find the best elusive summer travel deals, and plan the perfect summer vacation for you and your family.

Plan in advance, or wait until the last minute

These conflicting strategies can be equally successful when it comes to finding a great deal on airfare, hotels, package tours, and cruises.

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If you’re planning a trip for the end of summer, start checking out airfare prices now. Become familiar with the typical fares so that you can recognize a good deal when you see one. Visit Farecast to find out if the cost of your flight will likely rise or fall in the coming weeks, or set airfare alerts to receive an email when your price goes down. As soon as the price dips into a range you are comfortable with – jump on it.  Yes, it hurts a little to later find out that the price went even lower, but not as much finding out that you waited too long to buy and now the fare is going to cost much more.

You can also try the opposite tactic and forgo any advance planning. This is not an ideal strategy for those with family or other commitments that make spontaneity difficulty, but if you can be flexible, keep your eyes peeled for last-minute deals. Many airlines, hotels, cruises and tour operators offer rock-bottom prices on unfilled inventory at the last minute.

Be flexible

If your dates aren’t set in stone, always use the “flexible date search” or “weekend search” feature when looking for cheap airfare – you may be surprised by how much a price can fluctuate over a few days. Flying to or from an airport slightly farther away, flying midweek, and flying during the middle of the day or later at night can also help decrease the price.

In Europe particularly, you can often save a lot by flying into a major gateway and then booking a low-cost carrier ticket (or taking the train) to your final destination. Just watch out for all the hidden fees and extras on those budget carriers!

Head to the hot spots. . .

emptybeachWinter in much of North America and Europe equals cold, gray, and snowy or rainy days. So it makes sense that during those months, warm destinations in the southern US, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America become the ideal getaway location.

During summer, however, many of those places see a sharp drop in the number of tourists.

From May to August, sunny destinations and resorts offer significant discounts in an effort to lure visitors. Take advantage of these offers and your beach vacation will be much cheaper, plus you won’t be battling for a lounge chair with hordes of other guests.

. . . or catch a chill

On the opposite end of the thermometer, cold locations are also often neglected during summer. May to August in Argentina and other parts of South America (where the seasons are reversed from North America) may not be the ideal months to work on your tan, but they are the best times to snag cheaper airfare and see the country with fewer crowds, as most visitors come during the hot summer months (winter in North America).

Prices to Australia and New Zealand, which also experience winter during the North American summer, decrease during these months as well.

Get off the beaten path

townCliche as it might be, avoiding the more popular destinations will save you money during your summer travels.

Western Europe is beautiful during summer, but it’s also overrun with tourists, especially in the major cities where cruise passengers, day-trippers, tourists and locals battle it out for space on the sidewalk. Avoid the madness of the tourist crowds and pick a less popular destination.

Many less-visited countries are equally as beautiful as their more famous counterparts. Choose a country that sees fewer crowds, or plan your trip to visit some of cities and towns off the main tourist trails. From Brazil to Thailand, every country has lovely locations yet to be discovered by the masses.

Not only will you save with lower hotel rates (and often a better exchange rate), you may even enjoy your trip more.

Go all-inclusive

The term “all-inclusive” may strike fear, or more often, revulsion, into the hearts of independent travelers, but booking a “one price fits all” vacation can often save you money, and an all-inclusive vacation doesn’t have to mean giving up on cultural experiences.

There are ways to enjoy yourself, even if you’re not a resort person, and you can use the money saved to pursue independent activities that fit your interests. The same applies to cruises and tours. Start with the package price and then negotiate with the tour guide to get the experience you want. You may be able to tweak the itinerary to suit your individual needs and still benefit from cost savings of the package deal.

Just be sure to compare the cost of booking with the tour or at the all-inclusive with the cost of booking on your own to make sure it is really the best deal for your needs.

Go where your dollar goes further

Some destinations are just cheaper than others, and going where you’ll get more for your dollar (or euro or pound) will help you get more out of your limited budget. Places like Colombia and other destinations in South America, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa can be quite cheap. You can even get by in parts of Central America for less than $25 a day!

Price out the total cost of your trip, including airfare, accommodations and what you’ll need to spend each day on food, drinks, and sightseeing. You may find that one place is significantly cheaper than another overall, or that for the same price, one destination offers a much better value for your money.

Explore your own backyard

gcanyonWe’d never suggest you take a (::shudder::) “staycation” but if your travel budget is on the small side, think about exploring closer to home.

Head to a city you’ve never seen before and explore its nightlife and culture. Book a fancy hotel and lounge by the pool sipping fruity frozen drinks. Go hiking and camping in a national park, or have the best of both urban and rural worlds by staying in one of the cities close to several national parks.

Adjust your travel mindset. Approach your own country just as you would a foreign one, and suddenly the “familiar” seems a lot more interesting. Your version of paradise doesn’t have to be somewhere far flung and exotic – it could be right around the corner.

Road trip

For those who believe that the journey is just as important than the destination, a road trip can be an unforgettable and very affordable way to travel. Compare the savings of driving versus flying based on you car’s fuel economy, gas prices, and the distance you have to travel, and you may find that the savings are worth the extra time spent getting to your destination.

Consider accommodation alternatives

If you’re having trouble finding cheap hotels or hostels that fit your budget and requirements, consider other options. Camping, renting a campervan, or house-swapping are affordable alternatives. You can also try CouchSurfing, which can be a great way to meet new people, get an inside view of the culture and score a free place to stay. Just be sure to be a good CouchSurfing guest and don’t take advantage of your host’s hospitality.

Stretch your budget with freebies, discounts and extras

Beyond racking up frequent flier miles and rewards points, there are other ways you can get discounts and freebies that will help you get more from your summer travel budget. Nearly every major city has a discount city pass that offers either free or reduced admission to multiple attractions for one price. Some also include dining perks or public transportation vouchers. Many tourism associations and CVBs even offer these free to visitors.

It also never hurts to (politely) ask for discounts and extras. In a down economy, everything is negotiable and many companies will do what they can to keep customers happy. Why not inquire about an upgrade at the car rental desk or see if the hotel will throw in vouchers for a free breakfast? The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no, and if they say yes, you’ve just stretched your budget that much further.

Get more tips for saving on summer travel:

Photos by kwalbolt, daninho_ibk, StefanB

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Older comments on How to Make the Most of Your Summer Travel Budget

Matt Matthews
07 July 2010

Those are some great suggestions to better plan your summer vacation. I’ve also had some luck with this website as well in finding ideas and deals :

http://www.budgettravelblog.com/