First the bad news: if you’re just starting to plan your summer vacation, distant locales may be out of the question, but you can still find some good deals if you start now. Here are my summer vacation ideas that are both affordable and fun.

Camping
This summer, many people are discovering camping is one of the more affordable summer vacation ideas. If you want to camp, book your campsite now! Start by going to ReserveAmerica to find state parks. If your state doesn’t participate in their program, visit your state website to find out how to reserve a campsite. Some national parks may be available through the site, but you can also check the National Park reservation site. If you were hoping for any of the holiday weekends, you’re probably already out of luck, so keep some flexibility in your dates. The most popular parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone may already be booked.

If you don’t have camping gear, see if any of your friends have some you could borrow. If you plan to make camping an annual event, now is great time to check sporting good stores, Target, Wal-Mart, and Costco for camping gear. Although it won’t be on supersale until later in the summer, they may have weekly specials on some items.

City Vacations
If you live within a couple of hours of a big city, this summer is a great time to visit. Because of the slowing economy, many cities are expecting lower tourism than usual – which means more opportunities for you. Use Bidding for Travel for help booking a hotel through Priceline. Before booking your trip, check the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau website to make sure there aren’t any big conferences or events that week. If those events are in town, your rates will be higher. Refer to my articles on travel deals and using travel deal websites for more help finding good rates, especially if you can stretch your summer vacation into the off-season or shoulder-season.

Before you leave for the city, plan a loose itinerary. List all of the sights you want to see, and then visit their websites to see if they have any free admission days. You should also check to see if you need tickets or reservations for the most popular exhibits. During the summer, museums often have free or low-cost evening events that are fun for the whole family.

To save money on eating out, plan for picnic lunches and bring portable breakfast foods with you.

Local Vacations
Sometimes it seems like going on vacation requires another vacation to recover from it. Skip the hassle by vacationing at home and visiting local attractions. Don’t tell your boss, relatives, or co-workers that you’re staying home, because they’ll feel like they can call you. If you want to pretend you’re away from home, camp in the backyard. Visit your city’s website to find local attractions. If you’re a member of AAA, visit a local office to request a guidebook for your state. It offers a wealth of local sights, complete with pricing and hours.

The best part of vacationing at home is the cheap food and lodging. To make it feel like a vacation, plan at least one nice dinner out or one night roasting marshmallows on the barbecue. You should also eat all the food you normally reserve for travel. With the money you’re saving, you can afford it.

Visit Family
I know many people don’t consider family visits to be vacations, but it can work if you make it clear that you don’t expect them to entertain you the whole time. Plan your own outings, and invite them along. You should also plan to cook for them or take them out to dinner at least one night and offer to help pay for groceries, change your sheets, etc. Of course, avoid visiting family members who make you tense!

Split the Cost with Friends
If you want to rent a summer house for a week, try to find one that is slightly larger and then split the cost with another family. That way your kids will have friends to play with, and so will the parents. Only couples and adults need bedrooms. The kids should be fine crashing in the living room. Check Craigslists’s vacation rental listings for possible nearby destinations.

Stretch Out Work Conferences
If one of you has to attend a work conference this summer, build the trip around it. Usually, the company will cover the plane ticket no matter when you fly out or back as long as it doesn’t cost them more money. Simply go a few days early or stay a few days later to save the cost of one plane ticket. You’ll probably want to change hotels – conference hotels can be pricey – but you can usually find one nearby that offers good deals for families.

Believe it or not, you can vacation affordably, if you plan early. It’s already April, so you’ve got no time to lose. Start planning now!

If you have affordable summer vacation ideas, please share them in the comments.

Comments

20 Responses to “Six Affordable Summer Vacation Ideas”

  1. My Small Cents on April 26th, 2008 9:19 pm

    We just went on vacation, although a not very frugal one. These are some great ideas that you’ve posted! We visited family, and stayed with them which reduced our costs considerably. I also love camping, although haven’t as much lately. I think the best idea in your post is vacationing at home! It can be much more relaxing than going somewhere, especially if you add in a few day trips here and there.

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