7 Simple Ways to Save Money on Summer Vacation and Still Have Fun

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You can save money on summer vacation and still have fun at the same time. Here are 7 ways to save money and have the summer vacation of a lifetime.

As the weather turns warmer many start to have one thing in mind – traveling. Regardless of if you have a large family or are strapped for cash, you want to save money on summer vacation. I’ve read varying numbers on the “average” cost of summer travel and they range upwards of $1,500+ per person. That can be a staggering number and can be cost-prohibitive to your summer vacation ideas.

We travel hack for many of our trips as a family, but that doesn’t always cover the entire cost of a trip. As a result, we’re often looking for ways to slash costs to stretch our money even further. The end result is that we have just as much fun without spending a ton of money.

If you’re looking to save money on summer vacation, but aren’t certain where to start, a few of these tips should help.

Ditch the Hotel on Your Summer Vacation


We commonly use travel rewards cards when going on a trip to cover the cost, but when we don’t, we skip the hotel. Why is that? It’s because you can spend a fraction of the cost by renting a house or condo. There are a variety of ways to do this, but we’ve used VRBO with a lot of success.

For example, we’re going to Denver for a week in August. Most hotels were at least $200 per night or required way too many points. Instead, we booked a house 10 minutes outside the city for less than half the cost. If you’d still like to take advantage of rewards credit cards to help lower the cost of travel, here are some of the best ones available.

Take Your Own Food


We’ve all heard that taking your own food is a great way to save money on summer vacation, yet do you actually do it? If not, it really does work. 🙂 All you need is a small to medium sized cooler and you can take lunches, snacks, fruit, etc. and avoid spending money on the road. Doing this alone saves us easily several hundred dollars per trip.

Depending on where your summer vacation destination, you can even do the same thing in your arrival city. If you rent a house or stay in a hotel with a kitchen, plan to make your dinner. We usually allow for at least several dinners out while on vacation as it’s a nice treat for the kids and we get to try something we don’t normally at home.

Avoid the Hotspots


Tourist attractions can be a lot of fun, though your wallet may not necessarily agree with you. Not only can they be expensive, but you’re also likely to run into a ton of crowds.

Not every tourist destination is this way, but I’d venture to guess that in the majority of the cases, they are. Instead, look at a summer vacation that’s closer or a little less well-known to save some money. We use both Expedia and to help us find places that are cheaper and away from the tourist attractions.

Set A Family Budget


We already like to budget and we live that out when going on summer vacation. By setting a budget we have more freedom to spend what we want and save it for something meaningful as opposed to some random trinket.

Each person in our family gets an allotted amount to spend on something they want. This helps our kids learn to manage money and place a value on something they might really want.

Enjoy Free Entertainment


If you’re going to a big enough destination I can pretty much guarantee there is some form of free or very cheap entertainment options there. Some of them may not be your kind of thing, but there is almost always numerous options to consider.

The easiest way to find such things is to do a simple Internet search and type in “Free things to do in…” and then type in the city. We do this with nearly every summer vacation we take as it results in more money in our pocket as opposed to going to some tourist trap.

Don’t Stay in the Big City


Who doesn’t like visiting a big city on vacation? The problem is many times they can be very expensive. Take Chicago for example. We went there last fall. I lived there for five years and grew up visiting multiple times a year as my entire family is from there.

The problem? If you want to stay in downtown Chicago, it can cost upwards of $300 per night for a middle of the road hotel. We refuse to pay that. However, if you go 20 minutes outside the city and stay in one of the suburbs you can get a relatively decent hotel for less than half the cost.

Guess which one we did? We still had the Chicago experience without leaving broke at the end of the trip. You can do the same thing in many other larger cities.

In fact, sites like Expedia and make it easy to search by area of the city and will list general price ranges. Those are our go-tos when looking to save money on lodging.

You can save money on summer vacation and still have fun at the same time. Here are 7 ways to save money and have the summer vacation of a lifetime.

Know the Transportation Options


Transportation costs are another key thing to keep in mind when trying to save money on summer vacation. This won’t work in every location, but if your destination has great public transportation – think New York, Chicago, Boston, or San Francisco then you very well may not need a rental car.

In fact, not only will it cost you more money to have one but it likely won’t be worth the hassle. If you’re staying in relatively the same area, or even if you’ll be out exploring, using public transportation can save you several hundred dollars.

I know saving money on summer vacation might seem like you won’t enjoy yourself. It doesn’t have to be that way. Some of our best summer vacations have been those that cost the least. After all, it should be about the experience and not spending all sorts of money to create it.


What are some other ways you save money on summer vacation? Where are you traveling this summer? Do you set a spending budget on vacation?


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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.

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  • This is great advice! I am planning a trip to Orlando with my friends from college. Even though Orlando is a tourist hotspot we don’t want to spend a lot of money so we set a budget we can all work with.

  • I love VRBO! We saved $700 on our rental at the beach vs what we’d pay at a hotel. Plus there’s the food savings from being able to cook your own meals.

    One other way we save is to get discount tickets at for amusement parks at our local township office (or grocery store). Many of them we can find for $20 off gate price!

  • I remember a few years back me and my sisters took all our children to an amusement park. We decided to bring our own food to cut cost, and left the park at a designated time to have a picnic and just eat. What’s fascinating is sitting outside the park and chowing down on chicken and old school Jamaican beef sandwiches seems to still be the best memory of that trip for the kids.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I find it’s often those simple times together, especially on a vacation, that are the most memorable. The other stuff is fun, of course, but just goes to show that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have fun/create memories.

  • Michelle says:

    We usually like to stay in an Airbnb on our vacations. Usually much cheaper and a lot more room!

  • BYO food is huge! Even just avoiding buying food at the airport saves a ton. We always pack as much food as we can–it’s an easy way to save. And, staying at an AirBnB rental like you suggested is ideal for cooking our own meals. When we AirBnB, we’ll hit up the local grocery store and make all of our meals.

    We’ll often plan to eat out for at least a few meals to enjoy the local flavor, but eating out for every single meal everyday is just not worth it. Even when we’ve traveled abroad and stayed in hotels (on points of course), we’ll go to the grocery store and buy our food for that day–it’s fun to explore grocery stores in other countries and vastly less expensive.

    • John Schmoll says:

      You’re exactly right Mrs. FW! That food cost adds up so quickly and we’d much rather prepare it ourselves so we can stay healthier as well. A dinner or two out is more than enough for us and allows for the kids to do something fun.

      I love doing that in foreign countries! It just adds to the experience in my opinion.

  • Kim says:

    Staying downtown is a total rip off in most cases. I absolutely despise valet parking and will usually avoid a place altogether if it’s mandatory. Even if you’re paying with points, you still have to tip for things I am perfectly capable and willing to do myself.

    We have a huge trip coming up in a few weeks and I’m trying really hard to budget for everything but it’s just impossible. I’m trying to balance planning with no worrying. We’ll see how it all turns out.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Completely agreed Kim. It’s just a way for most hotels to make even more money. In some cities, you’re more likely to be able to have public transportation as an option which can help.

  • Great tips, John. I have not tried AirBnB but hear lots of good things about it. We haven’t stayed anywhere with a kitchen but we definitely pack a ton of snacks and beverages to avoid buying them. They are so expensive, especially if you have to buy them at the hotel.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Shannon! You definitely should check AirBnB or VRBO out – I think renting a house/condo can make a vacation that much more enjoyable since you have an actual house to stay in.

  • I’m a big fan of Airbnb, I definitely save money on that. And also setting a budget is really important to avoid over spending.

  • Good tips! I don’t plan to take a vacay this summer, but I am taking a family vacay with my parents and brother in the winter, so we will still try to use some of these tips to save when we go. 🙂

  • These are really frugal tips. What I like and practice most is bringing own food to resort and even amusement parks. We know how much increase the prices of food at these locations compared with those at convenient stores. We’d better take our food to these places.

  • I’ll have to check out Air BnB and the other one you mentioned. I want to take my husband to DC — great public transit & free things galore there! — but the cost of hotels kills it.

    Since I have chronic fatigue, we can’t just stay outside the city (where prices are still bad but not as bad) because I may need to go back and lie down for a bit. Still, it’s an awesome city. I think with some saving and planning I should be able to get us there in the next year or so.

    • John Schmoll says:

      You should definitely check out AirBnB & VRBO – we’ve used them numerous times and usually come out saving quite a bit of money – especially in higher cost areas like DC.

  • Chris Muller says:

    Funny you mention VRBO – I literally just found out about this site yesterday as I was looking at condos in Myrtle Beach. I’ve never used it, but it seems like one could save a ton of money by using it.

    We typically take less vacations, but go out of the country when we do. Your point about bringing your own food is awesome – we went to Turks & Caicos last year and found that it was about $80 for two of us to have lunch! Instead of doing that for a week, we found a local market that was actually really nice (almost like a Whole Foods) and bought food for the week to cook at least once a day. Also, you tend to spend a ton on breakfast unless it’s included at your resort, so we just picked up some bagels and coffee.

    I get that eating well is sometimes part of a really nice vacation, but not when it’s costing you a ton.

    Your other point about avoiding hotspots is key too – this year we went to Mexico and just for the heck of it decided to go to Tulum – one of the biggest tourist areas. While it was pretty, I didn’t enjoy the crowds and all the shops attempting to force us into spending more money. I much preferred a tour we took with a tour group to a less-known Mayan ruin site where there wasn’t a lot of merchandisers and we could focus on the beauty of the site.

    Great post – thanks for sharing John!

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks for sharing Chris! I know, we avoided VRBO for some reason for quite some time and love it now. We’re going to Denver next month and are staying in a condo that’s more than half less than a hotel would’ve cost us.

      That’s the thing about the hotspots – everyone likes to go there, but it can definitely be unenjoyable being around a bunch of crowds. Taking your route with visiting the ruins, you get the opportunity to really enjoy something and take your time.

  • Paul Moyer says:

    Great Post! If you need to fly we do very well with using the cost travel to plan our vacation. So instead of trying to find a deal where we want to go we decide to go where the deal is. Last time we did this we booked flights on a low cost airline to Orlando for $50 per ticket round trip. We then planned the five day trip around the location. This allowed us to focus our finances on doing things in that city and surrounding area.

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