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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. Here are 7 ways to save money and have the vacation of a lifetime without guilt or debt.

As a family with growing kids, it’s easy to for our travel costs to add up quickly. Thanks to a few simple tricks, we save money on summer vacation, and on travel throughout the year.

You might be planning a spring break, or a trip during the summer. Regardless of when you choose to travel, you can easily see travel costs get out of hand. We love to travel as a family and love to find ways to save money on summer vacation that don’t cut down on the fun.

If you want to travel as the weather turns warmer, here are seven tips we’ve personally found useful to cut cost but not fun on our travels – some of which even allow us to travel for free!

1. Use Credit Card Rewards

 

Did you know you can earn rewards points on your normal spending? You can use those rewards to help significantly cut down on the cost of going on summer vacation. In some cases, we’re even able to travel for free, or for pennies on the dollar.

We’ve personally used credit card rewards to earn free hotel stays and flights that greatly reduce the cost of going on summer vacation.

Earning rewards for purchases is great. The biggest benefit comes in the form of a sign-up bonus. There are many cards available that offer hundreds of dollars in free rewards that you can use to slash your travel expenses. You typically need to meet a minimum spending requirement to earn such rewards.

Travel rewards aren’t the only type of rewards you can earn from credit cards. You can also get cards that allow you to earn cash back or get statement credits. These can be used to save money, or greatly reduce the overall cost, on your summer vacation as well.

Compare our favorite airline cards here.

Compare our favorite hotel cards here.

2. Start A Side Hustle

 

What does a side hustle have to do with saving money on summer vacation? A lot, if you think about it. The average vacation can cost upwards of $1,000 per person. That can add up quickly with a larger family.

One of the best ways we’ve found to help lower the cost of travel is to get a side hustle. We then take all the income from that side hustle and use it for our trip. One of the best side hustle ideas that doesn’t require specialized skill is driving for a ridesharing service like Lyft.

You get to make your own schedule, so you can make as much or as little extra money as you want.

Lyft does have some requirements before you can start driving for their service. Here are their basic requirements:

  • A valid driver’s license
  • Auto insurance that’s current and paid
  • A clean driving record
  • You must submit to a background check

You might also need a newer car, but that depends on your particular city and state requirements.

Lyft is currently offering a $250 sign-on bonus for new drivers. If you don’t have a newer car, or would rather not drive people around, you can also make extra money driving for Uber Eats and get many of the same benefits.

3. Hack Your Hotel Expenses

 

One of the biggest traveling expenses is staying at a hotel. Since we have a family of five, that typically means we either need a suite or two rooms, which can get expensive quickly.

We do our best to use credit card rewards to pay for hotel stays, but we’re not always successful. In that event, we head to Hotels.com to find the best possible deals.

I love that Hotels.com allows you to search based on location and filter results based on particular amenities. The best part is that Hotels.com does not charge a cancelation fee, so if your trip needs to be changed or canceled, you avoid any charges.

We love staying at a hotel, but we most often rent a house when on summer vacation. This lets us all stay in one place, is cheaper than a hotel, provides a way to make meals (and thus save money), and it just feels more home-y.

We use HomeAway (owners of VRBO and VacationRentals.com) to book rental homes. HomeAway lets you search by proximity, and other amenities – just like Hotels.com.

If you’re looking for a way to hack airline costs without rewards, Expedia.com is our go-to option to save money.

4. try Livingsocial

 

What’s the fun of sitting around doing nothing on your summer vacation? Summer vacation, or any trip for that matter, is more fun when you have exciting activities to enjoy with friends and family.

Unfortunately, those experiences can quickly get expensive. Using a service like LivingSocial helps us enjoy more activities without taking too much of a bite out of our vacation budget.

Many families think they can only use LivingSocial in their hometown. You can actually use LivingSocial as a search engine and simply type in the location you are going. The LivingSocial service will then give you results for money-saving opportunities ranging from restaurants to things to do, and everything in between. A search for the Chicago area, for example, returned nearly 10,000 discount offers!

Search by location, dollar amount and, “hot” deals to find discounted offers.

5. Start A Savings Account

 

This isn’t exactly a novel idea, but one of the best ways to save money on summer vacation is to actually put money in a savings account. This is especially true if you don’t have the money budgeted for a trip.

The last thing you want is to go on a trip and end up coming home with debt because you didn’t have money saved for the trip. The best way to avoid this problem is to open a savings account devoted to travel.

We recommend Synchrony Bank as they pay 1.85 percent (currently 22x the national average) and have no minimum balance requirement. Start putting money away now so you can take a guilt-free vacation. If you don’t know where to find opportunities to save, tracking your spending will help you identify those opportunities.

We recommend Tiller if you’re looking for a way to track your spending. Tiller lets you view all your financial transactions in one location, through automation. Tiller is a Google Sheets based service that automatically pulls all your banking and other financial transactions that helps you categorize your spending and find opportunities to save.

Tiller is free to use for the first month, then $5 per month thereafter.

6. go to popular destinations on a discount

 

We often like to go to local attractions (like amusement parks) or museums when on vacation. Unfortunately, we find the cost to be prohibitive in many cases. Thankfully, there are ways to enjoy popular destinations or museums for a fraction of the cost.

LivingSocial has already been mentioned as a discount option, but you can often find deals just as good, or better by looking local. Here are some options for popular vacation destinations:

You can also find similar deals by visiting the Chamber of Commerce site for a given city. It doesn’t make sense to pay full price for many destinations, so it pays to do your research prior to going on vacation.

7. Save Money on Food

 

Food costs are typically the easiest way to save money on a summer vacation. We love to eat out when on vacation, but that becomes expensive. Much of why we like to rent a house is so we can prepare meals at our rental.

We commonly buy breakfast items and ingredients for dinners. This way we only eat lunch out, if at all, and cut our food costs significantly. When we drive to our destination, we take a cooler so we can start out the trip with a few items.

You can also have some foods delivered, via Amazon, to your vacation destination so you don’t have to haul the items.

You can save money on summer vacation and still have fun. Here are 7 ways to save money and have the vacation of a lifetime without guilt or debt.

 

you can save money on summer vacation with little effort

 

We love to travel. We devote a big chunk of our savings each month to it. However, we stretch our travel budget so we can get maximum value from each trip.

The best part of many of these ways to save money on vacation is that you can do them with little effort. In fact, many of these money saving ideas are things we do as a part of our normal day-to-day life, so it’s easy to carry them over to vacation.

I know saving money on summer vacation might seem like you won’t enjoy yourself. That’s not the case. Many of our best trips have been those on which we spent as little as possible. You can create lifelong memories without spending a ton of money to create said memories.

If you’re planning a trip this year, try a few of these tips and you’ll be surprised how much money you’ll save.

 

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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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

29 Comments

  • 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.

  • Bernz JP says:

    My wife and I like LivingSocial a lot. We’ve used them finding deals from massage to bowling and travels. They always have great Wisconsin Dells deals and my brother’s family use them almost every year. Have not tried VRBO but a family friend told us about their satisfaction with them.

    • John Schmoll says:

      We use LivingSocial for similar things and can usually be a good way to save some cash. We use VRBO a lot. Having three kids it usually means we need two rooms, plus there’s not usually a kitchen to use. It helps us save money on multiple fronts.

  • Greg Noble says:

    We have had good success with Redweek.com. They rent out timeshares from owners. The facilities are nice and since they are condos, save on food and even activities because they typically have a nice pool area. Myrtle beach and Orlando have the greatest supply but we utilized in Vail to ski one year.

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