10 Tips for Planning Your Dream Summer Vacation—on the Cheap

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Whether you’re considering heading to Paris, the Greek islands, or just a local beach this season, summer vacations are—to state the obvious—wonderful, well-deserved, and much-needed. It’s the budgeting and paying for said vacays that sucks the fun out of it.

According to a recent RetailMeNot survey, 58 percent of Americans will spend an average of $1,307 on travel alone this summer. What’s more, 37 percent plan to spend more on their vacations than they did the year before, and 66 percent of us will buy new stuff for the trip—spending an average of $319 on clothes, accessories, or other travel gear.

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The moral of this money-hoovering story is that unless you get scrappy about every dollar you spend, your summer trip could burn a giant hole in your bank account. And we’re pretty sure that would be stressful enough to defeat the purpose of relaxing vacations.

So, here are 10 ways—from pre-trip planning to travel hacks to use when you’re there—to help you spend less for an equally awesome summer vacation.

MORE: How to Travel Alone Safely as a Woman

1. Plan as much as you can in advance.

This is a no brainer, but you want to keep in mind at all times how much booking ahead will save you ultimately. Travel experts advise to book over 45 days ahead for the best deals on hotels and airfare. Worried that hotel rates might go down if you book ahead? Don’t.

Tingo.com offers to match hotel rates if you book on their site and the hotel lowers their prices before your stay. If you have some flexibility on dates use Airfarewatchdog.com to track flight prices over certain periods of time to determine the best time to travel.

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2. Don’t plan your trip during the peak of the summer season.

The bulk of travelers plan trips for the second and third weeks of August (right before back to school season), and you’ll save big if you refrain from traveling during that time frame. Travel in June for the best summer rates (particularly at seasonal destinations like the South of France) or in September when many hotels will begin to lower their rates.

MORE: 10 Breathtaking Hotel Jacuzzis You Need to See

3. Rethink where you’ll stay.

So you have your flights sorted, now comes the tricky part of picking a place to stay. If you are planning a trip to a major tourist destination, like London for instance, consider staying in a city close by (with easy access via public transportation) and you could end up saving a ton. Another idea? Instead of reserving a pricey hotel, why not opt to pay to stay in someone’s home? Airbnb is a great place to start that search, but other similar sites abound including FlipKey and One Fine Stay. Lastly, why not consider a home swap with someone in similar situation who also has the travel bug? Check out HomeExchange.com to look for the right opportunity.

4. Visit destinations that aren’t as popular during the summer.

Southwestern states, like Florida, see a ton of tourism in the winter, but not nearly as much during the summer. Jonesing to visit Miami? The summer could be the best time (just make sure to stay somewhere with air conditioning). The same goes for popular winter destinations like St.Barths, Tulum in Mexico, and Costa Rica.

5. Find out what budget activities are available.

Don’t get sucked into spending a ton of money on activities at your vacation spot of choice. Instead of spending a small fortune on a visit to a zoo, for instance, visit a wildlife sanctuary. Sometimes museums will be free during certain hours, and it is good to know when ahead of time. Instead of taking a pricey walking tour, print one out online, and create a do-it-yourself version. The possibilities are endless, all it takes is some thought and planning.

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Gabi Fresh

6. Travel on Tuesdays.

Book your trip on a Tuesday and travel with flexible dates. “This can help you avoid crowds and surge prices,” says travel expert Cheryl Rosner, CEO of Stayful, a deal-focused hotel booking site. “Tuesday is the best day of the week for saving money on booking hotels and flights.”

7. Plan (and pay for) activities ahead of time.

For whichever activities you do decide are worth your cash, book well in advance. “Get passes to attractions online ahead of time, since you can often get a better deal by doing it on the earlier side and looking for discounts for students, AAA members, and more,” says Rosner. If you’re rushing to book, you might overpay for something that’s offered at a lower rate by a competitor. “Also, ask the hotel concierge for special hotel discounts to local attractions.” You don’t want to miss out on any local partnerships that might be available—hold onto your money!

MORE: 15 Ways to Travel Like a Celebrity

8. Buy basic necessities outside of the hotel.

If you bring a small carry-on bag and that means you arrive at the hotel sans basic necessities like sunscreen and snacks, don’t get caught paying for them at the hotel gift store or even beachside tourist traps. “Bring your own food to the hotel—stop by a grocery store or other local market that isn’t marked up tenfold to pick up basics,” says Rosner. “Also pick up essentials like sunscreen, Advil, and water if you weren’t able to pack them.” Otherwise you could be the sucker who winds up paying $40 for a 4 oz. bottle of SPF.

9. Be smart about getting around when you’re there.

Car rental insurance and taxis are two of the biggest unplanned money-suckers for vacationers, says Rosner, so don’t automatically step into the line of cabs waiting in front of your hotel. Make sure your Uber app is loaded up and ready to go: “Ride sharing apps like Lyft and Uber offer carpooling services in many international cities for deep discounts on your fare,” she says. “If you aren’t in a rush, try Uber Pool or Lyft Line and you could meet some locals in the process.” And if you’re renting a car, “check to see if you have any additional car rental insurance already built in when you use your credit card before spending the additional fee.” Be skeptical and ask where all of your money is going.

10. Be an early bird vacationer.

“Think about activities in the morning instead of at night,” says Rosner. “Sunsets and dinners are typically more crowded than sunrises and early breakfasts, and you’ll get more time away from the crowds to relax.” It’s a win-win.

MORE: The 15 Best Airbnb Beach Rentals to Book Now

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