6 Ways to Enjoy Summer Vacation and Hardly Spend a Dime

cheap summer vacation ideas

Summer is swiftly approaching and you know what that means: backyard BBQs, brews, sun, and fun. And of course, summer vacation!

While many people look forward to taking a summer vacation, let’s face it – vacations can cost a pretty penny. The possibility might seem out of reach when you’re also paying back your student loans.

According to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumers spent an average of $583 on domestic trips and $3,273 on international trips in 2013.

Some people might say that if you’re paying off debt, you shouldn’t have any fun and go on vacation — but not me. Vacations helped to renew my debt payoff goals and re-energize me for the rest of the year. Plus, a summer vacation doesn’t have to be expensive.

Cheap summer vacation ideas

If you’re wondering how you can have a cheap summer vacation, check out the following ideas for getting some much-needed relaxation without breaking the bank.

1. Staycation

One way to enjoy a cheap summer vacation is to take a staycation, which is essentially a vacation in your own city.

Think about all those local activities you’ve always wanted to try, but never seem to have the time. Try that new brunch spot on a weekday? Go to the local art museum? Sleep in until noon and watch Netflix all day? The possibilities are endless.

The beauty of the staycation is that it can be whatever you want. You can avoid long lines, sitting in planes or cars, and save a huge chunk of change by not traveling or staying in a hotel.

Instead, you can plan your Perfect Day — including cat naps, long coffee breaks, day drinking, or whatever your heart desires. Be a tourist in your own city and enjoy!

2. Camping

Is your idea of relaxation reconnecting with nature and unplugging from technology? Camping could be an ideal cheap summer vacation idea for you.

There are many campsites all over the country, including at national parks. Make sure you book as soon as possible, though, because most campsites fill up quickly for the summer.

Going camping costs a fraction of what it would cost to stay in a hotel, especially if you can borrow gear such as a tent and sleeping bag from friends. Plus, it’s a fun way to explore the natural beauty of the world and disconnect from the demands of daily life.

Check out recreation.gov to explore campsites and get tips for making your camping experience awesome.

And if “roughing it” sounds a bit too rough for you, consider “glamping” and opt for a yurt or cabin instead. These options are typically a bit more expensive, but offer more creature comforts while still being in proximity to nature.

3. Housing swap

Hotel accommodations can add a lot to your vacation budget. One way to remedy that is by participating in a housing swap, where you exchange your place with someone else’s for a short period of time. In other words, FREE ACCOMMODATION.

Relationship expert April Masini recommends swapping houses with a friend or family member who lives in a different part of the world. “If you put your interest ‘out there’ among family and friends, you’ll find like-minded vacationers who realize the convenience and savings of swapping homes to avoid pricey hotel and rental charges,” she said.

You can either hit up your friends or family or use a site such as HomeExchange.com to swap houses and live like a local without spending money on a place to stay.

4. Work-trade in a hostel

Last year, I went to Lisbon and became friends with the people who worked at the hostel where I was staying. They were all travelers like me, but instead of paying to stay in a hostel, they negotiated a work-trade agreement to stay there for free in exchange for working part-time.

Many of them worked just a few hours a day and in exchange had a free place to stay and free food.

Before you assume this is only an option for fresh-faced college grads, think again. I met people of all ages working at the hostel. For those looking to do long-term travel, this can be a great way to save money on accommodations and meet new people.

If your idea of a vacation does not include working, staying in a hostel is still a cost-effective option. I stay at hostels exclusively when I travel and they typically cost between $25 to $35 per night. You may even be able to get a private room for $70 to $90 per night.

5. Use credit card rewards

I recently got back from a trip to Italy with my mom — a celebratory trip for paying off my student loans. I paid $159 for a round trip flight to Italy. Before you say, “That’s not possible!” let me tell you, it is.

I used credit card rewards to travel hack my flight to Europe. I signed up for an American Airlines credit card, which had an annual fee of $89 and after one purchase, provided me with 50,000 miles.

When I booked my vacation, off-season tickets to Europe required only 40,000 miles. So with miles in tow, I ended up paying just $70 in taxes for my ticket. (Award mileage has gone up slightly since I booked the tickets.)

Using credit card rewards can allow you to fly for free, redeem for free hotel stays, or even earn cash back.

But here’s the big caveat: if you’re currently in credit card debt or tend to spend more with credit cards, this isn’t the right option for you. Using credit card rewards is only useful if you can pay off your balance in full each month and keep your credit score intact.

6. Follow the deals

If you’re looking for cheap summer vacation ideas, the key is to be flexible. Instead of planning your vacation based on a specific location, go where the deals are to find cheap summer vacation destinations. Summer is a popular time to travel, so not every place is going to have great deals.

Being open to location can help you experience somewhere new that may be off the beaten path and be a fraction of the cost of a popular tourist location. Set a budget of how much you can afford and pick a place that fits your budget.

Cheap summer vacation ideas + resources

To help you rock a cheap summer vacation, here are my favorite resources for low-cost travel:

  • Travelzoo.com: sign up for their Top 20 newsletter and get deals delivered to your inbox.
  • Fly.com: I use the “Today’s Best Fares” tab on this site to find the cheapest flights from my location.
  • Skyscanner.com: another great resource to look up cheap flights.
  • HostelBookers.com: my favorite place to search for hostel accommodations.
  • HomeExchange.com: a resource for house swapping.
  • GasBuddy.com: a great resource for road trippers to find the best gas prices in your area.
  • Groupon.com: I’ve used Groupon to save money on dining out as well as to find affordable accommodations.

Final Word

If you feel like you’re desperate for a vacation, but also strapped for cash, don’t fret. Use one of these options to find cheap summer vacation ideas that align with your budget. It is possible to go on an affordable vacation while still prioritizing your student loans.

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