Summer Travel Tips: How To Stay on Budget & Maximize Fun

As you’ve likely noticed, travel is ramping up this year, and many people are looking to plan a summer vacation. As travel restrictions drop and places around the world open back up, many destinations are going to be sold out or very expensive. Which is why you’ll want to grab all the best summer travel tips and tricks to stay on budget, so you can make the most of your summer time travels and adventures. 

Learn how to avoid the headaches and stay on budget with these tips from experienced travelers. 


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SUMMER TRAVEL TIPS

Choose Your Destination Carefully

Since summer time is peak season for the most popular destinations, consider traveling to less busy, but still amazing places. Or even somewhere local where you don’t have to pay for car rentals or hotels. The more popular the destination the more difficult it will be to book affordable accomodations, attractions and maybe even entrance to National Parks.

Here are a couple of low key destination ideas to get you started:

  • Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah, USA – Most travelers hit the Mighty 5, but this underrated destination is peaceful, and has opportunities for stargazing, hiking and viewpoints.
  • Chincoteague Island, Virginia, USA – great mixture of nature, relaxing beaches and wild ponies.
  • Fundy National Park, southeast coast of New Brunswick, Canada – Visit Fundy for the world’s highest waves, over 25 waterfalls, campgrounds and 100 kms of hiking and biking trails.
  • Local amusement park rather than Disneyworld.
  • Local campground, or one within a short road trip away.

Many National Parks open up their reservations for timed-entry tickets, and for camping or lodging months in advance. For example Yosemite in California, USA opens up camping spots 5 months in advance (example: March for August dates). It’s a good idea to start planning your summer trip late winter / early spring at the latest. Be sure to mark in your calendar when you can book so you’ll have a better chance at getting the dates you want.

Beach at sunset in summer with Palm tree silhouetted.

What kind of vacation are you looking for?

It’s been a tough few years for many people. Your summer vacation can be a time to recharge, have fun and connect with loved ones. Key summer travel tip is to figure out what you are looking for in your vacation. Plus there are many amazing benefits of family travel.

Perfect time to ask yourself what are you / your family looking for in a vacation? A relaxing beach vacation with great amenities? An outdoor adventure to a National Park with hikes to waterfalls, and dips in lakes? A road trip down the California Coast with great food, beaches and sea lions? Or maybe an amusement park visit like Disneyworld, but in Paris.

Choose  a destination based on these wishes and what works best for you and your family / friends. Then check out our tips for making family vacations less stressful.

Check Entry & COVID Requirements

If you are staying in state, or province, entry requirements / COVID precautions may no longer be an issue. However if you are planning a trip further away,  or international you’ll want to make sure you understand what will be required (vaccinations, visas, quarantine etc.)

Right Hotel, Right Price

Choosing a hotel, campground or vacation rental can feel overwhelming with all the choices. 

Narrowing your choices down can be a headache, when trying to factor in everybody’s needs. Yes, a pool is a must for most families with kids. We’ve listed our top summer travel tips for finding the right place to stay at the right price.

Book in Advance & Be Flexible with Dates

Play around with dates for vacancies, especially if you have a special place you really want to stay in. Booking far in advance will avoid disappointments, but be sure to pick the option with the most flexible cancellation policy.

Book directly with hotel. Booking directly may give you more flexibility in  terms of cancellations, upgrades and special requests. 

Summer Travel Tip: Use Hotel Points and Elite Status 

Do you have points you can redeem for hotel stays? Or maybe elite status with certain hotels through your credit cards? Get creative and save a little money by using your points to pay for the room. Some hotels have rooms set aside for Elite Status guests, which can be useful during peak season.

Often hotels will have their own rewards programs you can sign up for that offer member deals, discounts and perks like late checkout and faster internet. Once you hit higher tiers of hotel elite status, you’ll unlock bonus benefits like room upgrades, club lounge access and complimentary meals.

Here are a few popular hotel reward options that have a global footprint:

  • IHG Hotels – A family and business favourite with over 6000+ hotels and perks like free night stays, guaranteed room availability, and late checkout.
  • Marriott Bonvoy – One of the largest hotel chains (7000+ hotels), so wherever you go there will likely be a Marriott to chose from.
  • Hilton Honors Popular as it offers hotel choices for all budgets, plus it’s easier to get top tier status and has over 6400+ hotels globally.

Family Size & Alternative Accommodations

Many hotels limit the number of guests per room. If you are 5 or more traveling together, you may be better off finding a cottage or home vacation rental.

Alternative platforms like VRBO or AirBnB can be great options for vacation rentals, if you can’t find a hotel that meets your needs. 

Or for the more adventurous, you can try glamping, camping, or even renting an RV for a week or two before hitting the open road. 

  • Outdoorsy is the AirBnB of RVs that provides peer to peer lending of vehicles ranging from full size motorhomes to little tow trailers.
  • Camper Travel is great for international travel as they offer camper and motorhome rentals in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Europe.

Baggage Delays

Baggage delays happen, so make sure you know ways to avoid them & tips for lost/ delayed luggage happens.

Catalina RV in front of Death Valley, California.
RV travel in Death Valley, California
Photo: “urban_light via depostphotos.com”

Finding an Affordable Car Rental

Rental shortages are still happening, though not to the extremes of 2021. Remember Hawaii, and people renting moving vans out of desperation? As many car companies sold off the majority of their fleet  during the pandemic, it still can be more difficult to find cars and generally rentals are more expensive. We’ve put together our top tips for finding affordable car rentals.

Book  in advance

Book far in advance. Yes that is the general theme for travel these days. Prices rise and availability decreases the closer you get to your trip. Even if your trip details are not yet confirmed, book now! Just choose the option to pay later to give you more flexibility with cancellation if you need to. 

If you can’t find a car rental through traditional companies consider an option like Turo, where you “borrow” a local’s car. It’s available in 5,500+ cities across the U.S., in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec and also the United Kingdom.

Leverage Elite Status

Having elite status with a car rental loyalty program can be the difference between getting a car or not, even if you have a reservation. Sometimes they set aside cars just for elite members. Or perhaps your credit cards have car rental benefits, like skip the counter, automatic elite status, upgrades or other perks with certain rental companies. 

Check to see if the rental agency offers a car rental program status match, if it’s not your usual company. They will often offer to match your status to get you to try out their company, and hopefully stay.

A few popular car rental loyalty programs that are all free to join:

  • Avis Preferred Loyalty Program – earn points based on how much you spend, to get benefits such as upgrades, go straight to your car, and discounts. They have two tiers.
  • Enterprise Plus Program – four status levels and benefits that include earning points for free rentals, and upgrades.
  • National’s Emerald Club – two status levels with benefits ranging from free rentals, upgrades and guaranteed availability .

Use Discounts

Who doesn’t love a good discount? Some of the common ways to get discounts on travel are memberships such as CAA, AAA or Costco, through your workplace or if you are a veteran. Take advantage of these opportunities. 

You may also like Beach Vacation Tips for successful beach holiday with kids

Change Up Length of Car Rental

It often pays to play around with the length of rental time you want to rent the car for. Often renting a car is cheaper by the week or month. However check with the rental company to make sure they won’t revert it back to the daily rate if you plan on returning the car early. 

Summer Travel Tips to stay on budget.  Sumemr vacation photos scattered on top of each other; beaches, palm trees, sunny day in sandy beach.

Summer Flights Tips

Flights have got more expensive. I was looking into a flight to the East Coast of Canada this week and a “good deal” was almost $400 more than I paid before the pandemic. Yikes! If you are planning on flying, be sure to check out these pro tips for finding good deals.

How to find summer flight deals (Or at least not break the bank)

If you are looking for a reasonable flight, let the price and destination guide your decision. Could be fun to go with the flow, and be open to new places. Use the explore function on google flights or Skyscanner to see the best deals.

Sign up free for Scott’s Cheap Flight Newsletter – keep an eye on flights deals at your chosen US airports, right in your inbox.

Fly on a Holiday. Ever noticed that it’s crazy expensive to fly just before major holidays, but the day of can be cheaper? This can work in summer months as well. Look at flying the morning of the summer time holiday. 

Check Nearby Airports. Flexibility is key. Are nearby airports cheaper to fly into or out of? New York for example has 3 airports.

Use Air miles / Rewards for flights. Peak season doesn’t usually get you the best deals when redeeming award miles, but it can be a way to reduce your overall vacation costs. 

You may need to be flexible with dates, especially if flying into popular summer vacation destinations. Book far in advance when possible. If you don’t have a lot of time, some airlines  will open up premium award space two weeks before travel. Plus people cancel. 

If you have multiple rewards options, try booking two one way flights. Most frequent flyer programs will allow you to book travel one-way at half the cost of economy. There may be more flexibility for your destination that way.

Purchase Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a vacation essential, but it’s especially important now. Even while things have opened up significantly, there is still a lot of uncertainty. Buying travel insurance will provide peace of mind. 

Also opt for flexible ticket and accommodation options. Ones that let you cancel or change for no or low fees.

National Parks in Summer Tips

National Parks are busy for good reason. They offer accessible nature and hikes, gorgeous views and a chance to get away from our technology centred lives. Peak summer season however can be a nightmare for parking, crowds and overpriced accommodations. 

Stay outside the National Park

While staying in a rustic lodge right in the midst of gorgeous mountains, with star gazing outside your room, can be a bucket list must do,  it can also  be the more expensive option. Often there will be plentiful choices close by with all budget ranges from camping, glamping or budget friendly hotels.

Looking through the Partition Arch into the valley.
Partition Arch, Arches National Park, Utah, USA
Photo: “demerzel21 via depositphotos.com”

Time your Visit

If you can manage it, visit National Parks during the shoulder seasons, end of spring / early summer or end of summer / early fall. If not, consider choosing a less frequented park.

Avoid free days. Need I say more? Free days bring out the crowds, which means hassles with parking, finding space on shuttles, and not getting those instagram worthy shots without 100s of people in the background.

Choose A Less Visited Park

According to the National Park Services in 2021 the most visited National Park was Great Smoky National Park (with over 14M visitors). With so many national parks, monuments and state parks in the US, there are a lot of alternatives with similar landscapes  to choose from with fewer crowds.  

Options with fewer visitors include:

Buy Attraction & Amusement Park Tickets in Advance

Summer usually means bigger crowds, higher prices and long lineups at attractions and amusement parks. 

You’ll want to book your admission tickets, and tours in advance online. Some places give discounts for buying in advance.

 Be sure to print out your reservations whenever possible, or have a copy on your phone. Check out the best places to buy attraction tickets online and tips to save money

Fair Ground Tickets Sign
Photo: “Mliis via deposit.com”

Find Free Entertainment Options 

Between flights, hotels, and attraction tickets the cost of a summer vacation can quickly add up. Especially as most venues jack up their prices during peak seasons like summer time. 

Look for free activities you can do to balance those special activities you have to spend money on. 

Check local listings for free festivals, concerts in the park, and beaches or hiking in the area. Some of my favourite travel activities are just wandering around town, or beach combing for treasures. Look for discounts on local tourism websites or booklets at tourist centres. 

Download Road Trip Apps

Road trip apps can save you money and cut down on travel time. Move away from from wrestling with large paper maps. 

Plan your route with Road Trippers app (download free) and check out attractions along the way. Add up to 150 stops (with a premium account), collaborate with friends or family, and discover great places to stop along your route.

Gas Buddy for the cheapest gas stations on route. Never pay more for gas then you have to. With the price of gas these days, you’ll definitely want to download this app. 

Navigate cities like a local with Waze navigation and live traffic app. Avoid traffic jams, construction and delays.

Have Bad Weather Back Up Plans

Bad weather doesn’t have to ruin your week-long beach stay or hiking trip to Zion National Park. 

Avoid the whining and complaints by planning some fun back up activities you all can do in case of bad weather, or to get out of the sun if it’s too hot.

If you are staying in a vacation home, pack some board games or cards games and activity books for kids. Hold movie nights / afternoons  or read a book aloud, all snuggled in bed. 

Or for when the kids (or adults) are going a little stir crazy have some local activities in your back pocket like museums, arcades, coffee shops etc. Or try one of these rainy day activities.

Pack Essentials

Often beach and travel essentials are more expensive at your destination, than home. Especially at beach destinations & resorts. Avoid the temptation to over spend your budget by using a packing list, and grabbing some fun beach vacation gear & toys before you leave home.

Stay Healthy – Summer Safety Tips

Weather isn’t the surest way to ruin a vacation…. getting sick or forgetting the sunscreen and ending up the color of a lobster is. 

You’ll want to make sure you and all your family members are healthy and happy on your summer vacation

Here are a few expert summer safety tips for a fantastic and healthy summer trip:

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen at least SPF 30 or above
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect against harmful UV rays
  • Drink lots of water and stay hydrated
  • Use bug spray to keep those pesky mosquitoes away. We prefer one’s without DEET like this one. 
  • Pay attention to beach signage & life guards – Be aware of ocean conditions and things like rip tides, undercurrents, jellyfish warnings etc.
  • With kids – get them to wear a life jacket at the beach and in the water. Safety first.

Looking for summer vacation ideas?

Summer Travel Tips: Stay On Budget & Maximize Fun


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