4 Tricks To Save Money on Your Summer Vacation

Written By
Paul Tracy
Updated January 16, 2021

While most everyone wants to maximize their tight vacation budget, it can be particularly critical for retired people and other older folks whose income isn't what it once was. With plane tickets reaching some of the highest levels in years, some folks may be tempted to skip leaving town all together.

Don't do it. 

Let's face it, you need a change of scenery sometimes, and affordable options abound if you're willing to think beyond the conventional, all-inclusive-resort wisdom.

Here are some ideas for trips that can save money, including 

Tip No. 1: Visit America's Natural Parks

America is full of incredible natural wonders, and every state has at least one national park. Whether it is Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Smoky Mountains or the Kenai Fjords, most Americans have an affordable natural treasure within a short drive.  

The national parks offer an annual pass for entry into any of the 2,000 parks or recreation areas for just $80 a year. However, for active military, people with disabilities or individuals who perform 250 hours of volunteer service, the pass is free. 

If you are 62 years old or older and an American citizen, a "senior pass" to any national park in the U.S. will cost you $10. According to the National Park Service website, the pass covers "entrance and standard amenity fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person)." 

Once you enter the park, most of the entertainment is free; it is just a matter of finding a hike, view, or other activity to enjoy.

[InvestingAnswers Feature: 5 Money Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Summer Vacation]

Tip No. 2: Drive, Don't Fly

The first step toward discovering the most affordable vacation is to determine the cheapest way to get where you're going. For most people, the choices are to fly or drive. 

For a while, it looked like gas prices were going to reach $4 or $5 a gallon for the entire United States, but prices have pulled back a bit, making driving the best option in most cases. 

Unsure about whether that's the best choice for you? Get a quick estimate of a round-trip by car based upon gas price, fuel economy and mileage at the AAA Fuel Calculator. That can give you the estimated minimum price you can expect to pay for transportation, then you can check airfares to see if there is a cheaper price. 

When you consider the cost of flying, remember to take into account transportation once you arrive. If you go to a place with insufficient public transportation, you may need to rent a car, which can add to costs.

To get the most bang for the buck, consider a location within 200 miles of your home and drive. For example, the 382-mile round trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National park in a 2005 Honda Accord would cost $69.18. Even with a less fuel-efficient vehicle, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better deal flying anywhere solo round trip, much less flying with a partner. Bag fees alone could cost you $100 round trip for two.

Tip No. 3: Skip the Hotels

Hotels are always nice, but depending on your vacation needs, staying in a hotel can mean paying for amenities that you don't use. Other types of accommodations can cost less per night and may offer other money-saving amenities. 

Sites like Airbnb.com and vrbo.com can be great ways to get some of the amenities of home, such as a kitchen, refrigerator, washing machine, multiple bedrooms and open living areas. These are great choices for families or groups of friends going on vacation together. 

Taking the grandkids to Disney World? You can rent a two-bedroom lakefront cottage that sleeps eight, is a 15-minute drive from Disney with free Internet and many outdoor amenities for $80 per night. Good luck finding a hotel room that would allow that many people to sleep in one room for that price -- at least one that you'd feel safe sleeping in.

Additionally, renting camping supplies and camping can be a cost-effective adventure, especially if you are vacationing at a national park. 

Tip No. 4: Make Your Own Food

One of the nicest parts about staying in apartments, cottages and homes on your vacation is that they often offer amenities such as kitchens and refrigerators. 

Food can be one of the most expensive parts of a vacation. It is natural to want to get out of a normal routine of cooking at home when you are on vacation; however, even eating two meals a day at home can save between $15 and $50 a day per person. If you are feeding kids, grandkids and the whole family, it could you cost more than $200 a day in meals alone. 

Breakfast and lunch are simple meals to eat in or prepare and can be easily brought along for the day. By planning and putting in a little more effort, a family can save hundreds of dollars on their vacation by simply making two meals a day.

Drinks can often be brought in as well. For example, at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., visitors can bring in their own drinks. Spending a few dollars on bottled water at a grocery store before going to the Magic Kingdom can save you a fortune in overpriced drinks once you arrive.

The Investing Answer: Planning a summer vacation requires an investment of time and money, but the payoff is rest, relaxation and a lifetime of memories -- all with a cost that won't break a retiree's budget. 

The effort spent saving money can make the trip even more edifying knowing that they can fit within your budget.

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