It's summertime, and for many of us, that means planning a vacation. There are lots of good reasons to travel during the summer: Kids are out of school, the weather is pleasant, and work is often a bit less hectic. But summer travel can also get expensive, and the last thing you want is to bust your budget in an attempt to get away. With that in mind, here are a few tips for lowering your summer vacation costs -- and putting less of a strain on your finances.
1. Use credit card rewards
Though using a credit card can open the door to unnecessary and excessive spending, the one good thing about credit cards is that they tend to reward you for buying the things you already need. If you have a travel card, you might snag some decent rewards that can help pay for your vacation directly, like air miles or free hotel stays. Some cards also let you secure cheaper flights or avoid foreign transaction fees that come into play when you're vacationing overseas, so take a look at what your card offers and use those benefits to your advantage.
2. Drive rather than fly
It used to be that with your airline ticket came the privilege of actually checking a bag. These days, though, you'll frequently pay to bring along anything more than a carry-on, which can make traveling expensive when you're talking about suitcases for the entire family. Throw in the fact that flights themselves can be costly to begin with, and it certainly makes the case for driving if your destination can be reached by vehicle in a reasonable period of time -- say, a day or less.
Imagine you're a family of four looking to travel from the New York City area to South Carolina. A flight might easily cost you $400 per person, especially when you factor in baggage fees and airport parking. But if you power through the roughly 12-hour drive in a day, you'll pay only gas and tolls, which, even if you don't have the most fuel-efficient vehicle out there, will still likely amount to less than the cost of a single plane ticket. Plus, if you drive to your destination, you won't have to rent a car once you're there, which will save you even more money.
3. Go off the beaten path
Most popular destinations charge a premium to summer travelers, so if you're looking to save a little cash on your upcoming vacation, choose a spot that's less likely to attract the masses. You might decide to camp out at a national or state park, or explore a smaller city's arts scene and culture. Staying away from major hotspots will allow you to get more for your money -- and spend less of it at that.
4. Travel off peak
Finding the time to take vacation can be challenging from a work perspective. But if you have some flexibility, you can save a bundle by booking your flights strategically. The cheapest days to fly domestically are typically Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, so if you avoid leaving town on a Friday, you might shave a few hundred dollars off your trip cost. Similarly, hotels tend to offer reduced rates for weeknight travel, so if you reserve lodging that doesn't overlap with a weekend, you might save substantially with that move as well.
5. Save in advance to avoid debt
A good way to ensure that your summer vacation won't cost more than necessary is to charge it on a credit card and carry that balance forward, thereby accruing interest charges. A better bet, therefore, is to reduce your costs by having the money on hand to pay for your trip in the first place. So take a long, hard look at your budget and find expenses to cut temporarily to free up that cash. Or, take on a side hustle between now and when you leave for your trip so you have extra money to pay for it. If you're looking to travel at the end of August, for example, and earn $200 on the side per week for the next seven weeks, you'll have $1,400 to work with.
We all deserve a good vacation, and summer might be the right time to take it. Follow these tips, and with any luck, you'll enjoy that much-needed getaway without breaking the bank.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.