3 Budget-Friendly Vacations to Look at This Summer

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on June 7, 2021

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Hiker overlooking view at Zion national park.

Image source: Getty Images

Short on funds for a summer trip? Here are some options to explore.

After spending the past year and change cooped up at home, many of us are eager to get out and explore this summer. But what if money is tight -- say, because your income took a hit during the pandemic, or you just never got a chance to save up for a trip?

The good news is that you don't have to spend a small fortune to get away. Here are some budget-friendly trips you might enjoy over the next few months.

1. Visit a national park

Although things have improved on the pandemic front, a lot of people -- especially families with kids who aren't old enough to get vaccinated -- are still more comfortable doing things outdoors. And given the great weather summer can bring, it pays to spend your vacation getting some sunshine and exercise.

That's where our national parks system comes in. For as little as $10 to $20 per person or $25 to $35 per vehicle, you can visit a national park and spend the day hiking and catching breathtaking views. Better yet, plan a road trip to an area with several national parks clustered around one another (Utah is one good option).

If you think you'll visit several parks on your trip, then an annual pass could make sense. At just $80, an annual pass gives you vehicle access to any national park for a year, which means you can use it this summer, and potentially take another low-cost trip in the fall or spring to visit another park on your list.

2. Rent a beach house

Beach houses can be expensive if you rent one in an area that features a boardwalk with rides and attractions. But if your goal is simply to relax or get a change of scenery, then renting a house with access to a lesser-known beach could be a nice low-cost solution.

Aside from the cost of the rental itself, you could end up spending next to nothing for the remainder of your trip if you cook your own meals. After all, the beach itself can provide hours of entertainment each day, and if you need a break, you can cool off inside with some board games or movies.

3. Rent a cabin or a lake house

Not a fan of sand everywhere? Instead of renting a beach house, try a lake house or a cabin. If it's on a lake, you still get access to a place to swim, and some lake houses come with kayaks or canoes you can use. Plus, there's nothing like watching the sun set over a quiet lake in the middle of nowhere.

With a cabin, you're likely to be in a remote area with access to hiking and walking trails -- great if you're the outdoorsy type. With a beach house, you may be limited to just the beach itself for activities. Your kids might love it, but you may get bored eventually. And if you want quiet and privacy, cabins or lake houses generally beat beach houses due to their secluded nature.

No matter where you're headed this summer, if your goal is to pull off an affordable trip, make sure to use the right credit card to book it. If you're flying, a travel rewards card may give you perks like free checked bags that save you a bundle. And if you'll be driving to your destination, aim for a card that offers extra cash back on gasoline fill-ups.

Just as importantly, be open to different ideas. The more flexible you are, the less likely you'll bust your budget on your trip.

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