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4 Ways to Take a Summer Vacation on a Budget

With the economy seemingly on an upward path as the U.S. gross domestic product is nearing the 3.0% mark and the unemployment rate is at record lows, it may come as a surprise that many Americans say they can’t afford a decent summer vacation.

But that’s the case, alright.

Data from Bankrate.com tells the story.

“24% won’t go on vacation this summer because they can’t afford it,” the website reports in a new study. “Not having enough money greatly tops other obstacles like having too many family obligations (12%) and being too busy at work (11%).”

Meanwhile, a slim majority of Americans (51%) say they plan on going on vacation this summer, with a median estimated cost of $1,000. 24% think they’ll spend in excess of $2,000, Bankrate reports.

But what about the 49% of U.S. adults who, for one reason or another, aren’t packing their bags this summer? If they really want to go on vacation, they can, experts say. It’s just a matter of being creative.

“For those who feel like they can’t afford to take a vacation, they’ll need to think outside the box,” says Amanda Dixon, Bankrate.com analyst. “Don’t let those vacation days go to waste. You earned them!”

To pave the way for that scenario, experts offer some imaginative and effective ideas to take a vacation, albeit on a budget. Here are some of their best ideas.

1. Max out Credit Card Travel Rewards

Whether you have a thin budget or you’re trying to make a vacation work, certain credit cards can help fund your trip and keep you out of debt, notes Jacob Lunduski, a financial industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. “If you stay at a particular hotel chain or fly under a certain airline, airline and hotel credit cards provide rewards points towards purchases at those chains,” he says. “These points will allow you to earn discounts on flights and hotels for your future travels.” Also, both travel and rewards cards provide discounts on your purchases and can be used to help fund some of your trip’s expenses,” Lunduski says. (Read more about how to maximize your rewards credit cards here.)

2. Go in on a Home Rental with Family Friends

“Book a home rental on sites like Airbnb or VRBO, where you can usually get more space for less and access to a kitchen to reduce restaurant and take out costs,” advises Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert at AndreaWoroch.com. “If you go in on a little bit of a bigger house with close family friends, you can further reduce the overall rental expense and even split the grocery bill to save even more. Plus, kids will love spending extra time with their friends and parents may actually get a break to enjoy some adult time sipping a cocktail while their little ones play together.” (Learn how your credit card may help you with travel insurance.)

3. Get a Groupon Deal

Groupon offers discount deals on vacation travel, and they ramp things up at summertime, says Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer at Community Health Charities, in Alexandria, Va. “In April, I stayed in the gorgeous Skylands Manor castle right on the New Jersey Botanical Garden grounds using a Groupon,” Ponzar shares. “A nice full breakfast was included and I had an absolutely wonderful trip! Many times, I’ve seen Groupon or other sites offer last-minute, low-cost options.”

4. Cut out the Hotels—and Park for Free at Walmart

Budget vacationers who want to see new cities and hot spots can skip the hotels, rent a camper and park and sleep overnight at Walmart. “This allows you to bypass lodging costs altogether,” says Sarah Hollenbeck, a shopping and savings expert at Offers.com. Almost 80% of Walmarts accommodate RV or camper parking. Hollenbeck advises checking this Walmart lot locator to find the best overnight site for you.

It’s tough to face a vacation-less summer, especially if you have the vacation days piled up and you’re ready to go.

Follow the tips above and see if you can’t relax and enjoy some time away by yourself, or with loved ones, this summer. (Want to learn how to make a budget? Read this.)


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.