Summer’s here, and you deserve a vacation. The problem is, can you afford one?
We’re here to help. There are a number of ways to get a discount on where you want to go — from cashing in credit card travel rewards, to making the most of online booking sites. But sometimes just picking a different destination can save you hundreds of dollars by default.
Five Cheap Vacation Ideas for Summer
Here are five summer vacation ideas that can help you stretch your travel dollars a bit farther.
New York’s Finger Lakes
Upstate New York is not where you want to be in the winter, believe me. But in the summer and fall, this region comes alive. One of the more beautiful and fun places to visit is the Finger Lakes — specifically, the dozens of vineyards and wineries in the region, many of which are gorgeously perched on the slopes of a handful of long, finger-like lakes.
I’ve been to Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California, and I’ve been to Mendoza, Argentina. I enjoyed both tremendously. But I can honestly say the most scenic vineyards I’ve seen this side of Tuscany are in Upstate New York. Many of the wines are surprisingly excellent, too.
If you go wine tasting, join a formal tour, hire a driver, or designate one of your own; you can take turns on DD duty and split up your wine touring by day. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail includes more than 30 member wineries, while the Cayuga Lake and Keuka Lake trails have another two dozen between them.
Pick Your Portland
Looking for a cool city to cool off this summer? Try Portland, Ore. — or Portland, Maine — depending on your closest coast. Both Portlands offer a charming urban escape from the summer swelter of bigger, sweatier cities.
Oregon’s famous drizzle subsides dramatically from June through September, and the average high is a pleasant 81ºF. Meanwhile, its New England cousin tops out at 79ºF in July.
These little cities offer a surprising surplus of fun and artsy shops, farm-to-table restaurants, craft breweries, hiking and other outdoor recreation, and live music — along with great local flavor.
By way of macroeconomic miracle, the U.S. dollar is remarkably strong right now. And it’s about as strong against the euro as it’s been in a decade.
Getting to Europe still won’t be cheap — summer is the busiest season to visit, after all, and more Americans than usual will probably buy up tickets to take advantage of the strong dollar. But at the current exchange rate of $1 to 0.91 euros, you’ll be getting a 24% discount over last year on everything you purchase once you arrive, from lodging to food to museum passes.
Note that August is prime vacation time across Europe, and prices tend to jump accordingly. Your best bet is beat the high season — and the summer heat — by a few weeks, visiting in early June if you can.
That strong U.S. dollar will also help you get more bang for your loonie in Canada this summer. After holding near an even dollar-for-dollar exchange rate for many years, the U.S. dollar now exchanges for $1.25 across the border — meaning everything is essentially selling at a 15% discount from a year ago.
Visiting lively and trendy Montreal or the quaint walled city of Quebec will make you feel like you’ve traveled to old Europe — without the cost or bother of a transatlantic flight. Tour the rugged coastline of Nova Scotia and check out a Celtic music festival while you’re there. Or ride the famous Trans-Canada Railway from Toronto to Vancouver: Economy fares for the scenic three-day journey start at about $300 ($375 Canadian) per person.
An added bonus? Your dollar isn’t the only thing that will go farther in Canada this summer. Given its northern latitude, the days last longer, too.
National Parks Road Trip
There is perhaps no better summer vacation bargain than camping in one of America’s celebrated National Parks. And with summer gas prices as low as they’ve been in years, why not pack up the car for a family road trip?
Just choose a park within driving distance — maybe that’s Acadia in Maine, Olympic in Washington, Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, Roosevelt’s Badlands in North Dakota, or one of the famous parks out west, like Yellowstone, Glacier, Big Sur, or Yosemite. Then go to nps.gov to plan your trip and reserve a campsite. Fees for tent camping are extremely reasonable, usually in the neighborhood of $15-$30 a night.
If your park of choice is all booked up, camping elsewhere is still a great, economical vacation option. Check out the many, many campgrounds in your area or surrounding national parks. You might be able to treat your family to a few nights right on a beautiful lake or pond, with access to kayaks, swimming, and other activities, for $15-$50 a night.
And many national parks and campgrounds also offer rustic cottages or rooms in full-service lodges — a step up from sleeping on the ground for anyone not used to roughing it. (For real nature novices, a service like Adirondack Safari can actually deliver and set up a luxury tent on your campsite for you.)
Want to make your vacation even cheaper? Consider renting out your home through Airbnb or HomeAway while you’re gone to recoup most of your lodging costs.