30 Ways To Take Epic Summer Weekend Trips On A Budget

Travel expenses include a lot more than the plane ticket. Food, drinks, hotels, ATM fees, transportation, clothes – people often ignore or underestimate how much all of these can add up and really make you go over your budget. Cut costs and travel for less by incorporating certain tips and tricks while planning your vacation.

Use credit card points

Credit cards offer reward points. You rack them up with almost anything you buy. Use them. This is basically free cash. Wouldn't be nice to pay only around $200 for a flight that actually costs close to $1,000? Signing up for a hotel's credit card can be a way to save money on your next stay. Like other credit card rewards programs, a favorite hotel franchise can offer you rewards in the form of points, special VIP member treatment, and savings as you build credit in their name.

Book trips now

Whatever trip you're taking, the sooner you book it the better. With cruises, for example, some of the most desired specialty itineraries like Europe and Alaska require you to book in advance to avoid paying higher air and cruise fares. As for flights, you should be able to react quickly – book now if you see a great deal. Most major booking sites offer a 24-hour grace period so you can cancel the flight with no cost to you. Booking early can also mean a better chance of getting the most comfortable airline seat.

Who cares about the view?

Unless you're going to live in the apartment or room for months, why do you need to see the ocean, the beach, the lake, or the mountain? Tourists usually just sleep in their hotel rooms. So save your money for thrilling adventures and dining instead.

Avoid crowds

It may be difficult for summer travel to be easy on your wallet because this is when most people find time to travel, which drives prices up. However, you can find some off-season adventurous and beautiful destinations. Think Mexico, Florida, Utah, Arizona, Virgin Islands, to name a few.

Buy early flights

There are a handful of benefits to flying at night—typically lower rates, fewer delays, less crowded airports and the potential to sleep through the flight—but what many people don't realize is that there are also fewer delays during the morning. After analyzing 6 million flights, experts recommend avoiding flights between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. to dodge delays that get worse as the day goes on.

Visit national parks

Go ahead and plan an adventurous trip in the wilderness. You can make the most of your visit by avoiding the crowds during the peak summer monthsEnjoying solitude and getting in touch with nature, as opposed to annoying tourists, during your vacation is possible. To make it easy for people to sightsee paths beyond popular parks and trails, TomTom and the National Park Foundation have curated maps to go "Off the Beaten Path."

Avoid traveling around holidays

Another way to save money is by considering when you're going to your destination. Timing is a huge factor in pricing. Don't travel around Columbus Day, other holidays, or when there are concerts or even conferences scheduled. Sometimes, if you travel on the day of the holiday, you can find good deals.

Look at big chain hotels

Save yourself some time and search for rooms in hotels with familiar names. Small boutique lodgings don't offer as many deals as big chains, Becky Hypolite, travel agent and owner of Crystal & Clear Travel, says. "They also don't vacuum as often which mean higher chance of bed bugs," she adds. "Make sure you read reviews on rooms."

Skip touristy restaurants

If there is one sure way to save money on your trip, it is by avoiding eating at restaurants in touristy areas. They are everywhere and should be avoided at all costs. The food is not authentic anyway. As is the case with most cities, the best food is located in small eateries.

Know what your expenses will be

If you're not looking to go broke while having fun on your summer trip, researching is key. You must know before you go. Find out the cost of everything you may want – special food, drinks, accommodations, tours, exhibitions, etc. Write it all down. This visual reminder will help keep your budget in check. Here is what you need to know about hidden expenses in Hawaii.

Don’t check bags

If you want to save money on clothes while you're away or avoid paying baggage fees for overweight luggage or even checked bags, don't fold your garments as you put them in a bag, roll them. There is lots of air between the clothes when you fold them – space in which you can fit two extra pairs of shoes or a week's worth of underwear. Don't take up extra room with toiletries if your hotel provides them.

Don’t be a tourist; be a local

With social media nowadays few places are really unknown. It's like you know someone in all kinds of places all over the world. Find the profiles of local bloggers and see what they suggest. They surely know some secret spots that don't cost a fortune.

Don’t book tours in advance

"I personally never book in advance unless it's something very specific like a wine tasting with a 5-course meal," Hypolite says. If it's something general – like a ride on a double-decker bus – buy a ticket when you get there. "This is how you get the most bang for your buck," she adds. There are a lot of options, and booking ahead makes it hard to exchange or cancel without having to pay extra.

Seek out free entertainment

It's the summer – there are likely several festivals happening at the same time, especially in fun cities like Nashville or New York. Believe it or not, there are plenty of free things to do in Las Vegas.

Go on a cruise

Passengers can easily spend more than $500 during one week on board a cruise. And that's not even including airfare. Life at sea can be affordable if you take certain steps to prepare – don't book online, use a cruise agent, be flexible with the dates, wait for last-minute deals, and be skeptical of "all-inclusive" packages.

Go on a road trip

A road trip is the perfect way to travel, especially if you feel like going on a getaway vacation. You just grab some food and water, fill up the tank, and hop in the car. Considering how cheap gas is these days, there is nothing stopping you from cranking up the music and hitting the open road.

Sleep like a baby in your car

If you go on a trip exploring America's most scenic roads, don't worry about paying insane hotel rates just to get a few hours of shuteye. Bring an inflatable pool floatie with you. Inflate it when you need some rest and put in the back seat. It makes for a perfectly soft bed.

Consider an RV vacation

Take a road trip adventure to the next level and travel in a motorhomeIf money is an issue, you may want to compromise some comforts. For example, stock up on canned and dried foods when you see them on sale; use an antenna to pick up a TV signal instead of paying for internet coverage; check at a local visitors center for free activities and places to explore; lighten your load to save on gas by packing just the essentials.

You may not have to tip

Sometimes gratuity is included in the bill, so don't tip more and you'll save extra cash. "A lot of people in all-inclusive resorts think that tipping will get them better food or drinks, but it probably won't because the service is all the same because it's all-inclusive," Hypolite says.

Book flights on Tuesdays

"The best time to book a flight is on Tuesday night or Wednesday early morning," Ivy Chou, travel expert at DealsPlus, says. "And the best time to fly is on a Wednesday because it's farthest from the weekend," she adds. "Companies want to push sales." The timing is similar with hotels.

Take the bus

Consider public transportation – it'll always be cheaper than taxis and even Uber. It may take you longer to get to a specific place, but you're on vacation. What's the hurry? Also, you get to see more of the city and experience life the way residents do.

Ask for discounts

Don't be shy; you can save yourself a lot of money. Not finding a good deal online doesn't mean one is not available. "Travel agents do 98 percent of the sales again," Hypolite says. "Between Priceline, Expedia, Kayak, etc., companies have no idea what you really want." Agents aim to price match them and even beat their price, she adds, getting you a good deal.

Know what you want to do

Research ahead of time, get a sense of what you want to do and how much it will cost, and multiply that by 2 and bring cash. Vacations always turn out to cost more than anticipated because of hidden or unplanned expenses. Keep that in mind when you plan your trip budget. That's how you'll know if you can afford it.

Sleep at hotels offering breakfast

Stay at places offering breakfast until later in the morning. This will take you through late lunch and you may need just another meal and a snack during the whole day. If you are in Europe, a lot of places have "cocktail hours" where you buy a single drink and enjoy the "all you can eat" buffet.

There is an app for that

Smart phones have become an integral part of our lives, so why not use it to save money. There are coupon apps that help in getting freebies. For example, Level Money is a free app available on iOS and Android platforms. It gives you a bird's eye view of how things are faring in the deep confines of your wallet.

Sign up for airline email feeds

Airlines want to develop a relationship with you, so they'll send you special deals, such as promo codes for 50 percent off or twofers, if you sign up for their emails. You may want to sign up for the frequent-flyer program with airlines you haven't flown with to receive many promo-code offers to give it a try.

Use Twitter

Email is great, but some of the most amazing airfare deals last only a short time (even if they're valid for travel over a long period). Twitter is more immediate.

Search to and from alternate airports

Low-cost carriers usually fly into smaller airports, which can offer tremendous savings on your travel. You're going to deal with fewer crowds. That has tons of advantages – little chance of delays, major problems or lost luggage – because the staff won't be so busy. If you're going to Chicago, fly into Midway instead of O'Hare; pick Maryland instead of Washington International, and Oakland instead of San Francisco.

Vacation with friends

Stay with your close friends or family who live near the beach or in a nice little mountain town. The pleasure of your company is a reward in and of itself, right?  

Pick an all-inclusive resort

You pay one free and don't have to worry about anything else, except may be tipping. You won't come across any unpleasant surprises that will have you reaching into your pocket. Businesses have understood the value of all-inclusive trips and have adapted by introducing more amenities, services, and activities. But not all resorts offering this service are created equal.