The holidays and first part of the year are behind us, which means for many of us, summer planning is ramping up.
If you’ve spent too much during the holidays and think there’s no way you’d be able to afford to treat yourself to a summer vacation, think again.
There are tons of ways to get yourself that getaway you deserve without breaking the bank. Let’s explore how and where to find those affordable travel spots.
5 cheapest travel destinations overview
|Las Vegas, Nevada||Night life|
|San Antonio, Texas||History lovers|
|Salt Lake City, Utah||Nature lovers|
|Denver, Colorado||Nature lovers and city lovers alike|
|Albuquerque, New Mexico||Lovers of hot weather|
The most affordable summer vacation spots in 2023
Las Vegas, Nevada
With gorgeous views, endless entertainment and world-famous attractions, Las Vegas has it all.
I know we usually associate Vegas with lavish casinos and general extravagance, but trust me, when done right, Vegas can give you everything you’re looking for and more while keeping within your budget.
Why it’s cheap
The flights to Vegas are incredibly affordable and plentiful. You’ll have no trouble finding the exact flight you want within your budget.
What makes Vegas great for a budget traveler is that their booming tourism industry has created a ton of different options and a tourist infrastructure diverse enough to accommodate any kind of budget.
Honestly, the biggest money makers for casinos are the gamblers, so if you can hold off on gambling, you can actually find surprisingly affordable accommodations, even on the Vegas strip.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is home of the Alamo, a historic battleground and a popular draw for visitors from far and wide.
Beyond the city’s historic significance, San Antonio offers a gorgeous river walk (pictured above), a diverse array of food and drink options and a ton to see and do, all accessible on a bike share bicycle.
Why it’s cheap
San Antonio boasts cheap, yet delicious Tex-Mex (with sizable portions) and a great selection of cheap or free attractions.
There’s tons to see if you just take a stroll along the river. Access to the National Historical Park and the Alamo are absolutely free.
The city has a super robust public transportation system, which means avoiding those costly Uber trips. Plus, you can find a good variety of affordable accommodations, including Airbnbs and hostels.
Salt Lake City, Utah
If you’re looking for breathtaking scenery, budget-friendly attractions, and a plethora of hiking trails and camping options, Salt Lake City is for you. It’s the nature-lover’s dream.
Why it’s cheap:
Salt Lake City really shines when it comes to finding affordable activities and entertainment. If hiking is your thing, then Salt Lake City is definitely worth a visit.
Drive just 30 minutes from the city and you’ll find tons of fantastic and affordable hiking and camping. Visit the Great Salt Lake State Park and expect to pay only $3 per car.
If you’re looking for a bit of city, a bit of nature, and a ton of fantastic views, Denver is a serious contender.
Denver offers you easy access to the gorgeous Rocky Mountains as well as great entertainment, breweries and food in the city.
Why it’s cheap
There are tons of free or affordable activities in the city like free walking tours, museums, botanical gardens, and more.
You can travel downtown for free via the MallRide shuttle buses, or use public transportation outside the downtown core, which is also affordable and convenient.
Hiking trails are plentiful and provide hours of free entertainment.
Because Denver is a popular international airport, you can count on a good selection of budget-friendly airfare.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
If you’re looking for a hot escape to help you forget about the frigid winter you just endured, Albuquerque is the perfect choice.
Bask in the hot New Mexican sun as you take in the striking views, gorge on diverse New Mexican cuisine and keep yourself entertained for hours in this quirky, historical town.
Why it’s cheap
You’ll find tons of cheap airfare for flights coming in and out of Albuquerque’s international airport.
In fact, you’ll find just about cheap everything in Albuquerque: accommodations, food, and even car rentals.
You’ll find countless hiking trails in and around Albuquerque, which offer some spectacular views of the vast New Mexico desert.
What to look for when choosing a destination
First thing’s first: what kind of vacation are you looking to have? Beach relaxation? City chilling? Countryside adventure? The kind of activities you plan on doing will have an impact on what type of place will yield the best savings.
Generally, there are five major variables that I like to look for. Make sure to weigh all five when choosing your destination.
Don’t overlook a spot just because it’s farther away. Distance does not always dictate price.
I find that cities with busier airports offer a greater selection of affordable flights. Sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights are fantastic resources for comparing different destinations.
That said, have you fully explored the spots nearby? If you can eliminate airfare altogether by opting for a road trip instead, you could save quite a bit.
Again, there’s no hard rule on which types of cities offer the best value accommodations. Sometimes you’ll find that bigger cities with an established tourist infrastructure will have a better range of accommodations, including hostels and guesthouses.
On the other hand, small towns that generate less tourism may have great Airbnb gems within your budget. Best to do some Internet digging and get a sense of the price range in a given city.
As someone who has spent way too much on Uber, I understand the importance of thinking about transportation beforehand. It’s not an expense we usually consider, but it can really add up if we don’t.
Do your research beforehand. Find out:
- Is there public transportation in the area?
- Is there enough stuff within walking distance?
- Do I need to rent a car?
- Are car rentals expensive?
- How far away is the airport from where I’m staying?
Venturing to a small countryside town off the beaten path may be incredibly affordable, but the cost of actually getting there may not be worth it.
This is an important one to consider. But first ask yourself how you plan on eating. Some things to consider:
- Do you want to eat out on vacation?
- Are there enough budget-friendly restaurants or food stands?
- Are there grocery stores in the area?
- Do my accommodations come with a kitchen?
I find that certain cities allow more alternative budget-friendly options than others. Some attractions or sites can also be a little more restrictive.
For example, while one city may have a ton of free hiking trails in the area, in another city, it may be more difficult to simply explore the local sites without a tour guide or paying some sort of entrance fee.
See if your city in question has enough budget-friendly options to keep you entertained. Also make sure that the site you’re interested in is actually in the city and not a three-hour drive outside the city.
Now that I’ve explained how I make my travel destination list, let’s actually see it.
How to start saving for summer vacation
That summer vacation you’ve been dreaming of is within your reach if you plan your budget well. Here are some easy tips for getting started:
Determine your budget beforehand
It’s much easier to save money when you have a concrete number to work towards. Ballpark how much you will realistically spend on your vacation. Think about all the expenses you can expect:
- Food (eating out)
- Clothing you need for the trip
- An international phone plan
Open up a separate travel savings account
Make it easier for yourself by separating your vacation savings from your regular savings. This allows you to see exactly how much you have left to save.
Open a high-yield savings account if you really want to earn more for your money. These savings accounts have much higher interest rates that traditional banks. Some options are:
Sublet your place
If your situation allows it, putting your place up on Craigslist or Airbnb while you’re away is a great way to earn some passive income to fund your trip.
Earn some extra side income
There are many easy ways to earn some extra money on the side. To name a few:
- Get a tutoring job
- Babysit or dog walk
- Work overtime
- Become an Uber or Lyft driver
- Sell your things
Get a travel credit card
If you have a good credit score, you can get some amazing benefits by signing up for a travel credit card.
Earn points for every dollar you spend, which can be redeemed on hotels, flights, or car rentals. Plus, most credit cards will offer you a sign-up bonus, which may even cover the cost of your flight.
There are tons of savvy travelers out there who have figured out how to pay virtually nothing for their flights every year.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
In A Nutshell
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card sets the standard for travel rewards by offering an excellent 5x points on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x points on dining and 2x points on all other travel purchases. And points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® – That means the killer 60,000 point sign-up bonus is worth $750 towards travel.Read review
What We Like:
A monster of an up-front bonus; 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, and 2x on all other travel purchases, and $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
- Member FDIC
Just because you don’t have enough for some lavish trip to Ibiza, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your summer while exploring a new city. Plan yours right and you can have the summer adventure you need without feeling guilty about it.