Best Places to Travel on a Budget This Summer


Summertime is family time. In the summer, the weather is fine, and the kids are out of school. It’s the ideal time to plan a family trip, but what are the best places to travel on a budget? Summer travel can be expensive, and you want to choose a destination that will please everyone but won’t break the budget.

If you are developing your list of the best places to travel on a budget, you should start by determining the type of vacation you want. Are you interested in sitting on the beach or an adventurous outing? Would you rather go to a historical destination and do some sightseeing, or does a trip to the mountains sound more appealing? Do you like the great outdoors, or is exploring a new city your idea of fun? 

As you ponder the possibilities, you have to consider the costs. If you are already planning your vacation, you should already have a vacation budget to determine how much you can afford.

Here are some popular and inexpensive options to consider:

Visiting National Parks

There are national parks across the country, and planning a visit can be a rewarding and educational experience. If you plan to visit more than one national park, consider getting an America the Beautiful pass. Depending on the nature of the park and its popularity, you may have to book in advance, but parks are always an inexpensive vacation option. Here are just four of the most popular national park destinations:

  • Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone has always been a popular summer destination with lots to see and do, not only in the park but also in nearby Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

  • Glacier National Park: If you are looking for fantastic views and outdoor adventure, Montana’s Glacier National Park is worth considering.

  • Sequoia National Park: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks offer a variety of activities and some incredible scenery in California, and they’re less crowded than nearby Yosemite.

  • Olympic National Park: A little closer to home, Olympic National Park offers some first-rate lodgings as well as outdoor adventure, and it’s only a three-hour drive from Portland.

Camping trips can be great family fun, and they certainly are affordable. Even if camping isn’t for you, there are still national parks and wilderness locations that have terrific accommodations as well as outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, white-water rafting, and exploring. Here are some more destinations to consider:

  • Acadia, Maine: For seaside adventure on the Atlantic Coast, Acadia National Park and the surrounding area are picturesque with a real New England flavor.

  • Shenandoah Valley: If you are looking for a variety of activities, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has historical sites, hiking, golf, horseback riding, parkland, and more

  • Dry Tortugas National Park: For a historical island destination, check out Dry Tortugas National Park off the Florida Keys.

  • Grand Canyon: The Grand Canyon is always a great summer destination, whether you plan to camp or stay in a resort hotel. It’s a natural wonder not to be missed.

  • Badlands, South Dakota: The Badlands in South Dakota are picturesque and offer visitors a number of activities and local sights, including the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.

  • Sawtooth Mountains: Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, a 10-hour drive from Portland, are beautiful in the summer, offering hiking, rafting, fishing, camping, and more.

  • Crater Lake: If you want high adventure closer to home, Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park is a six-hour drive from Portland and offers hiking, camping, picnicking, and other activities.

  • Zion National Park: For adventure in the high desert, consider traveling to Zion National Park in Utah.
Related: Download the Budgeting Checklist for a list of income and expenses to  include when planning out your household budget.


Choosing an Urban Destination

Outdoor adventure isn’t for everyone. Some prefer cities, and there are several urban destinations that should be on your list of the best places to travel on a budget:

  • San Antonio: In the heart of Texas, San Antonio has something for everyone, from the Alamo to the Riverwalk to the city’s active nightlife.

  • San Diego: If the beach is your preference, San Diego has sun, sand, and attractions such as SeaWorld, LEGOLAND, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo.

  • Kansas City: You up for some barbecue? Kansas City has become a tourist destination with attractions such as the World War II Museum, or you can catch a ball game and watch the Kansas City Royals.

  • Atlanta: If you want a southern experience, Atlanta has something for everyone, from the Center for Puppetry Arts to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.

  • Philadelphia: The birthplace of America, Philadelphia—now known as the City of Sisterly Love—offers historical sites, street art, museums, and more.

  • New Orleans: Known for its food and music, New Orleans has a special vibe, even when it’s not Mardi Gras, and there are countless attractions that will appeal to the entire family.

  • Denver: Known as the Mile High City, Denver offers music, museums, street fairs, outdoor fun, organized tours, and other attractions.

Looking for Someplace Different

If you want to try someplace off the beaten path that is interesting and affordable, here are some ideas:

  • Kittery, Maine: The oldest incorporated town in the U.S., Kittery was established in 1647 and today is a mecca for bargain hunters and lobster lovers, and it’s close to Boston and the rest of New England.

  • Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida: If you are looking for the real Florida, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a quintessential, laid-back beach town with prices to match.

  • The Adirondacks, New York: The Adirondacks have been a summer destination for New Yorkers for generations. They come looking for fresh air, outdoor activities, and local attractions you won’t see anywhere else.

  • Franklin, Tennessee: Only 20 miles from Nashville, Franklin has its own music, its own food scene, and more, but without the big-city costs.

  • Paso Robles, California: If you love wine but don’t want to pay Napa Valley prices, Paso Robles has some of the finest wineries in California, as well as summer festivals, tours, and other attractions.

Before You Leave ...

Before you leave on your vacation, be sure to have your finances in order.

Check your credit card balances and make sure you have enough money available for your trip. You should also let your bank or credit union know you will be traveling so it doesn’t see out-of-state credit card activity as suspicious. 

Carry cash rather than traveler’s checks, but don’t carry more than you can afford to lose. You should be able to access money from ATMs around the country. If you are a member of a credit union, using a credit union ATM is usually free. You can also use online banking to pay your bills and manage your money while you are traveling.

Now is a good time to start saving for your summer vacation. Why not check out our Budgeting Checklist so you can start planning right away? Have a great summer!


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