Whether you’re flying down to Costa Rica or taking a road trip across the country, summer travel is an amazing experience. Some people favor spontaneous weekend trips, while others carefully plan out every stage of an international itinerary. Both are valid ways to enjoy your summer vacation, but if you’re planning an extended trip, you’ll get the most out of your travels if you plan ahead. Our vacation planning tips will help you experience the best possible summer vacation while staying within budget (and leaving enough room for spontaneous changes of plans).
Book Flights and Accommodations Early
Summer travel is incredibly popular: approximately eighty percent of American adults travel for their summer vacation, with over fifty percent flying to their destinations. Travel prices can rise quickly when so many people compete for airline seats and hotel reservations. To get the most out of your summer vacation, we recommend planning well in advance and booking early.
When to Book Summer Travel
If you know when and where you want to go for your summer vacation, booking flights and accommodations during the winter can score you some incredible deals. Most airlines and hotels offer discounts if you book early, with some early-bird discounts offering more than fifty percent off, saving you money you can apply to the rest of your vacation. It’s also important to make summer travel arrangements early if you plan on using frequent flier miles: available frequent-flier seats for peak times can fill up 300 days before travel dates.
Related: See our list of the best travel podcasts to listen to expert travelers’ tips and tricks on summer vacations and traveling information.
If you’re searching online travel sites for summer vacation deals, set up alerts for deals that match your travel plans. It’s wise to do this with more than one travel site, as different sites often have different deals. And here’s one of our secret summer vacation tips: clear your browser when you search for flights, to avoid website prices from going up based on your search history. It can make a big difference.
Booking early also helps you avoid missing out: popular destinations fill up early. US national park campgrounds are a prime example: if you want a summer camping spot, you need to book as early as possible. While you’re planning, consider signing up for TSA Precheck, a program that speeds up how fast you can get through security. TSA’s Global Entry program helps you breeze past customs on your return home if you're traveling internationally.
Setting a Budget
Your summer vacation budget has a significant impact on your travel plans, how long you can travel, and where you’ll stay. Set yourself a realistic budget and follow these simple summer vacation tips:
- Start saving early. Put aside some cash every month for your summer travel. After a year of savings, you’ll have a decent vacation fund to draw upon, and you can plan ahead based on how much you'll have saved come vacation time.
- Work with a travel sites Watch for airplane and accommodation deals at Expedia or similar travel sites. If you set price alerts on Expedia, you’ll get automated notifications as deals that match your budget come available.
- Look for free activities. Museums and art galleries often have specific days when they offer reduced or even free admission. Parks, public art installations, and beaches all provide free entertainment and fun.
- Avoid restaurants where tourists gather. You can usually get cheaper meals outside of the popular tourist spots. You’ll have more choices, and often have better dining experiences.
- Choose your transportation wisely. While it’s often best to rent a car for your trip, if your destination has a good transportation system you may be able to use that instead. making your vacation more sustainable. Oahu’s bus system, for instance, will take you almost everywhere you want to go in Honolulu. Using public transportation also lets you book cheaper accommodations outside of the main tourist resorts, saving you even more money.
- Consider an all-inclusive resort. If you’re worried about overspending on meals and activities, an all-inclusive report charges one price for your room, meals, and activities.
Packing Properly and Choosing Your Luggage
Choosing the right size luggage for your summer vacation is important: you want enough room to bring back souvenirs and any shopping you might do without traveling with too many bags. If you like to shop, packing additional bags into a check-in suitcase provides additional packing space at the end of your vacation, although you’ll have to pay the airline for extra baggage.
If you prefer to travel light, you might be able to pack everything you need in your carry-on luggage. Weekender bags make great carry-on luggage, and like backpacks and travel totes, can double as beach or shopping bags at your destination.
Here’s one of the most helpful vacation planning tips you’ll ever hear: everything you pack at the start of your trip should have a purpose. Choose clothing that can be mixed and matched and ideally has multiple uses: a large tee shirt could be used as sleepwear, worn on a day trip, or used to cover-up at the beach, for instance. Use our advice on what to pack for a weekend getaway as a base, and add extra clothing to reflect how long you’ll be at your destination. Don't overpack though, and remember many hotels offer laundry facilities.
Take the same purposeful approach to other packing items, including toiletries and electronics. Use toiletry bags to keep shampoo, soap, and other liquids separated from your clothing, and consider a bag to hold your devices’ charging cables and emergency batteries. Packing cubes help you keep your clothing organized, while shoe bags and laundry bags keep your clean clothes away from damp or dirty items.
Best Time to Go on Your Summer Vacation
You've got all summer, so when is the best time to travel? Flights and hotels tend to be more expensive in July and August when most families choose to vacation. If you’re traveling alone or with other adults, you can score some deals if you travel during the summer’s low seasons, which include June and September.
If you're flying, midweek and Saturday morning flights tend to be the least expensive and are less likely to be as crowded. However you choose to travel, consider travel insurance, which can save your vacation budget if you have to cancel your plans due to personal reasons or if a serious event like a hurricane threatens your destination.
As for where to travel this summer, that’s up to you. If you need some inspiration, check out our top travel destinations for the year. And have fun!