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By Allison Videtti
There’s nothing quite like taking a summer vacation — especially when you can manage to book a budget getaway. Whether you prefer road trippin’ around the U.S. or flying off to an exotic locale, these are some of the best vacation spots for your wallet.
Hopping in the family car vs. getting on a plane can mean big savings, if you plan it right. To keep your road trip budget-friendly, avoid peak travel times like Memorial Day, Fourth of July weekend and Labor Day. Lodging and gas both tend to be more expensive, and there’s enough traffic to make your head spin. And take advantage of apps like Gas Buddy, which shows you the lowest gas prices nearby.
If you live near Chicago, Learnvest recommends checking out Madison, Wisconsin, for an affordable vacation. This college town has plenty of activities for everyone: Sample local fare at one of the largest farmers’ markets in the country, tour the 16-acre Olbrich Botanical Gardens or head over to the Wisconsin capital building to gawk at gorgeous architecture. Prefer the water? Rent a kayak or fishing boat and relax on Lake Monona. If you rent a condo or apartment with a kitchen instead of a hotel room, you’ll be able to cook at least one meal per day and save some cash.
On the West Coast? The Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) is a must-see. Don’t try to do the whole drive if you’re on a tight budget —instead, wind your way to Big Sur and spend some time in the park. Hike to the beach or through the redwoods (free!), or take a tour of the Point Sur Lightstation ($12-$20, according to the L.A. Times).
Accommodations aren’t cheap in Big Sur, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly hotel, check out nearby Monterey. Or, for a true Big Sur experience, bring a tent and do some camping. You can find campsites for an affordable $15 a night.
If you live near New York City, one of the best cheap vacations is a drive to the Finger Lakes. You’ll find secret swimming holes, plenty of hiking trails and — for the 21+ set — wine and cheese a-plenty. Spend some time on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which boasts over 30 member wineries, and then check out the member farms of the Finger Lakes Cheese Alliance. Looking for something more outdoorsy? Discover the waterfalls with a hike through Taughannock Falls State Park. There are a number of inexpensive motels in the region, but this is another spot that’s picture-perfect for camping. Campgrounds can be rented for as low as $29 per night.
Flying doesn’t have to be expensive. Use search engines like Skyscanner, AirFare Watchdog and JetRadar. Be sure to set alerts for your fares — one of our blog contributors recently snagged two tickets to Japan (!) for around $500 each based on an alert she set a year ago!
Use miles whenever you can, and bring only a carry-on if your airline has bag fees. If you’re renting a condo or home, you’ll likely have access to some laundry facilities at your destination. Need to check a bag? If you’re traveling with more than one person, share a suitcase (or two) and split the bag fees.
Oslo, Norway: You can get a round-trip ticket to/from New York to Oslo and back for about $500 each way (less than $400 if you’re flexible on dates and times) on Norwegian Air Shuttle. Hotels can be pricey, but there are deals to be had: Hotels.com has hotel rooms available for around $100 per night if you stay for two weeks or more. Planning a shorter stay? Check out AirBnB — you can find apartment rentals for about $65 per night, and you’ll save on meals by grocery shopping and cooking in your home away from home. An added bonus? Oslo has great public transit, so you won’t need to pay for cabs.
Budapest, Hungary: According to Kiplinger, Budapest is a budget-friendly vacation alternative to Paris. Unlike Paris, where a three-star traveler would spend roughly $184 a day, Budapest tourists can spend less than $60 and have just as much fun. As with Norway, the city has a solid public transit system, and tourists can take advantage of the Budapest Card. The card grants you 72 hours of free public transit, guided walking tours and free entry into a number of museums— all for $37.
Krakow, Poland: If you’d love to go to Amsterdam but it’s outside your budget, consider this wallet-friendly alternative. For less than $70 a day, you can enjoy midrange lodging, three meals a day and local entertainment. Visit the historic center and check out Wawel Hill, home to a royal cathedral and castle; cycle along the river to the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec; then finish your day in Kazimierz and enjoy a zapiekanka (an open-faced mushroom and cheese sandwich) from a street vendor for as little as $1.50.
Allison Videtti is a social media/digital marketing specialist at Alliant. In her previous life, she worked in real estate and held multiple positions at a Chicago-based digital marketing agency, overseeing content strategy for a number of financial services clients. Allison's always been a saver and is something of a personal finance junkie. She loves reviewing her spending and updating her budget, and can't get enough of finance-related blogs and podcasts. Her favorites? Wisebread.com and the Planet Money podcast.