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An affordable summer vacation doesn’t have to mean inflating a pool in your own backyard and cooking hot dogs on the grill. While school breaks and balmy temperatures make it a popular and expensive time to travel, depending on your budget, you’re likely to have many good options. The key to an affordable vacation is in the destination, choosing a place that might be quieter during the season or where food is cheap, accommodations are available at a wide range of prices, and a number of free or cheap activities and attractions can be enjoyed.
From spots closer to home that you might not have considered to some more exotic locales for those who can afford the airfare, there’s sure to be something on this list that fits the bill.
Seaside is located near the northern end of the Oregon coast, just under a 90-minute drive from Portland. It’s an ideal destination for a beach getaway that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, with a three-mile-long stretch of powdery sands for doing everything from searching for sand dollars at low tide to kite-flying, castle-building, fishing, and strolling. A two-mile-long paved promenade runs along it, ideal for pedaling, and you’ll find many places that rent all sorts of bikes, from the traditional to beach cruisers, surreys, and more. The Seaside Aquarium, with its entertaining seals, and the carnival amusements at the Funland Arcade are just two of the other many affordable options for fun.
Most people head to the Bahamas in the winter to escape the cold, which means summer is the season for cheaper airfare and bargains at hotels. Plus, it will only be a few degrees warmer than it is during the colder months of the year, so it won’t be unbearably hot, especially with the cooling sea breezes. Play your visit earlier in the season, June or July, as the risk of hurricanes will be minimal, with most big storms not hitting until late August or September. While Nassau offers some affordable hotels, it can be a great jumping-off point for less-visited islands that have retained their authentic island charms, while local inns and B&Bs can be booked at budget-friendly rates. That includes Cat Island, Abaco, Andros, Abaco, Inagua, and Crooked Island.
When Baja comes up in the conversation, the first spot most people think about is Cabo, but there are many other places along the peninsula worth exploring, including Loreto, a small town along the Sea of Cortez in the Sierra de la Giganta. A less than two-hour direct flight from Los Angeles can bring you to this destination that’s ideal for nature lovers and those seeking a more authentic Mexican feel. The original capital of the Californias, it has a rich history with a number of buildings in the historic center revealing its past, like the 17th-century Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto. Of course, summer is hot, with temperatures well into the 90s, but it’s the off-season, bringing heavily discounted room rates. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of the crystal-clear turquoise water in Loreto Bay National Park, lounge around a pool, and perhaps take a trip higher into the mountains to explore San Javier and enjoy temps that are a few degrees cooler.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is easily reached from the mainland U.S., doesn’t require a passport as a U.S. territory, and it still offers affordability, especially during the summer, which is the off-season here. Plan your trip in June or July to avoid the hurricane season and enjoy the many delights of San Juan with its Spanish colonial-style buildings and Spanish forts, along with some beautiful beaches. You can save even more by booking a beachfront Airbnb, or a place that has a kitchen to cook some of your own meals. When you want to dine out, you can find a good casual meal for under $10 per person along with plenty of tasty street food for even less.
If you’re dreaming of Europe but can’t figure out how to make it work financially, consider Slovenia. Its capital city, Ljubljana, is nestled in an alpine valley along the Ljubljanica River and it’s one of the most affordable European destinations in summer. Wander the cobblestone streets lined with hip, trendy bars, charming cafes, art galleries, and museums. At the hilltop castle you can learn about Slovenia’s history in the interactive museum, and from the tower, gaze out at a breathtaking view of the city and well beyond. From here, you can easily visit Lake Bled in the spectacular Julian Alps too.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
“The Waterpark Capital of the World,” Wisconsin Dells offers a fun family getaway, not only home to numerous waterparks like Noah’s Ark Waterpark with two wave pools, a surfing simulator, and 51 slides but all sorts of theme parks with roller coasters. Miniature golf, museums, and a wealth of family-friendly budget hotels can be found here too. The area is also famous for the steep, scenic bluffs along the rivers, where cruises can be enjoyed at relatively affordable rates. If you’re up for camping, there are many options, from tent camping to basic camping cabins, that can help you save even more.
Zakynthos Island, Greece
While getting to Greece isn’t cheap, if you’re looking for an affordable European summer beach vacation, consider Zakynthos Island. Part of the Ionian islands located west of the Greek mainland near the maritime border of Italy, food is cheap and mouthwatering, while hotels are affordable. There are plenty of free things to do, although the favorite is spending time on the beautiful beaches edged by electric blue water. You can also capture a photo of the famous Shipwreck Beach with its rusty skeleton of a shipwrecked vessel. Come when the sun is high in the sky, between around 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the summer. There are countless options for swimming in the enticing sea, along with charming villages and museums to explore on this beautiful island in Greece.
The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the most budget-friendly destinations in the country and Gatlinburg is particularly ideal with easy access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with three park entrances right downtown. There’s no admission fee to enter and you’ll find miles and miles of hiking trails, including routes that lead to magnificent waterfalls. There are free ranger-led programs offered by the national park, like guided hikes, demonstrations, music, and storytelling too. If it gets too hot, ride the rapids on Little River, it’s one of the most affordable activities in the area and a fun way to cool off. If you want to splurge on one activity, consider the Gatlinburg SkyLift, an open-air chairlift ride to the top of a 1,800-foot-high overlook with dazzling views of the Smoky Mountains.
Azores Islands, Portugal
The Azores Islands are made up of nine islands that sit in the middle of the Atlantic, about 950 miles from mainland Portugal. Cheap airfare can often be found from Boston, and once you’re there, you’ll have a wealth of inexpensive, high-value hotels and vacation rentals to choose from. Sao Miguel Island is a hiker’s paradise with stunning lagoons, volcano craters, streams, and waterfalls that are only accessible on foot. Pico Island is one of the best for whale watchers, with sperm whales here year-round, and it also boasts an impressive wine country -the Criação Velha wine region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Diving, birdwatching, cave exploring, and soaking in hot springs are just a few of the other possibilities.
The largest city in the Bluegrass State, Louisville has plenty to offer. It’s famous for horse racing, it’s the namesake of the official bat of Major League Baseball, and it offers plenty of Southern charms along with big city amenities at affordable prices. In Old Louisville, you’ll find the country’s largest collection of Victorian-era homes and baseball fans can check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory to take a tour, view the bats of greats like Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken, and even take a swing at a fastball. Anyone interested in horses should visit the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs – tours of the legendary race track are hosted by the museum. With the city renowned for its bourbon, there’s an Urban Bourbon Trail too.
Williamsburg offers plenty of options for budget-friendly hotels along with the opportunity to step back in time at Colonial Williamsburg, a historic district in the heart of the city that played a key role in the American Revolution as the capital of the Virginia colony from 1699 to 1789. You’ll have easy access to the site of the first settlement of Jamestown and the Yorktown Battlefield too. When it comes to natural attractions, there’s plenty, including the over 30 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding trails at York River State Park. There are some pricier attractions if you want to splurge on one during your trip, like Busch Gardens and Water Country USA.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado’s second-largest city offers an ideal base with affordable hotels for exploring history and a wealth of natural attractions. You won’t be surprised to learn that Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” from Colorado Springs with incredible scenery in every direction, including the majestic “purple mountains.” Hiking enthusiasts can enjoy the trails at nearby Garden of the Gods with its striking red rock formations or challenge themselves to a trek up Pikes Peak, one of the most famous in the U.S. The top can also be reached via the highest cog railroad in the world: Pikes Peak Cog Railway. History buffs should visit Old Colorado City Historic District, the McAllister House and the Spencer Penrose Heritage Museum with its collection of 31 horse-drawn carriages and 13 motorized vehicles.
If you’re dreaming of a summer road trip with grand mountain scenery without draining your entire year’s travel fund, Wyoming’s Wind River Country is a great option. While Jackson Hole is breathtaking, it’s also expensive. By staying in the small town of Dubois, you’ll enjoy the affordability and opportunities for hiking through national forests and the Dubois badlands to marvel at ancient petroglyphs believed to be over 3,000 years old. Just outside of Dubois, you’ll find many outstanding fishing spots, including the East Fork Wind River.
While many of Mexico’s most popular destinations will be scorching hot, the city of Oaxaca enjoys average temperatures in the low 80s and there are lots to do right here and throughout the state of Oaxaca, not to mention that it’s very budget-friendly. In the city itself, you can enjoy some of the most delicious eats in the country as it’s one of the top culinary destinations in Mexico, while a wealth of good accommodation options can be found for under $80 a night. Hidden away along the Pacific coast, Puerto Escondido offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the region, attracting numerous surfers while offering spectacular views, authentic Mexican culture, and a fabulous outdoor food market with tasty and inexpensive eats.