A young woman on vacation taking a selfie photo of herself with tropical water and island in background

Savings tips for your summer travels

Jul 20, 2021
Empower Insights

Hello, summer.

Hello, world.  

As the weather warms up, you may have big plans to hit the road or take to the sky for an annual sun-filled getaway. Perhaps you intend on driving to the mountains to hike, heading to the beach to relax or flying overseas to sightsee. No matter where you go, though, you won’t be alone. Overall, nearly 70% of Americans are expected to pack their bags and travel to a domestic or international location this season.1

Of course, while vacationing is exciting, it can also be expensive. Transportation, hotels, meals and any must-have souvenirs can add up fast when you’re having fun. Depending on your itinerary, a family of four could end up spending nearly $6,000 for a weeklong trip when you add in transportation, lodging, entertainment and food.2

Before you depart for your next destination, follow these simple steps to get ready and save money on your upcoming trip:


For Shelly Wilkerson, who was as a single mom for almost 10 years, booking a summer vacation was a challenge at times.

After all, Wilkerson lived off one salary for most of her solo parenting stage. So when she was able to afford a much-deserved trip with her son, she relied on a frugal approach. On most occasions, that meant visiting various mountain towns in Colorado with her parents, siblings or friends for a long weekend. The best part? Everyone pitched in to pay for all the necessities, such as lodging, food and entertainment. 

“We would split the bill on everything to make things a little cheaper,” Wilkerson says. “It made a huge difference.”


If you need cash, bring a stash.

Using an out-of-network ATM machine while you’re out of town could cost you about $5 in total fees per withdrawal.3 In some cases, banks may charge noncustomers even more for accessing an ATM at the airport or in a different country. While it may not like seem like much, every penny matters when you’re away from home. Packing your wallet with enough green before you leave (or sticking to your institution’s ATMs if available) is an easy way to dodge those pesky penalties and conserve a few extra bucks.


When Cindy Baines embarked on a family trek to Orange Beach in 2020 with her three daughters and eight of her grandkids, she knew the price could be steep to feed a dozen people during a four-night stay.

On average, a person can shell out close to $35 per day to fulfill their appetite when they’re on a domestic vacation.4

So, Baines and her crew got creative. They stocked up their coolers with snacks, drinks and frozen casseroles and shopped at a local supermarket for other items. “We had everything we needed,” says Baines, who is an avid traveler. In fact, they prepared almost every breakfast, lunch and dinner at their condo.

“We were super tight with our budget,” Baines says. “We tried not to waste anything when it came to food.

“It’s OK to be stingy and eat in.”

A woman wearing at travel hat walks through airport with suitcase


Believe it or not, you may be able to find bargains on activities depending on the type of trip you take. Keep your eyes open for easy walking tours in the city or live concerts in the park. Seek out potential free days at the downtown museum, zoo or aquarium. Before you hop you in the car or board a plane, do a quick online search to see if you can take advantage of any major discounts, attractions or promotions. 


Mary Sanders’ experiences span the globe:






(And many more.)

For the past 30 years, the enthusiastic explorer has been contributing a fixed amount of cash to her “fun fund” to support her passion for traveling abroad. “You don’t have to save $500 per month — it can be whatever you can consistently afford,” Sanders says. “Just start with something.” Initially, to get her special account off the ground, she stopped eating out and began bringing a lunchbox to work Monday through Friday. Then, she set aside that extra money to help cover a memorable trip to Madrid.

“I had peace of mind I already had everything banked,” Sanders says “When I came back, there was no finanical burden.”


To buy or not to buy?

When it comes to booking a great getaway, there’s one important question to answer before you set sail: “Do I need travel insurance?” Insurance can cover minor inconveniences, like lost luggage or trip cancellation, as well as major emergencies, like personal illness or injury. As a rule of thumb, it may be worth purchasing if your prepaid or nonrefundable expenses add up to more than you’re willing to lose.  

Generally speaking, if you’re visiting a region that is prone to bad storms or mapping out plans to engage in physical exercises, like whitewater rafting, you may want to secure a policy that protects you from natural disasters and health risks. However, if you’re arranging just a short break, and you have only a few priorities such as gas and groceries, it may make financial sense to skip the safety net.


Start investing for your next trip with an Empower Investment Account

1 Trip Advisor, “Travel is Heating Up: Two-Thirds of Americans Planning Summer Vacations,” April 2021.

2 Bankrate.com, "The average cost of a vacation: Transportation, food, entertainment and more," November 2021.

3 CNBC, “ATM fees didn’t increase in 2020 for the first time in 15 years — here’s why,” October 2020.

4 Forbes, “Vacation Spending: Where Americans' Money Goes,” June 2018.

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