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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Affordable vacations for 2024

Affordable vacations for 2024

01.11.2024

There’s no question that the past few years have created a long list of questions for trip-goers beyond just, “Are we there yet?”

From record inflation to soaring airfare to high gas prices, there’s a lot to unpack before mapping out travel plans. In fact, many Americans are now thinking twice about getting away in 2024, while 80% of people are revising their itineraries in an effort to reduce certain costs.1

Despite the economic baggage, vacations aren’t losing steam as new Empower insight shows one-third of adults believe financial freedom means having enough cash in their pocket to get away on their own dime and time. 

If you’re on the fence about where to go, here’s a list of some of the most affordable places to visit this year.

The beach 

Looking for some fun in the sun? Believe it or not, you may be able to get a tan on the sand without breaking the bank. Research shows booking a stay in a town along the Florida Panhandle may be your best and cheapest option during the summer season this year. There is no shortage of oceanfront properties, hotels and resorts that are reasonably priced and feature all sorts of complimentary amenities the entire family can enjoy.2,3

Photo of beach. The Florida Panhandle may be your cheapest beach option

Dude ranches

Saddle up! Depending on where you live, you might have a dude ranch that’s just a hop, skip and gallop down the road. Wyoming, Colorado, Texas and Montana offer plenty of budget-friendly Old West experiences, and many of them are all-inclusive packages that include the cost of meals and activities.4 For a getaway full of fishing, swimming and horseback riding, you could find a steal for less than $200 per night.5

Photo of riders on horses.

Europe (on a budget)

You may think heading overseas may be overpriced. However, with the dollar approaching parity with the Euro for the first time a long time, you may get even more bang for your buck when you go abroad.6 Coupled with reopened borders (which were temporarily closed due to COVID), Europe is becoming a more prominent destination for many Americans — with London and Paris topping the list of favorites. Because of the strong currency, many stops to the continent are more modest than they’ve been in years.7,8

Image of Eiffel tower. Text: The dollar is approaching parity with the Euro.

Local hotspots

The closer, the better.

If you live near a major city that’s within driving distance, booking a quick weekend getaway may be a penny-pinching way to get out of the house. Popular places like Nashville, Atlanta and Tucson (and many others) offer tons of tours, attractions and restaurants that can make your vacations memorable without costing an arm and a leg.9 In Seattle, you can score baseball tickets for as low as $10 for some games. 

National parks

National parks, national treasures. Most national parks in the U.S., like Redwood National Park in California, are free to get in. And, there’s at least one in each state so they’re easily accessible for many people. If you’re able to camp, picnic and hike, they can also be very kind to your wallet and inexpensive to visit.

The ones that do require a payment usually charge a small fee to enter. For example, Mesa Verde is $25 per vehicle while Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are $35.10 Current military members and their dependents also have access to a free annual pass to all national parks and federal lands while citizens (ages 16-62) can purchase an “America the Beautiful” permit for $80; seniors can get a card for $20.

Photo of park visitors sitting by lake. The national park service offers five free days every year.

If you’re on a tighter budget but want to explore one of the bigger locations, you’re in luck! For the venues that charge admission, including Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the National Park Service offers five free days every year. 

Tips for making your trip enjoyable — and affordable

Packed and ready to go? Keep these simple tricks in mind to stretch your dollar even further while you’re away:

Go with a group

The bigger, the better. Traveling with a party of people, can help save you big bucks on your next adventure.

For a recent road trip to Orange Beach in Alabama, Cindy Baines’ crew included four adults and eight kids. Baines and her three older daughters pooled their money together to pay for fuel, food and fun as well as lodging at a large resort. In the end, everyone enjoyed five-star features at only a fraction of the price.

“Frugal is our middle name,” says Baines, a dental hygienist from Nashville. “We all pitched in — and we all had a blast.”

Avoid holidays

Before you go, there are few no-noes on the calendar you’ll want to mark. Summer holidays, such as Father’s Day, July 4 and Labor Day, typically see financial spikes when it comes to flights, hotels and events. On average, airfare rises about 25% over Independence Day weekend compared to other summer dates.11

Photo of airplane on runway. August is usually the most economical month to take to the sky in summer.

So, what’s the solution? Be flexible — and patient! — and plan your schedule around the major holidays. Some experts suggest the cheapest time to fly is on a Tuesday while the most expensive is on a Friday. As a whole, August is generally viewed as the most economical month to take to the sky during the peak travel days in the summer.

Dig up a discount

You don’t have to search too long to find a great deal. Taking advantage of credit card rewards, email promotions and community organizations are all savvy ways you can save money while traveling the world. But in addition to benefitting from the bigger bargains, several smaller perks exist, too.

For Shelley Wilkerson, who was a single mom for many years, passing up on a local special or sale was never an option. Even if she couldn’t afford to take a vacation with her son, more often than not a staycation did the trick. Free days at the zoo, museum and aquarium, and warm days at the neighborhood pool, were inexpensive activities that allowed her to keep her head above water all year long.

“Having fun doesn’t always have to cost a pretty penny,” says Wilkerson, who lives in Denver. “Keep your eyes open.”

The bottom line

Save!

As anonymized Empower Dashboard™ user data shows, summer is an extremely popular time to escape. In fact, in July of 2022, users spent an average of $540 on travel, a 20% increase from February if 2022. So, if you’re taking a trip, the most important thing you can do is save as much as you can in advance.

Frequent flyers like Mary Sanders use a travel fund to stay out of debt, stick to a budget and see the world. The former tech executive, whose adventures span the globe, contributes a set amount to her travel-specific financial account every month. In her mind, every dollar spent — and saved — has been worth it.

“You don’t have to put away $500 a month — it can just be whatever you can consistently afford,” says Sanders.

“Just start with something.”

1 Bankrate, “Survey: 80% of summer vacationers are changing their plans due to inflation,” April 2023.

2 Trip Discover, “17 Cheap Beach Vacations to Take on a Budget,” May 2022.

3 Trip Advisor, “Cheap Resorts in Florida Panhandle,” May 2022.

4 Travel + Leisure, “America's Best Dude Ranches,” April 2021.

5 Cheap Flights, “Affordable dude ranch escapes,” May 2022.

6 CNBC, “The euro hit parity with the U.S. dollar for first time since 2002. Here’s how travelers can take advantage of the exchange rate,” July 2022.

7 InsideHook, “Europe Will Be More Crowded Than Ever This Summer,” February 2023.

8 Wall Street Journal, “Surging Dollar Raises Possibility of Parity With Euro,” May 2022.

9 Trip Discover, “12 Best Cheap Weekend Getaways in the U.S.,” May 2022.

10 National Park Service, “Entrance Fees by Park,” 2023.

11 Conde Nast Traveler, “These Are the Cheapest Days to Fly This Summer,” April 2022.

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