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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Affordable vacations

Affordable vacations

Affordable vacations family jumping

Ray Sobczyk


Vacations don’t have to break the bank

The arrival of warmer months and sunnier days is the annual sign that vacation season has also officially arrived.

But there’s no question that 2022 has created a whole new set of concerns and considerations for trip-goers. Record inflation levels, high gas prices and unstable market swings are making some people think twice about taking a vacation.1

In fact, according to our recent Wealth & Wellness Index survey, nearly half (45%) of Americans say they’ll go on less vacations if inflation continues. Others intend on revising their itinerary if current economic conditions persist.2,3

However, if you don’t want to totally cut out your vacation, or if you’re on the fence about where to go, here’s a list of some of the most affordable spots to visit this summer:


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 over summer break. 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.4,5

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


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.6 For a getaway full of fishing, swimming and horseback riding, you could find a steal for less than $200 per night.7

Photo of riders on horses.


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. 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.8,9

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


As airfare expenses continue to surge, nearly 70% of Americans are weighing their options when it comes to mapping out their summer vacation.10 The good news? If you live near a midsized 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, of course) offer tons of tours, attractions and restaurants that can make your summer memorable without costing an arm and a leg.11


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 payment (which is about 110 out of more than 400 sites) usually charge a low fee to enter. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park is $25 per vehicle while Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are $35.

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 parks that usually charge admission, The National Park Service offers five free days every year. In 2022, the remaining dates are September 24 and November 11.12


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


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 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.”


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.13

Meanwhile, driving isn’t expected to improve anytime soon. According to AAA, car rental rates are 86% higher for this upcoming Independence Day when compared with the same period in 2021. The pump could create even more angst as gas is forecasted to potentially reach seven-year peaks across the country.14

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 summer.15


Nowadays, 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 summer 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!

Despite economic surges, more than 70% of Americans still plan on traveling in some way, shape or form this summer.16 If you’re taking a trip this summer, the most important thing you can do is save as much as you can.

Frequent flyers like Mary Sanders use a travel fund to stay out of debt and see the world. The former tech executive, whose experiences span the globe, contributes a set amount to her travel-specific 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 USA Today, “Travelers will pay and worry more on summer vacation this year. But they won't cancel,” May 2022.
2 Empower, Wealth and Wellness Index Mid-Year Survey, May 2022
3 CNBC, “High inflation may prompt people to change their summer vacation plans,” April 2022.
4 Trip Discover, “17 Cheap Beach Vacations to Take on a Budget,” May 2022.
5 Trip Advisor, “Cheap Resorts in Florida Panhandle,” May 2022.
6 Travel + Leisure, “America's Best Dude Ranches,” April 2021.
7 Cheap Flights, “Affordable dude ranch escapes,” May 2022.
8 Bloomberg, “Travelers Head to Europe as Strong US Dollar Helps Offset Inflation,” May 2022.
9 Wall Street Journal, “Surging Dollar Raises Possibility of Parity With Euro,” May 2022.
10 CNBC, “High inflation may prompt people to change their summer vacation plans,” April 2022.
11 Trip Discover, “12 Best Cheap Weekend Getaways in the U.S.,” May 2022.
12 National Park Service, “National Park Service announces entrance fee-free days for 2022,” December 2021.
13 Conde Nast Traveler, “These Are the Cheapest Days to Fly This Summer,” April 2022.
14 Market Watch, “These Are the Cheapest Days to Fly This Summer,” June 2021.
15 Conde Nast Traveler, “These Are the Cheapest Days to Fly This Summer,” April 2022.
16 Value Penguin, “73% of Americans Have Summer Travel Plans (a Pandemic High) — But Travelers Are Taking Fewer Trips Amid Increased Spending,” April 2022.


Ray Sobczyk, Empower author

Ray Sobczyk

Content contributor

Ray is a longtime professional journalist who has produced stories on a diverse range of topics, from community to people to money. He is now a writer for Empower focusing on financial health and well-being.

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“EMPOWER” and all associated logos, and product names are trademarks of Empower Annuity Insurance Company of America. This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide investment, legal or tax recommendations or advice. ©2023 Empower Annuity Insurance Company of America. All rights reserved.