Summer Vacation on a Budget

Being a student is a lot of work, but one of the best perks has to be the school calendar. Summer vacation is a rare gift and you might as well make the most of it. Although it’d be nice to jet off to a tropical island and leave all your dental student woes behind, loans and living expenses don’t always allow for luxury. So lets explore some tips on traveling on a budget. If you have any ideas or your own, or would like to fill us in on your summer plans, please leave a comment!


There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars and reconnecting with mother nature. Plus, this may be the cheapest way for you to get away this summer! Camping trips are a great way to travel with a big group of friends. Find a few people with tents and load up the car with coolers and food items that can be roasted on a stick. Tent sites are the cheapest accomodations you’ll find and you can’t beat the camaraderie of roughing it with some good friends. As a kid, I saw most of the United States from the window of an Astro van, sleeping in a pop-up camper at night. I have a very personal appreciation for Civil War sites and national parks. I wouldn’t trade even one of those camping trips for a fabulous vacation in a fancy resort. It’s a great way to see the country and if you’re within driving distance of a national park, even better. Check out some of the sites below for camping inspiration:

KOA – With over 450 campgrounds across the US, you know what to expect when you camp at a KOA. Online reservations and clean bathroom facilities are just the beginning of the amenities you’ll get with KOA. Although this isn’t a mom and pop operation with all the charm of an independently run camp, the campgrounds are easy to locate and even easier to book.

National Parks – The National Park Service has a well run website that allows you to search National Parks by state. This is a great jumping off point for your camping trip. Hiking trails and museums are clearly identified so that you have something to do when you’re not back at the campsite roasting marshmallows.

REI – If you need gear, you could start here but it may not fit the budget as well as digging through dad’s garage. What is really helpful is the “Expert Advice” tab with articles on everything that has to do with the outdoors. From camping and hiking to cycling and climbing, REI has advice on it all.

A Little More $Expensive$

Some people aren’t cut out for the outdoors. So if you absolutely have to take a plane to feel like you’re on vacation, you can still save a few bucks along the way. Budget flight sites like Orbitz, Expedia and Travelzoo will search all the airlines for you so that you can find the lowest ticket prices fast. Travelzoo has a weekly email called Top 20 that lists the 20 best deals each week. Most weeks I just daydream while reading through the deals, but I have actually booked more than one of the deals in the past and it was well worth it. Below are some more tips on saving money while away:

Save on food – One of the costliest parts of vacationing is eating out for every meal. If you have a fridge in your hotel room, stock it with a few groceries once you get there. Buy milk and cereal for the morning instead of going out to breakfast. Sometimes eating out can be the highlight of a vacation, but 3 meals a day can become tiresome and really add up. Make sandwiches for lunch one day and take them on a picnic. You can still hit the fine dining at dinner, but this way you’ll only pay for it once.

Carry-on – How long will you be staying? If it’s anything less than 7 days, I bet you can carry-on instead of checking luggage. There are a few tricks to it, but once you get the hang of carrying-on luggage, you’ll feel liberated. Not only can you skip watching the carousel at the baggage claim, but it will save you at least $30 a bag these days! Think of it as extra money to go towards food, souvenirs, anything. Why should you pay for stuff you already own? Check out this article on EHow about packing light.

Plan ahead – Most of the museums in Chicago have discount days or even free days. I wouldn’t pay full price for a museum if I didn’t have to, so why should I pay full price in another city? Decide what activities you want to do and what sites you want to see before you leave on your vacation. There are so many coupons online and discounts to draw people in, you can take advantage of it with just a little bit of planning. If you’re the type to use and other e-coupon sites, remember that they work in other cities too!

The Last Resort

I can’t recommend a “staycation” because I love to travel far too much to suggest such a thing. But sometimes there just isn’t enough time or money to actually leave town. In that case, plan a day trip with some friends. Or how about an apartment swap? Have a friend in another state? Why not switch places for the weekend? Of course you’d have to trust the person quite a bit and there are some logistics to work through, but it’s a way for you to stay in another city for free.

Whatever you do for your summer vacation, make it count. You won’t be a student forever and your summer vacations are certainly numbered.

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Comments (13)

  1. Kim Schneider

    I’m planning a camping trip with some friends this summer, but most of my vacation is saved for August. I’m flying out to California to see my sister defend her dissertation! How are you spending your summer vacation?

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