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By Daniela Belloli: July 18, 2023

Summer is finally here, and that means it’s the season for travel. And, with 63% of Americans planning a personal trip this summer (according to Deloitte’s 2023 Summer Travel Survey), popular destinations are likely to be more crowded and pricier than most families would like. The best way to prepare and not break the bank? Plan early and set a budget. 

But what if you haven’t made plans yet and your budget is tight? Don’t worry—we have strategies to save you money while getting the vacation break you deserve! Read below for tips on timing, airfares, road trips and more.

When to Travel

While there are no set days or times to snatch up deals, some time-conscious strategies lead to significant savings. A 2023 Cheapair analysis of more than 917 million airfares across all continents determined that the sweet spot for convenient rates on international travel is 2 to 10 months before your trip. 

For destinations like Mexico and Europe, book 1.5 to 10 months ahead of the desired travel date. Prefer to go to Asia? Start planning 4.5 to 10 months ahead.

If you can only take time off in the summer, then travel domestically and save about 8% by booking 21 to 60 days before the trip, as Expedia recommends. And, if you’re traveling domestically and can wait until the fall, do so. 


To deal with airfare unpredictability—which results from multiple factors ranging from oil prices to our eagerness to catch up on fun experiences following the COVID-19 pandemic—try price-tracking websites like Going or Skyscanner. I’ve tested Going and found surprisingly good deals so far. 

However, for the European destinations I’m interested in, discounted fares start in October and end in February. If you’re open to any destination, it’s worth using Going for summer travel. Otherwise, booking for the fall is a smart choice. When you do, you can sign up for price-matching services like Expedia’s “Price Drop Protection” or Cheapair’s “Price Drop Payback” for additional peace of mind.

Road Trips

While gas prices, like airfares, tend to be unpredictable, experts agree on some positive news: they’re not expected to reach record highs like last summer. The June 2023 Short-Term Energy Outlook by the U.S. Energy Information Administration released its forecast for gas prices during the rest of 2023 and confirmed a decrease. 

Despite the encouraging data, GasBuddy reminds us that average gas prices could still increase up to 30 cents per gallon in the next few months , especially if demand from China continues to increase or unexpected supply chain disruptions occur. As we know, gas prices also depend on location, and they do increase on busy holiday weekends. With that in mind, if you’re driving somewhere for Labor Day, remember to fill up your tank before prices spike. 

Hotels & Restaurants

According to Deloitte’s survey, 51% of those paying for their accommodation during their summer vacation will stay at a full-service hotel. As Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel  recently pointed out, inflation, pent-up demand and a constrained supply are the main factors  driving up the cost of travel—particularly hotel rooms. Try exploring bed & breakfasts, private rentals, RVs and camping instead. 

Alternatively, if you’re a member of a warehouse club like Costco ® or Sam’s Club ®, check out their travel portal. They often offer deals on travel packages that include rewards cards redeemable to buy their products, which also helps with the soaring cost of eating out. You could also lessen the impact of restaurant meals on your vacation budget by getting meals to go, grabbing dinner during happy hour, favoring establishments with a kids menu and, as always, creating a dedicated eating-out budget and sticking to it. 

Theme Parks 

Whether we have kids or not, most of us love theme parks. According to the April 2023 AAA Consumer Pulse survey,  37% of American adults say they’re a favorite summer destination, and 26% of Americans over 18 years old will visit a park this summer. If a theme park is on your bucket list, look for resident discounts offered by parks in your state. We’re all familiar with the “big name” parks, but there are about 475 amusement parks in the U.S. today. You may find one relatively close and save on getting there. Also, check if your employer offers discounts as a perk (Navy Federal Credit Union does). Many parks also provide military discounts both year-round and on special holidays.

Take-Home Tips

Remember these take-home tips to ensure your travel is as smooth and affordable as possible.

  • Plan early, set up a vacation budget and stick to it.
  • Pick a good time to book. There’s a sweet spot to lock in the lowest fares based on your destination.
  • Use price-tracking and price-matching services.
  • Be mindful of gas price fluctuations.
  • Explore alternatives to hotel rooms and traditional restaurant meals.
  • Choose the theme parks in your state with the best discounts.


Ready to start planning and budgeting?

For budgeting tips, whether for an upcoming vacation or not, check out MakingCents.  

Daniela Belloli, CFP®  is a Summer Associate at Navy Federal Credit Union.


This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.