Get Outta Town, Not Outta Cash: Affordable Vacation Ideas

road trip view from car

Right about now, you could probably use a break. And while travel is a bit different during the pandemic, you can still do it safely. And you can always travel cheaply if you do it smart. (Smart traveling in 2020 and surely well into next year means more than just watching the budget, of course: Wear a mask, practice social distancing, and stay healthy!)

Here are a few ideas for how to travel on the cheap and get the getaway you need more than ever.

Score an Affordable RV Rental

Renting an RV (that’s recreational vehicle, FYI) is not as cheap as you might think when you go through a traditional broker. It can cost a few hundred bucks per day to rent a full-sized RV, and that’s before you factor in gasoline. There are often fees for campgrounds that add even more to the price tag, and before long, you will have paid much more than a rental car and hotel combo would have cost. But RV vacations are great, what with all the resources you need right there at all times, and they can minimize social contact, which is critical right now.

rv trailer hot spring mammoth lakes california
Robson Hatsukami Morgan

So what’s to be done? Why, just try out one of the peer-to-peer RV rental services that have cropped up in recent years. Companies like RVShare and Outdoorsy use the Airbnb model to help people like you rent an RV from a private owner like, um, Tom. The rates are usually a fraction of the price you would pay with a regular dealer. Trailers are often less than $100/day, and fully equipped vans and RVs are often only $150 to $200 depending on your area. You can also check out smaller rental companies like Pacific Overlander or GoCamp Camper Vans.

Consider Off-Season Destinations

Lakes and beaches are still lovely during cold weather, you just won’t do much swimming. So head for a typical summertime resort in the winter and score some deals by booking rooms in hotels usually packed and pricey when it’s hot and sunny. Just bring a jacket instead of the trunks.

This also works the other way: When you think of Aspen, Colorado, the mountains of Vermont, or even international alpine destinations such as resorts in the Canadian Rockies, you probably think of snow, skiing, and sky-high prices. Well, during the summer months, many areas famous for their winter sports are significantly cheaper. You can often book a room in a ski town for half the cost of winter rates during the warmer months, and provided you like hiking, biking, and spending time in nature, your recreational activities can be all but free. There are no lift tickets when you’re walking up a mountain, and if you’re cool with a picnic lunch, you can bring all the food and other gear you’ll need right on your back. As another bonus, ski resorts that are open for summer hiking mean all the pleasure of a nature excursion with all the convenience of bathrooms, restaurants, and shops close at hand.

Go Glamping

Glamping is a portmanteau fusing “glamour” and “camping.” The thing is, glamping can be pretty expensive when undertaken with a full-service provider. Fortunately, there are new companies setting up shop (or tent) that follow a similar peer-to-peer model as the RV rental services mentioned above.

Groups like Tentrr partner with people who own a decent plot of land in relatively remote, perfectly picturesque spots and then set up an elegant semi-permanent campsite on the private property. For a rather modest fee, you and your group get a campsite replete with real beds in large cabin-like tents, fire pits, chairs, a camp toilet, and more. Most campsites cost only $125 per night — a steal compared to most glamping sites, which are often twice that price. Sure, you have to bring your own food and wine, but you have to do that if you just stay home too. Hipcamp is a similar option that offers everything from private, primitive campgrounds to glamping spots and RV sites. So get out there and have some fun.

Skip Vegas, But Don’t Skip the Casinos

You don’t need to go to Las Vegas to have a sinfully great time on vacation. There are plenty of other towns in America where gambling is legal. If you’re looking for some fun in a spot where the booze flows like a river, where you and the gang can have a great time while winning or losing a fortune, and where there are plenty of opportunities for dining, dancing, and other whatnot, so skip The Strip and try somewhere new. Atlantic City, New Jersey, is way past its glamorous heyday, which is bad news for the local economy, but good news for you. Rooms are cheap, open gaming tables are plentiful, and the ocean is right there for a dip. Biloxi, Mississippi, is another affordable city that offers plentiful gambling opportunities (at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino) beaches for you to enjoy. If you live in the Northeast, consider a day trip to Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, both of which are just a few hours’ drive from New York City and Boston. The Pacific Northwest is chock-full of Native American-owned casinos and resorts. And there’s always Reno.

Editors' Recommendations