5 last-minute travel ideas to get the most out of summer


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Summer is winding down to a close, but there’s still time to squeeze out every last drop of fun and relaxation before the weather starts to cool down. Plus, vacationing at the end of summer is often more affordable than during its peak.

“The last two weeks of August are no longer high season in many places,” said Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer’s travel guide books and publisher of Frommers.com. “People get nervous about traveling in late August because they think it’s the height of summer, but it no longer is for family-friendly destinations since a lot of schools or sports teams have already started. You can actually find some really good deals that time of year.”

Whether you want to jet set internationally or travel to a hot destination in the United States, now is the perfect time. If your travel budget is dwindling, here are some affordable ways to explore.

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1. Consider camping

Camping can be a fun and low-cost way to travel and connect with nature, especially if you have kids. It’s typically much cheaper than staying at a hotel or resort, especially if you already have the gear, and you can eat around the fire instead of going out. Frommer said a great place to look for a campsite is KOA.com, a company that has nearly 500 campgrounds across the country.

There are also some unique new websites that make camping more interesting, Frommer said. Two she suggested are HipCamp.com and CoolCamping.com, which help you find interesting camping locations around the world, including glamping options for those who are less outdoorsy. She said sites like this also allow people with large properties and farmers to host campers. “That means you might be camping in a place all by yourself instead of having people 10 feet away from you, or on a very beautiful, usually private property,” she said.

If you’re more interested in camping at a national park, Frommer said spots book up online quickly, though many parks hold up to a quarter of their space for those who roll up so they don’t have to turn as many people away. So if your park of choice’s campsite looks sold out online, you might still be able to snag a spot if you go early enough in the day, she said.

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2. Take a road trip

Flights are costly, and if you have kids, airfare can cost thousands of dollars in total. Why not take an old-fashioned road trip instead, whether it’s for a day trip, a night at a nearby beach or a week-long drive across the country to close out the summer.

One easy way to save money on a road trip is by using FuelCostCalculator.com, a website from AAA, Frommer said. “You put in the make and model of your car and where you’re going, and it spits back how much they think you’re going to spend in gas,” she said. “That’s a great way for you to budget for your trip and how much you have leftover for other things.”

She also recommended using GasBuddy.com or GasPriceWatch.com, which can help you find the cheapest gas prices wherever you’re traveling.

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3. Look up last-minute deals online

It’s become increasingly harder to find last-minute deals on airfare. “The problem is today, the airlines have filling their planes down to a science,” Frommer said. “Because of that, we aren’t seeing the types of last-minute deals that we did a decade ago.” Since plane seats really are getting filled, she said, airlines jack up prices as it gets closer to the date.

However, there are sites you can use to find the lowest airfare, especially for traveling internationally. Frommer said her team studied airfare and found the sites with the best rates are Momondo.com and Skyscanner.net. That’s because they do little tricks, she said, such as buying airfare in the country you’re going to, where prices are cheaper than buying in the U.S., or buying in a different currency.

“The bad thing about dealing with those companies is they tend to have very draconian cancellation policies, so you might have a fee on top of what the airline would charge,” she said. “But if you know you’re definitely going, especially for international travel, these two websites often beat the competition.”

While flights fill up these days, hotels typically don’t, making deals easier to find. “Hotels are doing well when they have 80% occupancy; they almost always have rooms to move, so they’ll usually give you last-minute deals,” Frommer said. Her company also studied and tested various travel deal websites, and it found that for Asia, Agoda.com tended to have the best hotel rates. For the rest of the world, Frommer’s team found that Booking.com nearly always had the best rate, often beating HotelsTonight.

While there are also rental accommodation options like Airbnb, VRBO and FlipKey, fees for these sites have been climbing, so they aren’t always cheaper than hotels. “If you’re with a group, that’s often a great way to save, but for couples, it’s not as reliable,” Frommer said. “The great thing about doing a last-minute trip is the hoteliers are more likely to discount at the last minute because they’re desperate, so you might actually spend less than if you booked months in advance for the last two weeks in August.”

Also, keep in mind that if you’re looking to book more than one thing — say, a hotel room and a rental car — some travel websites will offer discounted packages.

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4. Consider nearby attractions

If you want to stay close to home, consider a quick day trip, overnight trip or even a staycation to some of the nearby attractions that make your area special. Perhaps there are some major tourist attractions in your city you’ve never taken the time to visit. Your state tourism department or city’s convention and visitor’s bureau websites are often chock-full of information on local sights and attractions. For example, TravelTexas.com is run by the state’s economic development and tourism department and has free guides for traveling around the state, plus some deals.

If there are any smaller amusement parks near you like Six Flags (not the giant ones like Walt Disney World or Universal Studios), most have season passes that can save you a lot of money, Frommer said. “At smaller amusement parks, usually if you get a season pass, it pays off in two visits,” she said. “It pays off quickly because it often includes perks like free parking, and maybe a discount on food or souvenirs.”

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5. Don’t forget about picnics

One of the biggest costs of travel can be dining at restaurants. Rather than blowing your budget on food, consider picnicking instead, Frommer said. “A lot of people get on vacation and think they have to spend a lot of money on food, eating in restaurants every meal,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a real adventure to just go to a local deli or grocery store or charcuterie in the area and take it to a beautiful spot and eat outdoors.”

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The bottom line

Just because you might be on a budget doesn’t mean you have to have your family stay home all summer. Even though the season is almost over, this might be the perfect time to find a great deal, visit somewhere not so crowded and do a little last-minute exploring.

This article originally appeared on MagnifyMoney.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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