For many millennials, a summer vacation abroad may be a luxury, but this hot spot could still be quite the steal for young travelers.
That destination is Mexico, which scored the top ranking over dream locales like France and Italy on most millennials' wish list, according to travel site Virtuoso — specifically, the Riviera Maya located on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
"We know that millennials prefer to be physically active during their vacations and look for destinations that offer a more authentic experience," said Misty Ewing Belles, managing director of global public relations at Virtuoso. "The Riviera Maya does just that."
With everything from cliff diving, zip lining, ancient ruins and sunny beaches, Mexico is a popular destination during winter, but for cash-strapped students or those just starting out, summer is the best time to score a deal.
Americans are expected to spend an average of $941 on summer getaways per person, according to an American Express survey. Despite busy lifestyles and attempts to save, a whopping 89 percent of millennials plan to travel this summer, the survey found, more than any other group.
"Traveling during the low-season [July-October] will save a bundle," Belles said, based on Viruoso's bookings. "Hotel average daily rates are up to 46 percent less than peak season [November-March]."
So pack your bags, here's how to hit Mexico on a budget:
"A good old fashioned strategy is save per [pay]check a certain amount towards travel and use that as your vacation budget," said certified financial planner Kevin Meehan of Wealth Enhancement Group. "Don't borrow any money to travel on credit."
Next, plan wisely. Meehan suggests figuring out what you enjoy most and focus on that. If you're looking to hang out and relax, don't spend extra for expensive tours or excursions. Activities like zip lining, for example, will run you about $90 per person. Or if you're looking to tour, de-emphasize where you stay.
As for hotels, staying in the Riviera Maya can be an over-the-top expense, but all-inclusive resort options are also abundant for the more budget-conscious vacationer. For example, Soho Playa Hotel is a three-star resort with good ratings that costs about $100 a night in the late summer. The rate at Hotel Cielo, another three-star resort, drops to $79 a night in August. That's a far cry from the Hotel Esencia, one of the top hotels in Riviera Maya, which costs about $615 a night in August.
If you are traveling by air, book air travel at least two months in advance to get the best deals. In fact, booking 21 days ahead is the best option, as it can be 25 percent to 40 percent less, Belles said. If you are willing to travel on holidays like the Fourth of July, the savings is really significant. For example, booking a business-class ticket 21 days in advance from New York to Riviera Maya (technically Cancun airport) would be $1,900 to $3,000 compared with $700 to $2,200 if you flew on Independence Day.
Sunday is the best day of the week to purchase flights domestically or internationally, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. When in doubt, apps like Hopper will track fares and alert you when prices drop for your desired flights. Departing on a Tuesday and returning on a Monday will also cost 10 percent to 20 percent less, according to Virtuoso.
Alternatively, if money is less of a concern, hiring a travel agent can be a big bonus. Because they book a high volume of trips, they may have access to perks that you might not be able to get on your own — not to mention the hours saved on the computer searching for your travel needs.
They could also score free upgrades, fee waivers or dining and spa resort credits. The service may not pay for itself, but it just might feel worth it during your beach-side massage.