If the wind blows you to Europe this summer, you may be worried about surviving a vacation without going over-budget and spending more than you can realistically afford. When my family of four headed to Italy last summer for two weeks, staying within our budget was our first priority. Thankfully, Italy is filled with culture, varied accommodations, and delicious food that doesn’t have to break the bank. If a summer vacation to Italy is on the agenda, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can make the holiday work within a realistic budget.

Consider self-catering accommodations, sometimes outside of the city limits.

While hostels are typically the cheapest way to travel through Europe, they aren’t always known for their cleanliness, hospitality, and can’t meet the needs of families or those traveling with children or the elderly. Instead of a hostel, consider self-catering accommodations for your summer vacation to Italy.

We chose to rent a car and stay in the Tuscan countryside, in a small villa within a secluded hamlet. Sound idyllic and a little too good to be true, especially for the budget conscious? In fact, the three bedroom, 1 ½ bathroom apartment with a living room and kitchen cost only 700 Euro a week. Because we were able to shop and cook for ourselves sometimes, we not only saved money on the lodging, but on our meals as well. Even with the rental car, it was cheaper to book through To Tuscany than it would have been to stay at a hotel large enough for a family of four in a major city like Florence.

Take advantage of the free sights and traditional Italian culture at your fingertips.

Rather than spend all of your money seeing museums and pricier exhibits, consider taking advantage of the exterior architecture of a city like Florence, instead. Walk the streets with nothing but a guidebook, rather than an expensive guided tour. See the inside of Il Duomo in Florence, but skip the inside of pricier exhibits. One of the best ways to get a real feel for Italy and to take in the city you’re in is to find a good coffee shop, and sit outside with a cup of coffee or a gelato. It won’t cost you tons of money and you can spend hours immersed and soaking up the atmosphere.

Avoid the high season.

An early summer vacation to Italy can save you more money than a holiday in the late summer. July vacations are often more expensive than June’s, and you’ll avoid the dreadful summer heat by just a little bit. Accommodations are less expensive in May and June than they are in July and August, and the cities will be less crowded, too.

Take a drive or a train ride, rather than spending your days caught up in a congested and expensive city.

Some of our favorite memories from our summer vacation in Italy aren’t of the expensive meals or the artwork that we saw, but rather of the drives through Chianti and the Italian countryside. Find small villages to explore, spend a day at a pool in the Tuscan hills (our hamlet had one of it’s own for guests), or visit a vineyard and sample some of the wines fresh from the source. Day trips by train, bus, or car are highlights of an Italian holiday, and don’t cost as much as spending the day inside the city.

Italy is filled with culture, varied accommodations, and delicious food that doesn’t have to break the bank. If a summer vacation to Italy is on the agenda, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can make the holiday work within a realistic budget.