Travel is a big line item in my budget. My husband and I love to travel, and we try to leave the country at least once a year. In addition, we try to take one smaller trip within the U.S. To keep from breaking the bank with every trip, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.
Pick the Right Destination
If you don’t have a particular destination in mind, but you want a good deal, sign up for Travel Zoo’s Top 20. It’s a weekly email with the 20 best travel deals sent to your inbox. Another tip: Travel during the off-season or the shoulder season. Going to Europe in May or September is usually cheaper than summer, however, going in winter can be even cheaper. If you’re looking for a deal on Europe right now, I would go to Greece and Spain. Because of the economic turmoil in Greece, tourism is down and Spain has been hurt as well. But what a great time to see both countries for less! If you want to stay closer to home and are looking for a great deal, 2013 is a great year to go to Mexico. There are all sorts of all-inclusive deals available in the Riviera Maya. Check out www.cheapcaribbean.com for details. If you’ve always wanted to take a cruise, now is a great time to get a deal on one. Explore discount cruises through Cheap Cruises.
Use Airline Miles and Credit Card Rewards to Save Big
When I’m planning a trip, I always start by looking into how many credit card rewards and frequent flyer miles I have. On a few occasions, we’ve signed up for a credit card to earn a big bonus on miles and then cashed in those miles for airline tickets. Recently, we took a trip to Costa Rica. I ran a search on www.kayak.com and found the airfare was around $650 per round-trip ticket. Instead, we transferred 14,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points to United Airlines miles. Since we had 56,000 United Airline miles, this brought our total to 70,000 miles, enough for two round-trip tickets from the U.S. to Costa Rica, though we did have to pay $95 in taxes. Saving this much on airfare cut the price of our trip by 40 percent. If you love to travel and are responsible with your credit cards, make sure you have a credit card that provides travel benefits that you’ll use. It can certainly pay off.
Think Outside the Box for Lodging
If you travel frequently for work and have accumulated hotel rewards points, check to see if you have enough points for a free stay. If not, I recommend staying in locally run hotels, B&Bs and guest houses. These tend to be less expensive than the hotel chains and have more charm. One of my favorite places to research lodging is on www.TripAdvisor.com. I love that this site has real reviews from travelers. Some of the highest ranked hotels and B&Bs are some of the most affordable. Once you find the place you want to stay, try emailing the hotel directly to see if it is offering any specials. I’ve found that oftentimes you can get a deal by asking the hotel directly instead of booking through another website. Sometimes you might get free breakfast, or a discount if you stay for a certain number of nights, so it’s worth asking.
Another way to save on lodging is by staying in an apartment. People can list their homes or apartments on www.airbnb.com and then you can rent them out. This is especially affordable if you’re going to be staying in one location for a week or more. Having a fully functional kitchen also means that you can cook more meals at home and save on eating out.
Don’t rule out going on vacation because you can’t afford lodging. We love visiting our friends in other states, and they are nice enough to let us stay with them for free. (We always take them out for a nice dinner for hosting us). You could also go camping, stay in a hostel www.hostelworld.com, or head up to a friend’s cabin or timeshare. These are all low-cost ways to make your trip more affordable.
Trimming Your Food Costs
One of my favorite parts of traveling is eating good food. I’ve found that Trip Advisor has great reviews on restaurants. Often times we like finding an affordable hotel or B&B and then splurging on the top-rated restaurants in our area. We always ask the people running the hotel where they eat. By asking locals what their favorite places are, we almost always have a great meal at an affordable price. Another way to save money is to go to the grocery store and pick up a few items for lunches or snacks. Even stopping at a fruit stand and stocking up on fresh fruits has been a great way for us to trim our food costs (and it’s healthy). Ask the locals where they shop for food. If you’re in Europe, where the cost of eating out is high, why not pick up a baguette along with some meats and cheeses at the local deli? Having a picnic in a park can provide hours of people-watching and is far less expensive than eating at a restaurant.
Plan a Staycation
If taking a big trip isn’t in your budget this year, there are still fun ways to plan a trip close to home. If you live in a major city, sign up for Groupon and try a new restaurant in your area or get tickets to a show. These are fun ways to break out of your routine and get a deal doing it. Whether it’s a deal on a massage, a concert or a sushi bar, chances are there is a lot going on in your backyard. If you want to get away spontaneously for a night or weekend, try using the app “Hotel Tonight” to score deep discounts on a hotel close to home.
Another idea is to take the family on a camping trip or to a national park. There are events going on all summer at national parks across the country. Find out more info by going to the website: www.nps.gov.
If you want to leave the kids at home, or spend some quality time with your honey, then head to a B&B that’s within driving distance. Sometimes going an hour away can feel like you are in a completely different place. To find a B&B in your area, check out Bed and Breakfast.
Regardless of whether you are traveling the world or staying close to home, there are deals out there. By doing a little research before you go, you can find great deals on flights, hotels, dinner and more.
If I can cut my costs on this trip, I don’t have to wait as long to take the next one: that’s a win-win in my book. If you’re looking for even more ways to save on your next vacation or are thinking about long-term travel, I highly recommend the book “How To Travel the World on $50 a Day” by Matt Kepnes. Be sure to check out his blog, Nomadic Matt, for his free travel guides and other great tips!