You don’t have to spend a fortune to see the world. Instead, here’s a list of 8 tips and tricks that can actually save you money when you travel.
Do you love to travel? Whether it’s around the country or internationally, travel is great for your mind and soul. In fact, more and more studies are coming out saying that spending money on experiences is one of the quickest ways to boost happiness. Of course, we’re all about saving money here, so we want to be sure you’re not spending too much.
That’s why we pulled together this list of 8 tips and tricks to save money while traveling, regardless of how often or where you want to travel.
Pick the Right Destination
Saving money on travel has something in common with starting a business–it’s all about location. Choosing the right destination can get you the experience you want for a price that’s right.
But how do you find the “right” destination? The key here is to shop around. Thinking of a beach vacation? Make a list of beaches you might want to visit. Then make a quick spreadsheet of estimated costs for things like airfare or gas, accommodations, and other attractions at that destination. Chances are some of those beaches will be way cheaper than others.
For inspiration, you can always just Google “cheapest places to travel.” Plenty of travel blogs and magazines consistently compile lists of the cheapest places to travel each year. Or ask friends or family members where they’ve been recently.
Be open-minded about exploring new or out-of-the-way places, and you might be able to see a lot more of them because they’re simply cheaper to get to.
Travel at the Right Time
You can find cheap places to visit no matter what the time of year. But if you’re set on visiting certain touristy locations, timing can make all the difference. Traveling to Europe in the so-called “shoulder” season–in the spring or fall–is typically cheaper than going during peak travel season. And traveling in what is solidly the off season will be cheaper still.
Just keep in mind that sometimes these seasons are shoulder or off seasons for good reason, often having to do with weather. If you want to mostly see indoor cultural attractions, snag that can’t-resist deal for a December vacation to Paris. But if you’re aiming to lay around on the beach, be sure you’re not likely to get rained or frozen out.
Travel timing doesn’t just apply to your overall vacation timing. It also applies to the specific days and times you decide to fly. Midweek flights to and from destinations are typically going to be cheaper because fewer people are using them. So try to be flexible on your departure and arrival dates while planning your travel.
Be Creative About Modes of Travel
Sometimes you just have to get on a plane to go somewhere. But you might be able to save by using an alternative method of transportation, especially if you’re traveling within the United States.
For instance, you can often hop on a train or megabus to take you between major cities. It takes longer, but it can also be much cheaper than airfare.
Even if you’re traveling out of the country, don’t assume you can only take planes to country-hop. Trains, again, are a good option for getting between countries in Europe, and seeing a lot of the scenery as you go. Or you might consider a bus tour of the area you’re visiting. And don’t discount the potential for affordably renting a car and getting around on your own.
The key here isn’t to travel in a particular way versus another way. Just be sure you’re open-minded about this, too. Scope out the ways that locals get around, or ask other travelers how they’ve gotten around a particular city or country once they’re in it. You might be surprised at the cheap, creative solutions you come up with.
One final way to trim costs on getting from point A to point B is simply to do it less often. Instead of going to Europe and trying to cram 10 countries into 14 days, spend more time in a few places. This can be a way to really settle into your vacation and fully experience a place. Plus, it has the advantage of potentially dramatically cutting your overall travel costs.
Think Outside the Box for Accomodations
Besides airfare, your next most expensive vacation cost is likely to be accommodations. But you don’t have to go with the traditional hotel option here, either. If you do, be sure you shop around so you’re at least getting a good deal on that! But here are some other accommodation options to consider:
- Home Sharing: Sites like VRBO and Airbnb are excellent places to find cheaper accommodations, even in major U.S. cities. I recently booked a master suite with its own entrance in San Francisco for $80 per night, which is much cheaper than decent hotels in the area. Home sharing sites are also a great way to find more flexible accommodations, such as apartments that can give you access to kitchen facilities–an excellent way to cut back on your food costs.
- Crashing with Friends: Are your college friends farflung across the country or around the world? Ask close friends if you can stay with them on vacation, maybe in exchange for a few dinners out on you. You’ll save a load on accommodations so that you can afford to treat your hosts while you’re there. Plus, you can get a local’s view of the area where you’re staying, which is a great option.
- Rent an RV: RVing can be expensive, depending on the current cost of gas. However, it can also roll in your travel and accommodations, making for a fairly affordable option overall. RV travel is an excellent option for outdoorsy types. Use the RV as a base camp for your adventures, and travel the country in one.
- Look at Hostels: Youth hostels are less common in the U.S., but they’re everywhere in Europe. And despite their common name, they aren’t just for young people. Anyone with a backpack and a dream can typically stay in one of these hostels, which typically offer dorm-style accommodations, really cheaply.
- Consider a B&B: If you think B&Bs are always more expensive than hotels, you might be in for a surprise. The fact is that they are often a more affordable way to stay. Plus, they come with a built-in breakfast, which can help you cut back on your food costs while you travel.
- Tent Camp: Here’s another option for the adventurous: pack a tent. Tent camping can be an option even if your ultimate goal is to see metropolitan areas. Many such cities have tent camping locations on their outskirts, just a short bus ride from all the main attractions.
Trim Your Food Costs
One of my favorite parts of traveling is eating good food. In fact, it’s sometimes worth cutting back on travel and lodging costs to splurge on food, depending on where you travel. And you can also do a combination, by shopping for cheaper food most of the time but then splurging on a couple top-class meals while you’re on vacation.
One way to save is to ask locals where they go for a family dinner out. These are likely to be relatively cheaper restaurants, but they’re probably comparatively excellent, since locals eat at them often.
You can also get by with stopping at a grocery store for lunches and snacks while you walk around. This can save you money even if you don’t have a fully functioning kitchen in your lodgings. And if you do have a kitchen, take advantage by shopping for interesting local foods at farmer’s markets and the like and then fixing them for yourself.
Of course if you’re traveling broadly, you want to see the sights. But that doesn’t mean you need to pay for every tourist attraction in a local area. Do some digging online to see which attractions are really worth checking out. Then, pick two or three of the must-see attractions that cost money and work those into your overall vacation budget. For the rest, make a list of the free or really cheap attractions you want to see, and prioritize them so that you can set your agenda accordingly.
Use Airline Miles and Credit Card Rewards
As you’re saving up for your next trip, don’t forget to save up your airline miles and credit card rewards, too. If you don’t already have a favorite travel rewards credit card, check out this list to find one that might work well for your needs. These cards will let you rack up rewards and miles for everyday spending. (Just be sure you pay off the balance each month to avoid paying interest!)
Be sure to look for a card that works well with your typical spending patterns. If you rarely eat out when you’re at home, for instance, don’t choose a card that weights rewards for this type of spending, but choose one that gives rewards for grocery spending. And be sure to choose a card that works with the airline you’re most likely to use. Or look for programs that allow for transferring of miles between programs so that you don’t risk being unable to use your miles.
You can also use a cash back credit card to have more flexibility with your rewards. You might just choose not to cash in your cash back until it’s time to book your next trip, so you use all that cash back for your adventures.
Stick to Your Budget
It’s tempting to think really big when it comes to travel. And there’s definitely a time and place for that when it’s in your budget. But don’t start going into debt or starving yourself on grocery expenses just to travel the world.
Instead, make travel a priority by cutting other budget categories. Cut back on how much you spend on groceries. Cut the cable cord. Spend less on clothing and everyday transportation. Then, direct your savings from these categories to your travel savings.
Once you’re ready to book a trip, stick to the budget you have available. This will keep you from going into debt to travel, which will just turn into a vicious cycle.
Even if your first few trips need to be staycations or very local vacations, you can start out on a shoestring budget. Then as you free up more money to save for travel, whether by starting a side gig or paying down debt, you can get to further and more expensive locations.
The bottom line isn’t that you travel to the most luxurious, exotic locations on the planet. Instead, the point is just to get out and experience something new. Who knows where that could lead?Topics: Travel