Author: Christy Bieber | June 12, 2018
Here's How to Travel More -- and Spend Less
Are you feeling a little wanderlust? If you've got the itch to get on a plane or get in the car and go somewhere, there's a good reason for it – travel can improve your health, reduce the risk of a heart attack, relieve stress, enhance creativity, and leave you with wonderful memories of seeing the world.
The only problem is, dreams of traveling to far-away destinations may be hard to put into reality because taking trips can be expensive. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to see the world for far less. In fact, here are 30 tips to help you travel on a budget.
1. Visit during the off season
Most destinations have a prime time to visit, but going during peak season means higher prices and bigger crowds. You can save a fortune by choosing to travel during times when it's not as popular to visit a particular locale.
If you're flexible about which ports you visit, cruising is a lot less expensive during hurricane season – and the cruise line diverts you to other destinations when storm warnings arise, so there's little risk. Visiting business destinations during the holidays also means landing great rates on hotels and air fare, while heading to the Mediterranean during the winter could mean a more peaceful trip at half the price.
2. Choose destinations with favorable currency conversion rates
Use the fact that different countries use different currencies to your advantage by choosing a place where your dollars go further.
The yen is expected to depreciate compared to the U.S. dollar in 2018, so now may be an ideal time to visit Japan. The dollar is also strengthening against the euro, according to Global Travel Forecasts, so perhaps a eurotrip is in your future. Check currency conversion rates and projections to help you pick a destination where your money will buy you the most.
3. Rack up credit card rewards points and use them to pay for parts of your trip
One of the best ways to save on travel is to cash in your credit card rewards points instead of paying in cash.
If you can transform card rewards into free airline tickets, or use your points to book hotels, traveling becomes much cheaper. By putting all of your everyday expenses on a card you use to fund vacations, you'll spend far less time each time you head off on an adventure.
Also, check with your credit card provider to see if your card offers you any perks, such as hotel discounts or access to special airline lounges. You can enjoy first-class treatment at no additional cost if it does.
4. Get a credit card that won't stick you with extra fees
Speaking of credit cards, does yours impose foreign transaction fees? Fees for transactions abroad are typically around 3% on cards that charge, which can really add up. There's no reason to waste this money when there are credit cards that charge you nothing.
Read your agreement, or call your card provider, to find out if you'll be subject to a fee. If you will, consider applying for a card that won't cost you extra to use on your trip. Many cards without foreign transaction fees are designed for travelers, so they may also offer you more generous travel rewards than your existing card.
5. Set up email alerts for flash sales or special deals
Many airlines and travel websites offer special promotional rates, especially if you travel at certain times or book last-minute adventures. Sign up for newsletters and sales alerts so you'll be notified when there are bargains to be had. If you're flexible about where and when you travel, you can book most of your trips based on which destinations go on sale.
You can also sign up for travel deal alerts on sites such as Slickdeals. When a deal is posted for reduced airfare, bargain hotels, rental car discounts, or other travel savings, you'll be notified right away and can jump on it before it expires.
6. Be strategic about when you book flights
According to an annual airfare study conducted by CheapAir, the best time to book your flight is 70 days prior to departure. But, there's a range of times when you should look for deals.
Airfares fluctuate in price around 62 times over an 11-month window, CheapAir found, so shop around carefully during the prime booking window of 21 to 121 days before your trip, and monitor how prices change.
When costs fall, jump on the discount and book quickly. While you could theoretically get a better deal by booking at the last minute, this is taking a big risk because flights can sell out, or airfare prices can rise for last-minute travel.
7. Try to be flexible with your travel schedule
Airfare prices differ depending on when you fly, so if you aren't firm in your dates, check prices a few days before and after your ideal departure. By flying one day sooner or one day later, you could cut your flight costs dramatically.
If you have to fly around the holidays – which tends to be an expensive time – fly on celebration days to pay hundreds less. By traveling on Christmas Eve or New Year's Day, you'll still reach your destination in time for most big events, but you'll have a lot more money in your pocket when you get there.
8. Fly during unpopular hours
Most people don't like redeye flights, nor do they enjoy flights that leave very early in the morning or very late at night.
If you're willing to fly at unpleasant times, you'll often pay less. As a bonus, if you take a poorly timed flight, it may be emptier, and you may arrive with the whole day available to you at your destination.
9. Check the airline website
Many people assume they'll get better deals by using websites that compare flight prices from different airline carriers, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes, you can save a little or find special deals by going to the airline website directly. Start your search at the comparison sites to find which airlines fly to your destination when you want to travel, but visit the airline website directly to see if their prices are cheaper than the ones you'd get by booking through the third party.
10. Always claim your frequent-flyer miles
While it might seem like a hassle to sign up for frequent-flyer programs with every airline you travel on, it's worth the effort to earn miles.
Sign up with your airline, make sure your miles are correctly applied to your account, and learn the rules for redemption. Even if you don't earn enough miles to land free flights, you can often redeem miles for other things such as seat upgrades or magazine subscriptions, so at least you're getting a little more bang for your buck.
11. Make sure you're getting the best gas mileage
Not every vacation requires getting on a plane, and road trips are a great way to see new places on a budget. But if you'll be driving, make sure you're getting the best gas mileage possible -- especially with gas prices rising.
To optimize fuel efficiency, avoid overloading and weighing down your vehicle. Make sure your tires are inflated to the manufacturer-recommended level, and that you've cleaned or replaced your car's air filters recently.
Also, make sure to drive the speed limit when traveling, and not a lot faster. Not only will you avoid the expense of a speeding ticket, but you'll also get better gas mileage than if you sped up.
12. Compare all of your transportation options
When traveling at home or abroad, compare all transportation options to find the best balance between cost and convenience.
If you have a lot of people, driving and splitting gas could be far cheaper, but of course, that only makes sense if you won't spend half of your vacation time in the car.
You should be sure to compare all of your options too, including bus, subway, rideshares, rail, and air. On a recent trip, we intended to take the train to get from one destination to another, but it turned out we could fly on Ryanair for less than the cost of rail tickets and arrive much faster.
And, when booking airfares, don't forget to factor fees into the price when comparison shopping, as you may be better off with an airline that charges a higher base price but doesn't assess additional fees. In fact, the Government Accountability Office found customers who paid for at least one checked bag on airlines that charged for bags paid higher average total prices than those who traveled on airlines that didn't impose extra luggage costs.
13. Pack lightly to avoid overweight baggage fees
Virtually all airlines charge for overweight baggage these days, and the fees can be substantial. For most airlines, if your bag tops 50 pounds, you'll pay extra costs of $50 or more.
There's no reason to pay these exorbitant costs just to cart more stuff around. Weigh your luggage at home, and pack lightly so you don't incur added expenses for overweight luggage. You'll also be a lot happier when you don't have to lug a heavy suitcase all over town.
14. Check out alternative accommodations
For many travelers, hotels seem like the best option. But there's a whole world of other accommodations out there that could cost far less.
If you're looking to pay rock-bottom prices, explore opportunities to camp or to sleep on someone's couch for a small fee by booking through a couchsurfing website. If you're flexible about where you visit and don't mind doing a little bit of work while on vacation, register as a house sitter in attractive locales to stay for free. Hostels also provide a low-cost place to sleep, especially if you're willing to sleep on a bunk and share a bathroom.
For more upscale accommodations that could still be cheaper than hotels, consider using Airbnb or Vacation Rental By Owner to rent a home or apartment. Depending upon your destination and how many people are traveling with you, you could see significant savings.
Or, if your own home is in an attractive destination, see if a house swap could work for you – you offer up your accommodations as a trade for someone's home in a place you want to visit.
15. Call hotels directly
If you'll be booking a hotel, you may be able to get a better price by calling the hotel directly and asking for a discounted room rather than booking online via the hotel's site or a third-party website.
Business hotels may be especially amenable to offering bargains if you travel during off-peak seasons, when little business is being done and rooms may stand empty.
16. Don't splurge on the fanciest view
When you're booking your accommodations, think about how much time you'll really be spending in your room. For most travelers, you'll be out and about seeing the sites and will only retire back to the room when you're too tired to do much of anything.
If this sounds like your situation, there's no reason to pay extra for a room with an ocean view or other prime scenery. Instead, save on accommodations by booking the cheapest room in a safe hotel and spending your money actually enjoying your vacation.
17. Book a place where you can cook
Whether you're booking a hotel or renting a home or apartment, it can pay off to rent a place with a mini or full-size kitchen.
If you're able to make at least some of your own meals, you won't have to spend a fortune dining out, and you'll have a place to store and reheat leftovers when restaurant portions are too big. Plus, by cooking some of your own meals, you can eat healthier and accommodate picky eaters, which is great if you're traveling with kids.
18. Ask for discounts
Whether you're booking hotels, flights, tours, or attractions, don't be afraid to ask for discounts. You may be able to score price breaks or free upgrades by booking a certain number of nights, or choosing a less popular day to tour, so make the request and find out what, if anything, you can do to save.
Also, find out if discounts are available through your employer or any organizations you're a member of. Many companies have programs where employees can book discounted tickets or rental cars, and AAA members are often entitled to reduced prices as well.
19. Sign up for coupons
Coupons are another great way to save money. Do an online search before booking to find coupon codes for tours, attractions, or hotels, and sign up for newsletters and promotional offers from any company you're hoping to book with for accommodations or activities.
You're likely to receive at least some special bargains via email or postal mail, so be liberal with handing out your info if you want to take advantage of as many deals as possible.
20. Join hotel rewards programs
Hotel rewards programs are basically the equivalent of frequent-flyer miles for accommodations. You can earn points for staying nights or paying for other hotel services. Some hotels also have branded partnerships with credit-card providers so you can earn points at your favorite chain for everyday spending.
You can redeem hotel rewards for free nights, which should cut travel costs significantly. Depending on the rewards program, you could also earn elite status if you stay at a hotel often enough, which means getting perks such as room upgrades or free breakfasts.
21. Enjoy free activities
When you get to your destination, there are plenty of ways to have a great time without overspending. In fact, depending where you're going, there may be a long list of free things to do that allow you to get a feel for the local community and have unique experiences.
Check local township websites and newspapers to find a schedule of events for when you'll be in town and look for free concerts, community fairs, open-air markets, and other free activities. You can fill your calendar with fun events at no cost and save your money to splurge on just one or two must-see attractions.
22. Look into museum passes or passes for tourist attractions
Many major cities have attraction passes for tourists that allow entry to the most popular sites in the local area for one price. Museums may also offer passes allowing admission on multiple days.
Buying these passes can sometimes provide savings compared with purchasing individual tickets for attractions, or paying separate admission fees for each visit to museums. Find out the entry prices for events or attractions, and see how the price of passes compares – then opt for the approach that costs the least.
If you're buying attraction passes, make sure there are no exclusions or limitations that would prevent you from visiting places you want to go on desired days.
23. Bring your own snacks and drinks
When you're out and about and exploring new places, the last thing you want to waste money on is bottled water or a quick bag of chips because you're starving.
Instead, bring your own filtering water bottle and a few munchies with you. You can snack on the go without interrupting your sightseeing to buy overpriced food. This can be an especially valuable tip for people with kids, who may get cranky when hungry, and who may be picky about snack foods.
24. Find out about student or senior discounts
Many attractions and accommodations offer special savings to seniors or students. Find out if you can score free or reduced-price admission by showing your student ID or proving you're over a certain age.
Ask when you book if there are discounted tickets available, and be prepared to provide proof that you're attending school or old enough to get bargains.
25. Rent bikes to get around
Paying for taxis or ride-sharing services can really add up, but you don't have to shell out hard-earned money to be chauffeured around.
Renting bikes is a great way to cover a lot of ground for much less cash. You'll also have more flexibility about when you stop and where you can go, you'll be able to get up close and personal with areas where you're traveling, and you'll get some good exercise, too.
Just be sure you understand local rules for where you can ride bikes and how bike lanes work. The rental shop should be willing to provide helpful info.
26. Avoid the touristy restaurants
Eating on vacation is one of the biggest expenses you'll face, and let's face it, sometimes the food in popular vacation areas isn't that great.
Instead of dining out at touristy restaurants, find out where the locals go. Ask the hotel staff or your Airbnb host where their favorite budget eateries are, or use the internet to research top-rated inexpensive restaurants away from main tourist areas. You may get a better meal for much less.
27. Time your dining out strategically
When you head out to eat at the great restaurants you've found, consider a late lunch instead of dinner. Lunch menus may offer similar food to dinner menus but at a fraction of the price.
The restaurant may also be less crowded during the lunch hour, allowing for more personalized service. And, you'll free up your evenings for fun free activities such as local concerts or events.
28. Grab your souvenirs at department stores or drug stores
The best way to save on souvenirs is to avoid buying them, but many people want a memento of their trip.
If you're hoping to go home with a trinket to commemorate your travel, try shopping in drug stores or department stores instead of traditional tourist shops. Many offer shirts, snow globes, ornaments, shot glasses, and other popular souvenir,s but prices can be much lower than stores that cater specifically to travelers.
29. Know the local customs when it comes to bargaining
When shopping in foreign locales, bargaining may not only be acceptable, but expected. If you don't haggle, you could end up paying far too much because shopkeepers price items high with the expectation of haggling with shoppers.
Research local customs, or ask your hotel or Airbnb host, what the best practices are for getting prices dropped on things you want to buy.
30. Avoid overtipping if it's not local practice
You always want to treat waiters and hotel staff with respect, but that doesn't mean you have to tip if it isn't local custom. In fact, there are many places where tipping is unusual, or simply isn't done.
If you aren't expected to tip, you don't have to waste money leaving the traditional 15% to 20% you would in the United States. While you could still reward truly exceptional service with a small token of gratitude, don't just tip out of habit or obligation if it's not the local practice.
Enjoy Your Next Vacation While Spending Less
By following these tips, you can travel more often since each trip will cost less, or you can head off to far-away destinations that may have previously seemed out of your price range. Bon voyage!
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