Summer travels are often a highlight of the year, but also tend be quite costly. Returning home to an empty bank account can really kill your vacation buzz, especially when economic travel is doable and often even more enjoyable. Check out these savvy travel strategies for getting the most of your vacations while removing the least from your savings. And for even more money-saving vacation tips, visit these helpful sites.
1. Buy airfare strategically
If you’re traveling by plane, airfare can easily become the most expensive part of your trip. Fortunately, there are lots of little tricks for making it less expensive. Plane tickets will cost significantly less on weekdays, especially on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They are also least expensive 7-12 weeks out so you want to plan ahead, but not too far ahead. Prices rise dramatically the week of travel, but can also change up to three times a day so you have to keep an eye out (or sign up for email alerts from the airlines).
2. Find a home away from home
Source: Expert Vagabond
Hotels are pricey, but you can stay in someone else’s home for a fraction of the cost. Sites such as VRBO, HomeAway, Airbnb, and Couchsurfing are great places to start, and chances are you’ll end up with more space too! If you’re staying in a city, lodging that isn’t in the center will cost less. Home exchanges, or swapping homes with a local, are essentially free, and hostels also tend to cost less than hotels.
3. Avoid the beaten path
Popular tourist destinations take advantage by upcharging everything. Search for less typical locales to visit, especially those that aren’t big cities. Elite Daily has a list of cities you can visit on a budget, and Huffington Post lists 6 inexpensive countries. Keep in mind that rural destinations generally tend to cost less than cities.
4. Use public transportation
Hopping in a cab several times as day adds up quickly, as does renting a car. Try to take local buses or subway systems — it’ll add to the experience, but not the budget. Trains are another great option (especially if you can take them instead of airplanes), but buses are even cheaper.
This won’t always work, but you’d be surprised by how often you can negotiate the price of experiences such as boat rides, guided tours, and even souvenirs at flea markets and smaller shops. It’s at least worth a try, as long as you go about it respectfully.
6. Get active
Exercise is good for you — and it’s free! Book a trip full of hiking, biking, kayaking — whatever type of activity takes you outdoors. Being in Mother Nature doesn’t require spending extra money.
7. Do your homework
Don’t just show up and look for something to do. If you do some research beforehand, you can find inexpensive and even free activities such as markets, festivals, walking tours, parks, gardens, and museums. Many of these sites offer discounts and even free days.
8. Grocery shop
Eating out for every meal is crazy expensive and won’t necessarily give you the best sense of local cuisine. Pre-prepared dishes from a grocery store (even a fancy one) will cost much less, and they’re portable so you can set up a picnic wherever you are. If you have a kitchen, cooking from scratch is really the cheapest option.
9. Go easy on the booze
A few beers or cocktails really adds up. Try to not go overboard, or buy a bottle of a local favorite and share it with a few people before heading out for the night.
10. Travel light
Most airlines charge extra for checked bags, and there is often an additional charge for overweight bags. Check out more of our own tips for packing light.
11. Make the right kind of calls
Roaming charges and Internet access outside of the U.S. can cost a pretty penny. Instead, purchase a local Internet data-only sim card. To make phone calls use Viber, FaceTime, or Skype. Whatsapp is great for free text messaging.
12. Use cash
Using ATMs abroad often costs a fee, and exchanging cash at the airport won’t get you the best rate. So before you leave, withdraw all the cash you need and exchange it for the local currency if necessary. If you can, stick to a no-withdrawal, cash-only budget while traveling so you’re guaranteed to not overspend.
13. Stay put
Bouncing from place to place increases transportation bills and will likely cause you to spend more money wherever you’re at. Try visiting fewer places (or just one), and settle in. More time spent in one location will enable you to make a routine and discover all of the budget-friendly opportunities in your locale.
14. Do laundry wisely
Don’t even think about having your laundry done at a hotel — they charge a per-item fee that adds up very quickly. Instead, use local laundromats or, even better, hand wash clothing in a sink or bathtub.
15. Know where to shop
Big name stores will be expensive, and often have less unique wares for sale. Instead, seek out local shops and flea markets. Purchasing items made by residents of wherever you’re visiting is good for the economy and makes for far better souvenirs.
16. Stay close or road trip
You don’t have to travel long distances for a memorable experience. A few hours in the car can get you to a whole new location at a fraction of the cost of flying. If you want to go a bit farther, try road tripping, spending a day or many in the car. Plan ahead so you can stop at cool spots along the way.
17. Bring a buddy
Everything from transportation to accommodations is less expensive when you split it between two or more people. Be it your best friend, spouse, offspring, or the whole family, a vacation is more fun with company — and more economic as well. Here are 4 more ways you can save money by traveling with a friends.
18. Use a guide book
Guided tours are costly and less adventurous. An up-to-date guidebook will ensure that you use your time well, and it’ll cost around $20.
19. Look for friends and relatives
You never know what connections you might already have. Before your trip, spread the word to friends and family. Someone might have an acquaintance in your destination city who can show you the local scene. They might even be able to offer you accommodations.
20. Live like a local
Shopping at mom and pop places, eating foods in season, drinking the local favorites — all of these habits will naturally ensure that you don’t overspend. Think of how you live at home day-to-day and try to translate that to your travels as much as possible. Instead of hopping from one paid experience to another, go for walks, relax, and enjoy time with your traveling companions. It’s also worthwhile to learn some of the local customs and behaviors. Being able to converse with residents may open unexpected doors, leading to experiences that are not only cheap, but priceless.
Being on a budget doesn’t preclude you from having a rich travel experience. Thoughtful planning and little tweaks to your traveling routine can add up to big savings without detracting from the experience. You’ll most likely find inexpensive vacations to be just as fun (if not more so), and there will be no traveler’s remorse when you return.