School’s out, the temperature’s on the rise, and the ice cream truck is making its rounds. It must be summer! That means it’s also time to take that much-needed vacation. While travel can, unfortunately, be pretty pricey, I’ve managed to pick up a few money-saving ideas over the years. Follow these tips, and you’ll be sure to save some cash on all your summer adventures.
Sign Up for Frequent Flier Accounts
Frequent flyer programs will especially benefit you if you fly with the same airline on a regular basis. Some perks include free checked bags, upgrades, and access to swanky members-only lounges for “elite” fliers. Even if you don’t fly that often, you’ll still be able to earn free trips over time. I signed up for accounts with every airline I flew when I started traveling after college and have taken free trips with almost all of them since then. Dedicate a journal to keeping track of all your mileage account numbers, and remember to cash in what you earn!
Ask For Discounts
Are you a AAA member, senior citizen, or a student of any age? Inquire about any discounts you may be eligible for when booking hotels, excursions, or making restaurant reservations. Some places will advertise their deals and specials, but even without signage, it never hurts to ask. In some cases, employees have even given me small, “unofficial” discounts just for asking in the first place!
Eating at restaurants three times a day can add up pretty quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I love food, and I think that experiencing local cuisine is one of the most important parts of traveling, but I also try to be smart about where and when I eat on trips. For instance, I’m always on the lookout for hotels that include breakfast in the room rate. Free breakfast means you’ll have more money to spend on the day’s other two meals. Lunches tend to be much cheaper than dinners, so I’ll often try to go to a fancy restaurant for my midday meal and eat somewhere simpler at night. Alternatively, you might consider cooking in: booking a place with basic kitchen facilities like an AirBnB will allow you to buy and cook some tasty meals from the local grocery store, which are guaranteed to be easier on your wallet than most restaurant dishes. If you’re planning a road trip, you’ll especially want to stock up on groceries. Grocery store snacks tend to be much cheaper than the ones you’ll find at gas stations and fast food joints, and they’re probably much healthier, too!
Camping is typically an inexpensive option in any location. KOA campgrounds are easy to find all around the US and Canada, or you can try looking into state or local park accommodations. For something a bit nicer, look into hostels. They’re often thought of as party spots for college students, but many hostels I’ve been to have catered to people of all ages and have even offered private two to four person bedrooms. Hostels are found in cities around the world and will easily fit into most vacation budgets. Those who prefer the luxury of hotel service will want to sign up for loyalty programs with their favorite chains. Members often get to check-in early, upgrade their rooms for free, and reap a slew of other benefits.
Take Your Time
If you take advantage of “bulk” discounts, a single long vacation can end up being cheaper than several short ones. For instance, rental cars are much cheaper by the week than they are by the day. The same is true of most lodgings. Plus, spending more time in one place means you’ll be able to go at an overall easier pace. Walking, biking, and taking public transportation are all usually slower than taxis and rental cars, but they’re also much cheaper and can give you a deeper appreciation for the place you’re visiting.
Websites like Expedia, Kayak, and TripAdvisor make it easy to shop around for great travel deals. If you can afford to be flexible with your travel dates, you can use these sites to compare airline and hotel prices during different times of the year and determine the best possible rates. Some companies will even let you compare lodging and entertainment prices across multiple sites and include tons of customer reviews to ensure you’re buying from reputable sources.
Skirt the Peak Season
Many locations have “peak seasons,” or times when waves of tourists swarm them and drive most prices up to two or three times their standard rates. Planning a Florida getaway? Shoot for late May or early June before the schools there close for summer break. Itching to go camping in a National Park? Try to go during the week or later in the fall to avoid big crowds. If you don’t have your heart set on a specific spot, look into off-peak locations. Smaller towns and lesser-known areas often offer the same attractions that the popular destinations just down the road from them do. Wanting the glamor of Mediterranean beaches and old-world charm? Italian villas are certainly lovely, but Croatia, located on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, offers similar activities, history, and views for a fraction of the cost.
Be a Volunteer-Tourist
This has got to be one of my favorite travel methods. By joining a (very inexpensive) organization, travelers gain access to lists of host locations. You’ll typically stay in a local home or on a remote research site, where you’ll work a few hours each day in exchange for free food and lodging. I have personally traveled with WWOOF International, where I spent half of my days weeding, harvesting, and helping with farm chores and the other half just exploring my surroundings. Volunteer-tourism allows you and your travel companions to experience “real life” no matter where you are. By chatting with the owners and staff of the place you’re helping, you’ll learn more about your destination than you ever would have from buying a plane ticket and holing yourself up in a hotel.
Cash In on Last Minute Deals
If you’re trying to organize a larger group trip, you may have more luck waiting until the last moment for rock bottom prices. This is particularly true of cruises but can work with most any activity that has a set number of seats and rooms to fill. Cruise ships have to run whether their rooms are booked or not, so their operators are happy to earn at least a little money on vacant rooms — which means huge discounts for you and your friends!
Don’t Try to Do It All
Take a deep breath. Soak it all in. Remember why you’re taking this vacation and be sure to line up your itinerary with your travel goals. Most people don’t go on vacation to come back feeling drained, so don’t try to visit all 19 Smithsonian locations on your four-day trip to Washington DC. Stick to your top priorities, and leave a little “wiggle room” to enjoy the place you’re in and the people you’re with.
What are some of your favorite cost-effective ways to travel?