Why is frequent travel a dream for some and a reality for others? The truth is, it all comes down to what you prioritize. Sure, travel is a want not a need, but just because it’s not an essential everyday expense doesn’t mean it’s not something you shouldn’t budget and plan for. If you want to travel more but aren’t sure how to start or regularly catch yourself using the proverbial “no money, no time” excuse, here are 27 brilliant money-saving travel tips to help you turn “someday” into today.
How to Save Money on Flights
Compare one-way fares vs. round-trip flights.
By using a creative combination of carriers and considering nearby airports, you can generally come up with a cheaper option than by taking a straightforward round-trip flight on one airline. Sites like JustFly make it easy to find the best route at the lowest price. For instance, New York has three regional airports (LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark). You could fly into Newark on Delta and fly out of JFK on United for cheaper than what a roundtrip fare to Laguardia on American might be (example is just hypothetical).
Be flexible on dates.
The more flexible you can be with your schedule, the more options you’ll have. You know warm weathered hotspots like Florida and California are going to be popular in winter when people are trying to escape the cold so fares are going to be higher than normal. Conversely, few people are going to Phoenix when it’s 110 in the summer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great deals to be had or amazing things to do in the off-season. For most destinations, off-peak is usually in the spring and fall as many families travel when the kids are out of school in the summer or over the holidays in winter. These shoulder seasons are generally the best time to travel as most destinations will be cheaper, have milder temperatures, and fewer crowds.
Use miles to offset costs.
Frequent flier miles are one of the greatest tools in travel hacking. Sign up for a travel credit card that lets you earn points or rewards on everyday purchases, which allows you to earn free flights without even flying. You can redeem these for one-way or roundtrip flights or other travel expenses like hotel stays or rental cars. Many have large sign-on bonuses that’ll get you enough points for a free flight right off the bat so if you’re in the market for a new credit card be sure to compare introductory offers.
Flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday is generally cheaper than a Friday or Saturday as more people are trying to get away on long weekends. If you’re traveling for the holidays, the preceding days will be the most expensive as that’s when the highest demand is. If you have any flexibility in your schedule, try to arrive 4-5 days before Thanksgiving or Christmas or book your ticket a few months in advance.
Fly off-peak hours.
Generally, the last flight at night or the first flight in the morning is cheaper than the midday options because they’re seen as undesirable times to fly. But besides being less expensive, savvy travelers know that while they require you to get up early or succumb to a red-eye, they’re also less likely to be delayed or canceled since they’re less reliant on planes coming from other destinations.
Take advantage of long layovers.
While most people think of 1-2 stops as a hassle, if you play your cards right, an indirect route can be another smart travel hack to see a bonus city for free. Intentionally look for 5+ hour layovers somewhere you may not have considered visiting. You’ll want to do a quick Google search to see how far the airport is from the city center or major attractions to ensure you have enough time to leave the terminal and get back for boarding (always allow at least two hours for domestic flights and three hours for international). Some airports even offer free layover tours!
Bring snacks and a reusable water bottle.
Airport food is notoriously expensive and generally not very good so one easy way to save some dough is to bring your own food. You should always pack an empty water bottle to refill after you go through security. Not only will it save you a couple of bucks on buying a disposable plastic one, but it’s better for the environment.
Pack light to avoid baggage fees.
Budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit may look like deeply discount carriers, but they make their money in extraneous fees and upcharges for everything from checked bags to seat selection and even carry-ons. Make sure you factor these $30-50 add-ons into the total price when comparing fares. Even major airlines like American and United have $25-30 checked bag fees (unless you have their credit card) so stick to just a carry-on whenever possible to minimize expenses.
How to Save Money on Accommodations
Compare hotels, vacation rentals, and hostels.
Thanks to the sharing economy, hotels are no longer the only option for accommodations. You’ll want to weigh all your options from Airbnbs to couch surfing if you’re into that. And while your initial reaction may be, “Ew a hostel,” many offer private rooms that are nicer than basic motels.
Stay centrally located.
Always check where your potential accommodations are on a map before booking. If you’re far from the city center you may end up spending a lot of money on Uber or taxis. You’ll also want to look up if there is any nearby public transportation.
Cook your own meals.
While eating out is a great way to immerse yourself in a culture, the grocery store is another way to experience a destination like a local and find some unique treats. Think about how much you’ll save money if you cook even one meal a day vs. succumbing to restaurant prices for all three. If you compare how much eggs or a bagel cost from the market vs. a trendy brunch spot, it makes it easier to want to cook either breakfast or dinner (you’ll likely be out and about at lunchtime).
Stay somewhere where breakfast is included.
Another way to save money is to book a hotel or bed and breakfast that includes a morning meal. Whether it’s buffet or cooked to order, you can also save some of those pastries or packaged items for snacks throughout the day.
Ensure there’s WIFI.
Double check your accommodation includes free internet access or you’re going to waste a lot of time and money trying to find hotspots around the city.
Get off the beaten path.
Anywhere that’s near a major tourist attraction means everything from the souvenirs to the food is going to be marked up. See the sights, but don’t eat or shop on the major thoroughfares.
How to Save Money on Destinations
Compare all-inclusive travel packages vs. booking separately.
While it’s generally cheaper to book airfare, hotels, and attractions separately, sites like Groupon and package tour operators do occasionally offer amazing all-inclusive deals. Do your due diligence and compare both options.
Pick destinations where your currency is strong.
Remember: not all currency was created equal and you’ll get more bang for your buck where the exchange rate is favorable in countries like Thailand, Greece, and Mexico.
Buy an attraction pass.
If you plan on sightseeing for more than a day or hitting a number of the major sights, companies like CityPASS offer deep discounts for multi-attraction passes. Do a quick Google search to see what options exist where you’re going
Be open-minded about where to go.
The more flexible you are, the better deal you can score. If you’re just looking for a tropical holiday or a long weekend away, remember, beaches exist everywhere from the Caribbean to Europe. There are many corners of the globe you might no have considered if you just need a quick getaway or a warm-weathered escape.
Look for free things to do.
Many attractions especially outdoors, are free. There’s hiking, beaches, mural walks, street fests. The local tourism board is an invaluable resource for things to do along with special events that are taking place while you’re in town.
Know your transportation options.
Does the country you’re going to have Uber? Is there a metro, subway, or bus line? Are there shared ride options? Know ahead of time how you plan to get around before hopping in an expensive cab because it’s the first thing you see.
Don’t rent a car unless you have to.
Not only is driving in a foreign country scary, but rental cars are money suck. From gas to insurance, they’re expensive and often unnecessary unless you’re going a road trip or far off the beaten path.
Rent a bike or walk.
The best way to explore and get your bearings is on two feet or two wheels. Give yourself a DIY neighborhood tour to get acclimated to the area.
Try the street food.
Street food is one of the best ways to eat locally and save some cash. Much cheaper than a sit-down restaurant, you can fill up while sampling a bunch of regional delicacies.
Hit up a liquor store.
If you plan on exploring the local nightlife, you’ll spend less on pricey cocktails at the bar if you make a few drinks beforehand. Just be careful not to overdo it.
Take overnight trains and buses whenever you can.
Anytime you can sleep en route and avoid needing an extra night of accommodations, you’ll save cash.
Compare currency exchange options.
Withdrawing cash straight from an ATM is often cheaper than exchanging currency (but make sure you know what your bank fee is). If you must use a currency exchange, don’t do it right at the airport as you’re sacrificing more favorable rates for convenience.
Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
There’s nothing worse than coming home and finding a bunch of incremental charges on your bill. Make sure you have a card you can use abroad with the peace of mind that you won’t be nickel and dimed by your credit card company.
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