A vacation is an opportunity to escape reality and enjoy downtime, but it isn't without costs. Whether you're planning a quick getaway or a week-long trip, you can't avoid the expense of transportation, food, accommodations and entertainment — even if you shop around for the best bargains.
But what if you've already booked an upcoming vacation? No worries, there are still ways to save money. The more you save, the more cash you have for the experience. Here are 15 ways to save money on your trip after booking.
1. Skip Meals at the Airport
Airports offer a wide variety of food options from restaurants to food kiosks, and sometimes there's the option of purchasing a meal on a flight. Unfortunately, airlines and airport vendors often charge more for food because passengers don't have any other choice, according to Max Robinson of Mahlatini Luxury Travel. If you want to save on your trip, bring your own food.
"Due to carry-on restrictions, you can't get too adventurous with the food you bring, but sandwiches and small snacks like carrot sticks are still perfectly acceptable," Robinson said.
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2. Don’t Eat Out Every Day
Food is also an expense on vacation because you're eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Granted, most people don't want to cook while traveling. But if your hotel room has a small kitchenette, prepare some of your meals in the room to save money and avoid a common travel expense.
If your room doesn't have a kitchen, Danielle Isbell, a writer and photographer at Snaps Scribbles and Suitcases, offered this cost-effective option: "When you do eat out, eat out for lunch or breakfast. They tend to be cheaper than dinners."
3. Avoid a Foreign Transaction Fee
Traveling abroad with a credit card can be safer and more convenient. You don't have to deal with currency exchange or fear losing your cash. But if you bring the wrong credit card, you could get hit with foreign transaction fees.
"For those traveling internationally, make sure to sign up for or bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fees," warned Natasha Rachel Smith, global head of communications and public relations at TopCashback.com. "Between hotel stays, entertainment, dining, traveling and buying mementos, fees of a couple of dollars here and there can add up without you realizing until your bill comes."
4. Search for Local Discounts
Before paying full price for restaurants, entertainment and other activities, check local deal sites in search of discounts. You might find a multi-day tour pass for discounts on admission to museums and other attractions. Additionally, some attractions might offer a discount if you're an auto club or credit card rewards member. Thanks to your credit card, you can travel the world for practically free.
Patti Reddi, writer for the travel website TheSavvyGlobetrotter.com, suggested Groupon. "Look at Groupon for discounts to attractions and activities you're interested in," she said. "It frequently offers tours and other local activities at a discount."
5. Purchase a Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour
If you plan on hitting several tourist spots in a single day, taking a taxi from location to location can get expensive. To explore your destination on the cheap, purchase a hop-on/hop-off tour, if available. These tours give you a view of the whole city, and you can get off at each site and catch a later tour bus to go to the next site, saving on travel costs between destinations, according to Justin Pollack of TopView Sightseeing Tours in New York City.
6. Bring Your Student ID or Military ID
Vacations let you escape school and work, but don't leave home without your student ID or military ID. A student or military ID might save you money on admission prices, according to Shoshana Akabas, co-founder of the Planit Travel Podcast. Some restaurants and attractions might not openly advertise these discounts. Don't be afraid to ask.
7. Don’t Skip Travel Insurance
Vacations don't always go how you envision, so plan for the unexpected. "Travel insurance can save a future traveler a lot of money if something goes wrong during their trip," said Alicia Wheeler, content marketing specialist with ConsumerAffairs.com, a leading consumer news and advocacy organization.
This insurance must be purchased before departing on a trip. It covers the cost of cancellations, delays, medical expenses, losses and evacuations. Prices vary, so shop around and compare costs before purchasing.
8. Travel Light and Save on Baggage Fees
Some airlines charge between $25 and $35 per checked bag — each way, plus an additional fee (up to $100) if your bag exceeds the airline's weight limit. To save money on baggage fees, you'll need to get a little creative.
"Travel as light as possible to save on baggage fees," Sharon Marchisello, author of the personal finance e-book "Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy," said. She recommended keeping shoes to a minimum and wearing your heaviest, bulkiest items (such as a coat or boots) to save space in your suitcase.
9. Don’t Go Into Debt
Kevin Gallegos, vice-president of Phoenix operations with Freedom Financial Network, suggested setting a realistic budget and prioritizing spending. Going on vacation is a surprisingly easy way to go into debt.
"It's important to enjoy life and take a break," he said. "But when it comes to finances, it's more important to live [comfortably] now and in the future than spending money you don't have."
10. Save on Car Rentals After Booking
Even though you provide a credit card to reserve a car rental, you don't pay until you return the vehicle. So keep your eyes open for cheaper deals.
"Book as far in advance as you can, but don't prepay, and keep checking rates up until your pickup date," said Mark Mannell, CEO and co-founder of CarRentalSavers.com. "If you find a better rate, modify your reservation, or rebook and cancel your previous reservation."
11. Switch Your Credit Card After Booking Car Rental
Rather than purchase rental insurance through the car rental company, see if your credit card offers primary or secondary car rental coverage at no extra charge. If so, modify an existing reservation and update with this credit card. You'll receive complimentary car rental coverage plus peace of mind. Contact your credit card company beforehand for details on how coverage works.
Check Out: 10 Best Tips for Saving Money on Rental Cars
12. Avoid Roaming Charges
If you're headed overseas, using your cellphone to check in with your family can trigger hefty fees. By understanding how your plan works, you'll avoid expensive roaming charges for voice calls and text messages.
"Check with your cell service provider to see what your international roaming plan is," said Benjamin Glaser, features editor with DealNews.com, a shopping comparison website. "But now, every major carrier has free or low-cost options. Both Sprint and T-Mobile offer free international mobile data in over 140 countries. They are limited to 2G, but you can pay extra for faster speeds."
13. Cancel and Rebook Your Hotel
Similar to a car rental reservation, you'll typically pay for a hotel room at checkout. So there's an opportunity to search for rooms and cancel an existing reservation if you find a cheaper deal. If you booked your hotel on Tingo.com, finding a better price later on requires no effort on your part — the site refunds the difference if the price drops.
"These websites constantly search for better fares and send you an email alert when they find one. There's an option to cancel an existing booking and rebook at the lower fare — at no charge," said Russell Hannon of BreaktheTravelBarrier.com.
14. Reserve Ground Transportation in Advance
Getting to and from a hotel can be expensive, especially if you take a taxi. Instead of waiting in line and paying high fees, Isar Meitis, president of LastMinuteTravel.com, recommended booking a private or shared ride at a lower amount than a taxi. "You can have a designated driver waiting with your name, saving you a lot of time and, in many cases, money," he said.
15. Use Offsite Airport Parking
Daily rates for long-term airport parking vary depending on the city. For a cheaper option, consider off-site parking. "Some lots charge as little as $5.95 per day and feature self-parking and valet services," said Melissa Ruiz, digital communications manager with CheapAirportParking.org and ParkOn.com. "Most lots have shuttle services that take travelers right to their terminals."
Vacations are an excellent way to unwind and spend quality time with your family, but the costs can get out of hand quickly. Fortunately, a trip doesn't have to break the bank or put you in debt. A little planning and creative thinking can help you save before and after booking a trip. And with your savings, you might be able to afford another trip.