Few things can add to the richness of your life more than travel, which can expose you to food, culture and scenery you can’t find at home. Unfortunately, few things can subtract from your bank account like a vacation. Staying in hotels, dining at restaurants and flying to distant lands all eat into your savings in a hurry.
If you’re interested in traveling more without having to file for bankruptcy, the good news is that there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to save money while you’re on vacation. GOBankingRates reached out to travel and personal finance experts to get their best advice about how to how to travel on a budget.
Click through to read about secrets that will help you save when you travel.
Travel in the Offseason
“My best travel tip is to travel during the offseason,” said Sally Elbassir of Passport and Plates. “Not only do you save money on flights and accommodation, but you’re also able to visit attractions more easily since you aren’t competing with a bunch of tourists. Last January, I went to Italy and only paid $550 round-trip from Los Angeles — the tickets can be over $1,000 during the summer.”
Take Advantage of Credit Card Rewards to Score Vacation Deals
“One of the best money-saving tips as far as travel is concerned is to research credit cards that you might be able to sign up for to cut the cost of your next vacation,” said Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers. “Some come with incredible travel freebies once you meet the initial spending requirements, and others have ongoing rewards programs that focus on common travel purchases. I signed up for one per year several years back and was able to take two or three trips essentially for free.”
Find Free Places to Stay
“The largest travel expense bar none is accommodations,” said Nora Dunn of The Professional Hobo. “When I started traveling full time, I wasn’t sure how long my savings would last. But once I stumbled on the different ways to get free accommodations, I learned to travel full time for way less money than I ever spent to live in one place. Over the last decade or so of living on the road, I’ve saved over $100,000 on accommodation expenses.”
“Free accommodation can take many different forms, including volunteering, house-sitting, home exchanges, hospitality exchanges and even living on boats,” said Dunn. “And even better, most free accommodation opportunities provide a more culturally immersive — and thus rewarding — travel experience.”
Find Cheap Flights by Sticking to Major Hubs
“Consider booking your departure and arrival airports in different locations,” said Sebrin Elms of The Clumsy Traveler. “Not just different cities, but different countries too. For example, you’ll find it’s a lot cheaper to fly into London and Paris rather than a small city in Eastern Europe. Instead, try finding deals from major airports like LAX to CDG and then booking a separate, cheaper flight to your final destination.”
Eat Late Lunches Instead of Dinner
“My best tip for saving money while traveling is eating out for a late lunch instead of dinner,” said Christine Luken, The Financial Lifeguard. “Let’s be honest, half the fun of traveling is eating the local cuisine. My husband and I chose to eat a late lunch, around 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. Typically, the lunch crowd has cleared out, so we get an attentive server and can take advantage of lunch pricing, which is usually a savings of 30 percent or more,” she said. “By dining out at fancy restaurants for lunch instead of dinner, we save ourselves hundreds of dollars.”
Book One-Way Flights
“Not only should you compare prices of round-trip airfare, but you should look at prices for one-ways and build your own itinerary, reviewing prices of flights on different airlines and in/out of surrounding airports that are easily accessible,” said consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch. “Not only might you be able to save on flight costs, but should you need to make any changes to either of the flights, you will face a much lower penalty. You might even be able to cancel one leg and rebook for a lower price. You cannot cancel one leg of a round-trip ticket without canceling the whole trip.”
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“My best tip is that when you go on longer vacations, like a long weekend or a week plus, try to rent a place that has a kitchen or kitchenette,” said Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks. “You can save a ton of money, time and calories by having everything you need for a breakfast and bagged lunches.”
And he’s not alone in feeling like this, “It always bothered me that when I traveled, I essentially had to eat two if not three meals each day at restaurants. Those costs can add up in a hurry,” said Schrage. “However, one of the best ways to travel on a budget is to book a room with basic cooking amenities, like at least a microwave if not more. You can seek out a local grocery store and do some of your dining in your room for pennies on the dollar.”
Attend Timeshare Presentations for Great Vacation Deals
“You might think that I am crazy for suggesting that you spend your valuable vacation time attending a timeshare presentation, but depending on what the company is offering in return for your time, it might just be worth it,” said Jaclyn Anne of Crayons & Cravings. “When we arrived at the airport in Cabo San Lucas on our honeymoon, we were flooded by timeshare reps. We agreed to attend a 90-minute presentation in return for a free one-hour couples massage, sunset dinner cruise, ATV tour, bottle of tequila and a taxi ride from the airport to our resort.”
Even last-minute vacations don’t have to be hectic. “Create a rough outline for your trip ahead of time,” said Holly Johnson, travel expert at Club Thrifty. “My husband and I take our kids on several 2-3 week trips per year, and it helps tremendously to create an outline of each day’s potential activities and costs ahead of time. Writing out potential meals, activities, transportation requirements and our lodging and airfare costs helps us create a realistic travel budget and stay on track.”
According to Johnson, “Way too many people overspend when they travel because they never think through the logistics of each day and the costs required. While our trips might not be uber-cheap all the time, I prefer to know that ahead of time, so I can have the cash set aside to cover every potential expense. The worst way to end a vacation is with an unexpected bill.”
Price Shop to Find Cheap Flights
“Use Google Flights to shop for flights across multiple airlines,” said Sophia Bera of Gen Y Planning. “[That’s] how I found round-trip airfare from LAX to Tokyo for $499. I booked my flight back in October, so sometimes it really pays to look months in advance.”
And if you really want to save, check out some money-saving travel tips from flight attendants.
Purchase Prebooked Rooms
“A site called RoomerTravel.com enables people to book hotel rooms from people who can no longer use them,” said Woroch. “For example, you can save 30 percent on a room at the Sandos Cancun Luxury All-Inclusive Resort between July 12 and July 21 when you book with Roomer instead of the resort itself. That’s a savings of over $1,100 in this specific case. Each hotel listing features user reviews from TripAdvisor, so you can select among properties with the highest reviews.”
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Fly Out of Different Cities to Find Cheap Flights
“Book two separate flights from different destinations close to each other rather than booking a return flight to the same city,” said Chantell Collins of Adoration 4 Adventure. “For example, when I traveled to Italy last year, instead of booking a return flight to Rome, I booked a one-way ticket there and then a return ticket from Bologna. That way I could travel for three weeks, seeing new destinations rather than having to double back.”
Avoid Using Your Debit Card
“When traveling abroad, don’t use your debit card. Most debit cards will charge you transaction fees, as well ATM fees. Instead, use a credit card that absorbs both fees,” said Migdalia Rivera of Latina on a Mission. “Or, open an account specifically for travel. Charles Schwab refunds all of your foreign ATM fees and, it has no foreign transaction fees.”
Take Advantage of Dining Deals
“One of the biggest vacation budget busters is dining out for every meal, so it’s important to find cheap (but satisfying) places to eat,” said Woroch. “If you land somewhere you’ve never visited before, this can be even trickier. In addition to saving on restaurants using daily deal apps like Groupon and LivingSocial, Yelp can point you to places with high user ratings and those offering some type of discount. Filter results in Yelp by those places ‘offering a deal,’ and redeem savings like $10 off your $20 check.”
Use Hotel Rewards Cards to Score Cheap Hotels
Co-branded hotel rewards cards can mean big savings when you travel. “What’s really kept travel cheaper for my family is our Marriott Rewards VISA card,” said David Domzalski of Run The Money. “I can’t tell you how many times we stayed [for] free all over the country because of that card. It’s saved us a lot of money and kept our vacations very budget-friendly.”
Book Cheap Flights by Searching Early in the Week
“Research flight fares during the earlier part of the week,” said Schrage. “That’s when sales occur, and they generally do not on the weekends. Once I learned this tip, I was surprised to see how much I could save simply by timing my search better.”
Don’t Overpay for Breakfast
“When we went on our honeymoon to Hawaii many years ago, we saved a ton of time by eating our breakfasts in our rental,” said Wang. “We used all the time and money we saved to help pay for ATV rentals, helicopter tours and snorkeling rentals. Why spend it on a plate of eggs when you can spend it snorkeling.”
Purchase Tickets in Advance
“You can often pay less for activities and entertainment by booking tickets in advance,” said Woroch. “For example, you can save up to $25 per person at Six Flags by purchasing passes online before heading to the theme park. You can even do this from your hotel room the night before if you don’t have much time to pre-plan such activities before your departure. Otherwise, check online to find out if a certain museum, zoo or aquarium offers any discount or free days. You might also find deals on activities and experiences through sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, so look before you go.”
Get Last-Minute Hotel Deals by Waiting to Book
“I was surprised to find out that you can actually save money by waiting until the last minute when booking your hotel,” said Schrage. “You can do so through two avenues — the mobile app HotelTonight and the website Priceline, which has a Name Your Own Price function. You can actually submit a bid for a room, at times as much as 80 percent off, and it just might be accepted if the hotel has openings.”
Get Last-Minute Travel Deals by Waiting to Book Your Flight Too
Money Crashers’ Andrew Schrage also points out that the same approach of waiting until the last minute works with your flights, too. When airlines are scrambling to fill seats, you might be able to take advantage, but it will mean being more than a little flexible about your travel plans.
“That Name Your Own Price function also works for flights, but you won’t know when your flight leaves, which airline you’ll be flying or if there are layovers,” said Schrage.
Find Nearby Small Towns to Stay In
Sometimes, going off the beaten path will help you find better deals on places to stay.” When traveling, we seek out charming smaller towns that are located close to our ultimate travel destination to serve as our home base,” said Paul Vachon of The Frugal Toad.
“Lodging is typically discounted by 25 to 50 percent, depending on the location, and we use these savings to fund our day trips to local attractions. We think we get the best of both worlds by avoiding the congestion of the larger cities yet are able to sight-see on our own schedule,” Vachon said.
Use City Passes
“Use city passes. In big cities like Paris, London and New York, you can bundle a lot of your activities and save time and money by purchasing a city pass,” said Johnson. “With the Rome Pass, for example, you can visit amazing landmarks like the Colosseum and Palatine Hill with skip-the-line passes for a single price.”
Keep Track of Your Data Usage
“A smartphone is a tool many travelers rely on for accessing driving directions, capturing memories, sharing updates with friends and family and finding things to do and see along the way,” said Woroch. “All of these activities, however, will eat up your data and might cause you to pay pricey overage fees. Reduce data use by turning off app push notifications and stay connected on-the-go using the Free WiFi Finder app. Monitor data usage with 3G Watchdog app and DataMan app to avoid overage penalties.”
Check Your Cellphone Carrier for Deals
There can be a lot of sources for various vacation deals and freebies, so be sure to expand your search to capture as many as possible. “Check credit card, bank and cellphone carrier perks,” said Rivera. “For example, T-Mobile offers free WiFi on most flights, as well as unlimited data abroad at no extra cost.”
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Find the Best Vacation Deals on Your Entertainment
“As far as entertainment goes when traveling, use a Deal of the Day website like Groupon or LivingSocial,” said Schrage. “Type in the zip code of where you’re traveling to and look for activities and other fun stuff to do. You can usually purchase vouchers worth 50 percent off or more at those venues.”
Utilize Other Forms of Transit to Reach Your Destination
“You could also save a lot of money by booking the cheaper airport destinations and then busing or taking the train to your final destination,” said Elms. “Not only will you save money, but you will end up exploring an additional location on your trip.”
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Use the Local Visitor’s Bureau for Travel Tips
“When I relocated to Denver and no one new my name, I received a great recommendation to use the local Visitor Bureau and website to find free or cheap deals and ‘staycation’ ideas right within the state,” said Marcus Garrett of Paychecks and Balances. “I actually found a lot of great local community groups, activities, etc. that I would have otherwise never discovered. They tend to be a great, yet under-utilized resource.”
Skip the Hotel and Go Camping
“There are thousands of inexpensive state, federal and local camping facilities scattered across the United States, most of which have excellent shower and bathroom facilities,” said Amy White of Daily Successful Living. “One of the side benefits of camping is the opportunity to meet some amazing people, most of whom are cheapskates like [my husband and me]. They typically know the secret local spots or have other saving tips and advice for inexpensive side trips.”
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