Planning a vacation can seem intimidatingly expensive. But whether your destination is New York or Los Angeles, Paris or Thailand, there are plenty of ways to stretch your dollar.
In fact, you can trim the cost of your vacation down to $100 a day or less if you’re flexible with your travel dates and research all the free things to do in your destination. Click through for tips on how to keep your daily vacation costs under $100.
Choose Your Destination Carefully
It can be very difficult to visit marquee destinations like New York, Miami and Los Angeles without spending more than $100 a day. If you have your heart set on a big city or beach vacation but don’t want to raid your life savings to go, explore similar and more affordable alternatives where the daily costs are cheaper.
Choose a Country Where Your Dollar Goes Further
If you plan on vacationing outside of the country, you can still keep your budget under $100. Did you know a few U.S. dollars can go very far in certain countries? That’s because of those countries’ favorable exchange rates.
For example, the U.S. dollar is particularly strong in Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand. There are even places in Canada, Europe and South America where you can get more bang for your buck.
Research Free Activities Beforehand
No matter where you go, there likely will be a substantial list of free things to do. You’ll want to arrive at your destination prepared, with plenty of free options. So, do your research. From visiting a Gold Rush boom town in Alaska to seeing a hula show in Hawaii to touring a bourbon distillery in Kentucky, a multitude of options await.
Scope Out Free Museum Days
You’ll spend less than $100 per day if you take advantage of free admission to museums. Check to see if your bank or credit card offers free admission to certain museums or on particular days of the week. For example, Bank of America’s “Museums on Us” program offers its credit and debit card holders free admission to hundreds of museums around the United States on the first full weekend of every month.
Of course, some museums also offer free admission on certain days per month. For example, admission to the Museum of Modern Art in New York is free every Friday evening during UNIQLO Free Friday Nights. And the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is free to visitors on the second Tuesday of every month, as well as on some federal holidays.
Take a Monuments Tour
The public can tour many monuments, landmarks and other sites of historic importance at no or little cost. For example, you can see Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and the Freedom Trail in Boston for free — along with many other popular attractions around the country.
Travel Outside of Peak Season
Demand for rooms in and flights to ski towns and beaches are high during predictable times — winter for ski towns and summer for beaches — and rates are correspondingly high. From airfare to hotel rates, traveling to the same locations during the off-season can yield sizable savings.
Choose a Vacation Rental
To save money on vacation and keep your costs under $100 a day, choose a vacation rental. According to 2016 Wyndham Vacation Rentals and Smith Travel Research data, the average price per bedroom per night for a vacation rental is $79.30 versus $119.03 for a hotel. You’ll also be able to have your own common areas, like a living room, kitchen, den, deck, pool and more, depending on the vacation home you choose.
Make Your Own Meals Instead of Eating Out
Whipping up your own meals in the kitchen instead of eating pricey restaurant food is one of the best ways to save money while traveling. This is much easier if you’re staying in a vacation rental. And the savings can be substantial.
In 2016, the Wyndham Vacation Rentals Cooking on Vacation Survey found that travelers saved an average of $898 per week by cooking most meals in their vacation rental instead of eating out.
“The study also found that 94 percent of vacation-rental travelers found having a kitchen on vacation reduced their stress levels, with many attributing it to saving money and avoiding the hassles of going to a restaurant,” said Mary Lynn Clark, president of Wyndham Vacation Rentals North America.
Look for a Rental Property With Laundry Facilities
If you’ll be traveling for several weeks, you might think paying a checked baggage fee to hold several weeks of clothes is inevitable. But before you fork over the customary $25 — or more — just to check one bag, consider looking for a rental property with laundry facilities, Clark recommended. You’ll save on baggage fees and have less to worry about getting lost en route to or from your destination.
Visit East Coast Beaches
Traveling to beach cities along the Eastern seaboard — such as those in Delaware, North Carolina and South Carolina — can be more expensive in the summer. But prices tend to drop dramatically after Labor Day. For example, booking the magnificent Heather Hill property at Whalehead Beach, N.C., can cost $8,000 per week in July, only $3,750 in September and $3,550 in October and into November, found a recent search on Wyndham Vacation Rentals’ website.
Visit Florida and Alabama Beaches
Planning a vacation to the beach? You could save more money and keep your budget under $100 a day if you visit Florida or Alabama beaches. While much of the East Coast is covered in snow, temperatures in Alabama and Florida beach cities are usually in the mid-60s to 70s.
These beaches can be great savings options for travel outside of the peak season. Staying at the chic Romar Cottage in Orange Beach, Ala., costs $5,134 for four nights in August and only $2,514 for four nights in November, for example.
Visit Mountain Towns
Consider staying in mountain towns outside of the peak ski season (the winter). Instead, why not visit during the summer, spring or fall? Temperatures will still be perfect in spring and fall, so you can embark on plenty of outdoor activities, including biking, hiking and fishing. Plus, you’ll be more likely to stay within your $100-a-day budget if you visit during the off season.
Share Your Rental With Others
“Sharing a three or four-bedroom condo or home with another family can cost less than booking separately for just your own family,” said Clark. “Before making the reservation, talk honestly about how expenses, cooking and other tasks will be shared and come to an agreement on rules for kids’ bedtimes and television.”
The Romar Cottage in Alabama, for example, has space for multiple people — this one sleeps 12, in fact — meaning you and another family or two could split the cost and save a bunch of money.
Consider Renting a Condo in a Resort Community
Renting a condo in a resort community can save you a bundle on activities. “If you rent a house or condo within a resort community, you’ll likely have free access to shared facilities, such as tennis courts, pools, hot tubs, fitness centers and other perks you might not find at other lodgings outside these types of communities,” said Clark.
If you stay at a property that has these amenities that can keep the whole family entertained, imagine how much money you’ll save every day. You’ll likely be able to keep your vacation costs under $100 a day.
Wait to Use the WiFi
While you might think you need to share that Instagram selfie by the London Bridge the minute you snap it, you can save a lot of money — possibly even more than $100 — on international data fees if you wait to get back to your rental home or hotel while traveling abroad.
Turn off your data service when you land in another country. Or, to be even more cautious, keep your phone in airplane mode until you can safely use the WiFi.
Consider Ditching the Car Rental
Heading to multiple destinations on one vacation can be a great way to get more travel bang for your buck. But make sure that car rentals don’t multiply the cost of your trip.
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One good way to circumvent this cost is by exploring buses and trains that might get you to your next destination for a fraction of the price of a car rental. For example, Megabus serves approximately 100 U.S. cities and sells some tickets for as low as $1, depending on the location.
Look for Discount or Free Public Transit
If you do decide to ditch the rental car, make sure you’re getting the best deal on public transportation. For travel within a city, buying an unlimited or pre-loaded metro or bus card will almost always be less expensive than buying single tickets one at a time. And public transport will always be kinder to your wallet than a taxi or an Uber car.
As a bonus, some public transportation routes offer incredible views of the city, such as the Staten Island Ferry, which runs between Staten Island and Manhattan. Plus, it’s free.
Make a Packing List and Check It Twice
It pays to be thorough and meticulous when packing for your vacation. You don’t want to spend a beach vacation without a swimsuit or sunscreen, so double-check to make sure you’ve packed yours. The last thing you want is to waste money buying items you know you already have back at home.
So, think ahead about the various activities you might do on your vacation and pack accordingly. Remember: Gift shops and even drugstores in vacation destinations often charge much higher prices than your local store at home.
Plan Your Itinerary Thoughtfully
It can be tempting to think that you must go to all the tourist attractions at a destination. But before you pay to go to a Broadway show in New York or to Disneyland outside of Los Angeles, consider what your ideal day really looks like.
Do you dream of vacationing so you can explore different cultures, taste authentic cuisine and view beautiful architecture? If so, don’t feel compelled to pay to hit other people’s highlights. Just because a guidebook says somewhere is a “must go,” that doesn’t mean it really is.
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