20 Ways to Save Big on Your Next Vacation

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Summer vacations are on the rise again…as long as vacationers are getting a good value.

Choice Hotels International surveyed 2,199 people this week. Eighty-seven percent said they planned to take the same number of trips (or more) this summer than they did last year, while 9 out of 10 people said they’re looking for the best value in their hotel stay.

Surprisingly, when asked what customers consider to be a good value from a hotel, 75 percent ranked free breakfast as their No. 1 priority.

While I love free cinnamon rolls as much as the next girl, a continental spread isn’t the best way to save money on a vacation. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares his five best tips in the video below. Check it out and then read on for more ways to go on vacation without going broke.

Stacy shared five of the biggest ways you can save in the video. I’ll give you more details on those – and 15 more tips to cut your vacation expenses this summer.

1. Be flexible with both time and place

You’ll save the most if you keep your vacation options open – and that includes both travel times and locations. For times, book in the off-peak seasons when popular destinations are cheaper – like booking a cruise in July.

For locations, you’ll pay less year-round for less popular destinations. We list six money-saving spots in Cheap-But-Fun Travel Destinations for 2012.

And if you’re set on visiting a popular destination, you should still consider more than one. If you’re fixated on Disney World, you might miss a great deal on Universal Studios. Before you lock in New York, consider Chicago.

2. Compare transportation options

Don’t limit your transportation options to just flying or driving. Depending on the distance, day of the week, and time of year, it may be more cost-effective to take a train.

For example, the travel costs for a trip I’m planning from New Orleans to Chicago breaks down like this:

  • Estimated driving cost: $554
  • Cost on American Airlines: $394
  • Cost on Amtrak: $234

Then there’s the new breed of luxury buses that operate in several states: cheaper than an airline, but with more legroom, free Wi-Fi, and other amenities. See what one looks like and learn more in Can a Bus Beat a Plane?

3. Book and fly midweek

If you do decide to fly, tickets are typically cheaper midweek. As Stacy mentioned in the video, most airline sales start on Tuesday and end on Thursday, and the two cheapest days of the week to fly are Tuesday and Wednesday.

4. Travel light

Some airlines – like Jet Blue and Southwest – allow you to check one or two bags for free, but most charge an additional fee for your luggage. Airfarewatchdog has compiled a list of airline luggage fees (they can cost as much as $38 for the first bag.) If you’re flying on an airline that charges, downgrade your suitcase to a carry-on. Not only is it cheaper, it’s easier to handle and there’s less risk of loss or damage.

Can’t carry enough clothes? That’s what laundromats are for.

5. Have a checklist

Make a checklist of everything you need before you pack and double-check it before you leave. If you get to your hotel and realize you forgot something important – like your cell phone charger or the SD card for your digital camera – you’ll waste money buying another.

6. Check your insurance

Travelers insurance and rental car insurance can save you a fortune if something goes wrong, but you don’t have to buy it independently. Both types of insurance are often covered by credit card companies, homeowners insurance providers, or auto clubs. Check what you already have before purchasing more.

7. Stay outside popular areas

Having a hotel room in the center of everything is convenient, but staying a few miles outside the city is often cheaper. For example, next weekend I could book a room at the Omni Hotel in Dallas, Texas, for $149 a night through Hotels.com – or I could stay a few miles away in Las Colinas, Texas, at the Wyndham for $64 a night. I’d save $85 a night staying in the suburbs.

And no matter where you stay, stay for less. Before you check in, check out our post 8 Tips to Save at Any Hotel – Even the Nation’s Trendiest.

8. Find cheaper lodging with vacation homes

Vacation homes cost the same (or even less) than hotels, but offer more than most standard hotel rooms – like full-service kitchens, washers and dryers, and bigger living spaces. So you can eat out less, stay in more, and never have to worry about a late-night trip to a laundromat. See our story Vacation Home Rentals: 17 Tips to Save on Your Next Trip

9. Sleep in a hostel

I’ve always stayed in hotels, but my friends prefer hostels when they’re traveling. Why? Because a hostel is dirt-cheap compared to most hotel prices. You’ll only get the basics, namely a bed and linens, but you’ll save a ton this way. For example, a private room in the India House hostel in New Orleans would cost $23 a night, or you could stay at the Best Western French Quarter Landmark Hotel for $180 a night.

Hostels aren’t listed on most travel sites. Instead, use a site like Hostels.com to find the going rates.

10. Consider house-swapping

Another lodging alternative – stay for free. If you’re willing to swap homes (temporarily) with someone else, you can stay in their house for free during your vacation.

Several sites allow you to view ads for available homes, and post your own, such as:

Don’t assume that because you don’t live in a vacation destination, nobody would want to stay at your house. People choose their destinations for lots of reasons, from business to visiting grandma. See our story Best Hotel Price You’ll Find This Summer? $0

11. Dine out less

Dining out is my single biggest “extra” when I travel. During a three-day weekend in Austin, Texas, I spent more than $150 on food. Don’t do that. Instead, book a hotel room with an in-room kitchen, rent a vacation home, or do a housing swap and cook most of your meals.

12. Use discount food apps

If you do dine out during your vacation, use a restaurant-locating app to find special deals and the best prices. Some of my favorite apps include:

When you get there, split your meal in half, ask the waiter to box it up, and use the hotel’s mini fridge to store your to-go box. That way, you just got two meals for the price of one.

13. Turn your vacation into a tax deduction

Turn your vacation into a business trip and you can write off some of your expenses, including transportation, lodging, dining out, and even some cruises. Check out 8 Tips to Turn Your Vacation Into a Tax Deduction for a how-to.

14. Take an alternative vacation

No one says your vacation has to include a pricey tourist destination. There are plenty of cheaper ways to get some down time. For example:

  • Take a staycation in your own city and live like a tourist for a few days
  • Go camping in a national park
  • Visit your state’s capital for the weekend
  • Visit friends or family (especially those with guest rooms)

15. Plan cruises carefully

The listed price of a cruise includes food, lodging, and on-ship entertainment. It doesn’t include tips, the cost of onshore excursions, or airfare – and those costs add up. Research all the associated costs before you book a cruise. If you’re not sure how to find the best deal, let a travel agent handle the arrangements for you.

16. Sightsee free

Popular tourist attractions are pricey, but there are plenty of places you can sightsee free. For example, in Louisiana, admission to the popular plantation homes costs up to $18 per adult, but the National Park Service hosts free walking tours of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Look for cheaper options before you start booking those pricey tickets.

17. Use multiple travel sites

Travel sites save you a ton of money but they don’t all have the same deals. Check multiple travel sites before you book. Like:

18. Take public transit

Rental cars and cab rides are expensive but public transportation is a steal. For example, in New Orleans a cab ride across town runs about $22, but a streetcar will take you the same distance for $1.25. Major cities post their public transportation routes online and many have integrated with Google Maps so you can look up routes from your phone on the go.

19. Ask a local

Want the real scoop on the best cheap food, fun and free entertainment ideas, or which souvenir shops aren’t a total rip-off? Ask a local. As a local living in a popular tourist destination, I can promise you, many of us are happy to help you have a good (and cheap) time.

20. Don’t pay for overseas phone service

If you’re traveling overseas, plan your calls before you leave. While the hotel will let you use their phone to call internationally, you’ll pay a hefty premium for it. If you’ll have Internet access in your hotel room, set up a Skype or Google Voice account before you go. If not, ask your wireless provider if they offer temporary international calling. Many providers offer global SIM cards or rent overseas-capable phones for a small fee.

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