Photo (cc) by James Willamor
It’s summertime, and that means we here at Money Talks News have been busy brainstorming and researching ways for you to save on your vacation. Recently, we’ve told you whether travel insurance is a good buy, pulled back the curtain on the world’s most expensive cities, and advised on how best to book a flight with the family.
Now MTN finance expert Stacy Johnson has compiled a big list of ways to save 50 percent on your travel costs, regardless of whether you’re going by plane, train or automobile.
Watch the video below and then keep scrolling for more tips.
1. Get free flights and hotels
It doesn’t get any cheaper than free, and you can most definitely stay in a hotel or fly without spending a cent.
However, this method assumes you’ve been using a rewards credit card faithfully throughout the year. Racking up points or miles with everyday purchases is a smart way to get a free flight at vacation time.
Of course, as always, you want to pay off your balance each month. Your free flight isn’t really free if you’ve paid hundreds, or even thousands, in credit card interest.
Don’t neglect loyalty programs either. Most major hotel chains have programs allowing you to earn points per stay. Those can then be redeemed for free nights, upgrades or other perks. Pick a chain you like and stick with it whenever you travel.
For more tips, check out our article on 10 ways to get free lodging.
2. Stay with family or friends
How many times has someone suggested you visit and stay with them? It’s time to start accepting those offers.
Crashing with family and friends may work best if you’re single or part of a couple. Those with young kids might want to carefully consider whether their host family has enough room for the entire crew and whether the kiddies will mind their manners. Broken dishware and markers on walls could put a strain on even the best of friendships.
3. Pack light to avoid baggage fees
Once upon a time, when you bought a plane ticket, the airline would be kind enough to let you take your stuff with you for free. Unfortunately, those days are long gone.
Today, if you’d like to take some luggage, get ready to pay a fee for the privilege. Although some airlines still check bags for free, Kayak.com reports that most charge at least $25. Save that cash by packing only a carry-on. But be aware that even that could cost you if you fly on budget airlines Spirit or Allegiant Air.
MTN editor Karen Datko has traveled to Italy with just the clothes on her back and two outfits tucked into a carry-on-size backpack. It was cheap, it was convenient, and she was still able to be perfectly presentable when the opportunity arose to attend a reception at an ambassador’s residence.
I imagine some of you might be concerned that such a limited wardrobe will mean you’ll end up dirty and smelly on your vacation. However, I assure you, unless you’re traveling to the Amazon, you are bound to find some running water, soap and laundry services at your destination. (Karen also packs some detergent, a short clothesline and clothespins in that carry-on backpack.) If those aren’t available, I hear Febreze works in a pinch.
4. Eat in your room
I know you’re supposed to be relaxing on vacation, but avoid the temptation to eat out for every meal. Unless you’re traveling to someplace renowned for its food, make your meals in your hotel room instead.
When booking a room, look for one offering a kitchenette. Even if you can’t find that, chances are you’ll have at least a mini fridge and microwave. Pick up some groceries from a local store and make do with the appliances in the room.
You can have coffee, cereal, oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. Pack sandwiches and energy bars for a lunch on the go. Then come back to your room for a dinner of whatever is on sale at the area grocer.
If you’re traveling by car and have room, you might want to pack your slow cooker. Then you can throw in ingredients in the morning and come back to a hot meal at dinnertime. However, check with management first to see if slow cookers are allowed unattended in rooms.
5. Skip the souvenirs
Sure, you’ll be stylin’ in that “I Heart NYC” T-shirt, but let’s be real. Are you going to wear it enough to justify the price tag?
Souvenir shops make a living by selling overpriced junk to tourists caught up in the moment of wanting to remember their trip. If you really want to take something home from your vacation, skip the tourist strip and head to the local shopping district to buy something authentic you’ll actually use.
I know the situation gets sticky with kids, who are inevitably going to want every giant pencil, silly hat and neon T-shirt they see. The best way to avoid a constant barrage of “Can I have it?” is to avoid walking into any tourist shops. If that’s not an option, budget an amount for each child to spend as they wish. Consider doling out the money slowly if you’re going on an extended vacation.
6. Pick a destination with the exchange rate in mind
For those lucky enough to be traveling internationally, look for destinations with favorable exchange rates. For example, skip Scandinavia and head south to Romania or Hungry instead. Rather than vacationing in Australia, consider Indonesia.
As a bonus, countries with favorable exchange rates are typically cheaper in general than other destinations. That said, these low-cost locales may not have all the amenities and comforts you’ll find in more expensive or more mainstream vacation spots.
Before booking on price alone, do your homework to decide whether you and your family are ready to travel off the beaten path.
7. Watch for the best daily deals
Once you have your destination selected, watch daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial for potential savings on attractions, shopping or meals in the area.
However, be sure to check the deal against the listed prices. I hate to be a cynic, but in my experience, some businesses appear to charge an inflated price when offering a daily-deal discount. Before forking over your money, make sure the deal is as good as the site says it is.
In addition, think twice before spending money on a deal that must be redeemed on a certain date or time – such as tickets to a performance. Unless the event or performance is one of the reasons for your trip, you might not want to lock yourself in. After you arrive at your destination, you may find you want to do other things instead.
8. Do what the locals do
Almost every spot has free and low-cost things to do. Remember, the locals aren’t hitting the expensive amusement parks or pricey museums each weekend.
They could be visiting a local park with access to a beach. Or maybe the city hosts free concerts in the park. Perhaps there is a trail system nearby offering amazing scenic views.
The local paper is one source of information, and you can head to the city’s or area’s Facebook page for leads as well. Once you arrive, head down to the local mom-and-pop restaurant and ask your server what people do for fun. Chances are they can point you in the right direction for some cheap or free diversions.
9. Pick a spot and stay there
Taking a two-week trek across all of Europe may sound like an exciting adventure, but you’re likely to end your vacation wondering “Where did we do that again?”
Instead of traveling up and down the coastline or across the continent, pick one spot. Stay there and soak in all it has to offer. Not only will your vacation be more enjoyable, it will also be much less expensive once you cut out all the extra travel.
10. Stay flexible
Finally, one of the best ways to save 50 percent or more off your vacation is to stay flexible.
Try traveling in the off season or maybe try a locale that isn’t a major tourist stop yet. Also, be open to changing your travel dates or jumping on a deal that pops up at the last minute. A midweek getaway might cost significantly less than one planned for the weekend.
Not only can being flexible with your travel save you money, it might also result in finding some hidden treasures along the way.
How do you save money while traveling? We want to hear your tips in the comments below or on our Facebook page.