Vacations are the ultimate pick-me-up, whether they are planned in the midst of a long, dark winter, or during the hopeful months of spring and summer.
Don’t let a tight budget keep you from having a getaway. There are ways to do it for less that won’t diminish your experience. Some of these 14 money-saving travel ideas can make your trip even better.
1. Be flexible on travel dates
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One of the best ways to save money on travel is to go when prices are lowest. There are cheaper days to fly, with Tuesday and Wednesday flights appearing to be the biggest bargains, according to Airfarewatchdog’s blog. And there are cheaper days to buy, with Sunday apparently leading the pack. According to Travel + Leisure, average ticket prices on Sundays for U.S. travelers are nearly 50 percent lower than on Fridays, one of the worst days of the week to book for savings,.
Use airline and airfare search sites with flexible schedule booking features that let you see the best price within a window of dates.
2. Consider nearby airports
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You’ll often find lower airfares if your ticket search includes smaller, regional airports in addition to your primary destination airport.
For example, when flying to Los Angeles, consider landing in Burbank, Ontario or Long Beach, California, as well as Los Angeles International. The extra distance may not matter much if you are planning to rent a car.
3. Travel offseason
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Going cheap means making compromises, but they’re not insurmountable. One compromise is to try your planned destination at a less popular time.
Ski resorts may be cheaper in spring and fall, for example, when ski season is over. Go in the spring, and you can hike and bike before the summer tourists arrive. European capitals are cheaper to visit in winter. Who cares about the sun anyway, when you can soak in art, architecture, music and great food at lower prices?
4. Travel in ‘shoulder’ season
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Cheaper than high season but more costly than offseason, shoulder season are the times in between, usually early spring and late autumn. During these times the weather is better and prices are lower but not as low as in offseason.
5. Keep shopping after booking your airfare
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The U.S. Transportation Department requires foreign and domestic airlines to refund your ticket at no charge if you cancel within 24 hours of a purchase or offer a 24-hour hold period that allows you to cancel fee-free.
Note: Airlines are not required to offer both a refund and a hold period, so be sure to understand the rules before you book a flight. Either way, you can nail down a good price and keep shopping for a better deal.
“When it comes to airlines’ cancellation policies, don’t expect the same rules across the board,” writes Travel blogger The Points Guy, in a thorough explanation of the 24-hour rule and airlines’ policies.
6. Book 49 days ahead
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Forty-nine days sounds oddly specific, but when CheapAir.com reviewed records for more than 11,000 domestic flights, it found that the best ticket prices were secured about seven weeks before departure, according to U.S. News & World Report.
7. Pack light
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Want to save an easy $25 to $50? Don’t check a bag. Pack a few changes of quick-drying clothes in a carry-on, including a travel-sized bottle of your favorite liquid detergent so you can wash items and hang them to dry overnight.
If you are unsure how to pack light, see “6 Tips for Packing Light and Avoiding Baggage Fees.”
8. Stay in a national park
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You can get a sweet deal on a vacation by visiting a national park on certain days in the United States and by checking into national park accommodations at international destinations, too. (The photo above is of Nechisar National Park near Arba Minch, Ethiopia.)
The U.S. National Park Service is suspending entrance fees on 10 days in 2017 (here’s the list), allowing visitors to save from $3 to $30 each per day, depending on the park’s fee.
9. Try a hostel
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Hostels aren’t just for the young and unwashed. According to Independent Traveler:
Older travelers are increasingly booking stays at hostels as international hotel rates rise, and they’re finding private rooms and bathrooms, clean beds, and no-reservations-needed accommodations in hostels around the world.
Hostels vary a great deal in accommodations and price. Some have swanky rooms and gourmet meals. In others you’ll sleep dorm-style. Some are a great bargain, others are … not so great. That’s why it’s crucial to read plenty of reviews — focus on those within the past 12 months or less — so you know what you’re getting into. Three places to explore hostel options:
10. Swap homes
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House-swapping — trading homes with someone who lives in a place you want to visit — is nothing new. But the internet has brought the practice into the 21st century.
It’s not for everyone: You may have no trouble staying in someone else’s home, but how will you feel about hosting strangers in your home when you’re not there?
But get over such feelings, and you can save big money. For more, check out “Best Hotel Price You’ll Find This Summer? $0.”
11. Try vacation rentals
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The sharing economy has made vacationing more affordable by vastly expanding travelers’ options for accommodations. If you haven’t checked out vacation rental homes — private homes available for nightly, weekly or monthly rentals through a number of online marketplaces — it’s time to take a look.
Upsides include prices that are often lower than hotels, full kitchens and all the comforts of (someone else’s) home. The potential downside is that you don’t really know what you are getting until you arrive. Keys to a great experience: Read other users’ reviews online and ask a host plenty of questions before booking.
Here are a few vacation-home marketplaces:
But beware of fraud: See “7 Tips to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by a Vacation Rental.”
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You can find free accommodations just about anywhere in the world in exchange for caring for a stranger’s home and/or pets.
Darlene and Pete Heck describe themselves as “a Canadian couple who sold everything to travel the world.” They blog at Hecktic Travels. The Hecks do house-sitting full time, but many vacationers use the approach to trim lodging costs to zero.
Hecktic Travels’ “Housesitting 101” has links to resources and a description of the experience:
We can explore different parts of the world on a very slim budget. We get to enjoy a slow pace of travel and become involved in each community that we visit. And the homeowner gets a valuable service in return – two responsible people to care for and maintain their property, their pets, and whatever else needs attending to.
Or sign up to take care of someone’s home, free of charge, while you are a visitor in their region. “How to Live in Luxurious Homes for Free” explains how to find house-sitting gigs.
13. Eat in
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Save money on vacation by eating as few meals out as possible. Pack snacks for day trips and flights.
Rent lodgings with a kitchen or at least a kitchenette. Stop at a grocery store before you get hungry. Most will let you wash fresh produce. Look for plastic ware and napkins in the deli area. Grab a package of wet wipes to clean up.
14. Save on entertainment
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In a new locale, everything is an adventure. You’ll find free things to do by looking around. Bring enough lightweight equipment to allow you swim, hike and run. Check bulletin boards in local stores and tourist information centers and look online and in local papers for notices of free or cheap concerts, sports events and festivals.
For more ideas to keep yourself entertained for less, both at home and on the road, check out “19 Tips to Save on Entertainment.”
We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences with low-cost vacations. Share your thoughts at our Facebook page.