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 planning 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
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to go when prices are lowest. Use airline and airfare search sites with flexible schedule booking features that let you see the best price within a window of dates.
And if you really want to save, consider booking in January or September, according to Hipmunk.
2. Consider nearby airports
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 searching for flights 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
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 the slopes 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
Cheaper than high season but costlier than offseason, shoulder season comprises 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 the offseason.
5. Keep shopping after booking your airfare
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. So if you keep shopping and find a better fare, you can cancel that first ticket without a penalty.
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.
6. Pack light
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.
7. Stay in a national park
You can get a sweet deal on a vacation by visiting a national park on certain days in the U.S. and by checking into national park accommodations at international destinations, too. (The photo above is of Nechisar National Park near Arba Minch, Ethiopia.)
8. Try a hostel
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.
9. Swap homes
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 problem staying in someone else’s home, but how will you feel about hosting strangers in your home when you’re not there?
But if you can get over such feelings, you can save big money.
10. Eat in
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 utensils and napkins in the deli area. Grab a package of wet wipes to clean up.
11. Save on entertainment
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 travel tips, check out “21 Ways to Save Money on International Travel.”
We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences with low-cost vacations. Share your thoughts at our Facebook page.