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. In fact, some may enhance it.
Following are 14 ways to have a great vacation without spending too much money.
1. Be flexible on travel dates
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to go when and where prices are lowest. There are cheaper days to fly. Tuesday and Wednesday flights appear to be the biggest bargains, according to Airfarewatchdog’s blog.
Use airlines and airfare search sites with flexible schedule booking features that allow you to see the best price within a window of dates.
2. Consider other airports
You’ll often find lower airfares by including other airports in the region, in addition to your primary destination airport.
When flying to Los Angeles, for example, consider landing in Burbank, Ontario and Long Beach, as well as LAX. The extra distance may not matter much if you are planning to rent a car.
3. Travel offseason
Going cheap entails making compromises. But they’re not insurmountable. One compromise is to try your intended destination at a less popular time.
Ski resorts may be cheaper in spring and fall, for example, when skiing is out. Go in the spring, and you can hike and bike before the summer tourists arrive. European capitals are cheaper 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 more costly than offseason, shoulder season is the time between. During this season, the weather is better and prices are lower, but not as low as the offseason.
5. Keep shopping after you book airfare
The Wall Street Journal points out that:
The Transportation Department requires that airlines give refunds for tickets canceled within 24 hours of a purchase, or offer a 24-hour hold for tickets bought more than a week before departure.
That lets you nail down a good price and keep shopping for a better deal.
6. Book 49 days ahead
It sounds oddly specific, but U.S. News says that CheapAir.com reviewed records for more than 11,000 domestic flights and found that the best ticket prices were secured about seven weeks before departure.
7. Pack light
Want to save an easy $40 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.
Don’t know how to pack light? See “Ask Stacy: How Can You Go to Europe for 10 Days With Just a Carry-On?” and “6 Tips for Packing Light and Avoiding Baggage Fees.”
8. Stay in a national park
You can get a sweet deal on a vacation by visiting a national park on certain days.
During 2016, the U.S. National Park Service will offer free admission to the parks on 16 days. That can save you as much as $30. Find out more in the article “Save up to $30 at National Parks on These 16 Days.”
9. 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. It’s crucial to read plenty of reviews so you know what you’re getting into.
Three places to explore options:
For more, see “Big-City Lodgings for $29 a Night.”
10. Swap homes
House-swapping — trading homes with someone who lives where 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 while you’re gone?
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
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 downside is that you don’t really know what you are getting until you arrive. Reading other users’ reviews online is key to getting the right place.
Here are a few vacation-home marketplaces:
But beware of fraud: See “7 Tips to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by a Vacation Rental.”
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.
For more, see “How to Live in Luxurious Homes for Free.”
13. 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 ware and napkins in the deli area. Grab a package of wet wipes to clean up.
14. 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 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 in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.
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