Traveling can be quite expensive, but when you have wanderlust you don’t let cost stand in your way. Since I don’t like to waste money, I employ travel saving tips in order for us to enjoy as many voyages as our jobs allow. Although we don’t spend tons of money, our trips never feel like cheap travel—we stay in lovely city-center apartments or hotels, eat amazing food, drink good wine, and make it to all the best places to visit in any city. Our vacations are quite spectacular! We don’t miss out on anything and I don’t want you to either, so here are some of my cheap travel tips.
- Airplane tickets can easily comprise the biggest part of your travel budget, so finding a low-cost flight is essential. I use Google flights to get an idea of current ticket prices and then adjust dates, airports, airlines, and other factors accordingly. Once I know which flight I want to book, I call the airline and see if they will meet or beat the best price I’ve found. Here is a blog I wrote about “10 Travel Tips to Find Cheap Flights” that provides other tips on how to find cheap flights to anywhere.
- Lodging can cost a pretty penny, which is why I set a price range first. Ultimately, I choose a hotel or apartment in a city-center location. Use Priceline, Expedia, or another aggregator to get ideas for low-priced hotels and then call them to see if they will offer a better price. A hotel in the middle of a city generally means lower transportation costs and greater restaurant variety. Once I’ve picked my top three, I email the hotelier to see what deals they may offer. I’ve been offered room upgrades, lower rates, and extra perks by contacting the hotel directly. These days a short-term vacation rental may be the best value for your dollar. If I’m at a place for more than a few days, I often stay in a rental I’ve found through Airbnb or Homeaway. I can save money on food costs by preparing meals there, too. Here are a couple related blogs on lodging: How to Choose an Airbnb, Homeaway, or Other Vacation Rental, Top Spots–Picking the Best Hotel, Tips for Booking the Best Vacation Rentals, Picking a European Hotel.
- Keep monitoring prices. I once saved over $900 on a cruise when I noticed the fare had dropped. I called the agent who had booked our cruise and she promptly had the cruise line adjust the difference, plus they upgraded our room! Ever since that time, I’ve been vigilant about watching prices. Once I book a hotel, I monitor rates until we leave. If they drop, I contact the hotel and ask for the reduced rate. Even saving $10 a night on a hotel could add up to a savings of $140 on a two-week stay.
- Use public transportation instead of taxis or car rentals. Loads of money can be wasted on expensive transportation from the airport and around town. Trains, shuttles, and the metro system are great options. They might not be the most glamorous form of travel, but they are fast and cost-effective, especially when purchasing a multi-trip pass. Water taxis, when available, are a great alternative to costly river cruises. I’ve had wonderful views of Chicago, Paris, Boston, and other places by using public water transport. For location-specific transportation blogs, see: Rome Public Transport: Tips for Riding the Bus and Italy By Train—Do’s and Don’ts.
- Eating in restaurants, especially those in touristy areas, can break the budget. I suggest eating where the locals do to find the best deals for any meal. For breakfast, try taking advantage of anything your hotel may offer. Make lunch the biggest meal of the day. Many restaurants have generous lunch portions at a fraction of their dinner prices. It’s also a less expensive way to try out a star chef’s restaurant. Other cost-saving tips would be to enjoy a picnic, eat street food, share several courses with your travel companion, and take advantage of any free stuff that the restaurant orders—more bread? Yes, please!
- Follow Facebook pages for insider tips and alerts on price deals. I join groups for both general travel and then some that are specific to the regions I most frequently travel. I find that members are awesome at pointing out cheap flight deals, points bonuses, discounts, and other money-saving tips.
- If traveling internationally, save on phone costs by getting a phone plan that covers where you are going. If they’re too costly, consider buying a SIM card in the country you’re traveling to (make sure your phone is unlocked or it won’t work). I have a decent phone plan, but I also rely on an internet-based messaging/phone app (my favorite is Whatsapp). If you don’t have an international data package, turn off roaming so there are no nasty surprises.
- Seeing historical sites brings me such joy that I cannot give up this expense, but it doesn’t mean I won’t try to reduce it. Many museums offer free times or days; although they are often most crowded during these times, the price can’t be beat. When traveling, I check out city or museum passes that offer free admission to their member sites for a series of days. These can be a good value, especially since some come with unlimited metro fare. I weigh the price of individual admission versus the pass; if I would have spent that much on single admissions, then I happily purchase the pass knowing that I can stop by other little treasures that I might not have otherwise seen. I also check to see if I fit one of the reduced-price categories or if a lower fee is available through my membership in another group, like an auto club or professional organization. You may also want to leverage more expensive venues with cheaper or free ones, like public parks, churches, and outdoor art installations.
- Play the points game. It took me a while to figure out how to accrue travel points and I’m by no means a master (see The Points Guy for that), but I have learned to be smarter about rewards and let my money work for me. Credit cards often give extra points on travel and their rewards can be used for a host of things, including more travel. If you’re disciplined, it could be worth your while to charge your monthly expenses—as long as you pay off those expenses monthly. How lovely would it be to earn airline miles while paying your electric bill? Sign up for free hotel and airline rewards programs to earn trips, stays, and upgrades, as well as receive other perks like free Wi-Fi. Try to stay loyal to one airline carrier and 1-2 hotel groups to make this really work for you. Check to see if your hotel program allows you to earn miles on your preferred carrier. Mine does, so every time I stay at the hotel I earn points on the room price, as well as airline miles.
- If you’re going abroad, you need to create a credit/debit card strategy to avoid foreign transaction fees. My bank does not charge foreign transaction fees or international ATM fees and uses the daily currency exchange rate to calculate how much my dollar is worth in another currency. When I arrive at my location, I just take money out of the ATM (preferably one with no fees) and get the best deal. This has proven cheaper than exchanging currency while in the States or changing at an exchange office. My credit card also has no foreign transaction fee and has a competitive travel rewards program. Eliminating fees (generally 1-3% of purchase) can save a lot of dough. See “Busting 4 Myths About Travel Costs” for details.
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Saving money on travel does cost me time, but I enjoy the planning aspect because it gets me in the mood to go on holiday and increases my anticipation for the trip. Although I might have to do a little more work to get good deals, it’s worth it to me because more money saved means more trips that can be taken. Happy (and cheap) travels!
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