Where to Save Money While Traveling on a Budget
Having the vacation of your dreams while still traveling on a budget is possible — as long as you spend a little extra time comparing the costs of various vacation expenses. Here are a few factors to consider.
Time of Year
Destinations like national parks are going to be more popular during the summer, while warm-weather destinations like Hawaii are going to be more expensive in the winter months when everyone wants to escape the cold. School vacations can also impact hotel price rates and other travel costs.
While you may not want to travel to a destination in its offseason, consider shoulder season. You may find the ideal balance of good weather and reasonable prices.
If flexibility with your travel dates isn't an option, consider your destination. You may find that you can stretch your vacation dollar further in lesser-known spots.
That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to forgo popular destinations, but it does require a bit more research. For example, 90 percent of Grand Canyon visitors head to the South Rim. By heading to the North Rim, you may be able to find more affordable accommodations around the park.
While a staycation may allow you to have a larger budget for activities and entertainment, sometimes you may want to go further afield. Sites like Skyscanner help you search for cheap flights based on your departure city. Weigh the cost of getting to a destination against what you'll need to budget for in-country expenses. For example, a flight to Thailand may eat up most of your vacation budget, but if you can get by on about $30 a day, including accommodations, meals, and public transit, you may find the plane ticket is worth it.
Know what your airfare includes, as extras can add up fast. While some people swear there's a specific day to find the cheapest airfare, your best bet is to book flights around two months ahead for domestic travel. Flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often cheaper with fewer people flying these days. Determine whether you'll need a car or if public transportation can take you where you'd like to go.
In addition to looking at traditional hotels, compare prices with hostels and home rentals. Take into account what you really need. Will you be out exploring most of the day? Perhaps a bed in a hostel is all you need. But if you want to lounge by a pool with the kids, a hotel probably fits the bill. See if your hotel comes with any freebies when it comes to saving on meals. Alternatively, you can look for hostels and home rentals with kitchens.
Check to see if your credit card offers travel rewards. You may be able to use points toward your hotel stay or other activities while traveling. Finding a hotel just outside of a city center can also save you a significant amount of money each night, especially if it's connected to public transit.
Unless you have your heart set on swimming with dolphins, skydiving, or other payment-based activities, consider all of the free ways you can experience a destination. Many museums and national parks offer free entrance days. Before buying tourism cards that bundle several attractions into one pass, see if you really want to visit all of those attractions and, if not, calculate whether the pass really saves you any money.
Local tourism bureaus are a great first-stop on any trip to find out about free and low-cost offerings, such as concerts, walking tours, festivals, and more. They may also have discount books with coupons for area establishments.
The key to traveling on a budget is putting in the time to do the math. If you're traveling internationally, take into account exchange rates, too. Break out your calculator and compare costs to find and book the trip that works for you and your finances.