A lot of people have this misconception that travel, and specifically vacations, are expensive. And while you typically do spend more on a vacation than you would say in your everyday life, that doesn’t mean that they need to be exuberant or considered a luxury cost. There are in fact easy ways to save money on travel by being proactive and mindful while planning and booking your trip, and by making thoughtful decisions while actually on the road.
Read on to learn my tips and tricks to save on travel when planning, booking and while on the road, touring and eating.
*This post will be updated as I continue to learn new ways to save money on travel*
Go into it with no exact destination in mind. Since we all likely have a long list of places that we want to go, the best way to save when planning a trip is to go into it completely open to visiting any one of the destinations on your list.
If you have specific timing in mind, you can then go on travel search engines (I use TheFlightDeal, Travelocity and Google Flights) and research the most affordable option during that time period. For example, for our trip to Portugal a few years ago, I knew that we wanted to take a vacation in October but wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go. I then went on TheFlightDeal and discovered that flights to Portugal at that time were under $300, and I was sold. Using the TheFlightDeal, you can easily change up your destinations to determine the most cost effective option.
When you give yourself options, you’re more likely to find an affordable price.
If you have your heart set on a destination, research when it’s most affordable to visit. For example, the most expensive time to travel to Europe is between the months of June – early September because that’s when all of the Europeans are traveling on their summer vacations. Because of this, I always avoid traveling there at that time because I know that a) airfare is going to be significantly more expensive then and b) due to the high demand, I know that accommodations will also be significantly more expensive.
From my experience, I’ve found that traveling to Europe in April or late September – October is ideal. Not only is airfare significantly cheaper, but the summer crowds have dissipated and the weather is just right – not too hot and not too cold. I’ve also traveled to Cartagena in August – while not the best time of the year for the climate, the airfare was significantly cheaper because the heat at that time of the year deters a lot of travelers.
The bottom line is, wherever you’re looking to travel, research the destination beforehand to get an idea of when it’s the most cost effective to travel there, and at a time where you can avoid the crowds and extreme weather (if possible).
Be flexible with your dates. This goes along with my earlier note on destinations. If you’re able to be flexible with your timing (even if it’s just a few days) not only will you likely find more affordable airfare, but you’ll also likely find better flight plans, which means less travel time.
Invest in a travel credit card. I can’t say this enough, if you’re a frequent traveler, travel credit cards are essential. If you’re looking to invest in one, I highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve which gives you a $300 travel credit per year, 3x the points on travel and dining worldwide and 50% more in travel redemption when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
On top of that, you also get money towards TSA Precheck, access to Priority Pass Lounges and so much more. With all of the points that I rack up, I’m typically able to book a few flights per year just using points.
Don’t purchase your airline seats. While sometimes it is beneficial to book your seats ahead of time depending on the airline or the flight, I often try to avoid doing this to save money. From my experience, I’ve found that if you book as a pair, most airlines will make it a point to seat you together, regardless of whether or not you choose your seats ahead of time. Because of this, we typically choose to save the money and take our chances.
If it’s a longer flight or an airline that we’re not familiar with, I may choose to book the seats depending on the price.
Compare hotel prices with Airbnb. Over the years Airbnb has gotten the reputation of being the more affordable travel accommodation option, but recently I’ve noticed that when you incorporate their service and cleaning fees, they’re often the same if not more expensive than a hotel.
Another important thing to take into consideration when comparing hotels to Airbnbs is amenities. Is the hotel more expensive but has a pool onsite that you wouldn’t have with the Airbnb? Is the Airbnb closer to town but doesn’t offer the pool? While a beachfront hotel might be more expensive, you might save yourself some money by not paying for beach chairs every time you go to the beach. I’ve found that it’s beneficial to look at the big picture of what you’re planning to do on the trip (relax, sightsee, tour, etc.) and that will give you a better idea of the type of accommodations that you’re looking for.
Be sure to also remember that you’ll likely be out touring the majority of the day, so your time in your accommodations will be minimal. While it may seem tight to stay in a small studio as opposed to a one bedroom, if you’re only there to sleep it doesn’t seem as bad.
If choosing to stay in a hotel, book a spot with breakfast included. If you’re choosing to go the hotel route, most cities have hotels with breakfast included in the price. Having this option will end up saving you money on food in the longrun.
Be mindful of the location of your hotel / Airbnb. While the price tag of a hotel or Airbnb outside of the city center may be better than one right in the middle of things, your transportation costs could end up costing more than it would have for a spot right in the city. Because of this, I highly recommend researching to see if your accommodations are reachable by public transportation and to be safe, check on the Uber/Taxi costs as well as odds are you won’t be taking public transit every time you make the trip in and out.
Research the public transportation options in your destination beforehand. Nine times out of ten, this is going to be the most cost-effective option to get around a city, and depending on the city, often times you can save money by purchasing transportation cards ahead of time.
Look into museum / tour packages. A lot of popular tourist destinations offer packages for access to multiple city sites, which are always cheaper than buying individual tickets for each.
For example, Toronto offers a CityPASS that for $92 CAD gives you access to the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Zoo OR Ontario Science Center. So, it’s definitely worth looking into this more cost-effective option if you’re looking to visit multiple sites throughout your trip.
Opt for a free walking tour rather than a paid guided one. A lot of cities offer a free walking tour, which are often more enjoyable and surprisingly less crowded. Given that these tours are typically led by locals and allow you to come and go as you please, they’re a great option if you’re looking to get to know a city but don’t want to be confined to a strict schedule or budget.
Book excursions ahead of time. In the past, I’ve found that it’s typically more cost-effective to purchase excursions online ahead of time, rather than waiting closer to your trip, or trying to purchase in-person. Often times they’ll increase the price as space gets more limited and will charge more if you purchase on the spot.
Grab breakfast at local pastry shops rather than at a sit-down restaurant. An easy way to save money while traveling is to grab a quick bite at the local cafe rather than a more formal sit down restaurant. While traveling I always make it a point to either pick up breakfast on the go at these spots or pick up a bulk order on the first day that you can eat throughout your trip.
Try the street food. Hungry while out touring? Save some money and buy food from a local vendor. Not only will this likely be a lot cheaper than a traditional restaurant, but you’ll also get a better taste of the local cuisine.
Let me know if you have any other valuable travel tips or tricks in the comments below!0