Many people think that they need a lot of money to be able to travel. As Rick Steves* says, “A tight budget forces you to travel close to the ground, meeting and communicating with the people. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you came to see.”
No matter where you go, you can always match your travel plans to the size of your wallet.
How to save on airfare:
- Fly for free – Sign up for airlines’ loyalty program and accumulate miles using their credit card or their partners’ services, including online shopping. You can travel for free when you’ve accumulated enough miles for a round trip. Some airlines also give you an annual companion ticket that lets you take someone else for free (but you must pay for your own ticket).
- Find the cheapest fares – Use fare aggregators like Kayak or Hopper to scan travel sites for the cheapest airfares. Use the “flexible dates” feature to see if fares are cheaper a few days before or after your departure date. Discount airlines such as Southwest (US) or Ryanair (Europe) are not part of site aggregators, so you’ll have to check them separately.
- Keep watching airfare prices, even after you book – If you find a better fare within 24 hours of booking, you can change your plans with no penalty. You can use Yapta to track price changes on major airlines.
- Connecting Flights – Connecting flights are usually a lot cheaper than non-stop flights. Pro-tip: try SkipLagged to see if it would be cheaper to book a flight to a different city with a layover at your actual destination. In which case, you simply disembark in the “connecting” city and enjoy your trip. (This won’t work if you’re checking bags, though.)
How to save on accommodations:
- Stay for free – Sign up for hotels’ loyalty programs and accumulate points from your credit card, booking directly through their site, or using services from their partners. These programs are free, and you will eventually qualify for a free stay.
- Travel off-season – Hotels usually offer lower rates during off season or perks that would cost you money otherwise, including free Wi-Fi, breakfast and spa credits.
- Check out secret hotel sales – If you don’t have a specific hotel in mind, you can use Priceline or Hotwire to get up to 50% off regular hotel rates. When you’re booking, you choose your travel dates, preferred neighborhood and star rating. You won’t know exactly which hotel until after you pay, but if you are familiar with the destination city, this can be a great option.
- Switch hotels mid-stay – If you’re staying for several nights and the prices vary each day, you can switch hotels for those days when you can find a cheaper fare elsewhere.
- Home Exchanges – You can stay at someone else’s home while that family stays in your house during the same period. You can list your home at Home Exchange for $150/year and receive requests for exchange from members from all over the world.
- Vacation Home – If you are traveling for at least a few days, it’ll be cheaper to rent a vacation home than staying at a hotel, especially if you are traveling with kids and extended family. Check out Airbnb for vacation rentals around the world.
How to save on meals:
- Go to the grocery store – Find the nearest grocery store and get snacks, water and picnic food that you can eat on the go. Download Around Me app on your smartphone. It shows you the nearest grocery stores, pharmacies and other services based on your current location.
- Avoid paying for breakfast at the hotel – Unless breakfast is included in your hotel price, it’s always cheaper to find a local breakfast place elsewhere. The Around Me app helps you find breakfast places nearby.
- Get coupons and deals – Check out discount sites like Groupon, Living Social for great deals on local restaurants.
How to save on transportation during your trip:
- Get free car rentals – Many credit cards and loyalty programs let you redeem points for free car rentals. If you have enough points, use them and you can save as much as $100 per day.
- Walk or Rent a bike – This is the best way to get around, explore and take pictures. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and appropriate clothes for the local weather.
- Drive to your destination – Drive your own car instead of taking a short flight. You’ll arrive around the same time and avoid all the airport hassle. Plus, you won’t need to rent a car when you get there.
- Train, Subway and Bus– If you are traveling to Europe, check out discount fares for multi-city transportation. Many cities offer discount passes for multiple days as well. Within the U.S. and Europe, look for Megabus, a low-cost bus line.
- Avoid taxis and use public transportation – Taking the subway or buses may not necessarily be faster but it’s always cheaper and a better way to experience the new city.
- Car Rental Coverage – Check your insurance policy and credit card services before your trip as you may already have some car rental coverage. Pro-tip: Print out a copy of the Proof of Insurance or Statement of Coverage from your credit card company if you’re planning to use their coverage.
- Fill up the tank – Decline the service that fills up the gas tank for you and do it yourself with regular gas. Even though it seems like their price is cheap, they charge you for a full tank regardless of how much you need to fill it up.
How to save on shopping:
- Get discounted gift cards – You can purchase discounted gift cards at Costco or this discount gift card website for major stores in the US and Europe.
- Get off the main strip – If you’re shopping in front of the water or on a famous road, part of what you’re paying for is the location. Move just a few blocks from the tourist center, and you’ll find lower prices.
- Duty Free – Many airports have duty free shops that you can take advantage of. Since they are tax-free, the final price might be a better option.
- Tax refunds – Some countries will refund a portion of their sales tax. You’ll have to fill out forms and show proof of purchase. But depending on how much you spent, it’s worth trying to get some money back.
How to save on everything else for your next trip:
- Choose matinee performances – You’re likely to get up to 30% discount if you see the show during early hours while locals are still at work.
- Student, Age and Group discounts – Many attractions offer senior, student or group discounts. Bring your ID and team up with friends to get better prices. Or look for discounts through your employer.
- Currency exchange: Avoid local exchange centers. Often the cheapest and safest place to get local currency is at the airport. Research before you arrive to confirm that this is still the case by the time you get there.
- Use credit cards with no foreign transaction fees – Some credit cards won’t charge transaction fees in foreign countries. Do the math beforehand to make sure you’re not paying high exchange rates.
- Book a tour, lesson or activity through a local. You can find local tours at great prices on TripAdvisor. Locals who will take you on anything from midnight food truck crawls to city bike tours to kayak and snorkel trips.
- Buy package deals – You can find travel packages to popular international destinations on Groupon and LivingSocial for 50% off or more. They include airfare, hotel and meals and are usually flexible enough that you won’t feel like you’re stuck with a tour group.
Remember that planning is one of the best parts of a trip. Planning to get discounts and freebies will make your next trip even better!
We always love hearing about new ways to save on travel. Did we miss anything?
For more ideas on how to save on everyday expenses, visit us at aboutLife.com
*Rick Steves is the author of travel guides focusing on European travel and the host of the American Public Television series Rick Steves’ Europe, has a public radio travel show, Travel with Rick Steves.