Traveling can get expensive fast. If you're on a budget and frustrated at the lack of cheap vacation ideas out there, maybe some of these tips can help.
It seems the moment summer starts the photos of friends traveling all around the world seem to pop up on your Facebook feed. You probably wonder, "How on earth do all these people afford these vacations?"
Traveling can get expensive fast. If you're on a budget and frustrated at the lack of cheap vacation ideas out there, maybe some of these tips can help. (The TikTok creativity is free, though, and all up to you.)
12 Cheap vacation ideas to save money
Book at the right time
Timing really is everything when it comes to booking your vacation. Book too early or late, and you will likely overpay. A 2017 study by TripAdvisor found that the best time to book a hotel room within the United States was within one month of the trip. Travelers who booked within this window saved an average of 15%.
If you are thinking of traveling to Europe, then you want to book your room five weeks before your trip. Doing this will save you roughly 25%.
When it's time to book your flight, CheapAir offers insights on the various booking windows. For 2022, the site estimates the lowest fares were found 76 days in advance, but definitely at least three weeks before your travel dates.
Prices fluctuate frequently and if you really want the best deal you might want to consider flying on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Saturdays and picking an early morning flight.
Ditch the hotel
Business Travel News expects a 13% increase in hotels in 2022 and an additional 10% in 2023. As you may expect, hotel rates dropped during the pandemic so although prices are climbing, they are still lower than they were in 2019. Prices can be even higher if you're looking at a popular tourist destination during peak travel periods.
Of course, no one wants to spend a vacation sleeping on their friend's sofa.
Sites like Airbnb and Vrbo can help you find places to stay that are much cheaper than hotels. Forbes reported on a study that showed cities with more Airbnb offerings saw less hotel bookings, and more competition usually leads to lower prices for consumers.
Another option to consider is a hostel. This option has a bit of a bad reputation, but there are many really incredible ways to evaluate the possibilities, some even offer private rooms and bathrooms. And then there is the price: hostel prices can be as low as $20-$30 a night.
Stock up on snacks
Even with gas prices as high as they are, picking a destination you can drive to usually saves money in comparison to long trips by air. Instead of stopping for snacks and drinks at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants along the way, bring your own snacks.
Stock a cooler with sandwiches, veggies, drinks, and other yummy travel-friendly food items to keep you satiated during your hours on the road. You'll probably end up eating much healthier as well as saving money.
Bonus tip: If you don’t have space in your cooler for all your drinks, ask for a cup of ice while filling up your gas tank – many places will give it to you for free or really cheap.
Most summer vacations are short enough that you shouldn't need a massive suitcase to get through them. To be safe, do your research on luggage size and weight requirements before you pack and stay within the limits. Of course, there are tons of other fees associated with air travel. SmarterTravel offers a great chart that breaks down what you can expect to pay to bring your bags.
Packing light isn't hard, it just takes a little bit of creativity and advanced planning.
Don't waste food
Food costs are one of the hardest expenses to rein in when traveling. If you have a hotel room without a fridge, you don't have a good way to hang on to your leftovers for future meals. It's all too easy to shrug at that half-uneaten plate and go on your way.
Find a hotel or hostel with a fridge and you can manage big savings on your food costs as you go. Or better yet, stay somewhere with a kitchen so you can cook your own meals.
Read hotel reviews for tips about where to eat so you'll know if affordable food options are available where you are staying.
Most destinations have seasonal peak seasons and off-season periods. If you head to Yellowstone National Park in the summer you'll be joining three million other visitors, but travel in the winter you'll be able to find lodging and fares for a lot less. When it's summer where you live, it's off-season somewhere, so do your research to figure out a good spot to visit for less for your summer travel this year.
Tip: If you are looking to get your vacation fund beach-ready, check out these eight clever ways to save up for your summer (or any season) vacation.
Carry your own water
Buying water as you go is a costly and unnecessary expense, especially when each bottle at the airport is $5. Water from the tap is pretty much always easy to find and free (and if you prefer the taste of filtered water, you can always pack your faucet-connecting water filter).
If you pack a water bottle when you travel, you can stay hydrated at no extra expense. You can't take a full water bottle past security in the airport, so just pack an empty one in your bag and then fill it at a water fountain once you're inside.
From national parks to baseball stadiums, many locations now offer water stations designed to encourage you to ditch the disposable and reuse your own. Bonus tip: If you want souvenirs from your vacation that can pull double-duty, this might be the perfect option.
Be aware of exchange rates
If you're not good at math, knowing how much you're spending when traveling abroad is very confusing. Make sure you understand the exchange rate of the country you're visiting, and download an app or create a cheat sheet to help you translate the costs of your transactions into dollars.
Due to the size of the big credit card providers (Visa, MasterCard, etc.), you may get a better exchange rate, but you might also incur an international transaction fee with each swipe. Plan accordingly to make sure you aren't spending more than you are saving.
Use a credit card with no international fees
Better yet, check the terms of your credit card before you head out of the country. Many will charge you a percentage per transaction when you travel internationally, but there are plenty of credit cards without international transaction fees. There's no reason to pay those fees.
There may also be repercussions to your credit score if you open a new credit card loan just to save money on your international currency costs. You might choose to contact your credit card company and see if they have a more suitable option that won't require you to open a new account.
While you're calling about your credit card, it’s a good idea to contact the bank or credit union that issued your credit and debit cards whenever you travel as many will flag (and possibly decline) out-of-state and out-of-country purchases if you haven’t given them a heads up. Some may even have international purchases automatically turned off for your protection. Be sure you know before you leave home.
Have a travel budget
Whether or not you're good about budgeting in your day-to-day life, a vacation budget can be a big help in keeping your spending on track. If you have a daily limit in mind, you'll be pickier about the activities you choose and come home to a healthier savings account.
You might also want to consider a personal loan for your vacation rather than putting all those expenses on your credit card. It will provide you both a fixed amount for your travel, plus a fixed amount for your monthly payments. When possible, it's best to save up, of course.
Take advantage of miles
There are lots of savvy travelers out there seeing the world for cheap by using airline miles. A few of them are writing about it as they go. If you want to learn some of the tricks of the trade, these guys will help you get started:
Relax and enjoy
Keep in mind that the goal of your vacation – big or small, long or short – is to enjoy time with family, friends, or to just relax. If travel is adding to your financial stress, find affordable alternatives to keep your financial wellness as happy as your budget. Enjoy wherever you go, even if it is just to the lawn chair in the backyard.