It seems the moment summer starts the photos of friends traveling all around the world seem to pop up on Facebook. If you're like me, 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.
11 Cheap Vacation Ideas
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 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 5 weeks before your trip. Doing this will save you roughly 25%.
The best time to book a domestic flight is 54 days (7 weeks) before travel. That said, prices fluctuate frequently and if you really want the best deal you might want to consider flying on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Saturdays and trying picking an early morning flight.
Ditch the Hotel
Hotels.com found the average price per night for a hotel room was $137. So, for a week-long vacation, you're looking at spending at least $959 just on accommodations. These prices can be even higher if you're looking at a popular tourist destination.
Of course, no one wants to spend a vacation sleeping on their friend's sofa.
Sites like Airbnb and HomeAway can help you find places to stay that are much cheaper than hotels. Quartz did a study of 20 cities and found that in some popular tourist destinations like New York and Honolulu, Airbnb was over 30% cheaper than the average hotel room.
Another option to consider is a hostel. I know, I know... this option has a bit of a bad reputation, but there are many really incredible options, some even offer private rooms and bathrooms. And then there is the price. Remember that $137 a night figure -- the average hostel price is between $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. Here is 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. The sites we mentioned up in tip #1 make finding places with a kitchen that much easier.
Most destinations have seasonal off periods. If you head to Yellowstone in the summer you'll be joining three million other visitors, but in the winter you'll be able to find lodging and fares for 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.
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.
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.
Use a Credit Card with No International Fees
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 that don't. There's no reason to pay those fees if you don't have to.
And 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.
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.
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: