Whether you like to kick back with a cool drink or scour every floor of every museum, travel offers something exciting for everyone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel affordable. But with some planning and solid financial advice, you can start jet setting to the destinations that thrill your soul, camera and credit card in tow.
Save Money on Your Vacation by Planning Before You Go
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to start planning early. You’ll have time to find the best deals, choose experiences, and put money away so you don’t deplete your main savings account or rack up big credit card bills.
1. Decide On Travel Goals
Start by thinking about your travel goals. Are you seeking adventure or relaxation? A family vacation for the memory book or a solo tour? Take time to map out what kind of trip you want. Ask yourself:
Where you want to travel
How you will get there
How long your trip will be
What kind of sightseeing you want to do
How many people will be going
Pro Tip: You Can Start With Your Budget First
If you’re on a really tight budget, consider thinking about your budget first. Some destinations may just cost too much for your current situation, but by researching based on your budget you could discover great places you hadn’t considered. You’ll have more fun traveling a place you can comfortably afford than you would going to a place where you’ll feel limited.
You’ll have more fun traveling a place you can comfortably afford.
2. Research Costs
The next step is to figure out what your trip will cost. Consider the obvious expenses like lodging and flights, but also things like transportation around your destination, food, entrance fees, incidental expenses (like a toothbrush when you realize you’ve forgotten yours), and souvenirs. When in doubt, it’s smart to overestimate.
Consider incidental expenses (like a toothbrush when you realize you’ve forgotten yours) and souvenirs.
And don’t forget the exchange rate. If you’re traveling to a country with a currency stronger than the dollar, then you may be paying two or three times more than you realize.
3. Stay Flexible
Staying flexible will help you find more ways to save. For example, if you’re planning a trip to DC and find the hotels out of your price range, you could stay in Alexandria for (a little) less and commute into the city. You’ll see more of the area — and more of the locals (who can be a great source of info you wouldn’t find online).
4. Plan a Budget and Create a Savings Plan
Budgeting is not the fun part of traveling, but it can help you have a better time on your trip. If you know your trip will cost, say, $3,000 then you can divide up that cost and start saving early. That $3,000 can feel impossible to pay in one lump sum, but spread over 12 months it’s only $250. Budgeting also keeps you from over-spending and ending up with buyer’s remorse — or a big credit card bill!
Budgeting is not the fun part of traveling, but it can help you have a better time on your trip.
Decide early on where you can save and where you want to spend. For example, it’s often more affordable to eat lunch than dinner at fancy restaurants, where dinner can be two or three times the price for the same food. But if you’re a foodie and that dinner experience is what you want, it might make sense to spend more of your budget on food and cut expenses elsewhere.
Pro Tip: Kids Can Save for Vacations, Too!
If you’re traveling with kids, a vacation can be a great way to teach them about saving and budgeting. Help them set savings goals for souvenirs or experiences they want. They’ll gain confidence and an appreciation for saving when they get to spend their money on your trip.
If you’re traveling with kids, a vacation can be a great way to teach them about saving and budgeting.
Tips for Saving Money for Your Dream Vacation
Saving money for travel can be tough while covering everyday expenses, putting into retirement, and everything else you’re juggling. But you can do it with a few tips.
1. Open a Travel Savings Account
Separating the money you’re saving for your trip from your regular checking or savings account is useful because you won’t be tempted to spend it (even by accident). You can also see your progress as your balance increases.
2. Examine Your Spending and Cut Some Expenses
Start by looking at your spending habits. It’s not possible to change the amount you pay for rent, but you can cut back on streaming services and choose cheaper entertainment options through your library or free community events. Even if they’re small expenses, cutting back can add up.
3. Make Extra Money
If it’s not possible to cut back on your budget anymore or you want to accelerate your goal when saving money for travel, take on extra shifts at your job or engage in a side hustle.
Working a few extra hours per week can go a long way to help you toward your travel fund.
Working a few extra hours per week can go a long way to help you toward your travel fund, and you don’t need to work these extra hours forever. Some ideas on what you can do include web design, dog walking, or being a rideshare driver.
4. Consider Certificates to Build Savings Faster
If you’re saving for a longer period of time, you might consider a certificate of deposit. With the right investment strategies, a certificate’s higher rate of return can help you build your savings faster so you have a nice sum when it matures.
5. Get and Use a Travel Rewards Credit Card
Lots of people prefer using a credit card when traveling because credit cards have better fraud protection than debit cards. But you don’t have to wait until you’re actually on vacation to start using it. If you have a travel rewards card, now is the time to maximize your rewards so you can use them on vacation for upgrades, discounts, and travel insurance.
How to Save Money While Traveling
Getting from home to your destination can sometimes be your biggest travel expense. Here are ways to cut costs so you can spend more of your money on fun things.
1. Use Price Alerts for Flights
Flights are one of the biggest expenses for many American travelers. You can find great rates online, but you’ll have to act fast. Your best bet is to set price alerts 1-3 months before you travel. You should also search flight prices using browsers with different search histories (history versus scrubbed).
Don’t worry about booking too soon, and don’t delete your price alerts once you’ve booked because you may still find a better deal. Some airlines will let you cancel your flight within 24 hours of departure and you can take the cheaper flight instead, but make sure to read the fine print on your booking to be sure.
You should also search flight prices using browsers with different search histories
2. When Possible, Only Take Carry-Ons
If you’re planning to spend three months hiking in Peru, you’re going to need some equipment, and that means checking luggage. But if you’re spending a breezy weekend in Chicago, you can get by with a carry-on. That’ll save you money and make it easier to navigate the airport.
3. Use Discount Sites
Hotels don’t like empty rooms, and airlines don’t like empty flights. They also don’t like admitting when they have vacancies. That’s why discount sites are a win-win in the travel industry. They’ll sell discounted rooms or plane seats at cut rates. The catch is, you might not know the hotel brand or airline when you book. But many travelers score outstanding deals on these sites. (Stay safe by sticking to sites you know by name, and always check the reviews before you pay.)
Stay safe by sticking to sites you know by name, and always check the reviews before you pay
4. Travel in the Off Season
Every destination has its popular tourist season — often when everything is in bloom and the destination is at its most appealing. But that’s also when everyone else wants to see it, too. Demand goes up, and so do prices.
Traveling just before or just after peak tourist season can save you a small fortune. You’ll also have more choices and spend less time waiting in lines at attractions.
5. Consider Non-Traditional Lodging
If you’re traveling with kids or dreaming of a luxurious getaway, then a hotel is probably the right choice. But if luxury isn’t top of mind for you, consider alternative accommodations like a hostel or a modest Airbnb. You can also score free accommodations by house sitting or doing house swaps. You can even go wilder and try couch surfing or rent a yurt for a memorable (and cost-effective) adventure! Just be safe and always investigate your host thoroughly to avoid scams.
Be safe and always investigate your host thoroughly to avoid scams
Saving Once You’re There
You’ve saved in the planning and travel stages, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still save more! Here are ways to save while on vacation.
1. Know What Credit Card Fees You’re Paying
Many travelers like using their credit cards on vacation. It’s safer than a debit card, easier than hunting down an ATM or converting currency, and with a travel rewards card they’re already earning points for their next adventure.
However, many credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee each time you use your card in a country with different currency. Those fees are usually from 1% to 3% of the total transaction cost. If you’re making multiple transactions per day, that small fee can add up.
Before you travel, contact your credit card issuer and make sure you know what you’ll be paying if you use your card on your trip. If the fee is too much, consider a card without foreign transaction fees or stick to cash.
It’s often cheaper to book admission tickets online before arriving at an attraction
2. Book Admission Tickets Online
It’s often cheaper to book admission tickets online before arriving at an attraction. Look for student discounts, group rates, and multi-attraction passes. With a multi-attraction pass, you can save on admission costs to two, three, or more attractions at once.
For example, the Atlanta CityPass grants admission to the aquarium, zoo, and three museums, saving you 44% off the cost of admission if you paid at each attraction individually. Most major cities offer similar passes.
3. Take Advantage of Freebies
Save money where you can by taking advantage of freebies. If your hotel offers free breakfast, that’s one less meal you have to buy. Many major museums set aside one day each week when they waive admission, and some cities have free or low-cost walking tours available to help tourists get oriented.
4. Use Public Transportation
When available, public transportation can save you a bundle. For instance, London’s Oyster card is used for both trains and buses. There are flexible plans for long or short stays in the city, including a 7-day unlimited plan for the price of 5 days (giving you 2 free days). Not only will you get to ride a famed double-decker, but you’ll see more of the city with public transportation than you would in an Uber or while driving yourself.
Travel can feel out of reach if you’re having to watch your budget. But careful planning and some money-saving tips can help you see more of the world without busting your budget.