If you’re planning to head out of town this year, check out these tips for saving money on your trip so you don’t have to eat ramen noodles to pay for it.
It’s hard for us to believe it when the mercury is already telling us how hot it is, but summer has only recently arrived. We may be in summer vacation mode by Memorial Day, but we really get those plans underway once the summer solstice reminds us we have lots of long days to enjoy.
If you’re nixing the staycation idea — that's so 2020 — and planning to head out of town this year, check out these tips for saving money on your trip so you don’t have to eat peanut butter crackers and ramen noodles for three months to pay for it.
1. Pick the perfect time to get away
This may not feel like the way to kick off summer, but you don't have to vacation now. Enjoy little outings during the peak season and plan to take a longer vacation in the fall or early spring. This will give you more financial flexibility and a better value for your travel dollars.
Regardless of when you travel, book your travel early so you aren’t restricted by specific dates (if possible). With so many vacation possibilities, it’s easy to book around the slow times of year to save you time and money and avoid crowds.
2. Check the exchange rate
If you want to head out of the country and can choose where to go, check the currency exchange rate first. Pick the place where your dollar will go the furthest. No matter what the rate is, keep note of the value of your money so you don’t get confused on the trip and go over budget.
In addition to the exchange rate, consider how easy it is to travel to your destination. The cost of flights might offset the exchange rate, so it's best to get a big picture view before settling on one specific destination. It will help you stretch your international budget a little further.
3. Leave during the middle of the week
Everyone flies on the weekends. If you can leave and return on a weekday, you can get a much better flight deal. The day of the week and the destination may impact the cost of your tickets, but so will how far in advance you book your flights.
There are many perspectives and theories about how to save the most on airfare. Perhaps start with your budget, and then book your flights based on where you can go and stay within your price point. It may work to your advantage to not make the destination your first decision.
4. Comparison shop airports
If you are headed to a bigger city, like Los Angeles or New York, you have the option to choose from multiple airports. You may have a longer ride between one airport and your end destination than another, but savings on the flight could outweigh that trip. Consider rental car costs and fuel, even if your primary travel plans are by plane.
Likewise, look at all your options. If you are headed to the Outer Banks, for example, weigh the costs to travel through Norfolk versus Raleigh. Be flexible, and perhaps a touch adventurous.
5. Avoid the cab
Have a friend drop you off rather than taking a cab or paying for parking at the airport. As long as you don’t mind returning the favor, a good friend will likely oblige. Ride-sharing services such as Über or Lyft may charge higher fares for driving you to the airport, than to other destinations around town.
If you live in a city, consider public transportation to the airport. This can be a huge savings, but make sure you have a plan B if your flights change.
6. Stay in a house instead of a hotel
AirBnB and Vrbo have given travelers far more options to accommodate a range of budgets. Balance out the costs of preparing your own breakfast and renting a car compared to the hotel breakfast and shuttle service that may be included.
The more research you do, the more accommodations are available. From hostels to hammocks, and yurts to cabins and even lookout towers, the place you rest your head can be the best part of your travel.
7. Pick up a guidebook
The cost of a good guidebook is well worth it. (But if you think it won’t be, pay a visit to your local library—just don’t lose the book while you travel) For example, if you've ever wanted to travel the Mississippi River road, a guidebook can clue you into restaurants and scenic adventures along the way.
Most guidebooks include tips on when to visit certain attractions, what excursions are free or cheap, and which great local restaurants to try out. Many also include suggested walking tours complete with plenty of fun history and tidbits. Pick up a good book before your trip and give your group a DIY tour.
8. Don’t overpack your luggage
Chances are you’ll be buying some souvenirs. Don’t get caught shipping stuff back home because you can’t fit it in your luggage. Leave some room from the beginning, even if you don’t go overboard on the souvenirs you won’t regret a lighter bag when you are hauling it through the airport.
If you can get by with smaller luggage, that might be another advantage to packing light. You can save on rental car expenses if you don't need a giant trunk for all your big bags.
9. Be aware of any card fees
Check with your bank, credit union, or credit card company before leaving for your trip to see if there are any extra fees associated with using your debit or credit cards overseas. You may want to exchange currency at your bank before leaving, too, to avoid the typically higher fees charged at airports.
Also, have an alternate way to access money in case your card is misplaced or stolen while abroad. Be sure you know how to contact your financial institution or card company if necessary.
10. Find low-cost entertainment or excursions
Many cities have free or cheap museums, festivals, and landmarks to visit. Research your destination ahead of time and keep a list of the places you can go. If your primary vacation purpose is to get away and spend time together, that can absolutely happen on a budget.
Everything from simple crafts to geocaching that you can do at home can also be worked into your vacation. Public parks might rent watercraft by the hour which is more affordable than a fancy resort. Community parks, state parks, and national parks have special activities — most of them free — to engage and educate kids during the summer months. Check those out, too.
11. Limit meals out each day
For many people, eating out is a big part of a vacation, especially if you go somewhere known for its cuisine (cue memories of the Italian coast). But if you shop at the local market for breakfast and lunch, you’ll feel much less guilty about splurging on dinner. Consider eating breakfast and dinner in and save the splurge for the midday meal while you are out and about enjoying time together.
Or you can not splurge and save more overall. Whether food, excursions, transportation, or lodging, the secret is to cut corners without cutting out the fun.