Most of us wait all year for it: the day when we get to escape the daily grind and start a much-needed, long-awaited vacation. Some crave the beaches and sun, while others prefer big cities or mountains. Either way, we can all agree that vacations are the best, and are the lifeline to our day jobs. The only bad part? They can cost a pretty penny.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save money when booking your next getaway. From switching up your travel dates to eating like a local, with a little extra planning, you can still enjoy your vacation to the fullest without emptying your wallet.
Here are 10 travel hacks you can use to get started:
1. Consider an alternate (but still amazing) location
While it may be tempting to go for your dream vacation, or pick a random spot on the map (or the New York Times 36 hour list), consider the local costs when deciding on your next vacation destination. This is particularly true when traveling internationally. Sure, we all want the hut over the water in the Maldives, but what if I told you the Philippines are 40 percent cheaper? Love French food, but also on a tight budget? Maybe skip the flight to Paris and check out Montreal.
The same goes for domestic locations within the United States, for example. Popular destinations like Miami or Lake Tahoe are great, but can also give your wallet a run for its money. Consider more affordable or lesser-known locations, like Naples, Florida or Lake Powell, Arizona, where you still find the city, sun, or nature you’re looking for, but on a smaller scale (and lower budget).
Also keep in mind that it may be worth paying for the longer flight, if the money you’ll spend in-country is cheaper upon arrival. For example, it may be cheaper to fly to Italy, but vacationing there for a week will cost many times more than a trip to Thailand – and we’re not just talking about the hotel costs. Think of the food, drinks, and entertainment costs you’ll save for the price of that extra-long flight. No one ever said getting to a white sand beach with crystal blue waters would be easy!
2. Travel during the off season
If you’ve had a particular destination in mind for a while, complete with a Pinterest board and list of must-try restaurants, consider going in the off season to offset some of your other expenses. This is particularly true for locations affected by a rainy season, which may just mean a 10-minute afternoon rain shower, leaving the rest of your day clear for rest and relaxation mode. Want an extra perk to the cheaper hotel rates? Fewer tourists mean you may have that No. 1 beach or restaurant all to yourself!
3. Have a home away from home
If you haven’t yet experienced the joy of staying in an AirBnB or HomeAway, don’t knock it until you try it – you could be missing out! In addition to having an entire place all to yourself, when splitting costs across friends or family, lodging is often significantly cheaper than what you would spend on comparable lodging in a hotel or resort.
Are you a pet lover, or just miss your dog? You might consider being a house sitter with a service like Trusted House Sitters, where you can stay in an incredible home like this one for FREE in exchange for watching a friendly pet or two. Similar networks have beautiful homes (and pets) all over the world, so you can end up in some exotic locations if you’re willing to take care of a few dogs or cats along the way!
4. Beat the airlines at their own game
Not only are flights usually what gets the ball rolling on a big trip, but they’re also usually one of the most expensive ticket items on your trip. Luckily there are multiple websites you can use to get a leg up, such as Scott’s Cheap Flights, The Flight Deal, or Kayak. Some services will even alert you with deals from your home airport! That said, there might be a catch or two to the super cheap flights, so pay attention when booking your flight for things like extra baggage fees or nonrefundable policies.
But hey, what if you saw a $350 flight to Rome? You may be willing to pack a lighter suitcase!
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“Travel is rebellion in its purest form. We follow our heart. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We own only what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We, sometimes, choose never to come back.” Gazing out into the beautiful stone desert of Morocco.
5. Book on the right day
Don’t see any deals for your dream vacation coming your way? Try searching for flights on less popular departure or return days, like Monday or Tuesday, which are rumored to be cheaper than all other days of the week. You might also try your luck on August 23rd, or “National Cheap Flight Day” when historically, flight prices drop. Set up a calendar alert so you don’t forget, and if you don’t have any particular destination in mind, check out Kayak’s Explore Page, or Google Flights’ Explore where you can find deals to several destinations based on the dates you have in mind.
6. Eat like a local
Sure, part of the experience of vacation is treating yourself to the best food in town. But keep in mind some of the best food in town may not be on the highest-priced menu. Think of the mom-and-pop shops in New Orleans, BBQ in Austin, or street food in Bangkok. To save a few bucks, stick to cuisine that is local to the area, and check the Yelp reviews to make sure the grub is good to go.
7. Travel like a tourist
Tourists usually get a bad rap (even if fanny packs are coming back in style), but being one can actually be in your favor! It’s worth checking with the local travel and tourism office where you plan on visiting, to see what perks you may receive as a visitor. Common offers may include discounted entry fees to museums or popular attractions, hop-on hop-off bus tickets, and other perks that may be worth the five minutes it will take you to check out their website or office. They’ll also have a lot of information on where to go and what to see in the area. If traveling within the United States, you can find your local tourism office here, or check out some of our international favorites for more information. Embrace your inner tourist and save your cash in the process!
8. Earn and use points
If you’re on top of your budget and pay your credit cards off in full each month, a travel rewards credit card is a great way for you to make the most of your next getaway. Many travel cards now offer competitive introductory offers, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, which gives up to $750 worth of points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months; or the Capital One Venture card, which offers 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000. If you can responsibly meet the spending requirement, you may be able to cover a good portion of your next big trip!
In addition to redeeming points for travel, many financial institutions now offer shopping platforms where you get even more points for buying everyday things through their respective online platforms. By shopping through their online portal at popular stores like Target or Macy’s, you can receive anywhere from 10 to 25 percent bonus points by buying things you would normally shop for anyway!
9. Consolidate your rewards
Already have a few travel cards, or airline miles on a few different airlines? Check if you can transfer your points from one rewards program to another, to consolidate the value of your rewards (read: get the biggest payout). Some rewards programs will transfer points at the rate of 1:1 to or from another program, but if not offered directly through your rewards program, check out a service like Points.com, which will do the work for you. This way, you don’t lose out miles you got from that random airline you took that one time. Transfer the points to a program or gift card you can use, and put it towards your next vacation.
10. Don’t travel on a budget – budget for your travel
If you know you’re going to take a big trip in advance, work it into your monthly budget. For example, if you expect to spend $3,000 on a vacation later this year, build in a monthly savings goal ($3,000/12 = $250 per month) and stick it in a high-yield savings account. Better yet, set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account so you don’t have to remember to do it every month.
High-yield savings accounts, usually offered by an online bank, guarantee between 2.2 to 2.3 percent annual percentage yield on your savings, as opposed to the standard .01 percent offered by the major banks. This means more free money for you, and the ability to pay yourself back from that account once the time for R&R rolls around, so you can enjoy your vacation money-stress free. Feeling like an extra margarita? Go ahead, you’ve earned it!