10 Tips to Stretch Your Vacation Budget and Travel Cheap

The whole point of a vacation stems from a need to take off some time from work, relax, and unwind. We need the time off to recharge those batteries and to experience a destination fully. Sadly, travel does come at a price — and that price can be pretty high if you don’t mind your dollars and cents! But don’t worry, making the most of your vacation budget doesn’t have to result in munching on granola bars and pitching a tent for a week’s vacation. Follow these 10 simple steps to travel cheap.

Organize Your Budget and Monitor It During Your Trip

How to travel cheap: couple checking their travel budget on a laptop

While you might have a ballpark number of what you want to spend on your vacation, it can be hard to remain accountable to it if you don’t write it down in an itemized list. Travelers should create a spreadsheet with food, accommodation, attraction, and transportation costs. Price out what you want to spend on each per day and try to stick to that number. Also, as you travel, keep track of your budget goals so as to avoid the post-trip bank account shell shock. You can often right a sinking ship before it goes down if you’re simply aware of a daily budget.

Keep an Eye Out for Deals and Be Willing to Jump on Some at the Last Minute

The more flexible you are about your travel plans, the more you’ll figure out how to travel cheap. This goes for booking your trip as well as when you’re on it. There are a lot of last-minute deals to scoop up, whether that’s getting your flight or hotel for a discount or booking the last two spots on a tour. To take full advantage of last-minute deals, you’ll have to be flexible about when you’re able to pack your bags and head out on your trip. You’ll also need to be laid-back about where you travel to. In order to save on the price of a trip, you’ll have to go with whatever destination is offering a bargain. Travel vendors would rather lower their prices a bit to have a flight, hotel, or event filled than to lose money completely. Even if you don’t see a lower price offered online, pick up the phone and call – they may make an exception if you’re willing to book on-the-spot.

Travel in the Off-Season

how to travel cheap: woman on a lonely beach during off-season

If you’re able to take time off when everyone else is working or in school, you could save on your trip. Yes, some destinations have an off-season because the weather is horrendous or all activities are closed for the winter. However, other places have an off-season simply because that’s when tourism dips. By traveling in the off-season — or even during the week instead of on a weekend — you can save on both your flight and your hotel. Even moving your flight by one day can mean a few hundred dollars less for a ticket. Another perk to traveling when tourism is low is that you won’t have to wait in lines to get into major attractions or events, and you may even benefit from free entry or lower prices.

Book Accommodations Loaded with Free Amenities

Parking, Wi-Fi, and breakfast are some of the standard, can’t-live-without amenities. If you have to pay for these services, you’re spending billows each day. A $15 Wi-Fi charge, $15 parking fee, and $15 breakfast can add up to an extra $45 a day. In essence, the room rate lends a roof over your head and a bed. Travelers should seek out accommodations that are loaded with free amenities. From hostels to vacation rentals to family-run hotels, you can almost always save big bucks if the free amenities are abundant.

Pack Light

how to travel cheap: woman with light luggage

That extra few pairs of jeans in your luggage could be costing your travel budget a whopping $50! Checking a bag can set you back around $25 each way. To save that extra $50 round trip, pack lighter and carry on your luggage. Toss out those extra three pairs of jeans and appreciate having an extra $50 in the one pair you do bring. Also, if your bag is too heavy, you could end up paying overweight baggage fees at the airport. Save your vacation budget before it even begins by packing smarter, lighter, and going with carry-on luggage.

Consider Alternatives to Hotels

On top of dining out and flying, your hotel is going to be a major expense – possibly even the steepest expense of all. Luckily, there are several hotel alternatives to consider if you’re wondering how to travel cheap. Stay in a hotel for part of your trip and choose an alternative for the rest of your time away, or skip the hotel completely.

If you won’t be spending a lot of time at your hotel, consider staying in a hostel instead. While a lot of hostels have shared living space, you may be able to pay a little extra to upgrade to your own room. For a more upgraded vacation, consider a vacation rental. These accommodations usually cost a lot less than staying in a hotel, and you can find a rental with all the conveniences of home, like a kitchen and spacious living room.

Use Public Transportation When You Can

how to travel cheap: Young Asian woman in the bus with rainy day.

Taxis and car rentals are true vacation budget busters. While they can make travel more convenient, they can quickly blow your entire budget. If you’re staying in an urban setting, you can travel around town for a fraction of the cost by bus, metro, city bike rental, or on your own two feet. In bigger cities with subway systems, you can also generally purchase a multiple-day pass to take unlimited trips throughout your vacation. Rather than $20 per cab ride, you can spend that $20 on your entire transportation for the week.

Partake in Free Tours and Attractions

Entrance and admission fees quickly add up on vacation. While you want to site see and gain a sense of where you are, those entrance fees can be budget breakers. Instead of merely filling your itinerary with paid attractions, sprinkle in several freebies each day. You can stretch your vacation dollars a bit further by heading to free museums and tours throughout your stay. They won’t cost you a dime and you can still see your destination. Before you go, also consider scheduling your visit around free museum days, especially in certain destinations that tend to have pricey admissions.

You may also enjoy reading: The Cheapest Way to Take a Euro Trip

Use Credit Card Points Whenever Possible

how to travel cheap: woman using credit card to book travel

Even if you have a credit card that gives you travel points, it can take a long time to build up enough points to actually be worthwhile. However, consider opening a new credit card that gives you bonus points just for signing up. Then, use that same card to book all of your travel – points may accrue quickly, and you can use them when booking the rest of your trip. Be sure to do your homework before opening a new card. There are a lot of different deals based on how you’ll use the card. For example, you may only get a signup bonus if you charge a certain amount within the first three months.

Also, combine other ways of saving money – like searching for the lowest airfare online – with using credit card points. You may be able to stretch your points. For example, you could have enough left over to book a rental car.

Limit Your Food Expenses with Dining Alternatives

One of the most expensive parts of travel is eating every single meal out. When booking your accommodations, look for rooms that have eat-in kitchens, full-sized refrigerators, and stoves. Even cooking just one meal where you’re staying will help you save on dining out. Also, fill up a reusable water bottle so you don’t have to pay a premium for water from a convenience store. You should also see what freebies your hotel or resort offer. You may be able to get free coffee every morning or even a complete breakfast buffet. If they have complimentary snacks, grab a couple on your way out to curb hunger throughout the day. When you’re ready to dine out, try to make it lunch instead of dinner. You’ll pay lower prices while still choosing from the same or similar meal options. The same goes for heading to the bar — go for happy hour to cash in on deals.

Traveling costs money no matter how you slice it — but if you plan out a budget and find ways to save along the way, you can totally lounge on the beach without worrying about your bank account.

How do you stretch your vacation budget? Share your tips with us in the comments below!

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