Vacations are an excellent way to take a break from the daily grind and relax. But if you’re on a budget, the cost of a vacation can be daunting. Fortunately, there are plenty of creative ways to save money on your next vacation. From finding discounts on accommodation to smartly budgeting for meals, you can create a memorable experience without breaking the bank. With a few budget-savvy tips, you can enjoy your vacation without sacrificing your budget.
Travel Hacking with Credit Cards & Rewards Points
Travel hacking with rewards points and credit cards can be an effective way to save money on your next vacation. With a little bit of research and planning, you can easily find credit cards with great rewards programs that offer points for travel-related purchases. You can also find cards that offer bonus points for signing up, as well as discounts on airfare, hotels, and car rentals. By taking advantage of these offers and redeeming your rewards points, you can save a significant amount on your next trip.
WARNING: The only way this saves money is if you pay the credit cards off in full every month. If you are paying interest and an annual fee, you will quickly lose any savings you may have realized. In fact, you could easily end up paying MORE for your trip!
Additionally, you can use travel hacking techniques to maximize your rewards points associated with loyalty programs (no credit cards required). Airline companies, cruise lines, hotel chains, and rental car companies all typically have programs that award you rewards points each time you purchase their services.
EXAMPLE: When we were planning our recent trip to Alaska, we decided to each get United Airlines credit cards. We chose United for 3 reasons: a low annual fee, 60K bonus points each (when we charged a certain amount in 3 months), and they had convenient flights from the airport closest to home. The bonus points allowed us to book 2 free airline tickets saving us $2,132 after the annual fees. We also have a Hilton Honors American Express that we only use when booking stays at Hilton Hotels or when they are offering 5 or 10 times points for certain promotions. We were able to accrue enough points to cover our Hilton Anchorage stay saving us $1,496.54. As you can see with just these two examples, by taking the time to research and plan your travel hacking strategy, you can save money and enjoy a more luxurious vacation.
Bundling Components of Travel
One of the best ways to save money on a vacation is by bundling components of your travel. Whether you’re looking for a flight and hotel package deal or a discount on car rentals, there are plenty of options when it comes to bundling your travel. Many travel companies offer additional discounts for using their services as well.
EXAMPLE: The Alaska Railroad offers numerous package deals and we found one that was a perfect fit for our trip to Denali National Park. It included a round-trip scenic train ride between Anchorage and Denali, two nights at the Denali Bluffs Hotel, luggage transfers, transportation from the Denali Train Depot to the hotel, and a Tundra Wilderness Bus Tour. We saved hundreds of dollars on this trip by booking the package deal.
Reap Savings with Shoulder Season Travel
Shoulder season travel is one of the best ways to save money on your next vacation. By taking your vacation during the off-peak season, you will not only save money but you will also be rewarded with fewer crowds and more availability for activities. With careful planning and a bit of research, you can find the perfect destination for your shoulder season getaway. From beach retreats to mountain escapes, you can find the perfect spot to enjoy the beauty of nature without the hustle and bustle of peak season.
Example: We love the beach in the fall! Last year we went to the Outer Banks in North Carolina and had a great time.
Reduce Food Costs by Renting Places that Have Kitchens
One way to save on food costs while traveling is to rent a place that has a kitchen. Airbnb, VRBO, and similar companies offer private home rentals that allow you to buy groceries and cook some of your own meals instead of eating out every day. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also have more control over what you’re eating and the quality of the ingredients. You can even purchase groceries in bulk to save even more money. Plus, if you have leftovers, you can store them in the refrigerator for an easy meal the next day. If you’d rather not rent a private home, timeshares such as Hilton Grand Vacations and even Disney Vacation Club rent their condos and villas at a nightly rate.
Saving on Restaurants
No vacation is complete without good food, but dining out can quickly add up. To save money on restaurants while on vacation, try these creative budget-friendly ideas.
- First, get away from the tourist areas that come with a markup for location. Next research restaurants in the area with specials, such as happy hour deals, two-for-one meals, or early-bird specials.
- You can also check out websites like Groupon or Living Social for discounts on meals.
- If you’re staying in a hotel, ask the front desk if they offer any discounts at nearby restaurants. Many hotels have partnerships with local businesses, so you may be able to get a free or discounted meal.
- Another great reference is Trip Advisor. You can select the local area and “Cheap Eats” to find great food from local mom & pop restaurants.
- Finally, consider eating out at more expensive restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. They often have a significant markup for the dinner menu. Then you can have sandwiches or street food in the evening.
Purchase Drinks and Snacks at Grocery Stores
If you’re looking for ways to save money on your next vacation, consider purchasing drinks and snacks at grocery stores. Not only are grocery stores much more budget-friendly than convenience stores and vending machines, but they also offer a wide selection of snacks and drinks to choose from. If there is a store in the area that you have a membership with like Sam’s or Costco, even better! You’ll save money by buying in bulk and taking advantage of any discounts or sales that the store may be offering.
When you’re going to be spending the day out hiking or at an amusement park, bring your reusable water bottle, snacks, and maybe even sandwiches. This will save you from pricey (and not all that tasty) fast food. If your trip is going to last a week + or you have a large group, purchasing an inexpensive cooler will be less expensive than eating $5 hotdogs and purchasing $3 water bottles.
Find Free Fun to Entertain Yourself
There are plenty of free or low-cost activities you can do to entertain yourself and save money. No matter where you are traveling, you can use the following tips to find plenty of budget-friendly ways to have fun.
- Look online for free events in the area, such as art galleries, festivals, and outdoor concerts.
- Sign up for free walking tours with Free Tours by Foot or Guruwalk (don’t forget the gratuity).
- Many museums offer free days each month.
- Often times botanical gardens, museums, and zoos have reciprocal memberships. If you are a member of a member venue, they will honor it for free admission when you travel.
- Go hiking or on nature walks in local or state parks for scenic views of the area.
- Spend a day at the beach, but don’t forget you may have to pay to park.
Look for Discounts
One of the most obvious ways to save money is to look for discounts especially when it comes to travel.
- Always ask for any you may be eligible for: AAA, first responders, military, seniors, or students.
- Look on the GroupOn website for discounted tickets to lodging, restaurants, activities, and more.
- If you’re going to be in a big city, see if they have a CityPass, GoCity, or similar sightseeing program that bundles several activities into one discounted price. You can often double up on the discount by purchasing these passes through GroupOn as I did on a recent trip to Chicago.
Take a Road Trip
Taking a road trip is a great way to save money. Especially if you travel by RV because you’ll have your room and kitchen with you to reap the aforementioned savings. If you don’t have an RV, don’t worry. Companies like Outdoorsy act as brokers between private owners and renters to help you find the perfect RV for you! And there are plenty of places to camp for free, as well as strategies to save on campgrounds and fuel.
Use Gas Buddy to Find the Least Expensive Fuel
Gas prices can be a major expense when it comes to traveling, whether you’re buying gas for a rental car, an RV, or your own car. One of the best ways to save on this expense is by using Gas Buddy. This app and app allows you to compare the prices of fuel in the area, so you can find the least expensive gas station and save money. With Gas Buddy, you can search for the best fuel prices, get directions to the station, and even get notifications when prices drop. You can even use it to project your expenses in advance by using the trip planning tool to see how much gas is along your road trip itinerary. Finally, Gas Buddy also offers a free Gas Card that offers up to 5x savings over using the app alone.
Buy Gifts & Souvenirs at Discount Stores
When it comes to souvenirs and gifts, many travelers think they need to spend top dollar to find something special. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Shopping at discount stores can be a budget-friendly way to find unique souvenirs and gifts. From purchasing handmade items at local markets to finding deals at discount outlets, there are many creative ways to find special items while still keeping money in your pocket. Whenever we go to Orlando, we take the family to Target to purchase their licensed Disney souvenirs at a discount, rather than purchasing them in the theme parks.
Pack a First Aid Kit
When packing for your next vacation, don’t forget to include a first aid kit! Have you ever seen how much a convenience store charges for 2 Tylenol tablets? Your first aid kit should include sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun, sunburn ointment to soothe any burn you may get, pain relievers for any aches and pains, motion sickness medication for those long car rides or theme park attractions, and anti-nausea/anti-diarrheal medication for any upset stomachs.
Track Your Spending
The most important thing you can do to save money on any trip is to start by setting a budget before you even book your trip and track your spending throughout the entire process. This will help you stay within your budget and make sure you don’t forget any extra costs that may come up. You can track your spending by using a free budgeting app or by simply writing down all your expenses in a notebook. I personally like using the free Every Dollar App. I can preload it with my budget by category and then quickly enter any amount spent. Then I will know how much I left before making any additional purchases. Knowing exactly how much you’re spending will help you make smarter financial decisions and ensure you have enough money for all the activities you want to do on your vacation.
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