Warm weather and long days make summer a busy season for traveling. While demand can drive up prices in some areas, there are still many ways to save on travel and have an affordable getaway this year.
Consider the following 26 tips on how to save money traveling this summer, and you may find you can relax and unwind without having to worry about the expense.
1. Create a travel fund to kickstart your travel savings
If you’re living on a budget (and these days, who isn’t?), it can be easy to just assume you don’t make enough money to travel. But like any other big purchase, a little planning and determination goes a long way. “At the end of a year, if you save $25 a week, you’ll have enough money to travel to just about any country in the world using amazing travel websites like the Flight Deal, which publishes fares that are under $.06 a mile,” says Zim Ugochukwu, founder and CEO of Travel Noire.
2. Once you’re traveling, stick to a budget
Budgeting may not go hand-in-hand with a vacation in many people’s minds. But going overboard while traveling and having to deal with the bills afterward could quickly undo all the relaxation you’ve cultivated.
If you’re not already a budgeter, consider a modified envelope method which could keep you from overspending without having to overthink expense tracking.
In short, decide how much you want to spend each day, take out that amount of cash, and once you’ve spent the money you have to wait until the next day to purchase anything else. There are also apps like Trail Wallet that track your expenses for you, so you’ll always know if you’re staying within your budget.
3. Get local currency from the ATM
The days of bringing fistfuls of cash to exchange for local currency once you get to your destination are over. Your bank card actually carries the best currency exchange rates, so there’s no reason not to use it abroad. Just make sure to notify your bank that you’ll be traveling, and if possible, use a bank card that reimburses all ATM fees.
4. Find the local free and cheap activities
Even if you’re heading to a tourist haven, there are often a variety of free or low-cost activities to keep you entertained. Exploring the outdoors is usually free for example, although some state and national parks charge an entrance fee.
If you’re close to a city, you may find donation-based walking tours, and you could spend the morning learning about the area. When it’s too hot to be outside, look for discounts days at local movie theaters or museums.
5. Stay with a local family
Before the internet, lodging options for travelers on a budget were pretty limited. If roughing it wasn’t your bag, you’d have to find a cheap hotel or motel and make the best of it. Now, you can lodge with local families all over the world via global communities like Couchsurfing—for free.
6. Book flights on “off days”
If you’re planning on flying and have a flexible schedule, you may be able to save a lot of money on your airfare by booking flights at less popular times and days. Tuesdays and Wednesdays often offer the cheapest flights, but that’s not always the case, so it’s worth shopping before buying tickets.
Expand your search beyond the popular aggregate sites, particularly if you’re open to flying between smaller airports. Some of the ultra-low-cost carriers don’t allow the comparison websites to include their prices, and you may be able to save on travel by booking directly with the airline.
7. Travel during “shoulder periods”
When it comes to travel, it really pays to be flexible. Shoulder periods—also known as “the off season”—are the seasoned traveler’s secret weapon. “Shoulder season is the period in between a destination's low and high seasons of tourism, making prices cheaper for hotels and airfare and crowds smaller at popular attractions,” according to travel writer Charlyn Keating, in a piece for Trip Savvy. For example, June is a great time to visit Baja, Mexico, when the spring break rush is over, but the height of the summer heat is still a month away.
8. Take a road trip
Avoiding flights altogether can lead to significant travel savings, especially for large families or groups of friends. There are also steps you can take to lock in travel savings on the road:
- Check your tire pressure. You may be able to improve your gas mileage by up to 3 percent by properly inflating your tires.
- Find cheap gas. Gas may be most expensive at stations near highways. To save money, try an app that tells you where to find least expensive gas. Some stations also participate in loyalty programs you can use to save money or earn rewards every time you fill up.
- If you’re up for camping, there are many free campsites across the country. Or, you could consider the hotel and motel chains that dot the U.S. Many offer discounts if you have an AAA or AARP membership, and you might be able to sign up for their loyalty program to receive extra benefits or discounts.
9. Rent out your home
More and more, travelers who are lucky enough to live in desirable destinations are renting out their homes through sites like AirBnB while they’re abroad. Not only can this help offset your travel costs, but you could even turn a profit if you’re visiting a destination with very low travel costs, like Thailand or Indonesia. Worried you won’t know how to prepare your home for vacationing guests? Check out these tips from A Globe Well Travelled for managing the process from start to finish.
10. Pay with points
If your love of travel is a part of your lifestyle, it’s a good idea to have a credit card that rewards you with points whenever you use it. Later, you can redeem those points for airfare, hotels, and other qualifying expenses.
11. Book with Orbitz and earn “Orbucks”
Use the discount travel site Orbitz for hotel bookings and you’ll immediately receive “Orbucks” you can use for future bookings. The Orbucks loyalty program is widely considered one of the easiest to use—you just check a box when you’re finalizing your purchase to apply any existing Orbucks to a reservation.
12. Skip the car rental
If you’re visiting a part of the world where you can get around easily enough by walking or using public transit, why waste money on a car rental? If you don’t feel comfortable researching a destination’s transportation alternatives on your own, check out the website Rome2Rio, where you can input any destination to get thousands of options for getting from point A to point B, including trains, buses, ferries, and more.
13. Rent a “Pocket Wifi”
Locations like Europe and Japan are now offering rentable mobile routers that you can pick up at the airport when you arrive at your destination, or even have sent directly to your hotel. The advantage? You can stay connected to friends and family back home without paying exorbitant international roaming charges. For other ways to stay affordably connected while traveling, check out these hacks from the travel site Beers & Croissants.
14. Use WhatsApp for texting abroad
If you’d rather keep communication simple, download WhatsApp to send and receive texts while traveling. WhatsApp offers a lot more value when it comes to cost per message compared with standard SMS messaging plans. Plus, it’s easy to use and widely available. “[WhatsApp is] used by millions of people around the world, so when you meet new travel friends and need to get in contact with them, you can be pretty sure that you’ll be able to connect with each other on WhatsApp, no matter what type of phone you’re both using,” says Jess Dante, founder of The Abroad Guide.
15. Shop at local markets
If your travel accommodations have a kitchen, make use of it! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the restaurants your destination has to offer; rather, you can experience the best of both worlds by both dining out and cooking in. You can learn so much about a region just by shopping at local groceries and outdoor markets and sampling foods you’d never find at home.
16. Make lunch your biggest meal
In many parts of the world, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. If you have a fairly substantial lunch, you can use your evenings to explore at your leisure. In addition, if there’s a particular restaurant you want to try but the dinner prices are astronomical, check out the lunch menu instead. Oftentimes, the prices are lower and the portions are only slightly smaller for the same dishes you’d see on the dinner menu.
17. Two words: free admission
Many museums, galleries, landmarks, and other attractions throughout the world offer free admission days. If these types of attractions are your favorite part of traveling, it pays to plan ahead and schedule your visits on freebie days. One caveat: If you’re traveling during the high season you’re likely to encounter long lines on free-admission days, so make sure to plan accordingly.
18. Get friendly with locals
The best way to discover a region’s hidden gems and avoid the pricey tourist traps is to talk to people who know the area intimately. Being in an unfamiliar country can be intimidating, but if you keep an open mind and a friendly attitude you can enhance the experience tenfold.
19. Implement the “six blocks rule”
If you’re shy about asking local denizens for recommendations, try implementing the “six blocks rule” when traveling. “Never eat within six blocks of a major tourist sight,” says Matt Kepnes of the budget travel site Nomadic Matt. “The food is double the price and half as good. Walk far away from the people and get much better food at a better price.”
20. Sign up for travel alerts
Tons of websites now offer opt-ins for travel alerts, so you can get information on the best deals on hotels, flights, restaurants, rental cars, and more delivered directly to your inbox. You can sign up for airfare alerts through sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights or get great deals on last minute jaunts by subscribing to your favorite airline’s e-newsletters.
21. Sign up for “mistake fares” alerts
Whether due to human error, currency conversion mishaps, or fee omissions, airlines make fare mistakes all the time. So often, in fact, that it’s virtually impossible for them to find and correct them all. Now, websites like Secret Flying and The Flight Deal scour the airlines’ data to find these errors so travelers can benefit. Sign up for alerts to get them delivered directly to your inbox.
22. Ask for travel cards as gifts
Tired of all those Starbucks gift cards you get from colleagues or relatives on your birthday or the holidays? When you’re planning your next vacation, drop a hint that there’s a whole slew of companies that offer gift cards you can use to buy experiences instead of things, including Hotels.com and Restaurants.com. Even AirBnB is now in the gift-card game.
23. Think quality over quantity
When planning a big trip, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of trying to cram as much vacation as possible into the limited time you have. But there’s a lot to be said for taking it slow. "The biggest costs in traveling are 1) transport and 2) accommodation,” says Meg Collins of the Travel Freedom Network. “By traveling slow, you lessen the need for frequent transport—and you can also negotiate with hotels/hostels etc. for a discount because you are staying longer."
24. Travel light
Think about what you’ll really need on your trip. If you’re able to reduce your luggage to just one carry on, you can avoid any checked luggage fees and bypass the hassle of waiting for your checked items at baggage claim. Plus, the lighter you travel, the easier it will be to get from place to place.
25. Learn how to spot travel scams
Just about anywhere you go, you can get scammed pretty easily if you don’t know how to sniff out grifters looking to make a buck off of unsuspecting tourists. Nomadic Matt offers a list of 14 travel scams to avoid when you’re on the road—read it before you go so you’ll know how to avoid paying too much for tours or taxis, or worse, falling prey to a pickpocket.
26. Lend a helping hand
Did you know you can travel for next to nothing if you’re willing to volunteer your time and energy to a worthy cause? “THERE ARE MANY reasons to engage in volunteer travel, and there are literally thousands of charities and organizations that provide volunteer opportunities for passing travelers,” says Matt Scott of Matador Network. From WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), to United Nations Volunteers, to Turtle Teams (an organization that helps endangered sea turtle populations worldwide), you’re sure to find a cause you believe in—in a place you’ve always wanted to go.