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Anyone else have vacation on the brain? We know, vacations are expensive. But part of #HappyMoneyManagement is finding ways to seriously enjoy life while sticking to your budget. So today we’re going to show you how to stretch your vacation budget to get the biggest bang for your buck!
You already know a few little tips to save money on travel. Comparison shopping works wonders (love Google flights!), and you can find some great hotel deals by scouring the internet. But we came up with some amazing outside-the-box tricks to save big on your vacation!
Here are 5 genius ways to stretch your vacation budget.
1. Choose Your Destination Carefully
First question to ask yourself when deciding on a vacation destination: Can I piggyback a vacation on an existing trip?
Work conferences make the best excuses for a vacation (assuming they’re held in a cool location!). Your company pays for your transportation to and from Vegas-Austin-New York-Seattle-LA-where-ever. And you simply take some vacation days on the front-end or tail-end of the trip. Of course you’ll pay for your accommodations and meals during the vacation portion of the trip. But the big transportation cost is paid for you! Even if you’re self-employed and paying these transportation costs yourself, remember they’re tax write-offs 🙂
The next best excuse for a vacation is a destination wedding. You’ll be spending money on airfare anyway, so maybe get to town several days early or stay several days late to make a proper vacation of it. You already know it’s going to be a great vacation spot!
No work trips or destination weddings this year? Make some smart destination swaps to save huge money on everything from airfare to accommodations to food and drink. Unless you really have your heart set on a certain city, these less expensive cities can sub in for the top-shelf destinations to stretch your vacation budget:
- Instead of Hawaii, try Costa Rica. Or for an even bigger bang for your buck, try Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
- If you’re craving the romance of France without the price tag, try Montreal or Quebéc City in Canada.
- Swap Western Europe for Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe has all the rich history, art, architecture, and food of Western Europe at a fraction of the cost.
- None of those tickle your fancy? Marek over at Indie Traveller put together a great list of Amazingly Cheap Travel Destinations. Check ’em out!
2. Time Your Travel
Basic rule: don’t travel when everyone else is traveling. It’s crowded and expensive.
Summer is peak travel time for most tourist locations. Airfare is pricey and so are accommodations. It’s hot and humid and the attraction lines extend for days. Ugh.
Try March or October instead. You’ll save a ton of money, enjoy super short lines for all the sights, and won’t be a sweaty mess.
Also watch out for conventions or big events in your destination city and plan around them. No need to pay higher rates for your room on convention weekend when you could simply pick another weekend.
Another way to stretch your vacation budget by timing your travel is to fly at inconvenient times. Red-eye and early morning flights will be cheaper than mid-day flights. And midweek flights will be cheaper than Fridays or weekends.
3. Rethink Accommodations
Inexpensive accommodations caveat: splurge a little to stay close to where you want to be. Don’t try to save money by booking a cheap place far from the attractions or on the outskirts of town. You’ll just end up spending a fortune on transportation to the city center and back.
With that, let’s think outside the hotel box, shall we?
You already know to check AirBnB before booking a hotel, right? It’s often less expensive than a hotel, and you get to live like a local. Plus there are some awesome homes available. You could stay in a houseboat or a yurt! Or a tree-house or a castle! And these awesome rentals may be less expensive than you’d think. I was able to rent a houseboat in the center of Amsterdam for less than the price of a 3-star hotel! Added savings bonus: You can save big money by grocery shopping and cooking at “home” instead of eating all meals out.
Hostels are a non-hotel option for the adventurous. You basically rent a bunk bed and a communal bathroom. On the plus-side, they’re cheap and you get to meet lots of other travelers. On the negative side, they’re pretty rustic and you have to spent time around lots of other travelers. You can usually save about 75% by choosing a hostel over a hotel.
Couch-surfing is an interesting option for the faith-in-humanity believers. Here’s how it works: you join the Couchsurfing network and agree to let people in the network crash at your place for free while they’re traveling through your area. In exchange, you get to crash at other members’ homes while you’re traveling. It’s customary to bring your host a small gift like wine or chocolate, maybe $8-$10. And you incur some expenses when you’re the host and you have extra people using your water and electricity. Just consider the lack of privacy and stranger danger before jumping in.
One last option: what about getting away from city-life and going camping?! You can stretch your vacation budget so much further on a campground than in a city! You can borrow or rent a tent, and campsites are usually pretty cheap. Just watch for hidden fees like daily vehicle passes, environmental protections, and random processing fees.
4. Take Advantage of Rewards
Credit card rewards programs are my favorite travel hack. By putting all daily expenses on my credit card (and paying the bill in full every month!), I’ve been averaging nearly $1,000 per year in free travel. Of course this takes some serious self-discipline to stick to your budget and avoid over-spending with your plastic. So it’s not for everyone.
If you’re not willing to risk credit card debt (and good for you for being honest with yourself!), you could benefit from becoming an airline rewards member. Some programs are simply membership programs. Like your grocery store rewards program. It’s free, and you get benefits just from signing up as a member. Some programs are actually more like a store credit card. You have to charge the cost of your flight to the airline credit card to get any rewards. As long as you pay that card in full immediately, and only use it to book flights, you’re fine. But if you’re worried about having access to another credit card, it’s probably best to skip those.
If you travel a lot, it might be worth becoming a member at a hotel chain for free nights. With so many non-hotel accommodation options, hotel membership programs aren’t the no-brainer they once were. But many people prefer the hotel experience to private residence rentals, and these programs are a great way to enjoy discounts and free nights at your favorite hotel chain.
5. Plan Your Itinerary
I can feel some of you free-spirits arguing with me on this already, but hear me out! A little pre-planning can save you big money!
Fellow museum nerds: plan around free museum days. Most museums have a day or two each month when admission is waived. How silly would you feel if you showed up at a museum on the third day of your trip to find out you could have gotten in free the day before?
Maybe you could plan your trip to coincide with a local fair or festival. Small local events (events that won’t create a giant tourist crowd) can offer unique travel experiences for little or no cost! Think Wäldchestag instead of Oktoberfest.
To save money on a restaurant you’re excited to try, plan your day to be near that restaurant at lunchtime or during happy hour. Bonus tip: don’t eat near tourist attractions. The food will be twice the price and half as good. Walk just a few blocks away for a more authentic meal for far less money.
Many countries offer tourist rail passes at a discount, but you must get your passes before leaving your home country. This requires a little pre-planning. If you’re staying in one city the entire trip, you can probably just buy your tickets once you get to your destination. But if you’re touring multiple cities, these passes could stretch your vacation budget. We’ve had great experiences with Rail Europe and Japan Rail Pass.
Is there an experience you’re really excited to try on vacation? Wine tasting, surfing, horseback riding, massages, zip-lining? Check Groupon! I was able to save over 50% on a Royal Afternoon Tea in London 🙂 And, this just in, AirBnB now offers experiences as well. You can connect with AirBnB members for experiences like cooking classes, nature walks, and dance lessons!
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Do you have any other genius ways to stretch your vacation budget? Let us know in the comments!