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Travel on a Budget: 5 Ways to Vacation for Less

Insights & Ideas Team •  July 25, 2016 | Your Finances, On a Budget

Everyone wants to get away, but transportation and lodging add up quickly, not to mention food and entertainment. Here are five ways to save so you can have a wonderful vacation without breaking the bank.

1. Shop around for airfare. With a little patience and determination, you can find a great deal on airfare. The more flexibility you have in dates, airlines and airports, the more likely you are to snag a bargain. For example, traveling at off-peak times—such as in the middle of the week or even off-season—or going to a less popular but just as enjoyable destination can save you money. Change up your search on sites like Kayak.com, Google Flights and TheFlightDeal.com to see what options cost the least.

Remember that the ticket with the lowest price tag may not be the cheapest overall—watch out for fees related to checked and carry-on baggage, seat selection and more. If you must check a bag, try to share with your travel companion so you can split the fee.

Some people believe they get better deals when they book flights on certain days of the week, but that theory may no longer hold. CheapAir.com studied nearly 3 million itineraries in 2015 to determine the best time to buy. It didn’t see any trends related to one particular day of the week, but it did find the most deals 21 to 112 days before a flight.

Begin monitoring prices during this time so you can pull the trigger when they are low. Automate the process by signing up for email alerts from Airfarewatchdog, the airline or the site that’s selling tickets. Travel sites and airlines will also tweet flash sales that last only a few hours—create a Twitter list of these feeds so you see when the sales pop up.

2. Think outside the chains. Websites like VRBO and Airbnb make it easy to find private homes or condos, which can help reduce the cost of lodging. Read the reviews to carefully vet the property and owner, and use common sense when renting from an individual to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay. You may give up some of the perks of a hotel—like maid service and room service—but you’ll likely have access to a kitchen where you can store and prepare your own food, saving you even more money. Speaking of food, opt for large lunches and small dinners. These will not only refuel you for more sightseeing and fun, but entrees often cost less at lunch than at dinner.

3. Get the most from your memberships. In addition to traditional loyalty programs from airlines and hotel chains, you may have access to travel perks from financial institutions, warehouse clubs and organizations you belong to. Take advantage of airline miles, free nights, museum discounts and more. Your credit card or bank may offer discounts to certain attractions. If you have a membership with a local museum or zoo, see if they offer affiliate discounts in the city you’re visiting. Students, military families, seniors and AAA members often get discounts as well.

Creating a Solid Financial Plan: Your Guide to Money Management4. Travel by foot. If you’re headed to a metropolitan area, consider staying within walking distance from the sites you’d like to see. Paying a little more for a downtown hotel may cost you less than a rental car and parking or taxis.

Public transportation is a great option when you want to go a bit further afield, but if you rely on it heavily, the cost will add up. In some cities, buying a pass or traveling at off-peak hours will save you money.

To get to and from the airport, call ahead to see if your hotel has a shuttle. If not, ask about the least expensive way to get there. In some cases it may be a taxi, but in others it may be a bus or train. Once you arrive, the concierge can help you discover the most economical ways to get around town.

5. Plan ahead. As you begin your research and decide what you’ll do on your trip, think about ways you may be able to save money to stretch your dollar a bit further.

  • Check deal sites like Restaurant.com, Groupon and Living Social for deep discounts on meals, spa treatments and activities.
  • Plan your itinerary around free and discounted days at museums and other venues.
  • Download apps like Foursquare and Scoutmob to find local discounts once you’re there.
  • Research festivals and free events that might be happening during your trip.
  • Find free walking tours, either led by companies like Free Walking Tours by Foot or self-guided.

Vacations aren’t cheap, but there are ways to make them more affordable. With a little planning and research, you can push your travel budget a little further and reap the benefits of your hard work.

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