With spring break approaching and summer on the horizon, today’s post will cover some tips and tricks for keeping costs down when travelling. Any savvy traveler knows that a little bit of planning can go a long way toward making your trip stress-free, so we’ll start with the old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail; for a truly relaxing vacation, start by planning ahead to make your dollar go further.
If your trip requires you to travel by plane, always start there; the timing of your flights will likely dictate the rest of your trip, and as this is usually one of the biggest expenses, it’s best to knock it out early. Most people know that booking a flight ahead of time generally gets the best deals, but there are certain times of the day and week that airlines drop prices even further. Weekday mornings tend to have lower prices, with tickets going up as you approach the weekend. I’ve personally had the best luck on Tuesday mornings, but it varies by carrier and by site, so be sure to look around before purchasing.
Another little known fact is that searching repeatedly for the same flights will bump up the prices; if the airlines know you’re searching for those flights, they’ll keep the prices up knowing that you’ll buy them eventually. To avoid this issue, clear your cookies and browser history, or search in incognito mode. I also find that searching the discount sites first, and then going directly to the airline site helps to avoid any additional fees.
Another thing to consider is your travel dates; if you have flexibility, consider going on a non-holiday weekend. If flights still seem expensive, find out if there’s a large convention or event in town, and try to avoid those dates; the more people that have to travel at the same time, the more expensive the ticket. Air travel illustrates the rules of supply and demand very clearly, so be aware that if you’re trying to get to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, you’re going to be paying exponentially more than any other time of the year.
Next up is accommodations; while I can vouch for the excitement of not knowing where you’re going to stay, planning ahead here will almost certainly save you money. Most hotels will increase their prices the closer you are to travelling, so booking these well ahead of time keeps costs low. Many of the discount websites can offer great deals if you search well ahead of your trip, so use time to your advantage and book while there are still plenty of rooms available, forcing the hotels to compete for your business.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional hotel, I’ve found that booking an Airbnb or vacation rental can be a much cheaper option, especially if you have a large group of people. A vacation rental also offers the freedom to cook your own meals instead of eating out several times a day, which is another huge expense of travelling. For family vacations, nothing beats having a place to hang out and just spend time together; I even got a rental house the week of my wedding so that the girls and I could all relax and enjoy, and I can’t recommend this option highly enough.
Beach houses are a favorite in our family, and you’d be surprised how reasonably priced they are compared to a hotel, especially if you book during the off season. Another huge expense of any vacation is the activities you pay for, and many people forget to factor this in when budgeting for their trip. A zip line here, an amusement park there, and pretty soon you’ve blown your vacation money before you’re halfway through the trip. Choosing a destination with this in mind can cut costs dramatically; a beach house offers free entertainment for kids and adults alike, and a much more relaxing atmosphere than some busier destinations. Hiking, museums, walking city tours; do your research ahead of time and you’ll be surprised at all the free options available to you almost anywhere you go.
Road trips are another family past time that can either be the best or worst thing that happens to your wallet all summer. Forgetting to plan ahead here can be costly and potentially dangerous; knowing where you’re going is important, but choosing the right place to stay can be just as crucial. Finding a cheap hotel only to wake up in the morning missing the contents of your Uhaul is a quick way to ruin your cross-country trek – make sure to do your research ahead of time on where to stay. If you have pets, kids, or both make sure to be realistic about how long your journey will take; factor in your stops, as well as gas prices. Packing a cooler with snacks, drinks and food can slash your costs versus eating out for every meal, and also makes for a much healthier trip.
If you’re travelling outside of the country, be sure to do your homework when it comes to currency conversions. Does it make more sense to exchange your money here or in country? If you’re pulling out cash, be aware that most banks charge exorbitant fees to withdraw from a foreign ATM, so planning ahead will not only save you a headache, but potentially a lot of money as well. Knowing the exchange rate offhand will also prevent you from over-paying when shopping, especially when travelling in countries where bartering is the norm; learning at least a little bit of the language is helpful here as well.
Planning ahead for your vacation allows you to actually relax and enjoy your well-earned break from reality; I’m a subscriber to the “work hard, play hard” mentality, and want to make the most out of every minute. Be sure to be honest with yourself ahead of time – can you actually afford this trip, or are you putting it on a credit card? Knowing what you’ll be spending and paying for some of it ahead of time can help to keep costs down and enjoyment high, so plan ahead for a few extra margaritas – because that’s what vacation is for.