Is it high time you took a vacation? Everyone deserves a little break now and again. But sometimes it’s hard (or downright impossible) to cough up the cash needed for a getaway. If you need help stretching your vacation dollars, we have a few expert tips to help you travel on a budget.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
- Check airfare regularly and from various airlines (including budget airlines). Rates fluctuate and occasionally airlines offer deals. Some travel sites offer e-mail alerts to let you know if a selected fare changes. If you plan ahead, certain days of the week may be less expensive than others. And if you’re traveling internationally, explore non-U.S. airlines. Several overseas airlines fly between a number of U.S. and European cities. Within Europe, you can sometimes save money by flying on a regional discount airline instead of on a major carrier.
- Other forms of public transportation are another great way to save while on vacation. If available, trains and subways are a great way to get around inexpensively. In some instances they may even allow you to avoid rental car fees. And if you’re going to be traveling around Europe, a EuroRail pass is a fantastic investment.
- If all else fails- drive. Gas prices aren’t too expensive at the moment, so get your road-trip on!
- Rent a house or a condo. For families or groups, renting can be a lot cheaper than paying for the same number of beds in a hotel. Renting through a site like AirBnB is a particularly good option in smaller destinations where hotels are scarce, or in major cities where hotels are ultra-expensive. Before renting, be sure to request to speak directly with the property owner and ask specific questions (such as "What exactly does ‘beach access’ mean?"). Accommodations with a kitchen can help you save even more money by cooking some of your own meals.
- Opt for a small hotel or hostel. Americans tend to focus on chain hotels and “resorts” that cater to business travelers and corporate budgets. In contrast, smaller, independent hotels or hostels―common in Europe and Latin America―are cheaper and often contain apartment-style suites with compact kitchens and living rooms.
- Swap houses. If you live in a popular tourist location and you’re willing to let a stranger stay in your abode, join a home-exchange site. For a small annual fee of about $100, you can list your home and gain access to a database of other members’ homes worldwide to arrange a swap. Check out homeexchange.com and homelink.org. Always talk extensively with your swapper and, if possible, ask for references. It’s also a good idea to invest in a safe for your valuables and check your home insurance to see how guests are covered.
Peak vs Off-Season
- Pick an off-season location. During the summer months, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and even South America (where it will be winter) are still pleasant, less pricy, and less crowded.
- Choose a bargain destination. Some budget options for 2018 include Mexico, Canada, China, Spain, Haiti, Croatia, Portugal, Peru, Thailand and Greece. Also, check foreign exchange rates. Countries with faltering currencies are a steal at any time of the year.
- Stay close to home. Not traveling overseas can help cut costs as well. Some great budget vacation spots in the United States, according to Travel + Leisure, include Chicago, Illinois; San Antonio, Texas; Greenville, South Carolina; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Santa Fe, New Mexico; St. Louis, Missouri; and many more.
- Research “secondary” destinations. Pick a popular resort or city on a map, then move your finger a bit. Nearby towns may offer the same experience for less.
- Go prepared. Look up the cost of museums and public transportation in case you can buy daily, weekly, or combination passes ahead of time for a discounted price. Carry a calculator to track your spending in dollars. And to get a good sense of how much to budget, check out what the U.S. State Department allows government officials to spend on daily meals and incidentals in various countries (go to aoprals.state.gov).
- Book fixed-cost trips. All-inclusive packages that lump meals and activities with the room price can keep costs down.
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