There are five main categories for vacation spending. These include food, sightseeing, transportation, lodging, and souvenirs. Unexpectedly over spending on just one of these categories could be detrimental to your vacation budget. Because cost plays a factor for about 99 percent of us who take vacations, I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you get the most out of your money while not skimping on experiences.
1.) Pack breakfast and snacks – A box of oatmeal made with the help of a hotel coffee pot, or a bag of trail mix can go a long way. Items like these don’t take up much luggage space and can prevent a convenience food splurge. That delicious $3 muffin at Starbucks easily turns into a $10 order that includes a drink and a banana – and that’s only if you’re traveling solo. When tummies are rumbling, pull out that big, healthy bag of trail mix that you bought at Target before your trip for only $5. As an extra bonus, as the snacks begin to disappear, room in the luggage begins to open up for souvenirs.
2.) Picnic – When at your vacation destination, picnic when you can. Sitting down for lunch and dinner in a restaurant can add up quickly, but you can put together a nice spread for a fraction of the price. If you’re on a tight schedule, picnicking can save time and can be a much healthier alternative to fast food.
3.) Eat dinner for lunch – Eating the local food is part of the vacation experience, so make sure not to cut it out entirely. A good tip to indulge in the local fare and not overpay is to eat a nice lunch instead of dinner. Many restaurants serve the same food for lunch as dinner, but with smaller, yet still filling portions at a much lower price.
4.) Refill your water bottle – If you’re traveling to a location where the water is safe to drink, why pay for bottled water? Instead, bring your own bottle and refill it as often as possible. You can even pack powdered or liquid flavors to turn that boring, (but free) water into something jazzy like strawberry lemonade or peach tea.
5.) Check out the free stuff – Anywhere you go there is something to do for free, and the internet makes this endeavor even easier. Just search the Web or Pinterest for free things to do in the city you plan on visiting and a long list is bound to appear. A couple of things you can do anywhere for free include going to a public park to explore, people watching at a busy location, going for a walk and conducting your own city tour with the help of Google, and window shopping or perusing the goods at a local market.
6.) Research reduced fare options – There are some attractions you don’t want to miss on your vacation, no matter how expensive they are. However, you can be a savvy traveler and at least do a quick check on Groupon or ask Google how to save money on a particular attraction. Even Disneyland Paris occasionally offers reduced fare tickets on the Offers tab of their website. In London there are 2 for 1 deals on multiple attractions if you print a voucher and show your train ticket. And, many museums across the United States offer free entry at certain times or days of the week. All you have to do is ask Google!
7.) Get creative with flights – Are your travel dates flexible? Are you traveling in the off-season? Is there another airport you can fly out of? Will you throw loyalty out the window and fly with any airline? The more “yes” answers, the more likely you are to get a good deal on flights. Flexibility is the key as well as a great flight search engine. For my preferred flight booking tools check out the Flights section of my List of Resources.
8.) Do you really need a car? – Consider if you really need a rental car. Many destinations offer great public transportation for just a few dollars a ride. If you’re heading to a destination where you only need a rental car for a day, think about using Uber, Lyft, or a taxi. If you really can’t get out of renting a car, check out Turo. It’s a person to person car sharing service that operates like Airbnb and can save you hundreds of dollars versus a major car rental company.
9.) Use public transportation when possible – Private transportation like taxis, or rental cars are always more expensive than public transportation, and rental cars can actually be a huge headache in big cities when trying navigate and find affordable parking. Piling into a subway car or bus during rush hour can be an assault on your senses, but it’s part of the culture and shouldn’t be missed. That overly crowded ride packed with interesting smells can be a huge relief to your transportation budget and a rich experience that will give you a great story to tell later.
10.) Check out alternative lodging – Chain hotels are nice because you always know what to expect, but they can be pricey and aren’t always in the perfect location. If you can be flexible on your location, but are looking for a good deal, check out Priceline and bid on a hotel based on general location and number of stars. For a more precise location, but still a great value, look into Airbnb. Airbnb is my favorite lodging provider because I can stay in an apartment and get a feel for how the locals live for about the price of a hotel room. If you’re willing to share an apartment with a host the price is even less, and some hosts even provide breakfast!
11.) Purchase in advance – If you have children who need some useless trinket from every souvenir shop they visit, then I really don’t envy your Disney vacation. Most destinations won’t have as many temptations as Disney World, but it can still be a hassle to get kids out of an attraction without a substantial investment in souvenirs. If you foresee this scenario happening to you, then hedge against it by purchasing some small toys in advance at your hometown retail store or online. Pack them in your day bag and pull out one of these awesome and much less expensive beauties whenever you feel a pinch on your wallet.
12.) Do you really need that? – Reconsider buying gifts for your entire family while you’re on vacation because chances are that your brother-in-law isn’t going to love that t-shirt as much as you do. Ponder how many of your past vacation souvenirs have ended up in the donate bin, trash can, or sold in your last garage sale as a result of frivolous spending. Don’t purchase something just for the sake of buying something. Make sure it really means something to you. Your wallet will thank you for it.
Vacations don’t always have to be expensive. Simply planning ahead (like in numbers 6, 7, 10 and 11 above) can save hundreds of dollars. Just following a few of these tips can allow you to have a much nicer or longer vacation without sacrificing experiences. If you need to know how to save some cash for vacations in the first place, check out my How Do We Afford Travel article.
I would love to hear your tips for saving money while on vacation. Just drop a line in the comments box below. Thanks!
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