Creative Planning for Budget-Conscious Travelers
After a long hiatus from traveling during the pandemic, many Americans are once again pulling their suitcases out of storage. While the impulse to make extravagant plans may be strong, you probably don’t want a vacation-debt hangover that lasts six to 12 months after your trip.
Before you hit the road—or the air—tally up anticipated expenses so you know what to expect. Once you get a fairly accurate picture of what your vacation will cost, then start manipulating the numbers with travel options to make it more affordable.
Here are a few ways you can save:
- Search online for cheaper accommodations and flights. Aggregator websites like Google.com/travel and HotelsCombined.com will look through online travel agencies and hotel sites to find the best deals. Go to Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, and Expedia.com for flight deals, but don't stop there. Go directly to the airlines' websites to see if they offer even lower prices with fewer fees. If you’re flexible on time frames, check out the airlines’ discounted travel days on their websites, usually labeled as flight deals.
- Look for package deals. Some vacation or experience packages include meals, a significant expense for large families. If traveling to a family reunion or meeting with multiple families, check out group-booking sites such as Groople.com.
- Look for Non-Tourist Experiences. Most tourist-heavy attractions cost more than areas where locals visit. Research these hidden gems on social media sites or speak with locals about places worth visiting that may not include crowds of travelers.
- Consider swapping homes. Trade homes with people who live where you want to spend your vacation and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on hotel costs for a two-week vacation. Google search for "home swap" or "home exchange."
- Plan ahead to save on meals and snacks. If you’re considering a hotel stay, look for accommodations that offer complimentary breakfast. This will save you time and money. At a minimum, most continental breakfast bars offer fruit and snack bars that can also supply you with snacks for the day ahead.
If your room has a mini-fridge, stop by the local grocery store and grab a few drinks, snacks, or sandwiches to keep on hand. Eating a meal or two daily from your stash can reduce costs significantly.
If you’re traveling internationally, street food is usually cheaper than formal dining and offers a culinary experience unique to the area.
- Look for two-for-one coupons and other discounts. Check the hotel lobby, area newspapers, and on the web for money-saving coupons for area attractions, tours, and restaurant meals. Deals are out there for those who look for them.
Finally, figure out how you will pay for the vacation. A word of advice: keep vacation debt from lingering for a year after you return. Plan to pay off credit card debt in full when the bill arrives using a combination of vacation savings and a small line of credit or a closed-end loan from a credit union. Some credit union loans and lines of credit may offer lower interest rates than major credit cards so you can pay down that debt much faster.
If you prefer to use a credit card and know you won’t have enough cash to cover the expenses, always use a low-rate credit card to help keep costs low as you pay back your vacation charges.
If you’re looking for ways to cut your expenses to ramp up your savings, read How to Avoid Overspending Online so you can build your vacation fund ASAP.