Saving money while vacationing isn’t just about finding deals and discounts. It’s about getting the most value for your money.
Here are some tips on ways to save, from start to finish.
Conceptualize your vacation
Think about what you really want from a vacation. Do you want to see the sites along the way? Or, do you want to get there quickly and then relax? Four people who are sharing the expense of a car and hotel rooms can travel for less money than two, but sometimes getting to your destination quickly is worth the cost of airline tickets.
Establish a budget
Determine how much you are willing to spend on a vacation including transportation, accommodations and food. Don’t forget entertainment and souvenirs. There are ways to save money by preparing your own meals at hotels or hostels. Purchasing groceries at a local store and being creative at your culinary skills will stretch the dollar longer that you’d have expected.
Also, avoid eating at expensive restaurants or at the ones near major site. Walk up to the cafes or restaurants that the locals go to. This will give you the authentic cuisine experience.
Be flexible on travel dates
The costs of visiting a destination can vary greatly based on when you travel. To increase your savings, select two or three possible travel dates and check prices before booking. Flying on Tuesdays and Wednesdays will take off a considerable amount from the airline tickets.
Also, make sure to book your flights about 2 months before your trip for the best price. Many aggregator websites like Kayak.com offer price alerts on cheaper rates, so make sure to sign up for those.
If you’re driving, should you rent a car or take your own vehicle?
Depending on the number of people in your party and the age, size and fuel economy of the vehicle you own, it may make sense to rent a vehicle for your trip.
Similar to airline bookings, price of rental cars fluctuate a lot as well. Compare prices on different aggregator websites like Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia, etc., next to the rental car companies websites too. You will be surprised to find the different rates.
Apps like GasBuddy helps you find the stations with cheapest fuel along the way, so turn it on while you’re on the road to save money on cheaper gas.
If you’re driving your own vehicle, have it inspected by a professional technician, and tell them to pay special attention to safety items and factors affecting fuel economy. There are few things worse and potentially more expensive than experiencing a roadside breakdown during a trip.
To get better fuel economy, minimize weight. Pack only what you really need and keep luggage secured inside the vehicle rather than strapped on the roof where it will create wind resistance.
Start trips early in the day while traffic is light. Pack light snacks and drinks in a small cooler and plan meal stops to coincide with likely periods of traffic congestion when traveling through metropolitan areas, or when refueling.
Be sure to get plenty of rest before you go and pause often enough to avoid becoming overly-fatigued behind the wheel. Be safe. Minimize distractions in the car, be a defensive driver and buckle up.
Take advantage of free planning tools
Most tourist boards provide free brochures and coupons; visit their Web sites. Plus, detailed travel information is available at travel agencies. And don’t forget your local auto club. AAA offers free TourBook travel guides and maps to members, but many of AAA’s online travel planning tools are also available to non-members at www.AAA.com.
Create a specific budget for fuel and know where you’ll be stopping for gas before leaving home. Estimate your expected fuel costs in advance by using AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator, available free at www.FuelCostCalculator.com.
Avoid driving through large cities during rush hour
Get up-to-date accurate maps and routing information in advance. Plan your routes carefully so you can travel at constant speeds and avoid congestion. This will save time and fuel. Also, avoid two-lane roads with lots of stop signs and traffic signals unless you are taking a scenic drive.
Consider taking a GPS navigation device with you or apps like Waze that allow you to find alternate routes, avoiding traffic-heavy freeways or surface streets.
Take advantage of discounts
Most motels and hotels offer AAA discounts and sometimes other discounts as well. Make sure to check websites like Hotwire, Booking.com, Priceline, Orbitz, etc. to compare rates and policies. For example, I always book on Booking.com for free last-minute cancellations if my itinerary is not finalized. This way I have something booked in advance, instead of scrambling at the last minute, with the advantage of cancelling it if I get a better rate somewhere else.
A lot of museums offer free entry on certain days, and if you have an ATM card with certain banks, then you get free entry to museums. Check with the bank or museum for deals or free days. This is applicable to a lot of sights around the world, especially on festival days and holidays.
Take advantage of discounts only the locals know about. Many hotels offer things such as free breakfast, late checkout, access to special amenities, or even a discounted extra night stay. Visit the tourist board office or visitor’s center at your destination. Many of these offices have coupons available for local attractions, restaurants, etc. If you bring a laptop with you and your hotel offers free Internet access, or if the hotel offers free use of a computer in the lobby or business center, you can research, update or change last-minute travel decisions.
Find out what’s fun and free or at a very low cost. Inquire at the hotel, AAA office or visitors center about lake or ocean beaches, parks, gardens, historic sites, museums and zoos. Many areas have free or low cost recreation opportunities, such as renting a canoe or hiking. Concerts, craft and antique fairs, car shows or art festivals may also be occurring during your visit.