This year is looking to be an exciting one for travelers. If you’ve been putting off your first solo trip or a long-anticipated family vacation, this might be the year it finally happens! However, as inflation is likely wreaking havoc on your budget, these tips and tricks can help you keep those travel costs down.
One of the biggest expenses travelers face is flights. While flying certainly can be pricey, there are a number of ways you can find deals that can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on your next trip.
Here are some tips to ensure you don’t get stuck overpaying for international flights:
- Subscribe for flight alerts: Free services, like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Pomelo Travel, scour the web for sales and price drops. Signing up for their email lists can help you save hundreds on your next flight if your dates of travel are flexible.
- Track flight prices: Hopper is handy for this, as it uses historic price trends to predict the best times to book. It also notifies you when a tracked flight increases or decreases in price.
- Be as flexible as possible: If you don’t have an exact date or location in mind, Skyscanner will find the cheapest routes from your destination. Its “Search Everywhere” feature allows you to find the cheapest flights to locations worldwide from any airport on specific dates, within a range of dates, or even during the entire year.
- Don’t forget budget airlines: When comparing flight prices, always check Momondo. It will search tons of different airlines, including budget carriers, that most of the larger sites do not.
- Book out of strategic airports: Large airports, like John F. Kennedy International in New York, tend to have the cheapest flights, and there’s a good chance you’ll be traveling through one at some point, anyway. You can save some money if you book your international flights from a large airport, and your flight from your hometown separately.
- Sign up for a rewards program: This won’t save you anything initially, but you should never take a long flight without earning miles on it through a free airlines rewards program. Over time, those miles add up and can cover the cost of a future flight.
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Your accommodations are often the second most expensive part of your trip. A hotel that costs $200+ per night takes up a lot of your travel budget.
Here are some tips for finding more affordable places to stay on your vacation:
- Compare costs on multiple sites: Hotel room prices fluctuate significantly between booking platforms. Definitely compare the prices on websites like Booking.com and Expedia to find the best rate.
- Take risks: Hotwire and Priceline allow you to book some hotels at discounted rates through their special programs (Hot Rate on Hotwire and Express Deals on Priceline). The risk is you book a non-refundable hotel without knowing exactly what the property is. Still, you’re guaranteed a general location and important amenities.
- Book hotels that include breakfast: While these options are sometimes more expensive, you can save a lot of money by filling up on free food. If you take advantage of that free breakfast buffet, you probably won’t need another meal until late afternoon. You might even want to grab a couple of extra muffins or apples to stash in a plastic bag for later.
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- Fill up on lunch: Many restaurants worldwide offer lunch specials that are much cheaper than dinner. Try to plan your biggest meal at lunchtime and see if you can find a restaurant that offers a lot of food for a good price.
- Check bed and breakfasts, and rentals: Airbnb and VRBO might offer better deals than a hotel, especially if you’re traveling with a large group. A kitchen area will also allow you to cook your own meals, which can save you even more money.
- Consider a hostel: It’s true that this type of lodging isn’t ideal or comfortable for everyone, but it’s not just for twentysomethings backpacking through Europe, either. Staying at a hostel can save you a ton of money if you’re willing to sacrifice some amenities and a bit of privacy. Start at hostelworld.com and be sure to read the reviews of any location before you book. Always call ahead if you’re concerned about the safety of the location, or to make sure the accommodations will be work for you or your group.
- Couch surfing: This is another option that won’t work for everyone, but if you’re traveling solo and are on a really tight budget, you might want to check out couchsurfing.com. Instead of renting out a room or their home, some people let vetted travelers crash on their couches for free, with the expectation that the favor will be reciprocated in the future. It’s a cool way to meet new people and save a lot of cash.
- Call your international friends: If a friend or family member lives in the location you’ll be visiting, and they’ve previously invited you to stay with them if you’re ever in town, take them up on it. At the very least, it never hurts to ask, and they’ll most likely be thrilled to have you.
While You’re There
It’s easy to splurge on shopping and attractions while you’re on vacation, and almost give yourself a heart attack when you receive that credit card bill after you’re back home.
Here are some ways you can keep your spending in check, while still having plenty of fun:
- Walk as much as you can: If you can do so, try to get in your steps instead of taking the bus or a taxi. You’ll get the best view of the location you’re visiting, as well as plenty of exercise. Plus, you’ll save money on tickets and fares.
- Use public transportation: Not every location has a good public transit system, but most major cities, like London, New York, Paris, and Beijing, have train and subway systems that are much faster than battling traffic in a vehicle. Subway fare is also much cheaper than taxis or rideshare services, like Uber.
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- Buy food at a grocery or market: Eating out is a great way to explore the local cuisine, but all those restaurant visits can quickly add up. Try shopping for ingredients at a local market, instead, and make your own meals once or twice a day.
- Bring a refillable water bottle: While tap water isn’t safe to drink everywhere, you should be fine filling up your water bottle at your hotel in most first-world countries. If you’re worried about the water being unsafe, get yourself a LifeStraw bottle—it kills 99.9% of bacteria and parasites.
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- Eat at food stands or local fast-food joints: You don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant to get good food. In fact, the cheaper places are usually some of the most beloved by the locals because they offer some of the best (and most authentic) food in the area.
- Take free walking tours: Yes, many tour companies offer free tours. They’re usually limited to a couple of hours, and you’ll have the option to tip your tour guide at the end (which, you definitely should). However, these are a fantastic, cheap way to see a city with some guidance. You can find many of these via TourScanner.
- Learn to barter: In many countries, haggling over prices is part of the culture, especially at street markets or stores with unlisted prices. Tourists are often quoted a price that’s three, four, or even five times more than what a product is actually worth. If the price seems too high, don’t be afraid to offer something lower. Just remember, there will always be some scammers in these locations, who are just trying to get as much money from you as possible.
- Avoid shopping in touristy areas: We’re not saying you should avoid the touristy areas altogether (they’re popular for a reason, after all), but do try to spend as little money as possible in these locations. The shops and restaurants will be much pricier there. If you head just a few blocks away, you’ll probably find lower prices everywhere.
- Research tourism cards: City passes, like the I Amsterdam card and the Oslo Pass, offer discounts on attractions, museums, public transportation, restaurants, and more. Just be sure you’re planning to do most of the included activities, so you’ll get your money’s worth.
There are a few other ways you can stay within budget on your next trip. While some might not be feasible for you, even one or two of the following tips can save you even more cash:
- Avoid or reduce baggage fees: Checking one bag is often free on international flights, but can cost a pretty penny on many budget airlines. You can save a lot of money and stress if you travel with only a carry-on suitcase and a personal item (like a purse). You also won’t have to worry about lost luggage. If you must check a bag, stick to just one, and be sure to check the baggage fees at all of the airlines you’ll be flying with before booking.
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- Use a travel credit card: Many credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee when you use them in another country. You can avoid these if you have a card specifically for travel that won’t penalize you when you use it abroad.
- Research free admission days for attractions: Museums, historic buildings, and other attractions usually have a free admission day once a week (or month). Yes, they’ll be more crowded on those days, but it’s still a good option for anyone looking to save some cash.
- Talk to the locals: Visit the local tourist or information office, or make a friend at a bar. Locals will often be happy to refer you to a restaurant, location, or tour that’s more affordable and fun than what you’ll find on your own.
- Seek the help of budget travel experts: You’re not the only person looking to save money on vacation. In fact, many travelers, like Nomadic Matt, have made careers out of it. So, check out their sites and see what other tips you can find.
There’s no doubt about it: traveling is expensive. However, there really are tons of ways you can save some cash on your next trip. Armed with these tips, you’ll be less worried about going over your budget and more focused on enjoying yourself.