15 Tips to Save Money on Vacation

David Hamilton (aka FPT Guy) is the author of Financial Planning Tips, where you can find sensible information on personal finance for the average Joe or Jane. Besides being passionate about his finance blog and helping others keep their finances in check, David also enjoys playing music, staying healthy, spending time with family and friends, and traveling the world.

Vacation — that relaxing time away from the monotony of work or the fast-pace of family life at home.  Most of us have visions of being pampered by hotel staff, drinks on the beach, or at a ski lodge in Switzerland. Or at least that’s what we’ve been told how vacation should be from TV commercials and shows.

But the experience of getting away from it all is truly whatever you make it, and there are many ways to enjoy vacation while saving money, whatever your vacation or travel budget may be.  So it’s really possible to save money and have even more fun? You betcha! so let’s move right into our vacation money saving tips.

1) Book well in-advance – The further out you book your airfares, hotels and rental cars the more you can potentially save.  This is easy to forget, so planning out your vacations for the year ahead when possible and setting reminders for booking for travel plans will help you with advance booking.

2) Stay away from tourist areas – This mistake is made when people are afraid to be just a little bit adventuresome. Sometimes as tourists, we want to feel safe by having everything laid out for us in a nice package. The problem with this is that prices are always higher because the hotels, shops and restaurants know the typical tourist mindset and capitalize on it. Often you’ll find that the quality of what you are purchasing is much lower than what you can find by going outside of tourist zones – these a low-value play. So it pays to do your own research of where to stay outside of tourist areas, making sure that where you are staying is both safe and economical.

3) Stay in hostels – If you can manage to share a bathroom or even share a room, you’ll save a bunch of money by staying in hostels. No you don’t need to be youthful in age, but just have a youthful mindset and you’ll get along fine.

4) Eat, drink and go where the locals are – Related to point #2 but it needs to be reiterated. Hanging out where the locals are will most likely increase the quality and experience that you’ll have. You’ll get to know some of the intricacies of the food and culture. If traveling to a foreign country and you are bold enough to learn some of the language, this is the place to practice.For making an effort you might just make some new friends. And you’ll be sure to learn where the hot spots are for eating and hanging out by befriending them.

5) Go to a cheap country in your hemisphere – Even though many countries all over the world are cheaper once you’re there – to really save money don’t stray too far from your hemisphere. As the airline industry has gone downhill, airfares and costs have risen substantially. The further you fly the more you’ll pay, obviously. If you live in the US, going down to the Dominican Republic is certainly cheaper than flying to Thailand or India. And vice versa if you live in Australia. From what I’ve seen, the crystal blue water in the Caribbean is awful close to that of South East Asia. Of course this doesn’t apply to cultural experiences, but if you are looking for physical environment over cultural experience, then this one works well.

6) Don’t take the kids – You need a break from those little rascals or overly opinionated teens anyways don’t you? More mouths to feed, extra rooms or room fees to pay and extra cash to spend on outings. See if your children can have a weeklong slumber party at a friend’s house, or get your parents to have the joy of looking after them for a week. Plus they’ll probably need a break from you too, and appreciate you more when you are back (hopefully). Oh, and you can rekindle that romance again with your sweetie.

7) When flying, take all carry-on luggage – The state of the airline industry these days is just no fun – can I say it again? No more free food, hardly any free entertainment, and extra fees for bags checked. Soon we’ll be paying to go to the bathroom and per flush. So if you can do it, stuff everything into the right-sized carry-ons, that’s a good amount of money saved right there. Just plan to bring what you really need, not half of your wardrobe. Besides anything you really need you can get where you’re travelling to anyways.

8) Travel where family or friends are – If you’re making a domestic trip this is a no-brainer. Or if you happen to have family or friends abroad, it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of their hospitality. Of course bring it up tactfully that you are thinking of visiting out there.

9) Take a vacation close by – It took me a while to realize how many beautiful places and different climates and terrains available in the US.  Or if you don’t live in the US, hopefully you live close to some beautiful areas. Taking a jaunt out in the woods to a bed & breakfast, camping or to a nearby beach for a week, can really save you on travel costs overall.

10) Rent a furnished apartment on vacation – This is one of my favorites when traveling to foreign places. You’ll find many expats that own real estate that are renting out fully furnished apartments on a weekly basis. Or if you want to visit a big city in your own country, you might find someone renting out a furnished apartments for the week – Craigslist is a good place to start. You can also save money by cooking for yourself in this setup. Live like a local for a week, who knows maybe you’ll be inspired to move there.

11) Rent an economy car – Though it’s tempting to rent that sports car or SUV, going for the most economical car you can find will save you on rental fees and gas in the long run. You’re going to have to forget about looking cool and having that extra horsepower, sorry.

12) Take public transportation – Taking cabs, cars and other forms of private transportation is more expensive and can actually be slower than taking public transit. Figure out how to take the bus, train, subway, or walk. This applies especially to visiting big cities. Plus, you’ll get the adventure of cruising around like the locals do – just avoid rush hour!

13) Haggle – Some of us have it in our minds that we have to pay the price as stated. Believe it or not you can negotiate prices (haggle) with almost anyone, anywhere – even with corporations, as customer service reps are taught to please the customer in most circumstances. This certainly applies to going off the beaten path in another country as well.

14) Go during off-season – One of the best tricks out there, but you may have to deal with a different type of climate. High seasons usually revolved around the best weather. I’ve actually found that the best times to go are on the edges of the high season when the weather is still good but the climate is transitioning to less favorable vacationing conditions.

15) Use credit card rewards points – If you are able to manage your credit cards well and use them the right way (i.e. pay off credit card debt every month, never carrying a balance) then you may have already figured this one out. Use your accumulated credit card rewards for free days of rental cars, hotel rooms, or flights.

So there you have it – 15 money saving tips for the next time you plan a vacation. Get off the beaten path, think outside of the box and you might be surprised at how great of an experience you can have while saving money at the same time.

9 Responses to 15 Tips to Save Money on Vacation

  1. We just took a little vacation to a couple touristy areas in ‘up north’ Michigan, and because we stayed between the Labor Day holiday and the change-in-leaf-colors, we got the cheapest rates of the year!

  2. I’d agree with all of those except maybe point number 2, which I semi-disagree with. Touristy areas are touristy areas for a reason – there’s always an attraction there worth seeing. For instance, your point may be true that you could have more fun doing something locals do, but you have to do the big touristy stuff at least one day out of your trip. If you’re going to NY you can’t skip out on Times Square, and if you go to Honolulu you can’t miss out on Waikiki Beach.

    Fun post, I really enjoyed it. Vacations really are what you make of them.

  3. One huge one: vacation exchanges. There’s at least one website – I don’t want to look like I’m endorsing it but if you type the two relevant words into Firefox it’ll pop up – that specializes in this. It’s exactly what you think: find someone who’s going to be out of their house during the period you plan on being in their town. It costs a fraction of what staying in a hotel would, and it doesn’t force you to share a hostel bathroom with greasy Europeans.

  4. Great points, especially the off season one. I just had a guest post on my site about that.

    I would also reccomend not goign on vacation right around the holidays. Prices always go up beause of it. My flight to Miami for my upcoming cruise is cheaper than my flight back, just because the flight back is closer to Thanksgiving.

  5. There is nothing worse that coming back from a vacation and being flat broke! Your tips are great, going during the off season is key! My husband and I ended up getting a free hotel night when we went to Barcelona last fall. Traveling during the week as appose to the weekend can save you some money too!

  6. Great set here. Saving on vacations is very important, as is saving period. I’m not sure if I’d be able to share a bathroom with a stranger but it could be a great option for those taking there kids with them.

  7. I am only 16 years of age, and a friends and I have already begun saving $100 per paycheck towards becoming room mates and vacations. Thanks for extra tips!

  8. For $2, road-trippers can download the “Lowest Gas Prices Finder” app onto an iPhone to find the cheapest gas prices. Plug in your area’s zip code, and a list of nearby gas stations with the best prices — and a map on how to get to them — pops up. Another good one: Mobile Magic, a $10 app for Verizon Wireless customers that tracks wait times for popular rides at Disney World as well as the whereabouts of Mickey, Cinderella and more characters.