Travel is relaxing and enlightening. It allows you to get out of your regular routines and learn about new places.
Of course, some destinations and types of trips can be pricier than others. A nice hotel or restaurant in a big city can be expensive; likewise, entry to certain cultural sights and historic high points can be a reasonable way to experience a locale.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to create an affordable but fulfilling experience. Here are some tips to help you travel cheap without sacrificing fun.
Create a vacation budget
When determining your household budget, set aside money for a vacation. It doesn’t have to be enough to pay for the trip of a lifetime, but you’ll be able to get away to somewhere enjoyable. You might try a gradual approach, putting aside money from each paycheck into a special vacation fund for a trip to enjoy with the whole family.
Make your own trip calculator
Once you start considering different options, figure out approximately how much each component will cost. That includes transportation, lodging, food and attractions and activities. If your trip cost number is higher than your travel budget, you can reconfigure your plans. Decide where you can cut back a little, such as taking the bus instead of renting a car or booking a different hotel with fewer amenities.
If it's an option and you still prefer to fly, consider traveling on different days to save on flight costs. Tickets for flights leaving on Tuesdays and Wednesdays typically have the lowest prices, and midwinter and early spring are some of the cheapest times of year to fly.
Brainstorm vacation ideas
You may need to find a balance between an exotic, faraway location and a spot that's close to home - and more affordable. Here are some budget-friendly vacation ideas:
- Heading to national parks
- Exploring a big U.S. city
- Enjoying a staycation at a hotel or casino in a neighboring town
- Touring art galleries and museums or doing a "restaurant crawl" in your state's capital city
- Relaxing at a bed and breakfast
- Visiting friends or family out of state
There are some cheap ways to travel no matter which type of trip you choose.
Save money on vacation by cutting corners
Lodging: If you’re looking for ways to save money on vacation, start with your accommodations. Camping is usually a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel, especially if you have your own gear or can borrow from friends or relatives. Even if you stay in a hotel, there are ways to shave off a few dollars. Scour websites for the best deals. You might also consider a hotel that includes breakfast or offers a happy hour with appetizers, even if it costs more up front. You'll likely save money overall by not spending as much on meals. That’s especially true when traveling with kids.
Renting apartments or vacation homes can also save you money. If you need to rent more than one room for your family or if you’re traveling with friends, renting an apartment or house means you have a place to hang out together in addition to extra beds. You also have the option to cook meals in your rental's kitchen instead of going to restaurants to eat. If friends and family are along for the journey, discuss splitting the housing and food costs among yourselves, too. Are you visiting an area where friends live? Combine a visit with them, asking if you can sleep on their couch or floor. For the cost of a hostess gift or meal out, it’s a win-win situation.
Search for deals: Before your trip, search for deals at your destination. Look for coupons on travel websites. Buying museum or attraction tickets, especially theme park tickets, ahead of time can help with your vacation budget. In a big city, you can sometimes buy a pass that admits you to several big attractions. The passes may come with other perks including VIP admission, where you’ll skip long lines, or add-on items you might have paid for anyway, like shuttle rides between destinations.
Reciprocal and discount passes: If you belong to a museum or zoo, look into whether you can use that membership where you’re going. Many zoos and museums offer reciprocity, allowing you free or discounted entrance when you show your membership card for your local facility back at home. The same goes for auto associations. They sometimes have discounted tickets, or the attraction will give you a discount when showing a membership card. Libraries occasionally have museum passes available for use. If you’ll be close to home, check with your local library or see if you can get a library card where you’re going.