5 easy ways to save cash on your next vacation
Despite all the good that comes from them, if going away puts us into debt, the stress that comes from taking that time off might not be worth the advantages. On average, Americans spent $1,978 on summer vacations last year—up 10 percent from the year before—according to a recent travel study.¹ The solution, then, is both setting aside enough money to pay for your trip, as well as saving some cash while you’re actually on it.
To make sure your vacation doesn't stress you out financially, here are some easy ways to save some cash while traveling.
Airfare, train or gas costs are just a few items to consider. Transportation costs for when you reach your actual destination—like car rentals, public transportation, etc.—can add up, as well.
Ways to save: Traveling to places during the off-season for those destinations (like Disney in the fall, or the beach in winter) could afford you some pretty drastic discounts. Public transportation like the subway or a bus will likely be the cheapest option once you arrive, but if you need to rent a car, or if you plan to take cabs, include that cost in your overall budget. If you’re in an area where it makes sense, bike rentals could be another fun and cheap option—and remember, walking is free!
Where you plan to stay while you’re traveling will be one of the larger costs of your trip. If you can travel in a group and split this cost, you’ll be able to save up to half of this expense. If that’s not an option, though, there are some other relatively easy ways to cut back on this spending bucket.
Ways to save: Check out how much hotels cost for the time you want to travel (remember, traveling off-season can save you on housing costs, too), but make sure to also check places like Airbnb or VRBO, since they can sometimes be cheaper, or at least offer a better value. These options are often larger than hotel rooms, which makes sharing more practical, and they’re great for families who need a little extra space. They also tend to come with more features that contribute to savings, like kitchens, where at least some meals can be cooked, rather than purchased, and pools or hot tubs, which could provide hours of entertainment.
Eating out can take quite a chunk out of your travel savings, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Taking the time to do some meal planning before you leave can really lighten the food financial load.
Ways to save: If you can, plan to bring lunches with you most days, or make breakfast and/or dinner where you’re staying. Staying at a hotel or B&B that includes a free breakfast is a great way to save here, too. If there is a restaurant you really want to try, consider having lunch there instead of dinner. Lunch menus may offer slightly different options than dinner ones, but there’s a high likelihood they will be cheaper. Keep in mind that touristy places tend to jack up prices, too—instead, ask the locals where they eat. You’ll get an authentic meal and probably save some cash.
How you plan to spend your days will be a large part of your budget. For example, beach vacations will likely cost less for daily entertainment than visiting a major city where you plan to check out a new museum, play, or sporting event every day.
Ways to save: Do a quick Google search for your entertainment of choice before buying anything. There are a lot of discounts to be found at places like cheaptickets.com and Goldstar, and some major cities offer city passes to help you save, as well. For example, in New York check out the Explorer Pass, in Philadelphia The Philadelphia Pass, and in San Francisco the CityPASS. These places often have newsletters you can sign up for to get additional discounts on your inaugural purchase, as well.
You’ll likely spend a little extra on things you didn’t exactly budget for, like souvenirs and gifts, as well. Plan to include an extra $150-$200 per person for these types of things, just to be on the safe side. It’s also customary in many situations to tip for certain services, like housekeeping at a hotel, or to a cab driver after a ride. Consider including an extra $100-$200 in your budget—depending on the length of your stay and what you plan to do and where you plan to stay—to cover these costs.
Ways to save: Make sure tip isn’t already included before adding your own. For example, most Airbnb rentals include a cleaning fee in their upfront cost, so tipping for a cleaning service isn’t necessary. Some restaurants include the tip if your party is of a certain size, and some countries don’t even require tipping at all. Do a little research before you leave to make sure you’re up-to-date on the customs for where you will be staying. Another fun way to help pay for these additional costs is to set up a savings jar that you put all your extra change into at the end of the day. This is a great way to get excited about your upcoming trip, and a great way to put that extra pocket change to good use.
In the end, if you’ve saved up for your trip and have researched some of the above ways to save while you’re actually away, you’ll have a much better time on your hard-earned vacation. While traveling, remember to also make the most of rewards points from credit cards, and consider the best way to pay for items (cash, credit card, traveler’s checks, etc.) once you’re actually on your trip, since those types of fees can really add up.