I am so incredibly grateful to them because we had an absolutely wonderful trip, and I am fairly certain that we would never have taken the time without their push to do so.
It was a much-needed break from our very busy schedules, and we got to spend it in some gorgeous locales with great historic sites, as well as fabulous hiking and cycling.
Over the course of my life I’ve had the privilege of doing quite a bit of traveling and enjoying some pretty terrific vacations. We’ve been able to do that even though we’ve never made huge incomes because we’ve made it a priority and saved for it by doing without in other areas of our life to make sure it happened.
And being the frugal person I am, I try to get the most bang for my buck in my travel experiences, as I do in everything else.
You really don't need to spend a lot to enjoy yourself. Here I will share some of the ways we manage to keep our costs down without sacrificing the fun and excitement of exploring new places.
I guess I should first say that, to my mind, there are two broad categories of travel. The first one involves much more moving around and actual sight-seeing, and the second one is typically much more leisurely, with an emphasis on staying in one spot and soaking up whatever that area has to offer.
They both have their appeal, and if you have time, there’s nothing that says you can’t combine the two by, say, doing some moving around and heavy sight-seeing for the first part of the trip and then settling down in one place for the second part of the trip.
Regardless of your preference, there are ways to do it more cheaply than you think. Here are some of my tips for how to do it on a budget, while still doing it in comfort.
This may take effort and time, but with all the resources available on the internet, it’s never been easier to do. And it can save you a bundle.
Some upscale professional tour companies charge huge premiums for their services. If we had used one of the ones that specializes in the kind of active, outdoor trip we enjoyed – say REI or National Geographic - we would have easily paid triple what we did.
And even less luxurious U.S outfitters or tour operators will typically add 75% or more to the bill.
To figure out an itinerary, do some on-line research on the local tourist board websites to see what’s available to see and do in the area you're visiting.
Also, check sites that offer travel reviews and suggestions, such as Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, to name a few, and other travel forums, such as Reddit Travel.
There are many out there, including ones that specialize in the type of activity you prefer. For example, we were able to find some great information on hiking, including trail descriptions and maps by visiting a travel forum page for those kinds of activities.
Just do an on-line search for whatever activity it is you like in the area where you’ll be traveling and you’ll be amazed what pops up for resources.
Or, you can buy yourself a guidebook for the area you intend to visit, and use that to help you plan.
I’ve used both methods, and find that the websites work just great. They have the advantage of being free and generally very up-to-date with information.
Before I do my planning, I also like to have a hard copy of a map of the local area.
I love maps, and having one in hand enables me to get an overview of my route. I use this hard copy map, along with internet map sites, such as Google maps or Mapquest to determine distances.
I can also use those sites, and those previously mentioned on-line forums to help figure out the times and ways to get from one point of interest to the other, when traveling by car.
I also check local public and private transportation websites to get information and time-tables for trains, boats or ferries, buses, and cabs or car hires.
All those resources provide a great deal of useful and accurate information to get me started on a basic route and major points of interest.
Check for the Weather
Also, check the average temperatures and weather forecast for the time you will be visiting so that you can prepare yourself and pack the appropriate clothing.
I know people who have been caught unaware by the occasional chilly summertime temperatures in northern Maine, for example, and had to go out and spend a good deal of money on sweaters that they had neglected to pack.
Save yourself that expense, and also the lost time and opportunity to enjoy your surroundings by making sure you have the attire you need for the activities you want to do.
I know many people who swear by one airline or hotel chain, and will only book those. I am not brand loyal at all, and shop for the best deal every time I travel.
For airline reservations, hotels, and car rentals, I like to use the on-line travel service, Kayak, a fairly comprehensive site that gives many different options and covers all the major chains and franchises. It will show prices from many different sites, such as Priceline, Cheap O’ Air, etc.
Compare prices you find there with other travel sites, such as AAA and Costco Travel, if you’re members.
And also check your credit card rewards travel site, which can of course offer great discounts with point redemption.
Just be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when it comes to the price comparisons. By that I mean check to make sure the quoted prices each include all the fees, taxes, and insurance, etc. required.
The bottom line is that you should do your due diligence and compare the costs. You might be surprised by the range in prices and offerings.
In this day and age, there are many other options available for lodging besides the standard hotel room.
If you’re a camper, you already know about that affordable option. And it goes beyond tent camping now, with many campgrounds offering RVs or cabins for rent. It’s sometimes called glamping, and it’s worth exploring.
Check out campgrounds, including private ones, state run ones, national park ones. They exist everywhere, not just in the U.S. Research them to see what kind of facilities they have beyond sites to pitch a tent or park an RV.
I’ve also found some wonderfully quaint and comfortable inns and bed and breakfasts by using local tourist websites or ones geared just to this type of lodging.
And I’ve personally had great luck with Airbnb and VRBO. We’ve rented entire houses, cottages, apartments, or rooms using these sites, and have sometimes paid astonishingly little.
The added advantage of some of these rentals over an inn or hotel is that they offer kitchen facilities, so you have the option of eating in, which can be a huge savings in and of itself.
They also offer a gathering space, such as a living room, if you’re a bigger group.
Personally, I can think of few things less likely to make for any kind of real relaxation than a family trying to cram into one hotel room, particularly when the kids are bouncing off the wall, or it’s time for them to sleep, but the adults are still wanting to stay up.
These tensions and problems are avoided when you rent an apartment or house.
On our most recent trip, we did not have the time or inclination to cook, but we were very happy when the occasion presented itself to shop in a grocery store such as Aldi’s and to bring home to our Airbnb a prepared dinner offering and some breakfast items. We then ate our meals in a simple, but lovely Irish farmhouse in front of a fire.
It doesn't get much better than that.
They are not as common in the United States - although they are catching on - but they are very common in Europe.
And many of them are in choice locations, and offer accommodations that range from a dormitory-style room, to private rooms and suites for families.
I recommend checking them out as a very affordable option.
Typically fares and prices are lower the further out you are from your target date.
That’s not always the case, and sometimes there are last minute deals to be had for those among us who can be very flexible about their travel plans, but it’s a general rule of thumb.
Prices often jump as the season approaches, and your options thin out as slots fill.
By booking early, you have far more choice. Try to find opportunities that have at least somewhat flexible cancellation policies, or a smaller deposit, to give yourself some leeway.
Another option is to buy yourself trip cancellation insurance that provides a refund if you have to cancel for certain reasons, or for any reason (depending on the policy - be sure to read the terms and conditions so you know exactly what's covered).
Even if you plan your own itinerary, there might still be an occasion when you’re going to want the services of a guide, or a tour company or an outfitter.
In those cases, I recommend checking the offerings of local companies in the area where you’ll be visiting. They are often much cheaper than U.S. national companies.
For example, it’s possible in Scotland to hire local “luggage taxis” to transport your bags to your lodgings if you are trying to hike or bike your way through the country.
Arranging for that on your own is much cheaper than an all-inclusive tour that provides that service and tacks on a hefty fee to do so. Just about any tourist venue anywhere in the world has similar examples of local companies that do the work for a fraction of the cost.
Ask the host where you’re staying, check local tourist board sites and any one of the many on-line forums, such as Trip Advisor or Reddit Travel to get the information you need.
There are several different types to consider. One of them is health insurance. Check your policy before you go to make sure it will cover any substantial costs in other areas of the country and overseas, such as a serious illness or accident.
Many U.S. policies don’t offer any overseas coverage, and some have very limited networks even within the U.S. Medicare and Medicaid definitely don’t offer overseas coverage, although some Medigap plans do. It pays to be informed.
Traveler’s health insurance is an option to consider if your insurance does not cover you. In the unfortunate event of a true medical emergency, it can save you a bundle.
NOTE: If you happen to have guests coming from overseas, DEFINITELY have them buy a traveler’s health insurance policy for the United States. I have personal experience with family friends who’ve run into huge, near-bankrupting medical bills here that were not covered by their home country insurance.
Our healthcare costs are much higher than in other countries, so even if they have health coverage at home, it will not come close to covering the costs here. Just an FYI.
In this era of no-refund plane tickets and reservations, it’s also a good idea to explore things like trip cancellation insurance.
Some years back, we had the sad experience of having to cancel a trip for my son due to a death in the family, and ended up losing several hundred dollars in airfare.
Trip cancellation insurance would have helped in this situation, although it pays to read the terms and conditions to see exactly what circumstances will be covered.
Frankly, I think there are few areas of travel that are more confusing than this one.
You often hear that you won’t need anything additional beyond your credit card coverage, homeowner’s insurance policy, or car insurance policy when you rent, so skip the extra coverage for domestic car rentals.
But I had a brief, startling highway encounter with a tumbleweed bush while driving across New Mexico several years ago that resulted in more than $1500 in damage to the rental car.
I was billed by the rental car company, and ended up having to pay about $250 out of pocket, after waiting a substantial length of time to be reimbursed for the balance from my credit card company (I did not carry collision insurance on our own vehicles at the time, since they were older and paid off, so I had to rely on my credit card insurance).
It was quite stressful, and I’ve been much more wary about refusing the extra collision damage waiver since then.
And if you’re renting in other countries, your own auto insurance or homeowner’s are not usable at all, which can mean a near doubling of your daily rental rate for the extra cost of the insurance.
So it’s worth checking out third party insurers for coverage at rates that are much less than what the rental car company will charge for zero deductible plans.
Using this option, you can give yourself peace of mind for hundreds of dollars less over the course of a few weeks.
Restaurant meals are hugely expensive and a major factor in any travel budget.
As I’ve already mentioned, one way to save is to always try to find lodgings with kitchens or at least some option for preparing meals on the premises.
Or, at the very least, try to book places that offer breakfast for free.
For a family, it can represent substantial savings in time, money and convenience over the course of a week or more.
If you do eat at a restaurant, check out the appetizer menu. Given the huge portions served today at eateries, those options are usually more than enough for most of us for a meal.
Or, another option is to order an entrée and split it between two or more in your party. My husband and I did that frequently and were often still stuffed at the end of the meal.
I also recommend getting some meals at a food truck or street vendor rather than a sit-down restaurant. Often the food is wonderful and authentic, and available for a fraction of the cost.
And be sure to check out the food courts or prepared food display cases of grocery stores for cheaper meal options. You can either eat it there, or take it to a nice outdoor spot and enjoy it al fresco.
Some of our most memorable (and cheap) meals have been enjoyed sitting on a park bench overlooking a beautiful harbor, or with other wonderful views or people-watching vantage points, etc.
Other places to find cheap eats are IKEA, the furniture store if there happens to be one nearby, or some small convenience stores that offer ready-made soups, salads, and sandwiches.
For a fraction of the cost of a sit-down restaurant meal, you can eat very well.
One is to bring a zippered, fold-up cooler bag along in your luggage. It can do double duty as a suitcase, if you need it to, but its main purpose will be to use as an icebox in your hotel room.
Even the most basic motels typically offer free ice, which you can put into Ziploc bags in the travel cooler bag for keeping perishables cold, such as butter, eggs, cheese, bread, and mayonnaise that you can use for breakfast and to make lunch.
Use the coffee maker provided to get hot water for a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal.
Or use it to cook hardboiled eggs. Eggs don’t really need boiling water, but will cook in very hot water in about 10-15 minutes (depending on the actual temperature of the water).
Serve them with some bread, butter, and jam, and you’ve got yourself a pretty decent breakfast.
Buy and store some sandwich makings in the cooler for lunches, too.
Heck, you can even make a grilled cheese sandwich with the hotel iron, if you’re so inclined!
Eating this way, you’ve saved yourself easily $10-$15 per day per person for meals. Worth the savings if you’re on a tight budget, I’d say.
Tip #8 - Travel Off Peak
This is not doable for everyone, of course, but if you can arrange it, the savings can be huge.
When planning our most recent trip, for example, we found that prices jumped around 30% for the month of August. So we opted to go in early July instead.
If there are special events where you are going, such as festivals, that will usually boost prices substantially, so unless that's your reason for going, try to pick a different date.
If you have no choice, or the event is the attraction for you, then booking well in advance will generally save you money.
To give another example, a couple of years back we had a wedding to attend in London, which we wanted to follow up with a visit to my husband's family in Cyprus.
The wedding was the last weekend in August. When I explored airfare, I discovered that it was about 50% cheaper if we made the wedding date the start of our holiday instead of the end of it.
Fortunately, we were able to take the first couple of weeks off in September without problem.
And we noticed an added bonus when we did that -- truly spectacular weather that was perfect for sightseeing and the beach alike. That's often the case in the spring and fall.
So check those off season travel deals and see if they fit into your calendar. Sometimes the price difference means you can squeeze in two trips for the price of a high season one.
So there you have a few of the methods I know for saving money while traveling.
It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope it’s helpful. And I’m always eager to learn of any new ideas to save, so I’ll pass them along as I find them.