Enjoy Travel

Frequent Travelers On How They Save Money On Vacation

Lindsay Tigar  |  August 25, 2021

Ready, set, save — and go!

When wanderlust gets the best of you, it’s easy to lose a couple of hours researching the best flights, hotels with rooms-to-die-for and other adventures you’ll want to experience on your journey. Even though many of us aren’t ready to pull the trigger on a journey just yet, we’re doing lots of research now — window shopping, if you will — on the best possible getaway we can take when the world is safe to travel. 

You may be happy sticking to the continental US, or heading somewhere farther afield like Europe or Asia. If you’re on a budget (as most of us are), it’s likely that you can’t afford to have all of the perks and luxuries at every stop. But that’s okay! There are many ways to have an exciting, memorable getaway while still saving major $$. The trick is being strategic about your booking options, as well as your spending while you’re on the road. We checked in with nomads and frequent travelers on the most effective ways to make your next trip more affordable:

Be Strategic With Meals

One of the most expensive parts of traveling is feeding yourself. You readily have food available at home, and you likely cook more meals than you eat out. On vacation, though, you probably don’t want to cook daily, but you also don’t want to spend money every single day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A helpful middle ground is to save by strategically skipping meals when you can, and always booking an accommodation that includes complimentary breakfast, recommends travel blogger Lia Garcia

Here’s how a ‘strategic’ meal plan might look:

Start by enjoying the free breakfast at your hotel. Load up and have as much as you can stomach to keep you fulfilled for many hours. If they have pastries or apples, take one for the road.

Then, for lunch, you likely won’t be hungry for a big lunch, so consider skipping, grabbing some granola bars, or heading into a cheap cafe to split something small with your companion. If you’re in an area with delicious street food (like South America or Southeast Asia), it will be no problem to snag a quick, cheap meal. 

Dinner can be your “splurge” meal, where you spend what you normally would on dining out. After all, you’re in a new place, so you want to experience the food culture. “By only eating out at a restaurant for a pricey meal once per day, we’re able to keep our food costs low during our trip and save money on each vacation while still enjoying the local cuisine,” Garcia says.

Choose A Hotel That’s Away From The City Center

While being in the heart of the action is fun, it can come with a hefty price tag. Rather than spending your entire budget on accommodations, look at hotels that may be slightly further away from the main town square or beachfront. Sometimes, you’ll see rates plummet, even after just a quick, ten-minute walk away, says Nate Hake, CEO of TravelLemming.com. “While it’s less convenient, you can save boatloads of money by considering accommodation options in areas that are adjacent to a destination’s main tourist area,” he continues. Just make sure to read reviews before you book! 

Consider Homestays 

For a non-traditional vacation experience, a homestay not only saves significant money but it helps you deeply immerse into the local culture. Particularly if you’re visiting a smaller community, you may have the opportunity to share a home with a family for very little money, explains Nora Livingstone, the CEO and volunteer coordinator at Animal Experience International

“Staying with a family, you can share food, and when you pitch in for groceries it’s cheaper than restaurants, and you can learn how to cook dishes to ‘wow’ your friends back home,” she continues. “Some homestays have people staying in separate and autonomous living quarters. This is nice for those looking to have a more independent experience but also want to save money while making sure they still invest directly into the local economy.”

Get Around Like A Local 

Another way your credit card bill can skyrocket on vacation is getting from point A to point B. “Whether you’re renting a car, booking private shuttles, or buying an expensive Eurail pass, getting from place to place adds up fast,” Garcia says. 

To reduce this spending category, Garcia gets around a destination as the locals do. In some areas, this may mean walking; in others, it could be taking public transportation or buses. Or, in some cases, it could be a wildly unique experience, like moto-taxis (motorcycle taxis) in Bali or Colombia, or tut-tuts in Thailand. It may put you a bit out of your comfort zone, but that’s what traveling is all about. 

“While we’re always a little confused on where exactly the buses stop, or how to buy a metro pass when we don’t speak the language of the machine we’re attempting to use, or how much this shared shuttle bus costs and whether they’ll actually drop us off where we’re going or just nearby, we do our best to lean into the confusion and rely on the kindness of strangers,” she continues. “We’ve found that locals, especially locals in the tourism industry — like tour guides or front desk concierges  — are usually happy to explain.”

Get A Travel Rewards Credit Card

If you have the self-discipline to charge everything to your credit card and then pay off the balance monthly, look into a travel rewards credit card. For everyday spending on groceries, gas, and other expenses, you earn points that can be turned into cash for jet-setting. While a travel credit card won’t pay for your entire trip, it will help cover those big costs like flights and hotels, says Elise Armitage, the founder of What The Fab

“Many travel reward cards offer a sign-up bonus for added rewards after you spend a certain amount of the card. Also, purchases made with your card earn points or miles that you can redeem for future travel expenses,” she continues. “Depending on the card, purchases such as airfare and hotel stays may earn 2 to 3 times the rewards for everyday use.”

Use Messaging Apps + Turn Off Cellular 

If your travel plans take you abroad, Armitage says the one thing that can save you money while staying in touch with friends and family is to download messaging apps like Skype and WhatsApp. These apps can be used whenever you have access to wifi, and will keep your data charges down. With these apps, you can talk, message and video chat with all of your contacts and you won’t have to worry about returning home to a huge cell phone bill. Also, pro tip for travelers who are heading out on their journey: make sure that if you do have a cell phone plan that “cellular data” is turned “OFF” for all non-essential apps, like shopping apps, Instagram, Twitter, and other apps that don’t directly relate navigation or travel essentials. Why turn cellular off? An app “refreshing” in the background can cost you, and it’s always possible you might mindlessly click on a social media app while waiting for a bus, and inadvertently eat through your data plan.

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