Whether you’re driving across a few states to join loved ones for some summer relaxation or hopping a last-minute flight for an overseas adventure, travel expenses can be a budget buster.
Searching endlessly for inexpensive flights, scouring reviews for recommended Airbnbs and figuring out how much food costs in an unfamiliar land can be exhausting. To save you time — and, of course, money — we asked financial experts and travel professionals to share insider tips on every aspect from takeoff, landing and all that’s in between.
Be strategic — and sneaky — when booking flights
Airfare comparison shopping is a must. But you can spend hours clicking around comparison sites looking for that elusive deal. Wanna know a secret? Most airfare search engines show you the same deals because they all draw data from a single source, the ITA Matrix, according to travel blogger, Nate Hake. Though it’s not exactly user-friendly, Hake says the site makes it easier to scout out the best routes at the cheapest prices.
Pick and choose (and spend on) only special experiences
You make tradeoffs in everyday life, like leftovers for lunch at your desk to free up cash for special nights out with the fam. Why not do the same when you’re on the road?
Think about the overpriced parts of our trips: hotel breakfasts when a local shop has a better deal, taxis when we could walk, airport transfers when a bus is available, and so on. As shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot, Sara Skirboll explains, being picky over the experiences we invest in will not only help you cut costs, but also leave you more satisfied with your overall trip.
Skirboll suggests scouting out the neighborhood pre-trip to get a sense of the area and various local joints that offer more affordable options. And if Michelin-star dinners are a high priority, go for it. Simply make another part of your travel budget smaller to make room for the expense.
Seek quality time in fewer places
Filling your passport with stamps from all the countries on your bucket list can strain the travel budget. While it’s tempting to pack in as many destinations as possible when you’re far away from your home country, travel blogger Nina Ragusa recommends doing the exact opposite: “Dive deeper into the destinations you go to and stick around for longer.”
She says slowing down and savoring fewer destinations is the key to spending less and squeezing more enjoyment from you trip. “Don’t squeeze three countries in a week or go to a far flung place for only five days if you want to save money,” she says. For example, many vacation rentals offer long-term discounts if you book for more than a week. Plus, staying put instead of rushing around allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture, visit the local markets, and find more of the deals only insiders know. And who knows, you might even learn a phrase or two in another language!
Negotiate a better Airbnb rate
In many locations, renting an apartment or entire home is a big money-saver, particularly when you factor in food costs. What about places where Airbnb rates are still out of your budget? Don’t write off the option just yet.
As Hake explains, Airbnb allows hosts to give an interested guest 24 hours to book their place at a discount. “You can simply message hosts and request that they make an offer — and many will,” he continues. “It helps if you can provide a compelling reason, such as a longer booking, but I’ve found that simply saying a place is outside of your budget is often enough to score a discount of 5% to 30%.”
Do the math before dismissing an all-inclusive experience
All-inclusive vacation packages get a bad rap, especially with seasoned travelers who aren’t keen on the limiting experience. However, for when you really, truly need a vacation to unwind, unplug and relax, an all-inclusive takes away the stress and financial fatigue of pricing out every single activity. As Nora Blum, the vice president of Travel Leaders Market Square Agency explains, some deals even include airfare and transportation to-and-from the airport, which takes away any guess work on funds. In one fell swoop you’re set for the trip, minus a little cash for tips and souvenirs.
Sweat the small print
We spend hours reading guides and browsing Instagram feeds for inspiration for the adventure ahead. But reading the fine print of airline tickets and hotel bookings? Meh. But that’s a mistake. Many travelers are duped because they skip over hotel and flight booking fine print and are surprised by their hefty bill at checkout, according to CNBC senior personal finance correspondent Sharon Epperson.
Epperson says to watch out for so-called “resort fees” and “convenience fees” that are lumped in with taxes and other trip costs. Be particularly mindful of what’s included with your airline ticket price. More and more airlines are limiting luggage, meals and other perks many customers assume are part of the deal. “Understand when you choose your flight what is included in the price — like checked luggage, ability to choose your seat — and determine what you will need. Add-on amenities might end up making the ‘cheapest’ flight cost more in the long-run,” she says.
Keep your travel plans as open as possible
Although we can’t change everything when it comes to when we can get away, flexibility is an incredibly effective tactic for saving. Flying a day early or leaving a day later can sometimes save you hundreds of dollars. And, if you can be agnostic about where you’re going, that can help you trim prices, too. As travel blogger Lia Garcia notes, setting flight alerts for places you go often (or want to go someday) can help in finding an inexpensive option. Then, sign up with Scott’s Cheap Flights, the newsletter of airlines we fly with frequently and hotels in the area. When you receive a ping, you can bite the bullet and book. And, if the trips don’t come through as planned? Friendsgiving, anyone?
LISTEN UP AND SAVE: If you’ve ever wondered exactly how those Instagram influencers can afford those amazing trips, listen to this special travel edition of the HerMoney podcast.
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