If you're feeling the pinch in your travel budget these days, you're not alone. People are looking at all kinds of ways in which to reduce their spending, and unfortunately for many that means giving up luxuries, including vacations and travel.
But you don't have to. Granted, you may have to adjust your expectations for travel and be willing to make a few concessions, but with a few changes, you can still have a satisfying trip without feeling guilty about the expense. Here are my favorite tips for reducing the cost of vacation travel.
Plan ahead! This is the number one rule for saving money on your vacation. If you plan ahead enough, you can save a ton of money in all of your travel accommodations. It's those last-minute procrastinators who are often stuck paying more than premium prices for having waited too long to make reservations. These days, you just can't afford to be one of them.
Travel to your favorite vacation spot during the off-season. Of course, for some spots that means arriving just in time for the monsoon season, or during the months of giant-bug infestation or whatnot. Avoid those spots. But some locations are just as lovely during their off-peak months, and you will get unbelievable deals on fares, hotels, and rental cars. Plus, your sightseeing adventures won't be nearly as crowded.
If traveling by car, make sure your vehicle has been properly tuned-up and is in top-notch condition. There's nothing less fun (and frequently more expensive) than having your car break down in some godforsaken location like Kearney, Nebraska, and need some exotic part they don't carry (this actually happened to me; apologies to Kearney for the 'godforsaken' part, but gee whiz, it really was). Use your best gas-saving techniques like hypermiling and making sure your tires have enough air, etc. There's probably nothing you can do about the extra weight you're carrying in the trunk―you are on vacation, after all.
If renting a car, try to not be picky about it. Don't choose their most popular car with all the fancy bells and whistles you may not use anyway―decide that saving money is more important, and go with the economy deal. Shop around for the best rental deals in advance, so you're not stuck having to take what they give you, and talk to the dealer before you agree to a contract. Explain exactly what you need, and you may be able to dump some of the charges for services you won't use.
If flying, try to have some flexibility about departure and arrival times. This might be difficult if you're traveling with young children, but if you aren't, making a few concessions on your flight will be worth it to your wallet. Choose a budget, no-frills airline, be willing to make a couple of stop-overs (these flights tend to be cheaper than direct flights), eat before you get on the plane so you're not forced to buy the $10 'snack pack', and if you're really budget-motivated, offer to be bumped off from your flight if it's full. Often this means you'll get a free ticket for a later date, and usually you'll get on the next flight going your way, but check in advance with the airlines just to be sure.
Check the travel sites' (like Orbitz or Travelocity) special deals or last-minute fares section. They sometimes have spectacular deals that might fit into your travel parameters. You have to be quite flexible about travel time though, because you need to be ready to take off the next day with those last-minute savers. If you're feeling daring, check out fare bidding sites like Priceline, you might lose out, but if you plan enough in advance, you just might get an unheard-of deal. Some websites will help you gage whether to buy a plane ticket now or wait until fares improve.
At your destination, choose a budget hotel (are you sensing a theme?). For some people, this defeats the entire purpose of a vacation, and having to meticulously plan and choose the cheapest options in every aspect feels more like work than vacation. If you're such a person, it might be a good idea to 'splurge' on one area, like the hotel, and be a penny-pincher everywhere else. But if the accommodations aren't the important part of the trip for you, all you really need is a bed and a bathroom, right? Again, pre-planning is the key here. If you plan ahead you'll be more likely to snag a deal. Conversely, you can also get a great deal by snatching up a discount at the very last minute. Try Lastminute.com for deals like this.
Consider scaling down the scope of your vacation, and plan on say, camping instead of staying in a hotel, or driving instead of flying (which will be cheaper if you're not going too far). Consider a 'staycation', in which you stay home, but act as if you're a visitor to your own town. Take the week off from work, take care of chores in advance, turn off the computer, and check the local visitor's bureau for fun things to do on your stay-at-home trip.
Some of these tactics might seem undoable, like being able to fly off at the last minute, or being stranded at the airport because you got bumped off from a flight. But if your focus really is on saving money, some of these tips will not be difficult to put into practice, and may make the difference between being able to go on your vacation or having to do without.