Getting away on the cheap, it turns out, is worthy of a series all its own. So I think I’m going to make that happen. Until then, here are 13 tips for traveling on a budget. There are three tips each in four categories: lodging, transportation, activities, and food. Plus one cherry on top at the end.
Because this blog’s readership is largely American, and because staying close to home tends to be less expensive, these are all tips for stateside travel. Let’s get to it, shall we?
1) Search a space share site like airbnb. Sites like this put you in contact with people renting out personal space, everything from a couch-crash to entire homes. If you’ll be staying a week or more, be sure to check out the weekly rate as it is often discounted.
2) If you’re extremely flexible and looking for adventure, try couch surfing. It’s not for families or the faint of heart, but it is free. And locals are the best guides, after all.
3) If you’ve got a car, and especially if you’re looking to relax, consider staying somewhere outside of town. Prices tend to be cheaper in these areas. Not just on lodging, but often on food and activities as well.
4) For rental cars, try a clearing house site like carrentals.com. If possible, pick up your car somewhere besides the airport as rates offsite are much less than at the airport. Depending on how many days you’ll have the car, it might be worth taking a taxi from the airport to pick it up. Price check around to see.
5) If you’re feeling adventurous, take a bus. It might take you a while to get there, and it’s an experience to be sure, but you can also save 50% or more off the price of an airline ticket. On Greyhound, book 21 days in advance for the best rate. Tip: Chose express options when possible to bypass the stop-in-every-prairie-town itinerary. You’ll reach your destination faster and happier.
6) The easiest way to cut your transportation expenses is to select a destination that’s closer to home. Taking your own vehicle saves you from spending additional cash on rental cars or public transit, and all travelers are covered in the price of gas. To make it feel further from everyday life, try creating your own adventures. You could hunt for local statues and take ridiculous photos at each one. Or sit in a different cafe each day and sketch or write about the people around you. A friend of mine loves to bakery-hop in towns she visits. A little creativity can go a long way to make staying closer to home not feel like settling.
7) Choose a location where you have easy access to a grocery store, fridge, and microwave. This will let you easily do less expensive meals and snacks from your room, which can save you big-time, especially with a larger family. It’s also just fun to pull your favorite drinks from your own fridge on vacation.
8) Take light-weight protein & carb snacks with you when you’ll be out for the day. The carbs will give you a boost of energy, while the protein will leave you feeling satisfied for longer. This will keep you from hitting that critical hunger point where you’re willing to drop serious change just to have something to eat. (Don’t forget to take along a water bottle.)
9) Learn to use Yelp. Yelp lets you search nearby for all sorts of criteria. Looking for something within a mile that’s reasonably priced but not McDonald’s? Yelp’s lively community likely has recommendations for you. You can also use it to find special things like afternoon tea or happy hour specials. Just plug what you’re looking for in the search box and off you go. (Yelp also has listings for lodging and activities/destinations.)
10) If you don’t have an itinerary of must-sees, just wander out and start exploring. Duck into galleries, stroll the market, buy a day pass for the metro and see where it takes you. Do this with your camera out to see things you might not otherwise notice.
11) Find out if your destination has cheap or free activities. Some cities have museums and zoos that are remarkably inexpensive. Others have free or reduced admission one day a month. If you’re flexible, plan your travel days around the freebies. (Hint: Search Yelp for “free day”)
12) See if your destination offers a discount card like City Pass. Admission to several attractions are bundled together at a discounted rate. (If you live near a city that offers such a pass, this could also be a great option for a staycation.)
The Cherry on Top
13) See if your destination has an Entertainment Book. Entertainment Book’s cost $30 each and are full of buy one get one free coupons for everything from meals to museums, and have other discount coupons for national retailers. You can buy one online (where you can also see samples of what is offered in the book), or you can pick one up locally at a CVS, Barnes & Noble, Kroger, or Albertsons (see their site for a full listing of retailers).
What about you? How do you keep costs down while traveling? What sites or resources are your favorites?
This week we’re talking about travel planning. Here are links to the whole series: