How to Save Money While On Vacation

March 18, 2013

Photo by stevendepolo, via Flickr

In my earlier post How to Budget for a Vacation , I shared some ideas to help you financially prepare for a little rest and relaxation. Now it’s time to discuss some strategies for saving on the trip itself.

When I’m planning my own vacation, I think about the major categories of travel expenses, then decide which areas represent the best options for saving some cash at the specific destination I have in mind. If you’re really trying to travel on a shoestring, you may challenge yourself to find a way to minimize expenses in all these categories, but it’s usually more manageable to focus on one or two.

Transportation to the destination: Unless you’re staying fairly close to home, transportation will likely involve researching air fares. Be sure to check how flying on certain days of the week and times of day will impact the price of tickets. Remember that major business destinations (Chicago) may have different weekly ticket-pricing cycles than traditional vacation spots (Orlando). Sometimes you can save significant money by giving up convenience in the timing of your flights. This strategy may also provide a secondary benefit of keeping you away from the large crowds traveling at the most desirable times.

Transportation while on vacation: Many locations offer opportunities to save money on transportation once you’ve reached your destination. You can visit a spot that allows you to walk to the sights (San Antonio River Walk, Las Vegas strip) or use public transportation (New York City). If your location requires a car to get around, consider checking out a regional car rental firm. Companies like Advantage, ACE, Fox, and Payless can provide a lower price for the same car you’d get from a national firm, although you may give up the convenience of on-site airport kiosks and the availability of one-way rentals. A travel website like Kayak or Priceline can help you research these options.

Lodging: Pay only as much as you need to. Dependent on your plans, you may be spending a lot of time on the hotel property or just need a safe, comfortable place to crash after seeing the sights all day.

  • Do you participate in a chain loyalty program, or should you consider joining one as you book your reservations for this trip?
  • Lodging may have weekly pricing cycles based on whether the hotel is primarily a business or vacation destination. Use that cycle to your advantage when planning the dates of your stay.
  • If you locate a desirable independent property on a travel website, call the hotel directly to see if they can beat the online quote. (I got that tip when I checked out of a perfectly charming inn on a recent trip to Carmel, California.)
  • Consider the trade-off between hotel location and car rental. If you pay additional dollars to stay in the tourist hub, can you skip the rental-car expense and get more enjoyment out of your trip?

Food: Some people are focused on the sights and are content to eat at the same chain restaurants they visit at home. Other travelers don’t feel a trip is worthwhile unless they sample a variety of regional specialties and local ethnic cuisines. If you fall into the latter category, here are some ideas for saving money while participating in the local restaurant scene:

  • Minimize expenses at breakfast. If your accommodations don’t include breakfast, pick up a bagel or an egg sandwich to eat on the run. You’ll save both money and time. Spend your dining dollars on lunch and dinner, where they’ll have a bigger impact.
  • Check out lunch or happy-hour prices at your target restaurants. You may be able to sample their unique cuisine for lower prices and reduced calorie counts. It’s easy to find restaurant menus online, which will allow you to preview what’s available at different times of the day.
  • Select a location that offers tapas or small plates at dinner. You can try several different local specialties instead of having to choose just one, and the à la carte pricing will allow you to do so while respecting your budget.
  • Don’t forget to look for coupons or other discount offers, especially for the “filler” meals between visits to the distinctive, local establishments.

If your goal is to get away without breaking the bank, it helps to identify your priorities for each trip. Decide where you want to splurge (great hotel or fabulous meals), and then look for ways to reduce costs in the other areas of your travel expenses. You’ll come home with fantastic memories and be inspired to start planning your next vacation!

What ideas do you have for saving while on vacation? Share your tips by leaving a comment!

Other articles you may be interested in:
How to Budget for a Vacation