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Travel On a Budget

This article was written by in Travel. 5 comments.


This article is presented by Kelly Whalen, Consumerism Commentary staff writer.

Traveling can be expensive, but worthwhile. At some point everyone needs to take a break from their regular routine. Whether you stay at home, take a car trip to Grandma’s house, or fly across the country, there are ways to travel without spending all your hard-earned savings.

I have a trip coming up soon. I’m not an experienced traveler, so I searched for ideas and tips and compiled the best I found. Here are my favorites.

Check for discounts. Whether it’s a hotel room, plane tickets, or tickets to an attraction, you may qualify as a student, government worker, resident (if you are traveling within your own state), AAA member, or any number of other memberships.

Comparison shop. As with anything you purchase, you should compare prices before you book airplane tickets or plan a vacation. In some cases you can plan a whole vacation around an inexpensive destination at the time of year you are planning.

Read guidebooks. It may feel touristy, but guidebooks will often give you great money saving tips. Some even offer per diem plans, recommend out-of-the-way hotel deals, or tell you about views or attractions you would have walked right past otherwise.

Pack snacks. This tip is not just for parents! When I went to San Francisco in June I packed my own snacks since I am a perpetual grazer and didn’t want to pay $10 for a terrible in-flight meal.

Pack an empty water bottle. No, you can’t take water through security, but once you are through you can fill your bottle with free tap water! This tip also works well for driving, biking, or walking.

Pack your own entertainment. Traveling with kids always means packing toys, books, and DVDs that will keep the kids occupied. But you can use this tip if you are childless or traveling solo as well. I pack my own books, download movies, and make a playlist before I leave to keep myself occupied when I travel.

PlaneCheck the weather forecast and pack appropriately. There is nothing worse than packing too much, and having to pay extra for your suitcase. Be sure to include some layers for cooler nights.

Leave room for souvenirs. Make sure you leave some room for souvenirs in your bag! You don’t want to have to pay for a second bag or for an overweight bag.

Walk as much as possible. Part of visiting a new place is seeing the sights, and it is much better for your health and wallet to see them on foot.

Stay close to home. We’ve all heard of the staycation: stick close to home and see the sights right in your own hometown or the biggest local city. I admit this is something my family needs to be better about. Can you believe we live only 45 minutes from Philadelphia and the kids have never seen the sights?

Prepay for your hotel room. You can save 30-50% off the cost of a hotel room simply by paying in advance. Many hotels will refund your payment as long as you cancel with 24 to 48 hours’ notice.

Stay plugged in for deals. Even after you have bought a plane ticket you may still be able to adjust your ticket if airfares go down. Yapta is a great service that allows you to monitor fares before and after you buy.

Use points. If you, your spouse, or even a friend travels a ton, you can cash in on their points for free hotel rooms. My dad uses this tip all the time. It’s one of the benefits of living out of your suitcase for the work week.

Mix pleasure and business. I am traveling to Los Angeles, where I’ve never been, in early April. I’m extending my trip by a few days so I can enjoy the sights and scenery. This is how my family had vacations when I was a child and young adult. It’s a great way to save on airfare.

What are your favorite tips and tricks to save money while traveling? Do you recommend any sites, books or tools for travel?

Photo: creativesam

Published or updated March 18, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Kelly is a mostly stay-at-home mom to four kids. You can more of her articles about personal finance at The Centsible Life. Also, you can follow Kelly on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar SteveInVa

Don’t forget travel insurance.

When planning a complex, expensive, or far-in-the-future trip, buying travel insurance can be a great idea. For example, I booked a cruise 16 months before the sailing date. I also got travel insurance (cruise, airfare, and one night of pre-cruise hotel for two = $2000, trip insurance = $125).

For less than 10% extra we had peace of mind knowing that if we got sick and couldn’t go (after all 16 months is a long time), we would be reimbursed. If weather cancelled our flights and we missed the ship, the insurance would pay to get us to the next port of call. If our bags got lost, we would get something back. If we got injured on the cruise, we were covered by supplemental health insurance and to get a Coast Guard flight from the ship back to land.

Luckily, we didn’t need any of it. But I’d buy it again, just in case.

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avatar Amanda

Great ideas and tips! Thanks. The snacks and water are both great ideas and those are the kind of things I always forget, and regret, later. Coupons and promos are also great ideas, especially now, with the economy being so crappy.

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avatar Stacey

1. Kayak.com is the best website for finding airfare as it searches multiple sites. You can also set alerts so it e-mails you when prices drop to a certain level.

2. Hotwire.com is my favorite way to book a hotel room in the U.S/Canada. You don’t get to see the name of the hotel before you book but do see location, ratings, amenities, etc. I find anything 3 stars and above are acceptable. For example, a one-night stay at a 4 star Magnificent Mile hotel in Chicago for tomorrow night is current $73. One caveat: once you book they charge your card and it’s not cancel-able so you have to be very sure of your plans.

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avatar The Rat

Out of all the great tips, I think the most important one is on the planning side. The biggest savings can be realized (or at least earn rewards points) by shopping around various sites and looking for last minute deals or vacation promotions. Stacey above mentioned kayak as an example.

By saving more on the location and transport on how to get there, you can splurge a bit more (because it is a vacation and it’s also nice to enjoy it) and stress less on some of the other tips because you were able to save on the vacation. I tend to live a frugal lifestyle at home but my wife and I like to spend a little more (but responsibly) when we go on vacation because we feel we deserve it.
Nice post!
Nice post.

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avatar Sue

When comparison shopping, log onto sites such as vacation rentals by owner for pricing on short term (some with daily rates) rental of private condos and homes. I have found these to be much less expensive than hotel rooms when multiple people are staying longer than 2 nights and you get much more room.

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