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How to Save Money on Travel



Most people don’t get a lot of time off and when they do, they tend not to go away. I always ask my friends and former co-workers why they this is and, almost uniformly, they always say it’s because they simply can’t afford to do so. Like most people, they see images of vacations on TV and internalize the commercials to believe that travel must be like it is on TV and therefore must be expensive. The only alternative is backpacking around in twenty bed hostels with shared showers and eating pasta.

But that is not really true. Travel can be very cheap. You can easily travel far and wide without breaking the bank.

Here are some times on how to get travel cheaply:

Airfare:

Since flying constitutes one of the largest portions of someone’s budget, it’s important to find ways to fly cheap. Most cities have a smaller airport with lower landing fees. This savings is usually passed onto you and why budget airlines don’t fly into major airports. Moreover, book your flight 6-8 weeks in advance or look for last minute special deals. Buying your flight 6-8 weeks ensures that airlines don’t have you over a barrel. If you book your flight too soon, then airlines know you need it. If you book to early, airlines hedge their bet against rising costs and keep prices high.

Accommodation:

I never stay in hotels unless Priceline can get me a rock bottom price. Why? They are never the cheapest (and sometimes the cleanest) option. Hostels cater to all ranges of travelers and are not simply for backpackers in 20 bed dorm rooms. Don’t over look them if you can’t find a hotel deal. You can find hostels with private rooms, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, showers, and TV for cheaper. In NYC, a private room in Times Square is $90 per night. The cheapest one star hotel without Wi-Fi or breakfast? $110 per night. And who really wants to stay at a place like that!

Sightseeing:

It’s important to do lots of research and visit the local tourist office. Don’t use a guidebook. Guidebook information is outdated and doesn’t give you any tips on current deals. I go to travel blogs, city tourism websites, Yelp, and Tripadvisor. These sites have the current information on what is good, bad, and on sale. Additionally, tourist offices also know the latest special events and usually have a few discounts available for visitors.

Eating:

Eating out every meal is expensive. One way to save money is to eat out at big restaurants during lunch time as lunch specials offer a much better value than dinner. It’s nice to have a fancy dinner but a fancy lunch is just as good and much cheaper. Moreover, you can head to the supermarket and pick up some sandwiches. Supermarkets are a great way to find out what the local diet is about. What kind of meats do they like? Fish? Junk food? It’s amazing the variety of foods you can see on shelves that you don’t have back at home.

Saving money while you travel just requires you break out of the “travel is expensive” mindset. Locals don’t live for hundreds of dollars per day and you don’t have to either. Simply live like a local and you’ll be able to save yourself a lot of money when you travel.

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world on a budget for over three years. He’s been to Europe, Asia, Australia, and Central America. You can find out more at his website, Nomadic Matt.  If you want more travel tips, photos, and stories from his upcoming 3 month trip to Europe, you can also subscribe to his RSS feed.





29 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Good suggestions.

    For accommodations, I also check for a Best Western since I can use my airmiles to claim a free night or two.

  2. 2. KH

    Ugh. Generally used to a higher quality standard on posts from this blog. No links to the resources mentioned? The only suggestion for accommodation is to stay in a hostel? If we should only eat out for lunch, what do you suggest gets done for dinner? Sandwiches?

    I’d rather stay home.

  3. 3. Kathryn

    Good suggestions:

    Here are some other things we do.

    1) We generally eat out for lunch too and then eat the leftovers for dinner. Portions are generally way too big anyway.

    2) We tend to book vacations tacked on to the end of work trips so we can claim the travel. (We get permission to do this.) This way travel for one or both of us is covered and we just have to pay for the kids and the extra days we’re there. Most of our trips were done this way. We’ve seen Bangkok, Thailand, Delhi and Paris this way.

    3) We try and stay in places with a kitchenette so we can have easy breakfasts and have a place to store and heat up our leftover lunches when we get hungry in the evening.

    4) We also stay with friends or family or friend of friends or family wherever we go. We are big into hospitality in our house and find that many of our guests have returned the favour by hosting us. We have lots of international friends that we’ve met through work and tend to stay with them when we go places. Seeing a place through the eyes of someone who lives there and can give all the insider advice is a great way to go.

    5) We pack snacks and drinks in a handbag. This helps keep the diet under control too! Snacking, especially for those with kids, can add up quickly. Carrying around a few energy bars, granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit and our kleen kanteens saves us a pile of money when we travel.

    Thanks for the great tips!

  4. 4. Smart Traveler

    For travel in/to the US, very few hotels stack up to Hampton Inn (by Hilton) for value. Rooms are usually under US$100, and include wireless internet, local calls, a super breakfast as well as free parking. My wife and I along with our 2 kids have travelled and stayed extensively at Hamptons and are never disappointed with the consistency of quality and service. It is great that we don’t have to shell out extra cash for breakfast every day and most Hamptons having swimming pools for some fun after a day of sightseeing etc. Hilton also has a great rewards program that lets you collect Hilton Points (for free stays) as well as Aeroplan points at the same time. For international travel, we usually research and book with Priceline, Hotwire or Expedia. Usually a flight + hotel combo. works out better than booking separately

  5. 5. craig

    With travel, especially international there are always hostels, but not everyone likes those. For eating, look for hole in the wall restaurants, not the tourist joints. Also, eat bigger lunches and smaller dinners.

  6. @michael: Loyalty programs are a great ways to get travel freebies. I am on the oneworld alliance and get a few free tickets per year.

    @KH: There’s plenty more but I was limited in my word count. Check out this for a 1,000 plus word piece on just accommodation: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-tips/finding-cheap-accommodation/

    @Kathryn: I like your second tip! Great way to get some free travel!

    @Smart Traveler: For international travel, check out Momondo or Mobissimo. I always find they have cheaper airfare than US based search engines. Both are highly recommended by Frommers too!

  7. 7. Sean

    I’ve had good luck finding accomodation deals on hotwire.com. I always check there first.

    They don’t tell you the hotel you’re booking until you pay, but you can usually figure it out, or narrow it down with the tripadvisor.com ratings.

  8. Really very informative. I will sure make a note of it.

  9. 9. mfd

    I don’t entirely disagree with the points above but in the end you’re on vacation. If you let the cost of everything dictate your trip you’ll find that you are fretting more over saving a dollar then actually enjoying your vacation. You might as well stay home.

  10. 10. Colin

    Don’t forget to check out http://www.vrbo.com for house and condo rental accommodation. We always prefer to stay in a house on the waterfront in Barbados vs a standard hotel, for example. Plus you get to socialize with the local more often. Prices are usually similar to hotels but you get the benefit many bedrooms and bathrooms and can cook your own meals – especially useful if you have a family. There are some awesome deals to be had with house rentals everywhere you wish to travel.

  11. 11. cannon_fodder

    I am currently on vacation and, although expensive, it is much cheaper than it could be.

    We are staying in an oceanfront 1br 1ba condo in Maui for $139/night. When I say oceanfront, I mean 25′ from the ocean which allows us to see beautiful sunsets and hear the ocean all of the time. The condo building doesn’t have amenities like onsite restaurants, spas or conference rooms – but it doesn’t have the $200 – $500 per night pricetag that some of the named hotels have.

    It has free parking and free Wifi – many hotels here would charge another $30+ per day for that.

    We have a full kitchen which allows us to have most of our meals at a fraction of the cost. If we feel rushed or particularly lazy, we can go out for dinner. If we are out for the day, we take the collapsible cooler we brought and pack it with snacks and drinks and sandwiches.

    I scoured the internet for a car rental deal and saved about $200 on a 2 week rental with Avis. The big reason? We were coming in during peak season but only the first night. Thus, I split our reservation into 2 parts – 1 night and 13 nights in order to prevent Avis from charging us the peak rate for the entire length of our trip. When I went to the counter, I explained everything and they just amended the reservation so that I didn’t have to return the car after the first day.

    Another way to save money on activities and some restaurant meals in certain parts of the world is to attend timeshares presentations. You could easily save hundreds of dollars per couple on excursions. Personally, my wife and I love to save money but this method doesn’t sit well with us at all.

    Some tours you can do on your own and not only save money but enjoy it more. For example, we could have spent about $150 USD on a tour to see the sunrise at Haleakala crater. The day we arrived (at 5 am in the morning) we hoped against hope that the fog, rain and cloud would dissipate. As all of the tour buses departed about 30 minutes after the sunrise didn’t show, we stayed around and did a little hiking and ate our home made breakfast which we packed.

    Well, sure enough, our patience paid off – eventually the clouds lifted and we saw the crater in its entirety and took many, many pictures. Cost? $10 USD park entrance fee and maybe $15 USD in gas. What could have turned out to be a very expensive and disappointing trip turned out to be a lifetime memory for less than a night out at the movies.

    We also befriended a traveller on the plane who has been here 36 times – as a result we have been given free ‘tours’ and tips about the island from someone with no conflict of interest.

    Our flight is one area where we saved money but our method wouldn’t work for most people. I compared flying with Air Canada using my Aeroplan points to secure first class (the best benefit about Aeroplan points) or buy an upgradeable fare and use my upgrade certificates. We chose the latter and it cost us not much more than most people would pay to fly economy during a seat sale. Otherwise, we often go to the US (about 90 minute drive for us) and fly out of a US airport if it involves a US destination. The savings generally are well worth it – especially if you are talking a family of four. I’d say the savings generally range from 40-60% of what it would cost to fly out of Toronto. This does not generally work for destinations outside of the US, however.

    If you can, take advantage of this shaky economy and treat yourself to a vacation you couldn’t otherwise afford. The cost won’t defer starting your retirement and it is better to travel when you have the health and can enjoy it rather than waiting until it becomes more of a burden.

  12. 12. Floost

    I read a few topics. I respect your work and added blog to favorites.

  13. Some good suggestions. There are always some unforeseen costs associated with traveling so I think a good budget planned out ahead of time can really make the adventure much smoother.

    eg. Budget out 20 dollars a day for food, 50 for entertainment etc.

    I’ve never purposely striven to eat fancy lunches and save on dinners, so I think that’s a fantastic idea. I’m going to vegas in a week, maybe eat huge ass buffet for lunch a little later in the day (like at 3pm) and skip out on dinner entirely! sweeeet.

    Lastly, IMHO a good discount airline website is http://www.kayak.com. I found some pretty good deals there in the past

  14. 14. Elbyron

    +1 to kayak.com
    I’ve used them several times to compare airlines and see who has the best price. Usually works great. Only problem is that it doesn’t always handle the seat sales properly when finding possible connections. For example, a flight from Vancouver to Bangkok was on sale for about $800, but when I put in my starting city as Edmonton the price came up too high, like $1300 or something. Obviously I can fly from Edmonton to Vancouver for less than $500, and kayak was able to find me one for $230 on Westjet.

  15. A great way to save on airfare is to schedule multiple stops, but this can be hard sometimes. For long trips, like a trip the the Philippines, maybe stops can be awful but save your almost $400 sometimes on a return flight.

  16. 16. Money Bags

    @ Cannon Fodder: Did you find your condo deal on the web? If so, do you mind sharing the site?

  17. 17. cannon_fodder

    Money Bags,

    I used vrbo.com (as I have done before) with supporting reviews from Tripadvisor.com.

  18. 18. used tires

    As far as airline tickets are concerned it really is all about Supply and demand, and that’s why it makes sense that the closer you get to flight time the more expensive you’re ticket will be. I was surprised to read though that the smaller airports are cheaper. I thought that the larger airports would be cheaper to fly from, at least that has been my experience when purchasing tickets.

    Till then,

    Jean

  19. Airfares are subject to traffic, and they can keep fluctuating. Travel coupons are a great idea to save some money, especially if you are traveling within the country.

  20. 20. phi

    I think the “live locally” mentality is especially useful! I’ve never even thought about that before. Going to Vegas quite often, I’ve never noticed anyone in the nearby convenience stores except for tourists. They must have a secret place where they can get things for much cheaper!

  21. Must read article for those who loves traveling.

  22. 23. mattyfu

    A few things.
    If you do a lot of traveling or know which airline you’re booking with you can find gift certificates/credits for sale on ebay at a fraction of the actual value.

    The going to the market (especially if it’s an outdoor farmers market) tip is an awesome one because it really gives you a chance to see the local culture.

    Depending on the place the price of all inclusive vs non may be worth looking at, when we were in mexico the only meal we typically ate at the resort was the breakfast and sure we drank and drank but if we could have stayed at a nicer hotel for $50 a night less it would have evened out.

    Lots of cruise lines have a cola card that you have to buy and they are really expensive that let you have unlimited pop, me and my sister got sent on a cruise as a graduation present and we were both really broke at the time so we spent a couple days making our own iced tea for mix until we got to a port that had a Wal-Mart right across the street, have you ever seen 2L bottles of pop go through a scanner? I have :-)

    If your in a cab you might as well ask them about the area/events going on.

  23. Good tips. Agree that hostels are great for a variety of travellers. If you are going to book a hotel, try booking the night before using one of the last minute accommodation websites, if you don’t mind leaving it late. Some great discounts to be had as by that time the hotels are usually wanting to get rid of their remaining vacant rooms at a discounted price.

  24. hi:)
    i hope that you will all be all rute anyways
    how to save money is one the most frequenlty self asked question by every one in this world
    so in view point one should spent the money wether he is in travel or not where its need is the most and their is no other way except to spend the money
    and try to be live in natural not to be very lexurious while travelling eat healthy food but in limit
    in that’s all and spend less and save more

  25. I agree with your airfare tip. I find that it’s smart to book airfare in advance if one is travelling in next 3-6 months but if I am taking a shorter trip, say flying from Vancouver to Kelowna then I usually wait for seat sales. West Jet and Air Canada often compete to get their seats booked last minute.

    @Kathryn: Love your tips.

    @Nomadic Matt: I beg to differ on your loyalty program view. I’ve seen that if one is not a frequent traveller then these won’t be beneficial + you’ll be tempted to stay at the same place which might inhibit you from exploring other options (which might actually be cheaper)

    Check out few more tips:
    http://www.britishcolumbiatours.com/2009/09/how-to-save-money-on-your-next-bc-trip/

  26. 27. Gerard

    More cheap travel tips, some more extreme-frugal than others…
    1. Many hostels have (shared) kitchens. Combine that with a trip to the market (especially somewhere like Barcelona) and you’ve got truly great food and a place to sleep for under $50 a night.
    2. Before you go, check online for free or discounted days at museums and galleries.
    3. Use local transit. Meet people. Take longer, but have fun. Many cities now have excellent cheap public transportation to/from the airport, and almost all have good websites where you can research trips (and day pass options) before you go. (Brilliant bus ride: the 534 Malibu in LA!)
    4. Check out universities. Cheap summer accommodation (often apartment-style), fun pubs and concerts, usually a cheap/ethnic restaurant/brewpub neighbourhood nearby.
    5. Most cities have one or more free newsweeklies. Check out their websites (or the paper when you get there) for cool concerts, festivals, and clubs.
    6. You don’t have to have the Authentic Traditional Experience every second of the day. Go to a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris, or a Turkish one in Germany.
    7. Consider trains or buses for shorter-distance travel. Trains are so civilized.
    8. Ask your more experienced air traveller friends to explain “hidden city ticketing” and “fuel dump” to you.
    9. Read between the lines on negative hotel reviews. Many middle-class Americans freak out at hotels near working-class or ethnic neighbourhoods. Many South Americans find typical North American service industry behaviour “rude”. Many, many travellers give negative reviews to hotels that charge for parking, or those whose cheapest rooms involve shared bathrooms. If you’re not those people, why let them stop you from picking up a travel bargain?
    10. Don’t assume these kinds of tips don’t apply to you just because you’re not “backpacker age”. I do all these things, and I’m 52! And I’ve done many of them with kids…

  27. 28. Mike

    Here’s one tip: Buy an entertainment book or get groupons of the city you are going to travel to.

  28. 29. Anthony

    I’ve spent a few nights sleeping on a bus station floor – that saved a bit of money! ;P

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