8 More Ways to Save on Vacations

Last week, I stumbled on a guest post at Five Cent Nickel about 8 ways to stretch your vacation dollar. Among the suggestions were things like:

  • Only eating two meals a day to save on restaurant bills.
  • Seeking out less expensive alternatives to traditional “big-name” attractions.
  • Paying in advance:

“…if you pay for your car and hotel room…six weeks before your trip, you are much less likely to get hit with surprise budget-killing extra fees.”

In addition, you spread out the cost of your vacation over several weeks or months, instead of spending it all in one shot. Excellent tip!

Our Plans

With two major family vacations and some minor trips planned for this year, it’s essential for us to budget for and control the costs associated with traveling and staying out of town.

Generally speaking, we always use our envelope system to put away money before our trip and know what we will and won’t be able to afford when we go. Other than that, it’s really just about finding ways to stretch the vacation dollar. Here are 8 more tips we use personally:

8 More $-Saving Tips

  1. Research ahead for low-cost things to do. My wife thinks the amount of research I do before taking a trip is unhealthy, but I’m usually able to find a pretty good deal or two on something we will all enjoy as a family. That doesn’t always mean scoring “coupons” or other discounts, but also searching for fun activities that don’t cost much to do.
  2. Consider cost of travel when selecting destinations. Some places are simply more expensive to visit than others—this is the reality of travel. It doesn’t mean that we avoid traveling to expensive places, but simply that we either accept it and prepare for it accordingly, or we select a destination ahead of time that will be friendlier to our wallets.
  3. Use cash for spending money. One area of vacation spending that always got us is discretionary money. When faced with the prospect of buying souvenirs or paying for “experiences” at our destination, it’s hard to track these against your vacation budget on the fly. We use a variant of our envelope system that’s portable—hard cash. Before any vacation, we set aside a predetermined amount of spending cash to use during the trip for “fun stuff.” Once we’re out, we stop spending!
  4. Book a place with kitchen facilities. Whenever possible, we try to book lodging that includes a kitchenette, or at the very least a fridge and microwave. That gives us the option of buying groceries and preparing our own food when traveling, something that can save hundreds of dollars over the course of a trip.
  5. Drive whenever possible. A lot of our trips are within the state, which makes it a no-brainer to drive, rather than flying. But even with longer trips, we think long and hard about driving before deciding not to do it. We’ve found that flying has a lot of negative consequences, like limited space to pack, lack of flexibility in terms of travel times, having to deal with an upset baby on a plane, and more.
  6. Plan repeat visits. With so many Florida attractions only hours away (most of them concentrated in the Orlando area), I’ve warmed up to the idea of yearly passes. With a few select attractions in mind, and limiting ourselves to one per year, we can typically make it 4-5 times a year to the same theme park without getting bored, and without spending the $80 per-person admission every single time. This fills our “need” to get away, and saves us on travel costs in the process.
  7. Build packing lists. Have you ever gone on a trip, only to realize you forgot to bring a whole list of things? You probably ended up running to the nearest store to get toothpaste, t-shirts, or a razor, all at a premium cost. When it kept happening to us, we realized we could use the experience to build lists of frequently-forgotten items for different travel purposes (one-night trips, camping trips, overseas trips, etc.). Now we use these lists to pack and make sure everything’s in the bag!
  8. Use the experience of locals. We have many friends and family scattered all around the country and the world. A lot of our trips involve travel to areas close to where those people live—what a resource! Locals know the best places to eat, drink, party, and relax while hanging on to your money, and they are usually more than willing to share and show off the expertise on their hometown.

Your Favorite Vacation-Saving Tips

What’s the best piece of money-saving advice you use when going on vacations? Are you planning any trips this year? Share your tips and comments below the post!

Photo by mdanys

14 thoughts on “8 More Ways to Save on Vacations

  1. Good tips! We do like having a kitchen. When we have the extended family travelling with us we like to rent a house/condo via VRBO.com (no affiliation). We’ve gotten great deals in wonderful locations. It makes for a memorable vacation for all.

    I sometines find great travel deals on FatWallet.com in their travel forum. On there we found a round trip from Houston to Paris for just $400 a person. My grown daughter & I had a very special vacation together in France.

    We also like to camp when the weather is good. Nothing like camping in a gorgeous National Park & it’s cheap!

    1. We love camping as well! It’s definitely one of the cheaper vacation options and we like getting out into nature and spending a few days “disconnected.”

  2. If you’re going to a major metropolitan area, I would even consider subscribing to Groupon and the other deal-of-the-day sites for that area. You might pick up some deals on dining. Obviously, it would help to be familiar with the area or have a source to make sure the places are worthwhile, but it’s certainly one more option to consider.

    1. Very true! We don’t use Groupon because it doesn’t exist in our area, so it didn’t even cross my mind. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Years ago, we shared a 2 bedroom townhouse with another couple in Hawaii. It was great because we had breakfast and lunch in everyday. We only went out for dinner. The townhouse was on the beach, so we had some of our activities right there. When we went to other parts of the island, we packed a lunch. e had a great time and our frugal ways did nothing to affect the overall trip or fun.

    1. Wow, awesome tip! We travel with family a lot but not really with friends, but what a great way to split some of the basic expenses.

  4. Also, if you do decide to fly, booking your plan tickets in advance can really cut down on the price. So can choosing to fly at times that may not be too fun, like in the middle of the night.

    I can surely attest to the “use the experience of locals” one. My aunt and uncle live in the DC area, and they told me about this cheap little bar that all of the politicians frequent. It was nice on the inside, but certainly not a swanky place. I wandered up to the bar, ordered a beer, and had several interesting conversations with certain politicians and aids. I had never heard of this bar on the internet or any of the promotional “tourist” info I had read in preparation for my trip.

    1. We just booked a ticket overseas and it went up $800 one week after we booked it, so I can definitely attest to that! 🙂

  5. Our family uses cash too. It is the easiest way to account for your spending. We count how many ATM withdraws we make (usually $500 at a time). At the end we just add up the total # of trips to the ATM and we have our total vacation spending.

    1. I’m not sure that it’s a good way to account for spending, since we’re never really sure what we spent the money on in the end, but for us it’s definitely the best way to cap discretionary spending on a trip.

  6. Hi Wojo,

    I’m with you on all savings ideas, but with vacations, I consciously decide to only save money until you get on the plane (train, car, etc). From that point, thinking about money is just aggravating and counterproductive…

    P.S. If you are in tourist destinations, don’t buy tours from the hotel. If you are in US, on iphone and android, you can get valpak coupons through junaio…

    1. I agree–that’s part of the reason we use cash when traveling–there’s no arguing when it’s gone except maybe a few grunts.

  7. We like going places where we have family or friends, because trips to visit them during our travels count as an attraction haha. Sometimes they cook for us, or we just have a good time for a couple of hours. Also, checking places like Living Social Escapes, you can find awesome trips for like 40% off, which is awesome.

  8. An all-inclusive vacation includes not only lodging and travel, but food as well. We love to go on cruises for that very reason.

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