For many, travel is an important part of life. We spend weeks planning our next vacation and looking for the best travel deals. If you’re like me, you don’t have an unlimited budget (thank heavens for that tax refund each year), so you look for ways to make your travel budget go further.
Happily, there are several easy ways to save money on your next vacation. Here are seven top budget travel tips:
Best Budget Travel Tips
Travel in the Off Season
It’s not just where you travel, but when you travel that matters. Prices go up and down depending on demand, and that’s true with travel. Hotel rooms, airline tickets and car rental prices can go up more than 40 percent in the high season.
I learned this the hard way on a past family trip to Hawaii. We traveled during the last week of December when the kids were off from school. The weeks around Christmas and New Year are one of the busiest seasons in Hawaii. While it usually costs around $650 to fly from Denver to Oahu, that week it cost more than $1100 a ticket. And car rentals? That went up from the average $400 a week to $850. Yikes!
Suddenly, our family trip got very expensive. Fortunately, I found that car rental prices went down after January 3rd, so we turned in our rental car that day, and rented another one for the next week at only $325/wk. Every little bit helps!
The best time to travel is often in the spring and fall. The weather is usually pleasant enough to spend some time outdoors, there are fewer crowds and hotel, air and car rental prices are cheaper.
The busiest travel seasons are in the summer, when kids are off school, and around the holidays. If you can avoid these times, you can save money on travel.
Get a T-Mobile International Travel Pass for Your Phone
We don’t want to admit it, but many of us are addicted to our smart phones. The cost of using those internationally, though, can cost a bundle. Before you travel, check with your local phone carrier. Some offer international plans for $10 to $15/day, but that can add up.
One of the most economical overseas phone plans I’ve found is T-Mobile’s Magenta plan, which includes several International Pass options.
If you have T-Mobile’s Magenta plan, you already get unlimited data and texting in 210+ countries and destinations. Plus, you can add an International Pass for 512MB of high-speed data, to be used up to 24 hours, and unlimited calling, for just $5 per day.
On my last two trips to Europe, I used the T-Mobile International 10-Day Pass. For just $35, you get 5GB of data and 10 days of unlimited calling. If you need more data, for just $50, you can get get 15GB of high-speed data, to be used up to 30 days, with unlimited calling.
You don’t have to do anything before you leave – no signing up, no calling ahead. Just add the passes you need when you arrive.
Since I didn’t have to worry about using data, I was able to use my phone to book train travel all over Germany and Austria. I used local bus and subway route planners and then Google Maps to find my hotels.
Since I was traveling alone, this gave me peace of mind that I might not have otherwise had. Plus, I was glad to know that my family could call me from home at any time.
T-Mobile has excellent service in Europe by the way. I have even used my phone on a cruise in the Baltic Sea along the coast of Finland, and was shocked to see how many bars I had even way out there on the sea.
Good phone and Internet service is a must-have in my book, and when you can get it at such an affordable price, it’s a no-brainer!
Look for Free Local Events and Attractions
Do some research before your trip and find free local events and attractions. Festivals, for example, offer a good way to enjoy the destination with the locals, and can provide a memorable experience for little to no money.
Some popular attractions are free. In our small town of Golden, Colorado, for example, the local Coors brewery offers an extensive tour with beer tasting for free, and the city has a year-round lineup of busy festivals.
How do you find destination information? The local tourism board is often the best source of information on a destination, and I usually start at official tourism websites. These sites are written by locals who know and understand the destination and provide a wide range of helpful information.
Sign Up for Cash Back on Travel
If you want to save money, Rakuten offers a simple and FREE way to get up to 10% cash back on bookings for rental cars, hotels, airline tickets and more.
Here’s how it works: Sign up for a free account and then search for car rentals, airline tickets, hotels and more. Rakuten works with many trusted travel partners, like Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Hilton and more.
If you’re signed into your Rakuten account and purchase travel through one of these partners, you’ll receive up to 10% cash back in the form of a check or via PayPal. For example, the average cash back rebate on a 2-night hotel stay is $25.
Look for Travel Package Deals
Travel packages are an excellent way to save money. Purchasing your air, hotel and tours all together can often shave off hundreds of dollars in cost compared to purchasing each item individually.
Where can you find travel packages? Airlines, resorts and tour companies are a good place to start. Groupon Getaways is another good source of affordable travel packages that often include air travel. Bonus, if you’re a Rukuten member, you can get cash back on Groupon purchases.
Consider Alternative Forms of Transportation
Airplane and car travel aren’t the only way to get around. Be sure to consider transportation options by train and bus.
North Americans don’t often consider traveling by bus, but in Europe, travel by luxury bus is the new affordable way to travel. Buses are clean, modern, have bathrooms and free Wi-Fi. And often, it’s faster to go by bus than by train. I recently took a bus from Vienna to Prague (a four-hour journey) for just $18 – and it got there about the same time as the train
Traveling by train is also a relaxing and enjoyable way to get around in Europe. They’re punctual, clean, and very affordable. For example, a train ticket from Nuremberg to Munich (a two-hour ride) is just $27.
Consider Less Popular (But Still Amazing) Destinations
Paris, Rome and San Francisco are amazing destinations, but they can also be expensive when it comes to planning a vacation.
Do your research and consider places that are just as amazing, but not quite as popular. You’ll not only save money on travel expenses, but you won’t have to fight the crowds or deal with locals who are overwhelmed with tourists.
Instead of skiing in Vail, for example, try out Steamboat Springs, Colorado. And rather than fight the crowds in Barcelona, check out the beautiful beaches of San Sabastian, Spain. Tiny European countries like Lithuania and Latvia are often overlooked, but the Baltic Countries are rich with culture, good food and nice hotels – and they’re much more affordable than many other places in Europe.
Buy Travel Insurance
Weather interference, flights delays and illness can mess up even the most organized travel plans. To ensure you don’t lose your hard earned vacation investment or end up with unexpected expenses, we recommend that you buy travel insurance. If you travel a lot, one of the cheapest travel insurance options is to buy an annual plan. Depending on your age, an annual plan may only cost a few hundred dollars. If you’re only planning one big trip, you can purchase travel insurance for that trip.
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