This Is Why You Can’t Afford a Vacation

Are you ready to travel again? You're not the only one. Here's how to save money while still enjoying the trip of your dreams.

Summer is here—and it’s the first time in two years that taking a vacation is feasible for many of us. Unfortunately, inflation is also at a 40-year high right now. Think you can’t afford to travel? That might be because you’re making these common budget-breaking mistakes.

Picking the Wrong Destination

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Not all vacation destinations are created equal when it comes to your budget. You’ll almost always pay more to visit major cities, for example. The 10 most expensive cities in the world to visit right now are:

  • Singapore
  • Paris
  • Hong Kong
  • Zurich
  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • Tokyo
  • Dubai
  • Sydney
  • London

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There are so many places just slightly off the beaten path to visit! Smaller cities like Chicago or Washington, D.C., offer incredible culture and dining for less than New York or Los Angeles. Smaller towns or rural areas have their own charms, often with very friendly folks who are happy to welcome you to their hometown. Venture off the beaten path and explore someplace new with your next vacation!

Traveling at the Worst Time

Even if you pick a less expensive destination to visit, you can still end up paying more than necessary for your vacation. Traveling in the off-season or—even better—the shoulder season will always be cheaper than going during the peak season.

Now, there are some downsides to traveling outside the peak season. The main reason that off-seasons exist is that the weather isn’t ideal during that time. You can still have a good time during a rainy or cold beach trip! There’s also a chance that some vacation destinations may partially shut down during the off-season, so make sure that you check out what will be available when you plan to travel.

The upside of traveling in the off-season isn’t just lower prices. You won’t have to compete with nearly as many tourists, and you’ll see shorter lines, less crowded restaurants, and more space to enjoy museums or browse shops.

Paying Too Much for Gas

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If you’re planning a road trip, be strategic about filling up the tank. Gas prices are skyrocketing right now, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay home. Install a gas companion app to find out where to get the best prices.

If at all possible, fill up in states with lower average gas costs. Depending on where you’re traveling, gas taxes and overall prices can vary wildly. The last thing you want is to be stuck on empty with only the most expensive gas options. With a little careful planning, you can reduce your gas budget without cutting your trip short.

Read More: Essential Strategies to Save Money on Gas

Buying Your Flights at the Wrong Time

Do you know the best time to buy a plane ticket? You might think the answer is “as early as possible,” but that’s not always true. As Stefanie Waldek explains for Travel + Leisure, “Finding the best flight deals is a bit of an art form, but there’s also some science — or at least economics — involved.”

The ideal time to buy your ticket depends on both the destination and the season. For domestic flights, a survey found that you should buy your tickets 67 days in advance for a summer trip, 84 days in advance for a spring trip, 89 days for a fall trip, and a whopping 94 days for a winter trip! The higher concentration of family holidays in late fall and winter makes flights more expensive and competitive.

With international travel, you’ll typically want to buy your ticket earlier the farther afield you plan to go. If you’re based in the United States, the best time to book flights to Canada or Mexico is about two months in advance—the same as planning a domestic trip in the summer. If you planned to travel to another continent, you should plan to purchase your ticket as much as four months in advance to get the best deal.

Prices are usually highest when tickets are first released—which happens a year before the scheduled flight—and in the week right before takeoff. Monitor prices for your chosen destination with Hopper or other travel apps and be ready to pounce when the time is right!

Packing Too Much—Or Too Little

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If you’re planning to fly, then make sure that you understand the airline’s baggage policy. It’s becoming more common to add extra charges for any checked bags, not just those that are over the weight limit. Those weight limits are also trending downward. That means you need to master the art of packing light.

REI offers some great tips on packing less without sacrificing your comfort. One thing that folks don’t seem to remember is that, if you’re going on a longer vacation, you can do laundry! Also, try to pack items that can serve more than one purpose, be dressed up or down, or that can be worn in layers to give you the most options with the least amount of packing.

There is, however, a flip side to this advice. Make sure that you pack your essentials so that you don’t end up scrambling to find a phone charger. Always test any shoes you plan to bring for walkability, or else you might find yourself searching for more comfortable sneakers and first aid for your blisters. Often, items are a lot more expensive in touristy areas. If you forget your bathing suit at home, expect to pay a lot more at the beach. To avoid getting stuck without your essentials, make a detailed packing list and check off all the items as they go into your bags.

Not Taking Advantage of Discounts

You might be surprised at how many travel discounts you’ve been leaving on the table. One of the most obvious sources of discounts for hotels, car rentals, and restaurants is AARP.

What a lot of people don’t know is that you can get an associate membership to that organization at any age! Aside from a few age-restricted discounts, you’ll be able to get the same advantages as retirees.

Students qualify for a ton of travel discounts. So do active service military and veterans. First responders and healthcare workers can sometimes get discounts on accommodations and meals. Don’t forget teachers, who qualify for many of the same discounts as students!

AAA membership can also open up a whole new world of discounts. Plus, if you’re planning a road trip, you’ll have the peace of mind that only roadside assistance can bring.

Read More: How to Enjoy Your Retirement on a Budget

Booking Accommodations Without Shopping Around

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When you choose where to stay on your vacation, multiple factors come into play. Safety and comfort are major considerations; so is location. To get a safe, comfortable, convenient room can cost you a lot of money, however, and if you’ve got to cut back, go for location. If you planned to visit the theme parks in Orlando, for example, you can save a lot of money by choosing to stay a little farther away rather than at one of the park-sponsored hotels or resorts.

While you can certainly get a bargain from the big discount travel sites, you might want to consider booking directly with the hotel. You may be able to get an even better deal or take advantage of special perks or bundles. There’s also the fact that you’re much more likely to have a good relationship with the hotel if you booked direct. Hotels have to pay a portion of the booking fees to those big sites, so they’re happier to help out or offer upgrades if you booked through their own website.

Buying a Pricey Package Tour

There are some instances when purchasing an all-inclusive tour makes sense. If you want to travel to a part of the world that sees frequent turmoil, for example, or if you’re visiting a place where you have no grasp of the local language. However, for the most part, tours charge premium prices for food, transportation, and lodging. In exchange, you get the convenience of not having to worry about all those pesky logistics.

It’s a trade-off, sure. But if you’re already on a tight budget, then buying a package tour might not be your best bet. For example, financial blogger Hannah Logan calculates that a self-planned trip to Morocco for two weeks would cost about $3,100 per person. Right now, a 12-day Moroccan tour from luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent costs $8,795—not including airfare and some meals.

Package tours definitely have their place, and if you prefer the ease of traveling with one and can find the room in your budget, then go for it! However, you can save a lot of money by being your own travel concierge.

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