Are you eager to travel again? Join the club! In many ways, seeing the world has never been easier. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be cheap. In order to enjoy the good life without breaking your budget, try some of these time-tested travel tips.
Go Where Your Money Is Worth More
Despite rising inflation at home, the US dollar is still one of the strongest currencies in the world. By traveling to places with more favorable exchange rates for Americans, you can make your money last longer.
For example, a US dollar is worth just over 20 Mexican pesos right now. According to travel blogger Lauren Juliff, the biggest savings you’ll experience by visiting Mexico is the food, where a wonderful meal will cost $5-10. Entrance fees to museums range from $1.50 to $4, and even visiting Chichen Itza will only set you back $13.
In Asia, South Korea, Cambodia, India, and Vietnam are all budget-friendly destinations where your dollars will stretch farther. In Europe, you’ll find that Eastern European countries such as Romania and Estonia offer better values. South Africa offers a favorable exchange rate, too, as does Egypt. Before you decide on a destination, research how far a dollar goes in different countries.
Cruising on the Cheap
Sometimes, you just want everything to be taken care of for you when you travel. Going on a cruise can be an addictive experience, according to people who have fallen in love with cruising. But are cruises expensive or cheap? The answer depends on how you plan for your trip.
In general, the best deals on cruises are booked either very early—we’re talking 18 months in advance—or at the absolute last minute. Cruise lines don’t want to sail with empty cabins, so you can snatch up incredible deals right before the voyage. However, that requires a lot of flexibility on your part. If the price of your cruise drops before you set sail, some companies will discount your ticket even if you’ve already bought it.
While you might think that booking online saves money by cutting out the middleman, travel agents who specialize in cruises can often find you a better deal. In addition, they can help you understand potential hidden costs, such as drink packages or port fees. In contrast, booking shore excursions directly with local companies rather than the cruise line will save you a lot of money.
Get Discounts for Being Yourself
There’s a whole world of discounts available on travel—if you know where to look. Membership in certain clubs and organizations, such as AAA or AARP, can help you save money while traveling. And did you know that you can join AARP even if you aren’t retired? They offer an associate membership that allows folks under 50 to access almost all of the same discounts and benefits.
Students can cash in a wide variety of discounts by using their .edu email address, from cheap flights to bargain accommodations. Teachers can get deals, too! You may need to poke around to find all the deals available to you as a teacher, but it’s totally possible to get a discount on museum entry, theater tickets, and even hotels.
Many of the richest discounts are offered to seniors. There are simply too many to list here, but you can explore the options at The Senior List and AARP. Finally, to thank those who have served their country, veterans and active-duty military can save big on travel expenses. The Penny Hoarder offers a great introduction to military travel discounts—but it never hurts to ask if there’s a discount available to you.
Travel in the Off-Season
Traveling in the off-season or shoulder season is my absolute favorite way to see the world. Rather than fighting crowds during the busiest times of the year, you’ll get to save money and enjoy a less hectic vacation.
The good news is that no matter what the weather is like at home, it’s always sunny somewhere in the world. Often, off-seasons have less appealing weather conditions—too hot, too cold, too rainy, etc. Personally, I’ll always choose a trip to the beach in late fall or winter rather than the summer. It’s so much cheaper, and I’ve had entire beaches to myself.
Even cruises have off-seasons. Sailing to the Caribbean is cheaper in late summer through the fall, for example, because there’s always the threat of a hurricane. While it’s riskier to book during that timeframe, it’s also a lot cheaper. You might end up missing a shore excursion due to bad weather or even veer off course to outrun a storm.
Pack Smart—and Light
Packing for a trip can be stressful as you try to anticipate every possible thing that could go wrong. However, packing light but smart is the best choice. While you should ensure that you aren’t missing any necessities—such as a phone charger that’ll work at your destination—packing multiple large bags is an expensive and unnecessary practice.
If you can avoid checking a bag, you’ll avoid longer wait times, extra hassle, and potential fees from the airline. Baggage fees can vary from airline to airline—and from destination to destination, too. TripAdvisor maintains an updated list of baggage fees so you can see how much you’ll save by traveling light.
Slim Down Your Food Budget
Veteran travelers will tell you that the best way to save money while traveling is to cut down on your food budget. First, look for self-catering accommodations. If you have the option of a kitchen, kitchenette, or even just a kettle and a microwave, you can cut back considerably on costs. If you can find a place that does free breakfasts, that’s even better. One of my favorite travel memories is of the simple free breakfast served at a hole-in-the-wall Parisian hotel: fresh croissants and baguettes with butter, plus hot tea.
Plan to enjoy lunch as your big meal of the day rather than dinner. You’ll get more bang for your buck by dining out at lunchtime. Of course, it’s always more expensive to eat in touristy areas no matter the time of day. And to be honest, the food isn’t usually as good as what you’ll find in the restaurants where locals eat. Swing by the grocery store or market to pick up snacks so that you’re not blindsided by hunger while you’re sightseeing.
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Ignore Tourist Traps
After having traveled to several of the most expensive cities in the world, I’ve learned to avoid the stereotypical touristy areas as much as possible. Anyone who knows New York City will tell you that Times Square is the worst. It’s busy and loud, and you’ll pay top dollar for a mediocre meal at a chain restaurant. No thanks! I’d much rather explore quieter neighborhoods, attractions that are off the beaten path, and restaurants that locals swear by.
One thing that travelers tend to forget is that people actually live in the places they’re visiting. Thanks to the internet, you can get the inside scoop on the best places to eat, drink, and go sightseeing. However, don’t just rely on online reviews. Talk to the locals you meet to get their tips on the best things to see and do in their hometown.
Get Around for Less
While the main cost of transportation on your trip will likely be airfare, don’t forget to factor in ground transportation. Many tourist destinations are pedestrian-friendly or offer public transportation, so opt to walk or take the bus whenever possible instead of hailing a taxi. In some places, renting a bicycle or scooter is the best and cheapest way to get around. I’ve even been to places where renting a golf cart for the day is more cost-effective than paying for parking.
If you’re planning to stay someplace more remote or journey between multiple destinations, then do some research on the options before you finalize your plans. Many countries have robust rail systems to get around, but in others, a car might be your best option. Renting a car is usually going to be cheaper in the long run than taking taxis everywhere.
Stay Longer, Save More
It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes you can save money by extending your trip. This is especially true if you’re going to be staying at an Airbnb rather than a traditional hotel or hostel. Many vacation rentals offer significant discounts for monthlong stays. We’re talking about up to 40% a night! You’ll also be able to divide any cleaning and booking fees over more nights, making it more cost-effective to stay longer.
If you have the option to work remotely (or if you’re retired), then you might find that extending your trip is a much better value than a holiday that only lasts a week or two.
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Be Nice to Everyone—But Expect Nothing
One of the best ways to save money while traveling is to be nice to people. No, really! A little kindness and a polite greeting can open so many doors—including the doors to an upgraded room. It doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s a possibility to upgrade at a hotel, airport, or cruise ship. You might be told no, and if that’s the case, thank them anyway. Many people in the service industry deal with frustrated, entitled customers all day, every day. By not being one of those customers, you have a better shot at getting preferential treatment.
Another way to enjoy a richer travel experience without spending extra money is to interact with the locals. I’ve found that taking the trouble to learn a few basic polite phrases—how to say hello, please, and thanks—as well as local customs is a wonderful way to be welcomed with open arms. While you’re not guaranteed to get anything extra just for being a decent person, you’ll certainly make better memories along the way.