Summer Road Trip: 12 Tricks for Eating on the Cheap

Food and beverages on a road trip can really add up. Here are some easy, money-saving tips to keep you on budget when you're on the go.

Nearly 80% of American families plan to hit the road this summer, a 10% increase over last year, according to AAA. Many of us assume that a road trip will be a budget-friendly vacation idea, but the expense of meals, snacks and beverages on the road can cost more than we anticipate. We polled top travel experts and found more than a dozen ways to save on eats during your adventures on the open road this summer.

1. Stock up on Snacks

Travel writer Christina Valhouli avoids buying potentially overpriced snacks at gas stations and roadside convenience stores. “I stock up on snacks from my local supermarket or Costco before a trip. I make individual sized portions in Ziploc bags and pass them around the car,” she said. She uses clothespins to securely close bags of snacks, as they are sturdier and less expensive than chip clips.

2. Snack Healthy

Lisa Scurlock, owner of Gratitude Yoga in Chicago, likes to avoid junk food when she’s on the road. “I always pack protein bars, like Oatmega grass-fed whey protein bars, to keep me energized when I’m traveling to yoga retreats throughout the summer — they taste great and have tons of protein without a lot of sugar,” she said. “Plus, I save money by packing a box of four bars instead of buying one at a time from pricey rest stops along the way.”

3. Save With Apps

Sandra Hanna from SmartCookies.com recommends using the Ibotta app to look for restaurant deals. “If you’re on the road and want to stop for a bite, check out Ibotta’s offers for Buffalo Wild Wings or any number of restaurants available through Groupon,” she said. “You could earn up to 20% cash back on Groupon just by starting with Ibotta. Then cash out via PayPal or Venmo and put some gas in the tank.”​

Gabe Saglie, a travel expert from Travelzoo, recommends the free Travelzoo app. “The app geo-targets your location to showcase exclusive deals at nearby restaurants,” he said. “These deals — which can include everything from mimosa breakfasts to specially curated multi-course dinners — are vetted, tested, and represent significant savings.”

4. Breakfast Included

Saglie suggested being strategic when you book your hotel. “If you’re on a multi-day road trip, look for hotels where breakfast comes standard with your stay,” he said. “The option to grab a meal before you hit the road again can be a big money-saver.” Many hotels will feed your kids for free, or at a discount, he said. “At Fairmont hotels, for example, kids age 5 and under eat free from the children’s menu, and kids ages 6 to 12 eat for half price when ordering off the regular menu. Four Seasons and Starwood/Marriott hotels have similar programs.”

You’ll save more if you’re a member of your favorite hotel’s rewards club, and even more if you have a hotel rewards credit card. If you don’t already have one, keep in mind that most rewards cards require good credit to qualify. You can see where your credit stands by checking your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Valhouli favors chains like Extended Stay or Marriott’s Residence Inn, because they often have kitchenettes. “You can whip up an easy breakfast or lunch in a kitchenette,” she said. “One $5 box of granola will go a long way!”

5. Look for Perks

Saglie suggests taking advantage of the free morning coffee service at many hotels. Some hotels also offer wine in the evenings. “Kimpton hotels offer a complimentary wine hour every day at 5 p.m., and Embassy Suites hotels feature complimentary managers’ cocktail receptions, which are an effective way to save on your night out,” he said.

6. Fill up on Coffee

Don Munsil co-owner of the vacation planning website MouseSavers.com, suggested filling a thermos with coffee before you leave the house on day one of your trip. “You can refill it at the hotel breakfast service the next morning,” he said. Need more later in the day? “Places like Denny’s or IHOP will usually fill your thermos for the cost of a single cup of coffee, or McDonald’s will typically eyeball your thermos and charge for one or two large coffees.”

7. Order Ahead

If you want to save time on the road, Tammilee Tilson of the Tammilee Tips blog suggests ordering snacks and other road trip essentials from the CVS Pharmacy app during breakfast while at the hotel or campground. (Here are some handy tips for saving money at CVS.) “You can use the app to access great deals through their ExtraCare Rewards Program wherever you are, and easily make your shopping list accordingly,” she said. “If the local store has curbside pickup, you can quickly pick up your items on the way to your next destination.”

8. Some Assembly Required

If you plan to stop for a picnic along the way, Munsil recommends buying sandwiches in the morning — unassembled. “To avoid soggy sandwiches, ask for them unassembled, with the filling for each one portioned out and ready to go in a plastic container, the spreads in little sealed cups and the pre-sliced rolls or bread in a bag,” he said. “Stick the meats and mayo in your cooler and the bread bag in a sunny part of the car so it’ll be warm.”

9. Load up on Lunch

If you go to a restaurant for lunch, Adrian Gradinaru, founder and CEO of Sailo.com, a peer-to-peer marketplace for boat rentals, suggests making lunch the main meal of the day. “Americans favor dinner as the main meal of the day but it tends to be more expensive,” he said. “Instead, try making lunch your principal meal as most people outside the U.S. do. Many restaurants offer special prix-fixe lunch menus that are a great deal.”

10. Bring the Beverages

Valhouli’s rule of thumb at hotels? Avoid the minibar. “We always pack a small, soft sided cooler in our car and stock it with juice boxes, soft drinks or wine for the adults so that we are never tempted to hit the overpriced minibar,” she said. Her only use for the minibar is to refreeze her ice packs overnight.

11. Get Gift Certificates

The Costco or Sam’s Club websites often offer discounted restaurant gift cards to their members from major chains like Landry’s and Darden’s, Munsil said. “Sometimes the gift cards will appear to be for a specific restaurant, but usually that card will work at any restaurant owned by that chain,” he said.

He also suggested planning your evening stops in decent-sized towns and checking a site like Restaurant.com for gift certificates to local restaurants. Larger towns are more likely to have participating restaurants. You can also check out tips for slicing your restaurant food costs.

12. Eat With the Locals

Gradinaru suggests staying away from touristy hot spots. “Instead, venture into more residential neighborhoods, where you’ll likely find some excellent and cheap establishments,” he said. He also suggests asking around. “Concierges tend to recommend pricier restaurants near your hotel, so try asking a waiter, bartender or your host (if you are staying in an Airbnb), where they like to eat. They’ll likely give you some great options,” he said.

Image: Image Source

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37 National Parks to Visit Before You Die

If natural beauty is your thing, the national park system offers some great and inexpensive ways to experience it. Here are some of our very favorites.

One of the greatest things about our country is its diversity, both in terms of its people and the land itself. That’s why we’re such big fans of the country’s national parks, which offer a dynamic and budget-friendly way to see the country up close.

Comprised of 417 areas covering more than 84 million acres, the National Park System includes the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. That’s a lot of land to explore, and all of those options can be overwhelming. So before you hit the road or catch a flight to your park destination, make sure you have a plan for your travels. (And if you have kids, you’ll want to read our handy road-trip survival guide.)

Drafting a budget is a good place to start, as is packing a travel rewards card, which can help you earn perks just for spending as you normally would. (For those on the road, a gas rewards card may be a better option.) Be sure to check your credit before you apply, as many of these cards require good credit to qualify. You can view two of your credit scores for free right here on Credit.com.

To help you decide where to venture this summer, we selected 37 of our favorites from across the country. Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

1. Denali National Park, Alaska

Who wouldn’t want to see a rainbow stretching across a pink sky as late as midnight? Or the sun rising around 3:30 in the morning to light up the snow-capped mountains? The views in Denali are breathtaking, and part of the thrill is seeing how its scenery changes in sunlight.

2. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska 

You’ll feel super-accomplished after spending a day hiking the Harding Icefield Trail, but that’s not the only way to explore this remote park. See the fjords on a boat tour in summer, go kayaking or drive along Exit Glacier, which offers pit stops for hiking and Instagram-ready viewpoints.

3. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, Alaska

With glaciers, lakes, volcanoes, dense forests and roving bears, Lake Clark is what you think of when you think of Alaska. And though getting there requires a plane or travel by boat, you won’t regret going in summer, when the wildflowers are in bloom and the hiking is top-notch.

4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona 

Accessible year-round, the Grand Canyon is a true American treasure, with spectacular views, life-changing hikes and a colorful, if sometimes fraught, history. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the Canyon reliably draws millions of visitors each year.

5. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

No Southwest trip would not be complete without a stop in majestic Saguaro, named for the cowboy-shaped cactuses that are abundant throughout the desert. Forbidding rattlesnakes, javelinas and gila monsters call Saguaro their home, but those shouldn’t deter you from seeing the Costa’s hummingbirds and floral blooms.

6. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

For more than two centuries, people have used the hot spring water in Downtown Hot Springs to treat various ailments; today “Bathhouse Row” is a National Historic Landmark District with the largest collection of bathhouses of its kind in North America.

7. Channel Islands National Park, California 

Calling all snorkelers, divers and kayakers: Channel Island and its isolated coves and sea caves are beckoning you. Explore heaps of kept forests alongside sea lions or surf the waters off the north or south shores of Santa Rosa. At the end of the day, you can camp on any of the five park islands and indulge in some of the best stargazing in SoCal.

8. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Situated just east of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree is a mecca for rock climbers, campers and driving sightseers alike. The park’s namesake Joshua trees are abundant throughout the park, as are other desert flora and fauna. Keys View looks out over the Coachella Valley, where the San Andreas Fault is clearly visible.

9. Redwood National Park, California

There’s nothing more humbling than standing next to a 300-foot-tall redwood. In this coastal national park, you can explore numerous beautiful trails or take a meandering drive through old-growth redwoods. We recommend the Coastal Drive Loop for stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

10. Sequoia National Park, California

One of the world’s tallest trees — and largest living organisms, in fact — can be found here in this national park. The General Sherman is massive, and more than 2,300 years old, so make sure to take a picture with this beautiful, old giant.

11. Yosemite National Park, California

If you want ancient sequoia trees, stunning waterfalls and beautiful mountains, Yosemite has it all. From El Capital and Half Dome to Bridalveil Falls, the natural beauty comes in epic proportions. The high season gets very crowded, so prepare to spend some time looking for parking.

12. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado 

You don’t have to dig John Denver to get into the laid-back mindset of this park. Just bask in the wildlife viewing, scenic drives (Trail Ridge Road climbs to a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet) and family-friendly activities. Coyote Valley, where thousands of wildflowers bloom in the summer, should be tops on your list.

13. Everglades National Park, Florida 

Here you can literally slow time … and sink into the swamp. Just a one-hour drive south from Miami, the park includes a striking 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitat that’s been designated as an International Biosphere, a Wetland of Importance and a World Heritage Site. Just watch out for the alligators.

14. Dry Tortugas, Florida 

Comprised of seven small islands, Dry Tortugas is one of the country’s great natural wonders, with something for everyone. For history buffs, Fort Jefferson, a prison during the Civil War, can’t be missed, while those in desperate need of some R&R will enjoy the calm beaches. The shallow waters are perfect for snorkeling.

15. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

The feeling you get watching the sunrise at Haleakalā on Maui is hard to describe, but suffice it so say there’s nothing else like it. Standing on the windy summit around 6 a.m. would be unpleasant if it weren’t for the spectacular view. Just be forewarned, the drive to the summit is not for those who fear winding roads.

16. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

You can explore the beautiful volcanoes on the big island of Hawai’i, some of which are still active, in this park. Drive around the the summit of Kīlauea or hike one of the park’s lovely trails. The Nāhuku Lava Tube is especially great for kids, as they’ll be able to imagine the lava rushing through the tube hundreds of years ago.

17. Acadia National Park, Maine 

Acadia is Maine’s only national park and also one of the country’s most beautiful, with forests, ponds, marshlands, mammals and even whales on display. Be sure to explore the park’s historic carriage paths, commissioned by John D. Rockefeller in 1915.

18. Adams National Park, Massachusetts

Take a trip back in time to the early days of our country’s history, where you’ll find the “summer White House,” Stone Library, Adams Carriage House and the birthplace of not one, but two of our presidents. See the lovely yellowwood tree John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa Catherine must have planted in memory of their son, George, and tour the home where John Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution.

19. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Deep turquoise water and tall forest trees make Isle Royale ideal for outdoorsy types. Just $7 gets you in for a day of backpacking, hiking, boating, kayaking or scuba diving. If none of those are your thing, go anyway for the island’s isolation — it’s a great place for reflection.

20. Glacier National Park, Montana

Glaciers, mountains, mountain goats, verdant mountain fields and hiking trails galore are what you’ll find in this 1,500-plus-square-mile wilderness area. There are also some rustic inns to check out if backpacking isn’t your idea of relaxing.

21. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota 

Fittingly named for the outdoorsy president who created five national parks, signed the landmark Antiquities Act and used its provisions to create 18 national monuments, this scenic park demands your attention.

22. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon 

Crater Lake was created by the explosion of Mt. Mazama 7,700 years ago and wasn’t discovered by white explorers until 1853. The Klamath Tribes who lived there considered it a sacred place, and given its unearthly quiet (and the emerald waters of Fumarole Bay), we have to agree.

23. Congaree National Park, South Carolina 

One of the newer national parks — Congaree received its official designation in 2003 following a grassroots campaign — is a tree-lover’s paradise, with one of the highest canopies in the world. The park’s website calls it the “largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern U.S.”

24. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands doesn’t just have an awesome name, it has some of the most awe-inspiring sights you’ll ever see. If hiking and climbing don’t appeal, hit the hour-long Badlands Loop Scenic Byway — the closest airport, Rapid City, is 80 miles northwest — and keep your eyes peeled for black-footed ferrets, mule deer and buffalo. The trip itself feels like circling the moon.

25. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Supposedly the first cave to be designated a national park, Wind Cave is so tranquil you’ll wonder why you never visited before. Look out for part-time residents like burrowing owls and grazing bull bisons.

26. Big Bend National Park, Texas

It’s a trek just to get to this park situated on the Texas-Mexico border — the nearest airport is 160 miles away — but the mountainous desert terrain is spectacular once you arrive. If you’re into backpacking, it’s a fantastic destination, just keep in mind you’ll have to pack-in your own water. There’s also gorgeous, seasonal river rafting.

27. Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas

When most people think of Texas, they don’t think of dense pine forests, swamps and one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, but that’s exactly what Big Thicket National Preserve is. Situated in Southeast Texas just a short drive north from Houston, the Big Thicket is also home to the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation.

28. Arches National Park, Utah 

Just five miles north of Moab lies the entrance to Arches, which is thankfully open year-round. Yes, the entrance fee will cost you ($25), but after viewing what’s said to be the world’s largest natural sandstone arches, you’ll be convinced the price of admission was worth it. Be sure to get out of your car to see the arches up close.

29. Gateway National Recreational Area, New Jersey 

Gateway covers 27,000 acres, including Sandy Hook, New Jersey and parts of Staten Island and Jamaica Bay, New York City. The sprawling national park allows for activities like kayaking in Jamaica Bay, swimming off Sandy Hook and camping at historic Fort Wadsworth.

30. Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park, New Jersey

The Great Falls of the Passaic River is the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, behind only Niagara. Alexander Hamilton, the founder of Paterson, harnessed the 77-foot falls to power the city, one of the earliest industrial hubs in the U.S. The park, established in 2011, allows visitors to see the falls up close and learn about Hamilton and early American industry.

31. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio 

The only national park in Ohio is also one of the country’s most popular, with thousands of plants, abundant wildflowers and a landscape of hills, sandstone ledges and waterfalls (Brandywine Falls is a favorite). Just a 30-minute drive south from Cleveland, it’s easy to get to as well.

32. North Cascades National Park, Washington 

The name “Stehekin” comes from a Salishan word meaning “the way through,” which may explain The Stehekin Valley’s allure as a passageway for travelers. Less than three hours outside Seattle, Stehkin is only accessible by foot, boat or plane, making it an ideal place to unplug.

33. Olympic National Park, Washington

This is where people come to see the rugged beauty of Washington state up close. Boating and fishing are popular activities, though keep in mind there are risks, so be sure to map your route and plan for emergencies. A day hike on the Peabody Creek Trail is a fantastic introduction to the park.

34. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming 

Named for the tallest mountain in the Teton range, the park includes multiple lakes and enough species of flora and fauna to send a biologist into a tizzy. Snapping a shot of the lakes that mirror the mountains on a calm day is a must.

35. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The world’s first national park is a feast for the eyes, with no shortage of things to see and do. The Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is about 20 miles long, offering dramatic views of Yellowstone River, while Hayden Valley features all sorts of wildlife, from bison to grizzly bears.

36. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

There are plenty of trails through the Blue Ridge Mountain forests to keep the backpacking enthusiast happy in this park, but Shenandoah isn’t just for the outdoorsy. The park’s Skyline Drive is a popular weekend driving getaway for folks around the Washington, D.C.-Richmond area, especially in fall when the leaves turn. There are also plenty of historic inns nearby to check out for a good night’s sleep and a lovely meal.

37. Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands 

St. John may be the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin islands, located in the Caribbean Sea, but it is surely the prettiest. You won’t find strip malls or all-inclusive resorts here; instead St. John is the kind of place that encourages slowing down.

Image: Solovyova

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50 Places to Visit Before You Turn 50

Here are 50 places to visit before you hit the big milestone.

Many people put off traveling until they’re retired, thinking they’ll have more money saved up by then to afford it. But the truth is, traveling doesn’t necessarily get easier with age. Many places require physical endurance, from climbing the ancient steps of the Acropolis to hiking the rocky Inca city of Machu Picchu, in Peru.

“Our advice for any bucket-list traveler is to do the most difficult destination as early as possible,” said Matthew Ma, co-founder of the airfare deals site The Flight Deal. “We have seen older travelers have a harder time keeping up.”

None of us are getting any younger, so why put your dreams off? We’ve rounded up 50 destinations to inspire you to fill up your passport, none of which will break your budget or land you in debt. (You can check how your habits are affecting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com. Reviewing your scores won’t hurt them one bit and is a great way to manage your finances.)

Be sure to also check out our roundups for great airline miles cards and hotel rewards cards, which can help you put your spending to use. Just remember not to go overboard so you don’t lose your earnings to high interest or rack up unwanted debt. The last thing you want is to return home to an eye-popping credit card bill.

Now, read on for our top destinations to visit before you turn 50.

1. Alaska

The 49th state is the last frontier in North America. With fewer than 800,000 people living across the state’s more than 660,000 square miles, it’s one of the easiest places in the world to quite literally get away from it all. One option for visiting is by taking an Alaskan cruise, as you’ll get to see several places throughout the state. If that’s the route you take, make sure you read up on these 10 things to know before you book a cruise.

2. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires has it all, from splashy street art and graffiti to upscale white-tablecloth restaurants. If the sensual moves of the tango don’t get you, the buttery steak surely will. (Don Julio Parrilla serves some of the juiciest steaks we’ve had in our lives.)

3. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

If you make it to Australia, it’s easy to spend all your time at the country’s pristine beaches, especially around Sydney or Brisbane. But if you’ve gone to the effort of taking that lengthy flight from the U.S., you might as well spend a couple of days venturing around the country’s hot, red center, where Uluru rises more than 1,000 feet out of the desert.

4. Napa Valley, California

Grab your fellow wine geek and head to the valley in the beginning of harvest season, when the cabernet, chardonay and pinot grapes are picked. A bike tour is a great way to take advantage of the area’s rolling scenery.

5. San Francisco

Come for the photos of Queen Anne houses (as seen in the “Full House” opening credits); stay for excellent espresso at Four Barrel Coffee and some of the best Chinese street food. Bringing coffee back home? Here’s why that’s a smart decision.

6. Montreal

The laid-back home of the late Leonard Cohen has design-forward shopping, cheesy poutine and some of the best bagels outside New York City. What more could you want? (Well, besides warmer weather.)

7. Toronto 

Montreal and Vancouver may get all the love, but Toronto is becoming a premier Canadian city in its own right. Hit the Junction, a former industrial area, for hip bars, live music and coffee shops. Then marvel at the reopened Queens Quay on Lake Ontario, in the Harbourfront neighborhood.

8. Guizhou, China 

As the province slowly opens to tourism, visitors will soon have a chance to stay in high-end hotels like the Guiyang Resort while taking advantage of itineraries that bring them closer to the country’s authentic hill tribes.

9. Viñales, Cuba 

Commercial flights from the U.S. have made Cuba more accessible, which is a good thing because this luxuriant valley offers so much to see. A Unesco World Heritage site dotted with pastel-colored bed and breakfasts, Viñales offers mogote climbing, a family-run botanical garden and tobacco farms where you can learn how some of the world’s finest cigars are made.

10. Copenhagen, Denmark

There’s a reason the country is frequently recognized for being the happiest on Earth. One look at its beautiful waterfront, a taste of its delicious pastries and an evening spent watching the fireworks in Tivoli, and you’ll want to call Denmark home, too.

11. Brno, Czech Republic

The Czech Republic’s second city serves up world-class cuisine that ranges from French and American to Japanese and Italian cooking. Coffeehouses like Cafe Mitte beckon guests from neighboring Prague and Vienna to wind down after a long night of partying.

12. Giza, Egypt

For nearly 4,000 years, the wondrous shape of the pyramids of Giza have fascinated travelers. As the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, the massive tombs are utterly awe-inspiring.

13. Athens, Greece

The economy is in crisis, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time here. Avant-garde performances, hip hotels and bustling cafés are just a few of the reasons to visit the mythic Greek capital.

14. Santorini, Greece

Part of the Cyclades island group, Santorini has everything you could want from the setting of Mamma Mia: whitewashed buildings, towering cliffs and crowded villages made for Instagram photos. (Just be sure not to post so much you give any identity thieves ideas.)

15. Berlin

The historic old city has been compared to New York in the ’80s, for all the right reasons. From trendsetting clubs to provocative art, Berlin is the capital of cool.

16. Honolulu

The Hawaiian capital is becoming a hotbed of culture, hosting its first Biennial, which will draw artists from across the Pacific Rim and feature its own talent, and opening artsy hotels like Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, which worked with local artists to conceive custom wallpaper and murals.

17. Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland’s capital may be tiny (its population numbers 120,000), but its nature is mighty — with erupting geysers, extinct volcanoes and geothermal pools to start. Visit between June and August, when temperatures surge to highs in the mid fifties.

18. Galway, Ireland 

The sleepy medieval city may not strike you as much at first. But after walking around the bustling Eyre Square, dropping into St. Nicholas’ Church and taking a relaxing cruise along the River Corrib, you’ll find it as charming as any city in Ireland.

19. Amalfi Coast, Italy 

Glittering seaside towns, world-class cuisine and fragile cultural landscapes — Amalfi’s 13 municipalities were named UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1997 — make this region a must for any aspiring jetsetter.

20. Costa Smeralda, Italy

The crystal-clear waters off the north-eastern coast of Sardinia will make you want to stay there forever. Explore the fantastic coves along the eastern coastline and hitch a ride to the top of Monte Mora, where you can spot the islands of Tavolara and Caprera.

21. Kanazawa, Japan

Thanks to a bullet-train extension that shortens the trip from Tokyo to just 2 and 1/2 hours, the elegant city is seeing an uptick in tourism. A visit to what Travel + Leisure describes as “the old wooden teahouses of the Higashi Chayagai district” and the contemporary art museum are tops on our list, along with a stop at Omi-cho Market for some of the world’s greatest sushi.

22. Kyoto, Japan

Once Japan’s imperial capital, Kyoto is one of the few places in the country that was spared from heavy bombing during World War II. As a result, visitors can enjoy traditional architecture and historic castles and palaces that simply don’t exist anywhere else.

23. The Maasai Mara, Kenya 

Dedicated to the conservation of African wildlife, the world-renowned Mara Conservancy is a sight to behold. Get a peek of resident lion prides, black rhinos, wildebeests and elephants; you can even go on a game drive in the Mara Triangle.

24. Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia

Make friends with the local wildlife — white-breasted kingfishers and humpback dolphins call this island home — then hike through the jungle, which is relatively untouched.

25. Valletta, Malta 

To ring in its 450th birthday last year, the old Mediterranean city gave itself a new gate, a restored open-air opera house and a new parliament building, all designed by Renzo Piano, one of the world’s most sought-after architects.

26. Assateague Island, Maryland & Virginia

Camp out on the beach in the company of the wild horses that call this island home. Assateague is an affordable way to spend a few days sprawled out on the sand and is a short drive away from Ocean City, Maryland.

27. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 

There’s never a bad time to visit, and you can’t beat the currency conversion. El Arco, a natural arch rock formation that sits where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, is not to be missed.

28. Tulum, Mexico 

The stylish beach destination may have lost some of its bohemian allure, but foodies can still count on Tulum to deliver Grade-A bars, eclectic eats and cute coffee shops.

29. Marrakech, Morocco

Winding alleys teeming with handicrafts and exotic cuisine are just two of the reasons Marrakech should be on your to-do list. The majestic 14th-century Ali ben Youssef Quranic school, once the largest Islamic study center in North Africa, is worth the visit alone.

30. Kathmandu, Nepal 

Get high — really high — in the Himalayas, where the snow-shrouded treks are worth every hard moment.

31. Amsterdam

The city’s edges bristle with the creative energy of young artists, and locals and visitors alike enjoy the soothing view from Nieuw Amsterdam. Visit Amsterdam proper if you want, but we’d prefer to avoid the tourists and order oysters at Café Modern instead.

32. Waitomo Caves, New Zealand 

Carved by underground streams over thousands of years, these amazing caves are festooned with zillions of glow worms and some of the most spectacular rock formations you’ll ever see. Book a walking or boat tour to see it up close, and save up your energy for a guided horse trek above ground.

33. Pangalusian Island, Philippines

Take a sunset cruise or go for a night dive — anything you do on the water in this remote island in the Palawan archipelago is bound to be magical.

34. Lisbon, Portugal

Hipster hangouts, boutique hotels and breezy strolls along the Tejo River make the once-sleepy capital worth considering.

35. San Juan, Puerto Rico

On the undeveloped island of Vieque, you’ll find a mysterious bay that glows in the dark. Need we say more?

36. Moscow, Russia

Mother Russia is undergoing a food revolution, complete with inventive takes on Soviet food, folklore-infused dishes and frosty glasses of vodka. A late dinner at White Rabbit restaurant, where star chef Vladimir Mukhin made his name, is a must.

37. Glasgow, Scotland

The largest city in Scotland (and home to ’90s chamber-pop darlings Belle and Sebastian) feels suddenly chic thanks to a group young alums from the Glasgow School of Art who’ve peppered the city with stylish shops.

38. Pamplona, Spain

The capital of the Navarre region, in the northeast corner of Spain, inspired great affection in Ernest Hemingway, who visited Pamplona on nine occasions. Many of his favorite bars remain open, thanks to his novel “The Sun Also Rises,” which captured the spirit of one Spanish summer in the 1920s.

39. Trunk Bay, St. John 

Who cares if the beach is crowded? This little corner of paradise, in the United States Virgin Islands, is lovely enough to make a postcard look like it was Photoshopped.

40. The Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Sleeping on reindeer pelts in a hotel designed entirely of ice isn’t for everyone, but if you’re among the adventurous, it’s an amazing experience. You might even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights if the atmospheric conditions are right. (Pro tip: Skip the dog sled from the airport to the hotel and just take a car.)

41. Ticino, Switzerland

Home to medieval castles, world-class art exhibits and an array of options for hiking, the Italian-speaking canton is la dolce vita with an Alpine backdrop. Leap from the Ponte dei Salti into the glittering waters below, then make like the locals and devour a block of lasagna.

42. Istanbul

A little bit of Asia, a little bit of Europe and a rich, complicated history make Istanbul a fascinating place to visit. The imposing Haghia Sophia is an obvious stop, as are the ferries shuttling up and down the Bosphorus. Just try not to eat too much baklava.

43. Ko Phra Thong, Thailand 

One of Thailand’s many attractions off the touristy beaten path, this largely deserted island features eco-friendly resorts and bungalows nestled in verdant gardens.

44. Udon Thani, Thailand 

The northeast Thailand city is an industrial hub, but the Red Lotus Sea, a shallow lake dotted with thousands of red lotus flowers, will take your breath away with its beauty. Schedule a small boat tour to view it up close.

45. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 

One of the most iconic places of worship, perhaps in the world, can be found here: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The final resting place of the man who conceived it, the first president of the UAE, the impressive mosque is one of the few in the region that is open to non-Muslims.

46. Park City, Utah

With the merger of Park City Mountain Resort and nearby Canyons Resort, ski buffs can get a pass good at both resorts and go wild on the slopes without paying extra. According to The New York Times, last summer Vail spent a whopping $50 million to seal the deal and pay for an eight-person gondola to connect the resorts.

47. Dalat, Vietnam

White-water rafting, mountain biking and golf are just a few of the outdoor activities that set Dalat apart.

48. Seattle

Come for local beer at every bar and some of the best coffee shops around — seriously, don’t even bother with Starbucks. Seattle has tourist attractions like Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle, but if you’re wondering where the locals disappear to each weekend, head for the mountains, where you’ll find them hiking and climbing.

49. Washington, D.C.

With the recent opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, downtown D.C. is looking a lot more dynamic these days. A sprawling development called CityCenterDC adds to the appeal with apartments, condos, shops and restaurants, including Momofuku CCDC, the first U.S. location for the brand outside of New York.

50. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

After snapping a selfie with Old Faithful, see if you can spot any wild bears or bison. Be sure to visit the most photographed thermal feature of all, Grand Prismatic Spring.

Trying to save up for the trip of a lifetime? Here are 50 things to stop wasting your money on now

Image: hadynyah

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5 Credit Cards for Cost-Conscious Travelers

These low-cost cards won’t gouge you and serve as a handy travel companion.

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

There’s a lot of buzz anytime a credit card company launches a new premium travel credit card. But these cards often charge annual fees of $400 or more for the privilege of accessing their benefits. (You can read more about these types of cards here.) For occasional or budget travelers who want a cost-conscious card, these high annual fees just aren’t realistic. Luckily, there are plenty of low-cost cards that won’t gouge you and serve as a great travel companion.

The way we see it, cards for the budget-conscious traveler need to meet a few requirements. Foreign transactions should be free, there should be no annual fee and the card should have some additional travel perks or incentives. With that in mind, check out our picks.

1. BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% on purchases for 12 months, then variable 15.74% to 23.74%

Signup Bonus: 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days

Why We Picked It: This card earns points that can help travelers get to more destinations and comes with a nice signup bonus.

Benefits: Every dollar spent on purchases earns 1.5 points that can be redeemed toward flights, hotels, cruises and other travel expenses. The signup bonus alone is worth $200 in travel credits. Bank of America customers get an extra 10% in points for every purchase.

Drawbacks: If you don’t have a Bank of America account, you won’t get the full earnings potential.

2. Discover it Miles

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: 0% on purchases for 14 months, then variable 11.74% to 23.74%

Signup Bonus: Discover will match all the miles you earn at the end of your first year.

Why We Picked It: This card racks up miles for travel, and Discover will match all earned miles after your first year. Plus, there’s flexibility to use it as a travel or cash back card.

Benefits: This card earns 1.5 miles for every dollar spent on purchases, and miles can be used to book travel with no blackout dates. Cardholders even have the option to use it as a cash back card, as you don’t lose any value when redeeming for cash. Discover’s matching offer means your first year earns double the miles. You’ll also get up to $30 of in-flight Wi-Fi credits per year.

Drawbacks: You’ll have to wait until the end of your first year to get your match bonus, while many card bonuses process after three months.

3. Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: 0% APR on purchases for 12 months, then variable 12.74% to 22.74%

Signup Bonus: 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in the first three months

Why We Picked It: This card comes with a signup bonus, decent mileage return and additional perks that come standard with premium travel cards.

Benefits: The card earns 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend on purchases, and miles can be used to book travel through any website or app. Cardholders can earn a nice signup bonus worth $200. Additional travel benefits include free 24-hour concierge services and upgrades at hotels.

Drawbacks: According to Capital One, this card requires excellent credit, so you may not be able to qualify if your credit isn’t up to par. (Not sure? You can find out by taking a look at two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

4. JetBlue Card

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: Variable 12.74%, 20.74% or 25.74%, based on creditworthiness

Signup Bonus: 5,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days

Why We Picked It: Loyal JetBlue customers and anyone looking for a solid airline card can appreciate this card’s rewards.

Benefits: Cardholders earn three points per dollar with JetBlue, two points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and one point per dollar elsewhere. Points can be redeemed for any seat on JetBlue flights, with no blackout dates. You’ll also save 50% on in-flight food and drink purchases. If you fly frequently, or even occasionally, with JetBlue, this card could be worth it.

Drawbacks: You’re essentially locked into JetBlue’s program since the points aren’t transferable to other airlines.

5. USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: Variable 12.65% to 26.65%, or 4% during military deployment

Signup Bonus: None

Why We Picked It: This card is a great cash back option for military members and their families, and also provides some key travel benefits.

Benefits: USAA membership is available to active and former military members, their families, cadets or midshipmen. This card earns 1.5% cash back on every purchase. It also includes concierge services, rental car insurance and emergency travel assistance. If you have good credit, you can qualify for a low interest rate.

Drawbacks: This card is limited to USAA members.

Choosing the Right Budget Travel Card

The right budget travel card has benefits that match your spending habits. While it’s a given that you want no annual fee or foreign transaction fees, card benefits can differ. The best cards will earn points, miles or cash back on the types of purchases you tend to make.

You’ll also want to pick a card that fits your lifestyle. If you travel infrequently but want a budget travel card just in case, you may be better off with a card that can be redeemed for travel or cash back. (You can take a look at some of the best cash back cards here.) You’ll also want a card that can help you get to your desired destination. So, for example, if JetBlue doesn’t fly to your destinations of choice, that airline’s credit card won’t be appropriate.

If you’re gunning for a signup bonus, make sure you can meet the requirements. If you can’t afford the needed spending amount, it may be better to shoot for a smaller bonus with modest requirements rather than stretch your budget trying to pass a spending threshold. After all, carrying a balance means you’ll probably lose out on the perks thanks to interest fees.

At publishing time, the Capital One VentureOne rewards card, Discover it Miles, USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature and JetBlue Card are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, these relationships do not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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7 Ways to Save on Travel With Kids

If vacationing with your kids is something you’d like to do in the near future, here's how to trim the price tag.

Traveling with kids is stressful enough without tacking on the worry of spending a fortune for fun in the sun (or on the slopes, or wherever you’d like to take your kids). If vacationing with your kids is something you’d like to do in the near future, here are seven things you can do to cut the price tag.

1. Travel as Much as Possible Before Your Kids Turn 2

I didn’t know this before I had a kid myself, but if your child is under the age of two and you’re willing to hold them in your lap for the duration of your flight (known as a “lap child”), they’ll fly for free within the U.S., Canada, Mexico and most of the Caribbean.

If you’ll be flying internationally, be sure to check the airline’s policy, although most allow lap infants to fly for free if they’re under two (one per adult). Be sure to show proof of your child’s age at check-in — their shot record or a copy of birth certificate will do — or you may have to pay for a seat.

2. Call the Airline to Ask About Discounts

If you’ll be flying internationally or your kid is over two — or even if they’re not, but you’d prefer to not hold them in your lap — it’s worth calling the airline to ask if they offer any discounts on kids’ tickets. For example, Southwest only offers Infant fares through a Southwest Customer Representative.

3. Research Ahead of Time

A little research can go a long way when you’re traveling with kids. If you purchase tickets for museum visits, theme parks or other attractions online, you can often do a quick online search to find promo and discount codes to use at checkout.

For example, purchasing a Disney World one-day ticket online will cost you $59, as opposed to $117 at the gate. That’s a big savings. Be sure to research what attractions will be free no matter what. For example, MoMA admission is free for kids 16 and under, and the Denver Art Museum is free to kids 18 and under every day. (Is Disney World your destination? Check out these suggestions on how you can visit Disney World for free — or close to free, anyway.)

4. Skip the Car Rental

Depending on your kids’ ages and how much you plan to bring, skipping the rental car might not always be feasible or helpful. But if you can take public transportation, you’re bound to save a ton of money. Besides, riding the New York City subway or the cable car in San Francisco will be an adventurous activity in and of itself.

5. See What You Can Borrow From the Hotel

Packing is another area where you can save some cash, especially if you’ll be flying. While some of your baby goods, like strollers and car seats, can be checked for free, if you need to pack multiple bags, you’ll likely pay dearly in baggage fees. Instead, call your hotel or apartment rental and find out if there’s a Pack and Play you can use and if there’s laundry on site. If there is and it’s not a fortune, it might be worth packing less.

6. Ask About Special Discounts

It’s always a good idea to look online or call your hotel to ask about discounts. For example, military personnel, teachers, seniors and large groups often get discount options.

7. Pack a Great Rewards Card

If your rewards card isn’t giving you tons of cash back or travel points, it might be time to find a new one. (Be sure to check your credit before you apply to see if you’ll qualify. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

My husband and I just signed up for a new travel rewards credit card that offers a sizable bonus after spending a given amount in the first few months and we know it will be easy to hit that, as we’re remodeling our basement. And the bonus is enough to pay for vacation flights, especially because our toddler flies free. California, here we come!

Image: pixdeluxe

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The Best Places You Can Fly for Cheap Right Now

best-places-to-fly-in-october

Eager to hit the road but not sure where to go? With fall in full swing, we felt it was only right that we research the best places to visit this season. It turns out budget travelers have plenty of options, and if they play their cards right they can hitch a ride on a jet plane for as little as $200 roundtrip. We tapped Billy Sanez, vice president of marketing for FareCompare, an airfare travel deals site, to pull up data on places with the best deals right now.

Austin, Texas 

The Texas capital has everything a budget-conscious family could want: historic attractions, world-class hotels, stunning scenery and killer barbecue (also: live music). The 2016 Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix happens there later this month too. “The weather won’t be as hot, probably in the 80s,” said Sanez, “and you’ll still be able to find great hotels … The only challenge there is you won’t have Uber” — the city banned the ride-hailing service in May.

New Orleans

If jazz and beignets dusted with sugar get your pulse racing, then the soulful city of New Orleans is the place to be. “It’s a little bit [of the] lower season for them,” Sanez said, “and actually you can probably get down there for less than $150 roundtrip from anywhere in the U.S.” Known for its vibrant nightlife and legendary music, New Orleans is a dream in the fall, perfect for picnics.

Seattle 

For those flying from the East Coast, especially cities like Boston, New York and Savannah, Georgia, a fare to Seattle can be had for less than $200 roundtrip, Sanez said. “Usually you’ll also see great deals for hotels.” That’s a good thing because you’ll be need cash for pinot in wine country and those aromatic molten chocolate cakes on Ballard Avenue.

Western Europe

We’ve reported on the phenomenon of cheap European flights, and this season the story’s no different. “You can get to just about any popular country for less than $600 roundtrip,” said Sanez, especially scenic London and Paris. “Germany, France and the U.K. will be a bit chilly, but it’s going to be like New York weather,” said Sanez. “In parts of Spain, Portugal and Italy, it’s going to be in the 70s.”

More Ways to Save on Airfare

With the holidays coming up, it’s important to look for ways to ease the strain on your wallet. A good place to start: travel rewards credit cards, which can soup up your trip with free checked baggage, hotel upgrades and miles. Just remember, you’ll need solid credit in order to qualify — lenders don’t like to see applicants who can’t manage their payments responsibly. So if you’re considering a new piece of plastic, be sure to check your credit before you apply. You can view two of your credit scores, updated every two weeks, for free on Credit.com.

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How to Score the Best Last-Minute Hotel Deals for the Republican Convention

republican-and-democratic-conventions

If you’re still planning to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next week but haven’t booked your trip yet, hotel experts say you’d better act fast.

Just 24% of the city’s accommodations are listed as still available on Booking.com from July 18-21. The highest-rated available property is Stone Gables Bed and Breakfast, according to the site, which is conveniently located 7 minutes from the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention will take place.

“Demand for accommodation within the city limits remains extremely high,” Booking.com spokesperson Joseph Moscone said via email, so it may be worth it to check venues outside the city proper for availability.

More Ways to Score a Room

If you’ve exhausted your options online or don’t have time to search around the web for the most affordable accommodations, don’t panic. You may be able to lower the price of a room by applying for your deserved discounts, like AAA or AARP.

You may also be able to put your travel rewards credit card to use by redeeming miles you’ve accumulated for a hotel room. Similarly, hotel rewards credit cards can help fund your stay. The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express (see a full review here), for instance, allows cardholders to earn double points at Starwood properties, such as the Westin, which can be redeemed for award nights starting at just 3,000 points per night. And Hilton’s HHonors Surpass Card, also from American Express, gives cardmembers access to room upgrades, which may nab you the type of room that you need if you’re traveling with a large group. (You can learn more about the best hotel rewards credit cards in America here.)

If you’re considering applying for a travel rewards credit card or something similar, it’s a good idea to check your credit score first, as this will help determine what kind of rates you may qualify for. You can view two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.

At publishing time, The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Arpad Benedek

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Is It Really Cheaper to Use a Travel Site?

travel credit cards

Unless you’re living large and traveling first class wherever you go, chances are you’re looking to score the best possible airfare, hotel and car rental deals whenever you need or want to travel.

But finding these travel deals can be daunting. You can spend hours searching airfares posted on aggregators, like Kayak, and online travel agent sites, like Travelocity and Orbitz, then comparing them to prices listed on airline and hotel websites, all the while wondering if the deal notification emails you’ve signed up for will send you an even lower rate tomorrow or next week.

Really, it’s enough to make you need a vacation.

While you’re probably never going to know whether you got the absolute cheapest deal available (though our anecdotal research showed that you almost always get a deep discount on hotel-and-airfare combos through online travel agent sites compared to booking them separately through individual hotels and airlines), there are some tricks you can use that can help ensure you get a deal that fits your own personal needs.

If you want to earn maximum airline miles and hotel points…

You can almost always use your airline’s frequent flier or loyalty number when booking on an online travel site, but you’re less likely to be able to use your loyalty number for hotel bookings. So, if that free upgrade to a luxury suite in Istanbul is on your radar, booking directly with the hotel to get those points might be your best bet. One way to work around this is if you have hotel rewards credit card or an airline miles credit card. You might not earn as many points as booking directly with the hotel or airline, but it can help you earn points for future travel. (You can check out the winners of our recent ranking of the best travel credit cards in America.)

If you want maximum flexibility…

If you’re the kind of traveler who wants to change rooms or even hotels midway through your stay — whether because of a problem or just on a whim — booking through a travel site might make things trickier.

Some hotels don’t allow changes on bookings made through a third party, so it’s a good idea to check to see if your chosen booking site will help you.

“Certainly we have heard … from time to time that’s an issue,” Travelocity spokesman Keith Nowak said. “That’s why we put into place our customer first guarantee.” If there’s a challenge at the hotel, Travelocity guarantees they’ll make it right, Nowak said, whether it’s finding a new hotel or correcting a situation at the current hotel.

If you need to travel to specific places on specific dates…

Say you’re booking your own business travel and need to be in downtown Dayton, Ohio, on a specific date and within a two-block radius of your client’s offices. In this case, a tool like Name Your Own Price from Priceline, which lets you choose your price and then finds the cheapest, closest match, but not necessarily on preferred days, may not your best option. Comparison shopping on travel booking sites and your favorite airlines is probably the best way to find what you’re looking for.

If you’re flexible and want a good deal…

This situation is where a site like AirFareWatchdog.com can be your wallet’s best friend. AirFareWatchdog gathers deals and sends you alerts, so if you see something you like you can book it.

“We have a staff of people who look at very many websites and when we find a low airfare we let people know about it,” George Hobica, president and founder of AirFareWatchdog, said. The deals can be so good — like a recent $65 cross-country flight, he noted as an example — you might be enticed to take a vacation you hadn’t planned before.

“Sometimes you didn’t know you needed it, but you see a crazy-low fare like that and you think ‘Well, now I need that,’” Hobica said.

If you find the whole thing daunting…

If you don’t know exactly where or when you want to travel, or if you just find the whole idea of sifting through numerous deals and options too daunting a task, there’s always the option of the old-fashioned travel agent, which really isn’t that bad a deal.

Travel agents by and large have access to the same rates as the online booking sites (sometimes better) and will take care of the booking and planning for you. This may come with a fee, typically $20-$50, but you may find that the convenience of using a travel agent is worth it, and you can make up the expense in other ways. And if you run into any problems before or during your trip they can often help you out with those as well.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: iStock

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How We’re Hacking Our Summer Travel

summer_travel

We climbed out of $51,000 in credit card debt. We credit this achievement to one thing — discovering our why. (We learned from incomparable motivational speaker John Rohn that anything is achievable as long as we first know “why” we want to achieve it. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t get this memo until well after we paid off our credit card debt, but it’s still a great quote to fall back on.)

One of Our ‘Whys’ – Travel

We can’t travel enough. Travel expands our world and gives us with new experiences. We’ve traveled at length both nationally and internationally. Two years ago, to focus on growing the Debt Free Guys, we made the decision to limit ourselves to domestic travel only, mostly to visit family and for work. We can’t not visit mom for three years!

Our three-year international travel hiatus is almost up. That said, we’ve planned, documented and are financially preparing for our 2016 contiguous-48 travel. This year’s travel theme is “family milestones” — a 50th wedding anniversary and a 100th birthday.

First, we’re taking a much-needed vacation in May. This go-round, we’re visiting both Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif. As much as we’ve traveled California, John’s never been to LA and neither of us have been to Palm Springs. We both love the mid-century modern architecture and are excited about the latter leg of this trip.

Making Our Travel Cheaper

In June, we’re flying to Dickinson, N.D., to celebrate David’s grandmother’s 100th birthday! We visit Dickinson annually and it’s a nice change of pace from our normal and David’s grandmother has a lot to teach us about life and even money. She’s wise and sharp as a tack.

John hopes to someday beat David’s grandmother in pinochle, which he has yet to do. Despite being 100 years old, she can still count cards. For her 101st birthday, we may take her to Vegas.

When we visit David’s grandmother, our strategy for keeping costs down typically is staying with her. This visit will be different. David’s grandmother has nine children and countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Hers will be a full house (no pun intended — that’s a different game).

DFG Summar TravelTo avoid stress, contain costs and maximize our rewards, we’re using our hotel points in Dickinson rather than in bigger cities where hotel points won’t go as far. We can stay at a hotel in Dickinson for half the number of hotel points it costs to stay in Philadelphia. Such is the economics of supply and demand.

When we stay at hotels, we’re prone to use room service to satiate midnight hunger. Several years ago we learned to avoid the excessive room service costs with delivery from nearby restaurants. The same food costs half as much, even with a hefty tip. We search online for restaurants within one mile of our hotel.

In July, we’re flying to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to first visit John’s friends in the City of Brotherly Love, after which we’ll drive to Hershey, Penn., otherwise known as Chocolate Town USA, to visit John’s family. This trip is to celebrate John’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

The round-trip flight will be sponsored by airline miles acquired from travel hacking. We’ve mastered the art of using our credit cards and paying them off each month, so we don’t pay credit card interest. (High credit card balances can also hurt your credit score. You can see how your credit card balances are impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) Paying our balances off in full has helped us accrue points and travel cheaply on our numerous trips. (You can see what some of the best travel credit cards in America offer here.)

Finally, in September, we’re flying to San Diego, Calif., for a personal finance conference. Since the trip is part of our work as the Debt Free Guys, we’ll be sure to deduct our flight as a travel expense when it comes time to do our taxes next year. And we’ll be sure to enjoy the city during our stay.

So, to recap, here are our Debt Free Guys’ travel saving tips.

  1. Use hotel points in smaller cities to stretch hotel points further.
  2. Use restaurant delivery rather than room service.
  3. Use credit cards to acquire airline miles, not credit card debt.
  4. Get a tax deduction on business travel expenses each year.

Try using some of our strategies for planning your summer travel. Every bit of savings helps and, for us, goes towards our investments for maximum return.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: BeylaBalla; Inset Image Courtesy of David Auten and John Schneider

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How to Have a Not-So-Expensive (NSE) Weekend Away

camping

When we were paying off $51,000 in credit card debt, vacations were a big strain on our budget. We dedicated as much of our disposable income as possible to paying off our debt, not adding to it. For a while, we took no vacations at all.

It was then that we discovered “not-so-expensive” or NSE. NSE is our way to do the things we love, but focus on the things we love more. We love wine, but don’t need a $40 bottle when we’re home by ourselves on a Friday night. Our alternative is an NSE box of wine, which gives us more wine for our buck. Rather than cable TV, we use the NSE streaming alternatives.

While we love to travel, we wanted to pay off our debt even more and NSE options were a great way to do both. Two of our favorite NSE weekends away were nearby our home in Denver, close to all the Rocky Mountains have to offer. One NSE weekend was spent in Winter Park, Colorado during the summer off-season. Another was an NSE Staycation at our friend’s home in Buena Vista. Both options gave us the break we needed, but didn’t break our budget.

Here are six keys we still follow today, even now that we’re debt free. These NSE weekends away give us mini-vacations, so we can save for bigger vacations.

1. Visit Friends and Family Within Driving Distance

Gas prices are way down from their 2006 peak and a two-to-four hour drive is no longer as expensive as a plane ticket. Try not to overstay your welcome, though. House guests are like fish; they stink after three days. If you want to stay longer, consider spending a couple of nights in a hotel. You can thank your hosts with a small gift or treat them to an NSE dinner.

2. When in Rome ….

When traveling, it’s easy to get sucked into the tourist traps. Instead, plan ahead and go on the website of the town or city you’re visiting to find local events and activities. You’d be surprised how many free or cheap activities some places offer and you get to experience the unique, local flare of your host city. For example, a colleague of ours puts together an annual list of over 400 NSE activities in the Denver metro area each summer. That’s a goldmine for any family who wants to visit Denver on the cheap. What NSE activities can you find where you’re visiting?

3. Eat Like a Local

Tools like Yelp are great for seeing what restaurants are rated highly and what restaurants are highly priced. We have a more edgy trick up our sleeves: You can use a dating app that identifies locals, like Tinder or Grindr, (give full disclose to your significant other first) to ask where to get the best meals at the best prices. You’ll be surprised at how helpful and friendly locals are, and you may find a tour guide for a day or two.

4. Meals Don’t Need to Be Expensive

Weekends away often blow the dining budget. Don’t forget quick-casual restaurants and tools such as Groupon and Living Social to control dining costs. When staying at a hotel, request a room with a kitchenette to cook simple meals. With proper planning, you can bring many ingredients from home.

5. Buy Liquor at Home

If you’re like us, you imbibe more when traveling. You can buy your libations at home rather than your vacation destination where prices often include a tourist mark-up. Drink a glass of wine or two before you hit the town and you can cut your drinking bill in half.

6. Consider Alternative Accommodations

The rise of the part-time landlord has been a boom for businesses and travelers alike. Websites like AirBNB or VRBO could help your find affordable apartments, rooms, or even whole houses for rent in your travel destination. Using these seven tech savvy tips could help your score an even cheaper stay. You may want to choose a place with a kitchen so you can have breakfast in bed with your special someone. Some cleaning and other hidden fees can negate the NSE value. (If you treat these places like your home and clean before you leave, you may able to save $50 to $250 in cleaning fees. It’s also helpful to take pictures of your rented space before you leave to keep everyone on the up and up.)

Being on a budget doesn’t need to eliminate your fun. With proper planning and a little thinking outside the box, a NSE weekend may be just what you need. If you need help finding non-traditional NSE vacation destinations, we’ve compiled 6 travel tips and reasonably priced destinations for you. You’ll likely love a break in any of those six destinations and you won’t break your budget.

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