Travel is expensive enough without compounding it by wasting money or overspending.
There are plenty of things you can do to make sure your vacation budget doesn’t go to waste, though. In fact, here are 50.
1. Make a Vacation Budget
Research how much you’ll spend on travel, accommodations and activities, save that amount and stick to it.
2. Get Your Documents Ahead of Time
It costs an extra $60 or more to expedite a passport application, so be sure to get yours in at least eight weeks before departure.
Four walls and room service are great, but a tent, a sleeping bag and campground fees are likely much cheaper than the average hotel. Many National Parks have campgrounds.
4. Stay at a Hostel
Hostels provide accommodations at reasonable prices for those who don’t mind staying in a dorm-like setting. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s a place to sleep.
5. Use Airbnb
You may have luck beating local hotel rates at your destination if you look for people willing to rent out rooms or their entire home for a few days.
6. Stay With a Friend
Visiting a friend is a great pretext for traveling and, if they have a comfy couch or spare bedroom, a way to save on the price of a hotel room. Try not to be a slob though, and offer to buy your host a meal or two as a way of showing your thanks.
7. Travel in a Group
A group of friends can split the cost of accommodations and perhaps score group discounts on activities.
8. Rent Out Your Home
You can also rent out your own home to make some money while you’re traveling. But you should let potential guests know you won’t be around to deal with any problems that arise.
9. Avoid Peak Tourist Season
There’s a reason everyone travels during the summer: The kids are out of school and the weather is usually nice. But you may save by traveling during times when demand is lower. For example, Disneyland advises on its website that prices may be lower outside of its high season, which starts in May.
10. Use a Travel Rewards Card
The right card can earn you miles or hotel points for your purchases. Here are a few of our favorite travel rewards cards. (Rewards cards often require solid credit scores. To see if you qualify, check two of your scores free on Credit.com.)
11. Don’t Pay Foreign Transaction Fees
Want to pay an extra 3% for the things you buy while abroad? No? Bring a credit card that doesn’t charge such fees, or use cash, which you can get if you…
12. Use an ATM
If you need cash abroad, an ATM should give you a better exchange rate than the kiosks in the airport. For added savings, find out from your bank if they or their partners have ATM locations that won’t charge a withdrawal fee.
13. Exchange Money Away From the Airport
If you don’t want to use an ATM, you still can find better rates from money-changers outside the airport.
14. Make a Packing List…
You know what’s a waste of money? Buying something you already own because you forgot it at home. Make a list and make sure you have everything you need.
15. … & Pack Light
You think your in-flight meal is expensive? Wait until you get slapped with an overweight baggage fee. Most airlines will let you bring a carry-on for free, so there’s extra incentive for careful packing.
16. Ship Souvenirs Home
You might think you’re stuck paying baggage fees if you’ve bought a ton of knick-knacks, but you can always ship them. Compare the price of shipping your souvenirs to paying an overweight or extra baggage fee. “It’s usually cheaper than the extra baggage fees to get your souvenirs home,” said Kelly Soderlund, content manager for Hipmunk, a travel deals website.
17. Be Flexible
If you’re willing to to make a stopover or land a longer distance away from your final destination, you may be able to get a cheaper flight.
18. Book in Advance
In general, airfares are at their lowest until a few weeks before departure, at which point they rise steadily. Some tickets will stay cheap if there’s low demand, but your best bet is to buy early. It’s also a good idea to sign up for a service that tracks flight costs to specific destinations and sends you alerts when prices drop.
19. Fly During Odd Hours
Flights that take off during the evening or the middle of the week tend to see lower demand than others, and can be cheaper to buy as a result.
20. Use a Low-Cost Airline
Airlines like Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit can offer cut-rate fares. Teresa Walsh, a marketing executive for Cazana.com, a startup in London, suggested passengers bring their own food and tablet or book, as in-flight meal and entertainment options may be limited.
21. Buy a Travel Package
You can sometimes save if you buy a vacation package including hotel and airfare from your favorite airline, a website like Travelocity, or even somewhere like Groupon or Costco.
22. Consider Cutting Out the Middleman
Booking sites make their money off commissions from accommodation providers. “Often if you contact the provider directly, you can negotiate a lower rate since you aren’t paying for a middleman,” said Nate Hake, a writer at travel website TravelLemming.com.
23. Use Public Transit…
Public transit tends to be one of the cheapest ways to get around home and the same is true abroad. There is a risk you’ll literally get lost in translation, but it may be worth saving on cab fare.
24. …Or Rent a Bike
Many cities have bike-share programs or rental services for tourists, offering an affordable way to see your destination up-close.
25. …Or Walk
It’s always free to walk and staying on foot can allow you to see parts of a new city you may have missed on a bus or in a car.
26. Do Your Research
Buy a travel guide or search online, not only to find out which attractions to visit, but also which overpriced tourist traps to avoid.
27. Find Free Attractions
Many museums are free certain days of the week, and in many cities you can find free walking tours. There’s no beating that price.
28. Book Activities in Advance
Door prices for tourist are are often higher than if you buy tickets in advance, said Pete Bahrenburg, president of the Last Minute Travel website.
29. Rent a Car Away From the Airport
Just as you shouldn’t exchange money at an airport kiosk, you should also look elsewhere for a car rental. Rentals tend to be pricier at airports, where agencies have to pay extra fees. Those fees can get passed on to you when you rent, but could still be cheaper than taking a cab to and from another off-site location, so be sure to find out how much it will cost to get to another location.
30. Rent a Car With Your Credit Card
Many cards offer rental car collision coverage if you use them to pay for your booking. Plus certain cards will earn you rewards.
31. Work on a Farm
If you don’t mind doing some work while seeing a new place, sign up for a cultural exchange program like Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. You’ll be able to travel to a new place and get food and accommodation from a host in exchange for working on their farm.
32. Sign up for a Loyalty Program
Hotel and airline loyalty programs are often free to join and can let you rack up points for discounted flights or stays.
33. Sign up for Newsletters
Airlines and travel agencies will occasionally send out discounts with their email newsletters. It’s free to sign up and it could lead to a cheap trip. Check up on social media accounts too.
34. Bring Food…
Just like at home, eating out all the time can add up. Bring snacks with you, especially to the airport, where your options are basically limited to overpriced mall food.
35. …And Entertainment
In case in-flight entertainment isn’t free, pack a book, download a podcast or movie ahead of your flight to pass the time.
36. Don’t Eat at the Hotel
Aside from a complimentary breakfast, your hotel is probably not the cheapest food option in the area. Better to head to a neighborhood eatery, said Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer for Community Health Charities in Virginia.
37. Splurge on Lunch, Not Dinner
Kathy James, who writes travel blog Walkabout Wanderer, pointed out that lunch is generally cheaper than dinner at restaurants. “So make a sandwich from the supermarket or grab a snack for your evening meal and [splurge] at lunchtime,” she said.
This might be outside of the comfort zone for some Americans used to fixed prices, but the sticker price isn’t final in many cultures. If you find yourself in a flea market or bazaar, it’s not a bad idea to see if sellers have any wiggle room on their prices.
39. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
“Do your research beforehand and if the water is safe to drink in the country you are going to then take a reusable water bottle with you and save both the environment and your wallet,” said Walsh.
40. Don’t Use Your Phone Abroad
Your mobile phone plan may not cover international usage (though it’s worth checking on whether flat-rate, temporary international plans are available). Either grab a pay-as-you-go SIM card or wait until you have Wi-Fi to access the internet, said James Cave, author of the Portugalist travel blog. “If you need to make a phone call, use Skype or do the old-fashioned thing and buy a phone card,” he said.
41. Stay Local
A vacation doesn’t require a pricey plane flight. Check your state’s tourism website to see what adventures you can have at or near home.
42. Buy the Cheapest Gas
Taking a road trip? Use an app like GasBuddy or Google Maps to find the cheapest gasoline prices.
43. Use a Gas Rewards Card
If you are filling up frequently, a gas rewards card can help you earn some of your spending back.
44. Make Sure Your Car Is Travel-Ready
Just as you should check with your doctor before deciding to train for a marathon, make sure your vehicle is tuned up for a road trip. “It’s better to take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic instead of risking a roadside breakdown and having your trip completely derailed,” said Jessica Bisesto, senior editor for TravelPirates, a travel deals website.
45. Remember, Kids Under 2 May Fly Free
Anyone age 2 and under counts as a “lap child” and can usually be carried on an airline free of charge as long as they don’t take up a seat. Be sure to check your specific airline’s policy.
46. Leave Your Pet
Many airlines charge fees for bringing your pet and some countries might subject them to quarantine. The price of boarding your pet or having someone feed them while you’re gone might be worth avoiding the headache.
47. Consider Travel Insurance
Your existing medical insurance may not cover an international emergency. A travel insurance policy may help fill the gap. It can also help you avoid a total loss of your travel costs if a personal issue keeps you from traveling. Check your credit card’s terms and conditions too, since some travel cards include similar coverage.
48. Be Discrete
Tourists are often targets for scammers and pickpockets. So be low-key and polite, especially while abroad. Leave your American flag hat at home and try to use the local language.
49. Pay Your Bills Before You Go
The last thing you want to come home to is a late-payment notice. Take care of any payments that will come due while you’re away.
50. Keep Your Documents Safe
Make sure your passport and any other important documents are secure, whether they’re locked up in your luggage or in a hotel safe. Spare yourself the headache and cost of replacing them on short notice.
Don’t have enough socked away to take that dream vacation? No worries. We have 28 ways to save up for your next big adventure here.