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12 Budget Travel Tips For Frugal Vacations

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Traveling during your time off work is a great way to relax, have fun, and make memories. Unfortunately, going on a vacation can be pricey for the average person.

Even with paid time off and savings, you may find yourself overwhelmed at travel costs. The good news is that there are some savvy ways to vacation without spending too much.

All you’ve got to do is plan ahead and implement some frugal methods. In this post, you’ll find my top 12 budget travel tips for frugal vacations. From lodging to attractions, there are ways to save money everywhere. Read on to find ideas along with examples of exactly how much you can save.

1. Travel During Off Seasons

During certain times of the year, travel expenses increase by a lot. This is common during major holidays. You can save cash by traveling during ‘shoulder seasons’; this is the period between high and low at specific destinations. Here are some ways that traveling during this time can save you money:

  • Beach vacation resorts may be less expensive during the spring or fall. These are major hot spots during the summer months and over winter holidays. Prices for upscale resorts tend to be lower during shoulder seasons. If you’re able to travel during this time, you can get great deals.
  • Airplane tickets often cost less if you don’t book on a specific holiday. I’ll use the 4th of July as a prime example. On a major travel site, flying from Kansas City to Chicago on this date costs about $203 for a one-way ticket. If you wait a week and travel on July 11th, the same flight costs $153 – you can easily save $50.
  • Many European destinations are less expensive during shoulder seasons. For European vacations, September through October and March through June are ideal travel times. You can find six great examples in this HuffPost article.

As you can see, a little bit of flexibility goes a long way. Even changing your plans by a week or two will save you some cash. But if it’s possible, go on vacation during the shoulder season. You’ll easily find lower prices on plane tickets, hotels, and tourist attractions.

2. Check Out Airbnb For Affordable Lodging

Airbnb is a very innovative resource for finding super affordable lodging for vacations. With this website, you can rent rooms, apartments, and houses instead of a hotel room.

You’ll find everything from studio apartments to gorgeous five bedroom homes. In many cases, you’ll pay a fraction of what a hotel charges.

I’ll use one real example that’s currently listed on Airbnb in Kansas City. I found a private studio apartment that has over 200 5-star ratings from lodgers. It comes with amenities including a private kitchen, free WiFi, and smart TV access. This cozy option is only $69 per night.

Hotel rooms in the same Kansas City area range from $84 to $163 per night. And hotels don’t offer private kitchen access, so you’ll end up spending money at restaurants.

Why pay more when you can stay somewhere comfortable with great perks instead? Choosing the Airbnb rental saves you up to $94 per night.

3. Look For Hotels On Discount Websites

If you prefer staying in hotels, you can still save some cash. Discount travel websites are excellent resources for finding the lowest hotel room prices. Some very popular sites include:

  • Trivago – Trivago’s search engine lists hotel prices from over 400 different websites. This all-in-one resource is a top pick that’s very easy to navigate.
  • KAYAK – KAYAK is another site with a comprehensive search feature. In mere seconds, you get a list of competitive hotel prices. KAYAK also offers a Price Forecast tool that shows you price trends. Use this tool to book hotels during the most affordable times possible.
  • Travelocity – If you want to find hotel and travel packages, Travelocity is a solid resource. You can search for flight/hotel deals, flight/hotel/car deals, and hotel/car deals. This simplifies the booking process while saving you money. If you subscribe to their mailing list, you get additional discounts of 10% or more for select hotels.

Overall, these websites are great if you want budget hotel rooms for your vacations. Each company has unique features and deals, so spend a bit of extra time doing your research. It’s the easiest way to find the lowest hotel prices.

4. Buy Plane Tickets For Certain Days

Plane tickets are typically more expensive if you fly on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. These days are more in-demand than others, so airlines can charge higher prices. Booking your flight for a weekday is a super simple way to pay less.

In most cases, midweek days like Tuesday and Wednesday are your best bet. The exact amount of money you’ll save depends on the airline, destination, time of year, and other factors. I used a few different travel websites to get the real prices listed below.

  • A one-way ticket from Kansas City to NYC –  On Saturday, July 14th one economy ticket costs $130 to $140. When I switched the date to Tuesday, July 17th, a one-way ticket costs $74. You could save $66 on a one-way ticket by flying during the week.
  • A round-trip ticket from Kansas City to London – A round-trip economy ticket from Saturday, July 14th to Saturday, July 21st costs $1,490. A round-trip ticket from Wednesday, July 11th to Wednesday, July 18th costs $1,070. You could save $420 on a round-trip ticket by flying during the week.

These are only two examples, but they make it very clear – traveling on weekdays is the way to go!

5. Explore Alternatives To Flying

Flying is certainly a popular way to travel, but it isn’t your only option. Trains and buses are excellent alternatives if you’re vacationing within the country. I researched some current prices and was very surprised to see just how much you can save.

For a fair comparison, I used the criteria from tip number two. These savings examples are based on one-way tickets from Kansas City to Chicago on July 11th. Again, a plane ticket during this time is $153.

  • One-way Amtrak tickets start at $66.00. Commuting via train takes longer than flying, so this is ideal if you aren’t on a tight schedule. You’ll save $87 per ticket if you travel by train.
  • One-way Greyhound tickets start at $33.00. Bus trip commutes are comparable to trains. I’ve found that this option works well if you’re vacationing in a nearby state. You’ll save $120 per ticket if you travel by bus.

Both of these travel alternatives offer free WiFi, and you can pay a bit more for extra amenities. Amtrak offers shorter travel times and business seating for higher rates. Even with added amenities, you’ll still pay a fraction of what typical plane tickets cost.

6. Use Ridesharing Services Versus Taxi Services

If you don’t plan to rent a car during your vacation, taxi services and ridesharing services are popular alternatives. Uber and Lyft are two well-known rideshare companies available in many major cities. Uber, Lyft, and taxi services are all similar – they charge a base rate, per minute rate, and per mile rate.

RideGuru did a cost analysis for all three transportation options. Their analysis is based on Uber, Lyft, and taxi prices in 20 different major U.S. cities. The results show that taxis are more expensive in all 20 cities.

Uber and Lyft have lower prices in all 20 cities, and each option is priced very similarly. If you choose ridesharing, you can save money during your entire vacation.

To choose between Uber and Lyft, download both apps and use their fare estimator tools. You may discover that one option is cheaper than the other based on the city you’re in. Different cities charge different base rates and surge times. Find the cheapest prices possible by checking out both options.

7. Create A Travel Itinerary In Advance

Last minute decisions often mean you’ll spend more money. This is true in many areas of life, but it’s even more prominent during vacations. You can avoid this problem by creating a travel itinerary for your trip. It doesn’t have to be super complicated. Simply explore your options and type them up in advance. Use these ideas to get started:

  • Look up admission prices for local attractions ahead of time. You’ll likely find that admission prices are lower during certain days or hours. For example, many aquatic centers have twilight hours where you pay half price in the evening.
  • Use Yelp to check out your dining options. This is an easy way to discover local restaurants that are affordable and highly rated.
  • Visit restaurant prices to find exact prices. Once you’ve explored Yelp, see if the restaurant websites have online menus. This will help you create a solid dining budget. Yelp often lists a price range, but restaurants tend to list specific prices.
  • Look up museums and libraries in cities you plan to visit. Museums commonly have free admission days. Local library websites frequently have community calendars. These feature free or cheap activities that you may enjoy.

Creating a travel itinerary is 100% worthwhile if you’re traveling on a budget. I recommend using a free template to make planning even easier.

8. Visit Historic National Parks

If you enjoy spending time outdoors, visit national parks during your vacation. Entry fees are usually very low; some parks charge per person and others charge per car. Below you’ll find the entry fees for some of the nation’s most popular options:

  • Rocky Mountain National Park – $20 per person or $35 per vehicle
  • Death Valley National Park – $15 per person or $30 per vehicle
  • Everglades National Park – $8 per person or $25 per vehicle
  • Grand Canyon National Park – $20 per person or $35 per vehicle
  • Yellowstone National Park – $20 per person or $35 per vehicle
  • Yosemite National Park – $20 per person or $35 per vehicle

For a full list of fees, visit the National Park Service website. You’ll find over 100 destinations, and all of them are impressively affordable. Additionally, you can visit this page to see when national parks offer free admission.

9. Look Into Discounts You’re Eligible For

You may be surprised to discover how many vacation-related discounts are out there. Senior citizens, college students, military veterans, and young children can often get great deals. I found some current examples from various travel-related companies:

  • Amtrak offers several everyday discounts on train tickets. Seniors and military personnel receive a 10% discount. Children ages 2 through 12 receive a 50% discount.
  • Hertz offers car rental discounts to senior adults. If you’re 50 or older, you can get up to 20% off base rates. This is a very attractive option if you plan to rent an automobile. You’ll also get access to additional benefits from Hertz.
  • Many major airlines offer discounts and deals to students. CollegeMagazine.com lists ten airlines that provide discounted tickets, waived fees, and more. For example, AirTran Airways has tickets for less than $100 for students ages 18 to 22.

It’s pretty easy to find discounts listed on websites for hotels, car rental companies, airlines, and more. If you’re having trouble, just call or e-mail companies to ask about offers that apply to you. You may be surprised to find what options are available.

10. Download The Spent Travel App

Spent is a handy smartphone app that you can use to earn cash back. Spent Travel is designed to give you cash back on your hotel room, car rental, and flight costs. They have a user-friendly search engine, and cash back rates for several major companies are listed outright. Current deals include:

  • Get an average of 10% cash back on hotel rooms in New York City and Chicago.
  • Get an average of 14% cash back on hotel rooms in Las Vegas.
  • Get 2% cash back on car rentals from Hertz or Avis.
  • Get 10% cash back on reservations from AirportParkingReservations.com.

These are just a few examples; you can easily find cash back deals for many vacation destinations. Your cash back is rewarded through PayPal. Get more details about Spent in our Spent app review.

11. Buy Restaurant Gift Certificates Online

Groupon is one of my favorite resources for affordable dining. This website offers discounted vouchers for eateries in many major cities. Here are some current deals available in popular vacation areas:

  • Chocolate Works NYC in Manhattan – 33% off of a $30 voucher
  • The Great American Lobster Fest in Chicago – 32% off regular or VIP admission
  • Rori’s Artisanal Ice Cream in Hollywood – 38% off of a $20 voucher
  • All American Bar Crawl in Washington D.C. – 62% off regular admission price

This is just a tiny glimpse at your options. Groupon lists over 1,000 dining vouchers for each of these cities. Explore the great food discounts available for your vacation destination.

12. Research Public Transportation Options

Public transportation is undoubtedly one of the most affordable ways to explore new places. But if you don’t do your research, subways, and buses and can confusing and overwhelming. Avoid getting lost by researching your options ahead of time. Cities like Chicago and NYC have detailed public transit maps online.

Additionally, look at the pricing options for public transportation. Many places offer multi-day passes and weekly passes. These usually break down to a cheaper rate per trip than one-time passes. If you’re confident you’ll use public transportation often, this is a very simple way to save money.

Final Thoughts

With these budget travel tips, it’s incredibly easy to enjoy a frugal vacation. You may end up saving hundreds of dollars or more without making major sacrifices. Simply plan ahead and keep these tips in mind. It’s really that simple!

For even more frugal travel information, read 8 Ways to Find Cheap Travel Deals Online and 13 Travel Mistakes You’re Making That Will Cost You Big. Use the resources we offer to ensure you save as much money as possible.

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