1. Join airline frequent flier programs and, if you like, sign up for credit cards that offer free miles. It’s awfully nice to kick off your vacation with a free flight to your vacation destination. But make sure to sign up for the free flight months in advance if possible. You want to make sure there are open seats on your flight. Also, if a flight is overbooked and you’re on vacation, why not give up your seat for a later flight and get a free ticket for your next trip?
2. If possible, find out the off-season for your destination and travel then. There’s a world of difference between season and off-season rates. Also, why travel to the most expensive international destinations? Some of the least expensive locations include Iceland, Hungary, Panama, Mexico, Argentina, Belize, Nicaragua, Brazil, and South Africa. You might be surprised what these nations have to offer tourists.
3. There are more and more all-inclusive vacation packages available at cut-rate prices. It can save a great deal of money to have tours/attractions, lodging, meals, and other amenities included in your package price. Paying for each of these things individually can easily double or triple your vacation costs. Sometimes you can get multi-day passes to various amusements or special rates if you go later in the day. Luxury cruises in particular offer some amazingly economical all-inclusive packages.
4. Ask your travel agent if there are apartments, condos, or even home rentals available at your destination. There are lots of desperate owners out there now who will rent a condo or fine home for significantly less than you’d pay in a nice hotel. Or check out Bed & Breakfasts: off season, you may pay less for extravagant lodging and gourmet breakfasts than you’d pay for a ho-hum hotel. If you have no choice, at least sign up for hotel loyalty programs that give you a free night after so many stays at their chain.
5. There are tons of ways to save on food. Many lodgings now offer free breakfast. If not, it’s usually less expensive to find a restaurant down the street for breakfast instead of eating in the hotel restaurant. Avoid room service or your hotel room mini-bar. Instead, bring soup or oatmeal packets and use the heated water in your coffee maker. If you want to splurge on a meal, lunches are usually less expensive in restaurants than dinners. Also you can save up for fabulous meals by eating nutrition bars during the day (Balance or Power bars), nuts, sandwiches, fruit, protein drinks, etc. In some places, restaurants which locals frequent can be much less expensive than the tourist traps. (Just make yourself aware of the countries where this can be hard on your digestive tract).
6. Speaking of food—what about coffee, local candies, gourmet delights. Instead of buying items like these in souvenir or touristy shops, check out local grocery stores or farmer’s markets for much lower prices. (just a head’s up: if you buy produce from a farmer’s market, make sure you wash it carefully with soap before consuming). You can buy a gourmet feast or great beverages for next to nothing in some countries. For example, in Costa Rica, superb coffee costs $8-12.00 in tourist shops but in grocery stores it is $.75-1.00 per pound. You can almost always find bottled water at cheaper prices than in your hotel or the airport. Do a little searching. And carry around a giant thermos with your favorite beverage. You’ll be surprised how much you can save on drinks.
7. Transportation can be a huge expense, so check out your options carefully. When you factor travel time to airports, arriving at an airport early, baggage claim, flight delays, etc, it may be both cheaper and faster to use the bus or train. Also, figure out whether it would be cheaper and more convenient to rent a car than to pay for shuttles, taxis, or trains (Streetwise and Michelin’s spiral bound maps are great). Of course, in places like Europe, euro-rail passes can’t be beat when bought for several weeks or months at a time. And trains in many places are getting faster and faster.
8. For those with kids, just a few friendly hints. Bring your collapsible stroller for the tots. This can save you frustration as well as stroller rent. Also for tots, if you’re going to stay at a hotel for a week or two, why not buy things like diapers, wipes, sippy cups, snacks, and other baby items at Amazon.com and have them delivered in advance to the hotel? If you spend at least $25, delivery is free, and most hotels will accept deliveries as long as you already have a confirmed reservation. Give your kids a pre-set spending limit for arcades, souvenirs, etc. Knowing their limit may save a lot of whining and begging. If your lodging has a nice pool, Jacuzzi, workout room, etc., why not spend a day with the kids at the pool? They’ll have fun and it will save you that extra day in amusement park costs.
Yes, you can enjoy the vacation of a lifetime without putting your home in hock. Just follow these tips and plan ahead. Get ready for a lot of fun!