Want to travel but fear your bank account can't handle it? Fret no more with these cost saving travel secrets sure to give your vacation a run for its money.
By Victoria Witchey
Travel can be empowering for the spirit, enriching for the mind and therapeutic for the soul. But not every enthusiastic traveler has an endless bank account from which to fund exotic, expensive and extravagant vacations. Luckily, there are ways to travel on a dime, snag the best deals and explore the world without breaking the bank.
Do Your Research
Every travel deal is not created equal. Research promotions and advanced ticket purchases. Try traveling mid-week and avoid peak travel times, like the early morning. Check out travel sites like Kayak.com and Sidestep.com. They compile fares from dozens of websites and databases while allowing you to search using multiple travel criteria. Play with your search options to see if you can get the fare to drop. When using these sites, compare the packages to choosing your travel components individually. You can often save money when airlines and hotels put packages together, but if it will include things you don't need, design your own package.
Many travelers flock to consolidators, such as priceline.com and hotwire.com. While you can usually snag a great deal, the trade off is that you won't know the hotel or airline you've booked until after you've paid. Sites such as farecast.com can forecast and track the best times to buy flights to your destination. Sign up for travel deal mailing lists like Travelzoo.com or lastminute.com. You'll be notified of new discounts and deals as they happen. And before you book anything, scour the reviews on sites like tripadvisor.com and virtualtourist.com.
Location, Location, Location
Who doesn't want to jet off to the French Riviera or the party districts in London? But with the dollar worth significantly less than the euro, your purchasing power is highly diminished. Instead, choose a location in South America or Asia, where the dollar goes much further. By choosing an unconventional location, you'll save money on everything from lodging to food.
While one euro is worth less than 1.5 American dollars, in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Morocco and Hungary, the local currency is worth considerably less. This allows the frugal traveler to experience a new culture without going for broke. For the same cost of mediocre lodging and food in Paris, you can live like a queen in India or Cambodia, soaking up every luxury.
These exotic hotspots also offer an unparalleled experience off the beaten path. Whether you're debating Machu Pichu in Central America or the Costa Rican rainforests, expanding your horizons can certainly result in bountiful bargains.
Off-Season Vacation Deals
By traveling during the off-season, you can benefit from deals and discounts. In addition to saving money, you'll enjoy your location with fewer crowds. Take advantage of Lake Tahoe in the summer, Hawaii in the fall or if you're a bit braver, the Caribbean during hurricane season. In Australia, their off-season is the springtime, since it's autumn there.
The general rule of thumb is that warmer climates are busiest from December through April. Off-season leaves many resorts and rooms vacant, which translates into lower prices for the savvy traveler. Flights to off-season locales will often be cheaper as well. For the best bet, do some research and find out the off-season time for your desired destination.
Consider the Alternatives
Consider your lodging options. Everyone wants to stay in a luxurious five star resort, but if you're willing to compromise, you'll reap huge financial benefits. Hostels are bare bones alternatives, but a great deal. These inexpensive living areas are excellent for meeting people, swapping travel advice and snagging free breakfast.
If you're the outdoorsy type, consider camping at a national park. With electricity and water, it's not exactly roughing it. Bed and breakfasts can also be cheaper alternatives. In addition to lower prices, they often have a cozier feel and more welcoming atmosphere.
If you're truly the adventurous type, try a site like couchsurfing.com. This site connects fellow travelers and good-hearted hippies who offer up their couches, free of charge. In addition to alternative lodging, think about alternative travel. Instead of hopping in a taxi to get here, there and everywhere, consider public transportation like buses or trains. Walking or biking can allow you to experience the city first-hand. If you're flying, when possible, contemplate long distance options like bus lines or rail lines. In addition to saving a buck, you'll also get a better feel for the local culture.
Cruise On Out
Many cost-conscious travelers choose a cruise to reign in spending. Unlike traditional vacations, cruise packages are negotiated and set in advance of the trip. Most are all inclusive, incorporating the food, drinks and lodging. The bulk of your trip is included in the booking price, with the exception of souvenirs and off-the ship excursions. Instead of constantly dishing out dough as you go, embarking on a cruise gives you the peace of mind that most of your expenses are already paid in full.
Volunteer vacations are perhaps the most rewarding and economical options of them all. Whether it's short term or long term, a volunteer vacation will give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a culture while giving back. You can teach children in Ecuador, help with community projects in Brazil or educate men about health issues in Thailand. While you're gaining perspective and helping others, your wallet won't suffer.
Many of the smaller programs will pay for your lodging and food, while you're responsible for airfare. Larger and comprehensive programs will include a pre-trip prep, language tutoring and on-site reps. Whichever route you choose, embarking on a volunteer vacation can be a truly life-altering experience.
Discover Inexpensive Fun
Regardless of the destination you choose, there are ways to discover and enjoy low-cost and free activities. Check out colleges and universities in the area – they often offer free events. These free events can include concerts, speakers, theater performances, historical tours and more. Another inexpensive option is to visit “donations only” attractions, which are free to the public or only require a nominal donation.
One of the best values is purchasing a coffee at an outdoor café. The cost of the coffee is your ticket to hours of endless people watching, soaking up the culture and experiencing the local scene. For a truly free experience, head to outdoor festivals, churches, farmers markets, public parks, and beaches. Pick up free local magazines for the best compilation of local events.
Make Every Penny Count
Setting a budget isn't just for minivan moms. Design a travel budget that takes into account how much you want to spend on alcohol, souvenirs, lodging, attractions and food. Be realistic – while eating on five dollars a day can be done, it's not easy. Allow cash flow for the extras. Determine what your essentials are for a happy vacation. If you're a die hard foodie, don't skimp on dining experiences but cut corners when it comes to shopping. If you simply must enjoy exotic side trips and excursions, reign in your spending on drinks or shopping. With a little planning, you can have a killer vacation without going into debt.
Whether your dream getaway includes lounging on the beach with Coronas or hitting the backpackers trail in third world countries, the principles of budget travel are the same. Plan in advance, shop around for the best deals, and stick to a budget. Be flexible on your destination, lodging and travel methods.
Everyone deserves a spectacular getaway to escape their worldly worries, but not everyone has to pay full price. Just as you would apply your skilled eye to the clearance rack at your favorite boutique, use common sense and savvy comparison methods.
Once you search, scour and seek out the best deals, you're free to enjoy the adventure and excitement of your travels- without suffering from a toxic case of buyer's remorse.