Do you ever wonder if it’s just you or it is really more expensive to travel nowadays? If you do, then allow us to break this news: It’s not just your imagination; travel is truly more costly today!
In fact, according to research by American Express, domestic airfare is expected to increase by 2.9% and airfare to Europe by about 2.4% in 2023. The good news? There are cost-effective ways to embark on that bucket-list trip or even simply sneak away for a weekend!
Traveling on a budget doesn’t equate to staying in a questionable motel or eating all your meals at fast-food joints. It simply means seeking out cheap places to travel, avoiding pricey tourist traps in favor of under-the-radar destinations, and discovering the secrets of how to travel for free or at least less the price.
After all, you can still get a more meaningful experience with cheap beach vacations, cheap family vacations, and cheap couples or solo trips that focus on authenticity and quality instead of bells and whistles.
So, what can you do to successfully book your next memorable AND affordable vacation?
Continue reading below for some smart budget travel tips from top travel experts:
The key to traveling on a budget is to figure out exactly how much you have to spend on your trip. How much you realistically need really depends on the type of trip you’re planning and where you’re going: An international vacation will typically cost more than traveling domestically, and planning a family vacay will generally be pricier than a solo excursion.
Tip: Use online budgeting tools for daily cost estimates at certain destinations. For example: Software Budget Your Trip estimates the average cost of two-person travel for a week in the U.S. is USD 3,169; for France, USD 2,758. This is still exclusive of flights, which can tack on another USD 400 to USD 800 per person.
Try staying close to home so you can just drive to your destination. Or, if you have your heart set on a far-flung adventure, start thinking about the cost to get there months ahead, since flights usually take up a huge chunk of your vacation budget.
Also, the economy of the place you’re planning to go to can make the cost of your trip more or less expensive, and some cheap places to travel, including India and Thailand, practically guarantee an exotic adventure.
Tip: Search out under-the-radar, less-hyped locales. For example: Everyone dreams of jetting to Greece in the summer, but Albania is a fraction of the cost and comes equipped with beautiful, glittering coastlines too.
According to travel expert Madison Blancaflor, content operations editor at The Points Guy, the sweet spot for booking domestic flights is anywhere between one and four months in advance. For international flights, start looking at least six months ahead.
You can use the best travel apps to help compare and track different options for where to stay and how to get there, as well as set up fare alerts and price monitoring with various apps to find the cheapest rates and deals on flights and hotels.
Tip: If you’re booking a hotel in advance, it’s a smart idea to book a refundable room in case your plans change.
Another hack for traveling cheaply when picking a destination is “planning a trip ‘backwards,’” where the airfare deal you find determines where you go.
For example: You recently found a deal from Boston to Cairo, Egypt, for USD 591 roundtrip for travel in the fall. Instead of saying, “I have to go to [this place] this summer,” let the deal open up your world to travel possibilities you may not have ever anticipated otherwise.
Tip: All U.S. airlines are now charging for checked bags, so be sure to check before you book, then factor in the fee to your airfare budget.
Being open to travel at times of the year you may not have considered is an affordable way to see the world. Of course, the less popular “off-season” still varies by location.
For example: Although Greece isn’t quite as warm in the spring as it is in the summer, airfare and hotel rates are often less than half the price during that time.
Tip: You can also try traveling in the “shoulder” season, or the time on either side of the high season, when prices have started to drop but you still can enjoy some of the perks of peak travel time.
Experts agree that the day of the week you fly can make a difference—and that it’s often cheaper to fly midweek. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays tend to be at times around 20% to 30% cheaper when booking flights and hotel stays, since these are typically days with fewer travelers overall.
Tip: Morning flights are often cheaper than those later in the day.
When choosing between a motel vs. hotel, consider how many—or how few—amenities you really need and where exactly you want to lay your head during your trip.
For example: Fun, retro-style motels let you stay in comfort and cleanliness with a touch of kitsch. On the other hand, micro hotels provide a clean space to sleep without all the bells and whistles, and can be a solid option for solo travelers who don’t need a lot of space.Tip: In terms of location, it doesn’t matter which neighborhood you stay in. However, if you’re traveling solo, you may want to be in the middle of town versus saving at a hotel on the outskirts for safety reasons.
A rental property, such as a cheap Airbnb, can have many advantages for traveling on a budget. Not only can rental properties be cheaper up front, but you can also prepare and cook meals at your “home away from home” to save on food costs.
Tip: Always cross-check to see if the rental property you have your eye on through Airbnb is also listed on Vrbo or elsewhere, but at a slightly lower cost. This sometimes happens because hosts look to expand their reach.
To sample tasty eats at your travel destination without spending tons of cash, avoid tourist-y or chain restaurants, and instead opt for street food, food halls, or local markets. Also, try asking the locals where they eat.
Tip: When out for the day, carry a refillable water bottle instead of buying bottled water (if the local water is safe to drink). Make sure you also have a few snacks like energy bars in your bag to prevent getting “hangry” (hungry + angry) and succumbing to overpriced food.
When using travel points and miles to book flights and hotels, don’t wait to solidify all your vacation plans. Earlier is generally better because of award availability.
Award availability fluctuates as airlines add or remove seats you can book with miles, and passengers make and cancel reservations. Usually, you would want to snag awards as quickly as possible, which would mean either when the schedule first opens, generally around a year out, or waiting for last-minute award space. For hotels, earlier is also almost always better than later, whether using award points or not.
If you can’t book travel for your particular flight or location, you may need to be more flexible with your travel plans.
Tip: Set an alert using the travel apps you use to be notified when an airline releases award seats within specific date ranges and for specific flights.
Now that you know all about ways to get on a budget-friendly trip, it’s time to actually plan your next cost-efficient getaway. We hope you find these tips and tricks helpful!
Feel free to comment down below if you’d like to share any of your money-saving travel experiences or if you have any additional tips we didn’t mention above.
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