The temperature is up and the sun is out, and our minds drift to a fantastic summer getaway that let's be honest—none of us have the time or money to take. Not all is lost though. You can get away, even a little, and even on a budget. Here are some tips to help you get started.
10. Get outdoors
Not every fabulous vacation needs to be a jet-setting getaway to a resort in a far off locale. Some of them, sure, but odds are there are plenty of beautiful natural spaces, from huge state or national parks to smaller green spaces in your area you can lace up a pair of shoes, pack a small (or large) bag full of snacks, drinks, and goodies, and explore for an afternoon.
Just remember to apply plenty of sunscreen and some good insect repellent, and you'll be ready to tackle the outdoors—whether that's a big national park with gorgeous rock structures and flowing rivers, or a lazy afternoon with some snacks and a bottle of wine or three in your public park.
9. Book your transportation at the best time
Regardless of how you take your trip, it's important to book your travel at the right time to get the best prices. After all, your plane or train tickets are probably a significant portion of your overall vacation budget (and you do have a vacation budget, right?) so the more you save on them, the more money you'll have to enjoy when you get to your destination.
Some studies have said the best time to book plane tickets is eight weeks in advance, while others have said it can be as close as six weeks. Whatever you do, keep an eye on prices, use a site like Hipmunk or Google's ITA Matrix to compare prices, flights, and different connections, find the one that's right for you, and then jump on the best fare you can get by booking directly with the airline. Don't forget to use those miles on your travel rewards card while you're at it.
8. Take a road trip
If the very thought of a plane ticket or a train ticket is still simply too much money for you, consider a road trip instead. You'll still have to pay for fuel, but if you grab a friend and offer to split it, you can see some great sights not too far from your hometown in just a day or so's drive.
We have some maps that'll help you plan a scenic US drive through major cities, or a destination tour across Europe. If you just want to enjoy the open road, here's a guide for you too. Use apps like RoadTrippers and FuelMyRoute to check out noteworthy destinations along the major highways or routes near you, or plot your course and let the app suggest sights to see along the way. Give yourself plenty of time, a cooler full of snacks, and a great playlist, and hit the open road. You can explore a lot for the cost of a few meals and a tank or two of gas.
7. Ditch the pricey hotel for an Airbnb or bed and breakfast
Of course, you can always save money on a hotel if you really want that hotel experience, or you prefer the comfort that a luxurious stay offers. But if you're willing to do your own cooking, or maybe stay in a smaller, more charming locale with more personality, consider an Airbnb—or even better, an original B&B—somewhere close to where you want to go.
Old fashioned bed and breakfasts still offer some of the best travel and lodging experiences, and they're still a fraction of the cost of a hotel stay and offer you much more.
6. Take advantage of last minute travel perks
If you're flexible with your travel plans, one of the best ways to save money is to swing to the other vacation planning extreme—instead of booking everything early to lock in low prices, book everything at the last minute, when planes, trains, and hotels are all trying to fill empty spaces (and are willing to cut you a break to do so.) In some cases, things like frequent flier miles are even more effective on last minute bookings, so take that into consideration too.
5. Book a whole package
The web—and the ease of booking things like hotels, flights, rental cars, and other specific elements of our trips—have made it easy to compare every specific nuance and detail, and to presumably save money on each. However, there's something to be said for jumping on a vacation package instead. Maybe that involves using a travel agent, who can coordinate everything for you and do that legwork on your behalf (for a fee, of course.) Maybe it just involves using a package booking site to grab everything from airfare to a hotel for one low price compared to what you're shopping around on your own and seeing.
If you're booking something like a cruise, or a sightseeing trip, or even a group tour, packages are worth looking into because you may be able to get a discount just because there are several of you—plus, many destination services like tour agencies or cruise lines have preferred airlines, routes, and other travel services they work with that will give you a break if they know you're coming.
4. Take a cruise instead
Speaking of cruises, they can be a great way to take a vacation on the cheap as well, as long as you're aware of all of the issues that come with taking a cruise. After all, for one single price, you get travel, lodging, the opportunity to see different locations, and usually, food and drink as well. Best of all, cruises can be super affordable—as little as $30/day, if you can swing it.
And even then there are additional ways to save money on cruises, like booking repositioning cruises that are one-way and catching a cheap flight home, doing your homework on what's included in your fare and what isn't, skipping the pricey shore excursions in favor of exploring on your own, researching the best rooms, decks, and rates before you leave, and of course, finding a cruise that won't gouge you on booze once you're on board.
3. Go somewhere off-season
Traveling in the off-season for your preferred destination is hands-down one of the best ways to save money on a normally popular—and normally expensive—destination. Why fight the crowds and the heat at the same time by visiting Europe in the middle of the high summer, when the fall months are free of tourists and lines at museums and popular sightseeing destinations are short?
If "off season" to you means the middle of chilly winter where you want to go but the extremely hot summer where you're from, you'll want to consider "shoulder seasons" instead, where the weather is more temperate and the crowds are still thin (and the bargains are still significant.)
2. Grab a group
We touched on this a bit above, but planning your travel with a group—even if it's just a group of friends you travel with and book a block of hotel rooms with, and then all break off and do your own things—can save you a ton of money. Group purchasing gives you a big advantage, and both hotels and airlines are often willing to give you a break if you book everyone's tickets and hotel rooms at the same time.
It's well worth it if you and a bunch of your friends all want to see the same place, just make sure you don't drive yourself crazy in the process.
1. Stay close to home
Of course, sometimes the best vacation is the staycation. It's a concept that's come to mean everything from just staying at home and being a tourist in your own hometown to actually booking a nearby hotel and having a little getaway not far from your own house, but however you choose to approach it, the best way to save money on things like transportation or lodging is, of course, to simply not have to pay for those things.
Still, it is a vacation, and you should plan it as such, even moreso when you're doing a staycation. It might be easy to just lounge around the house your whole time off (and if that's what you want to do, you should!), but a little advance planning will make sure your staycation is every bit as interesting, energizing, and exploratory as any trip away from home could be.
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