Tips for Traveling Cheap

14 Ways to Save Money Vacationing

Brad & Heidi celebrating their 35th anniversary in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Most couples love to get away on a vacation with their children or just alone. The challenge, however, is the sheer expense of traveling. Vacations do cost money, but we have some simple ideas that you can put into practice that will help stretch your dollars and make your dreams a reality.

We love to travel. Together we’ve been to 38 countries. Heidi has been to all fifty states (Brad’s close). In fact, Heidi has almost 100,000 reads of her reviews on TripAdvisor, making her a senior advisor with them. We write this simply to lend some credibility to the suggestions we list below.

Let’s start with a basic philosophy of vacations. We have seen couples set off to have “the trip of a lifetime” and do everything first class. They get the finest hotel, finest meals, purchase extra legroom for the flight, etc. because “who knows when we can do this again?”

Our philosophy is two-fold: 1)  “Let’s travel nicely but not extravagantly. We’re going to be smart with our money so we can take MORE vacations!” and 2) We don’t spend more than we can afford. We save for our vacations and either pay for them upfront, or be sure we have enough to pay off what was charged as soon as we return. So if this describes what you want, then these ideas can help you get there:

1. Take a vacation you can afford. Pay cash and stay out of debt. We’ve known couples who have spent months and years paying off their “dream vacation.” They have regretted being enslaved to that debt. If any expenses go on a credit card, be sure you have the cash to pay it off that month.

2. We use a credit card that gives us travel rewards but are sure to pay it off each month. We have never had a late charge or made payments. We use ours for air miles. You might choose one for Disney, a hotel brand, or airline of your preference.

3. Be willing to travel in the off-season. We will save a lot on flights and hotel by going at less desirable times of year for most tourists. Our goal is to see the sights and enjoy the culture (unless it’s going to the beach!).

4. Be flexible with your flight dates. Often departing on a Tuesday or Wednesday will provide a less expensive fare.

5. Choose a hotel level that is similar to how you currently live at home. If you can step it up a notch that’s fine, just be sure it’s in your budget.  You don’t have to stay at a first class hotel just because you’re on a trip.

6. You can save money by paying for the hotel up front (often referred to as Advanced Purchase), but be careful to read the fine print. Often this will be non-refundable so know what you’re risking.  Ask yourself, “How likely are we to go on these dates?,” or “What would prevent us from taking this trip?”.

7. Stay in hotels that offer a free breakfast. Otherwise, pack breakfast food like cereal, Pop Tarts, or breakfast bars.

8. Eat one nice meal out per day–and if possible, do it at lunch. If there’s a nice restaurant we want to try, we’ll often go for lunch. The menu will be similar, the setting is the same, and it’s less expensive.

9. Only order water to drink. When traveling or dining out with our children we only ordered water. Five beverages at $2+ a drink plus tax and tip over several meals is expensive! We told our children that if they really wanted soda, we could by them a two liter of soda for $1.50 to share!  Or they could purchase a drink for themselves but had to pay us back for it. (They never chose that option.)

10. Grab a meal at the local grocery store. We often do this when we are traveling internationally. There are pre-made sandwiches, interesting dishes to try at the deli, and fun snacks to grab off the shelves.

11. Look for travel and hotel deals on the internet. Be willing to stay a few blocks away from the beach or attractions and drive a few minutes vs. staying on the choicest convenient property. You might try bidding for a hotel on a site like Priceline.

12. Look into renting a condo, vacation home, or Air bnb. Having extra space can de-stress the travel for your family. Using the kitchen can also be a win for meal preparation or pack meals while you are out exploring.

13. Be willing to figure out and use public transportation. Apps like Google and Apple Maps now provide the routes and bus/train/subway lines to get from point A to B. You’ll save on parking, get a feel for the city, and of course you’ll save money, too! When traveling internationally we will often purchase a City Pass where available. This allows for unlimited public transportation for a set period of time.

14. When possible, combine a pleasure trip with a work trip. We’ve known people who have paid for their spouse to go to a chosen destination and then extend their trip to include a mini-vacation. This allows them to have a portion of their airfare, hotel, and even meals covered for the working spouse.

Using some creativity and advance planning you and your spouse (and family!) can enjoy some quality time away without breaking the bank. We hope you can start planning now for your getaway and infuse new memories as you build your marriage!

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