You work hard, so why not take that vacation you’ve been dreaming of? Too many people have trouble justifying the cost, or worse yet : head off on vacation and have no idea what they are in for. Suddenly, they find themselves in a position where they are paying off their vacation for months to follow. Clearly, they need some travel tips.
The point of a vacation is to de-stress and enjoy, not to create more stress. The best way to do this is to get smart with your travel and start taking advantage of tips and tricks to save money and make the most of it. If you do this, not only will you get that well earned time off, but you’ll also be in a position to do it more often.
Here are my 12 Most Savvy Travel Tips to Save Money and Make It Your Best Vacation Yet!
1. What’s in it for you?
People travel for many different reasons. Whether you have kids or not and what your interests are all have an impact on how to choose your vacation destination.
Often people don’t think through what they really want to accomplish with a vacation and consequently, choose a location that will give them what they want but at high cost. If you narrow down exactly what you want to get out of your vacation, you will be in the best position to save money and have an outstanding time by tailoring your destination to your objectives.
2. Research and planning
You want a vacation and you want it cheap? Then you’ll need to put a little work into it. It will be worth it. Once you’ve identified what you want out of your vacation and what activities are your priority, ask friends and family if they’ve been somewhere or have anything to recommend.
A lot of times word of mouth leads us to the most amazing places. You can also call travel agencies and describe what you are looking for and seek out their suggestions. Gather all this info, then check out local guide books, the internet and the destination’s local newspaper websites to narrow down your choices. Apps and local guide books can help you understand the local culture, special price deals on events or key you into money-saving package deals specific to the region. Apps are often free and guide books cost about $20. Once you know where you are going, having a good guide will save you far more than the cost of the book.
3. Sign up for travel deal alerts year round
Find several sites, not just one. Basically you are training your eye like a travel broker: learning the market. This fits into the above point nicely, but it helps not only in understanding what kinds of rates are good deals but also in giving you ideas about where you can travel.
I’ve been signed up with various sites for several years, and because of this I know what the going rates are for most destinations that interest me and I always know where to find them. You can watch destinations, all inclusives, flights, and car rentals. I spend about 2–3 minutes every couple of days doing a quick glance. It has saved me hundreds of dollars and made me a very savvy traveler. The result: you will end up with high-end, high-value vacations at economy rates because you understand the market.
4. Take a two step approach to your flight booking
When you find a good deal, always go to the airline’s main site and enter the same information. In worst case scenarios, you’ll find the same rate (or validate that you actually have the best rate).
However, I often find that by taking this two step approach, I find better rates with the airline directly than with the travel site. Surprised? I was too but it’s now part of my routine. I’ve asked the airlines and travel agents about this and they all explained similar things: airlines sell off a certain number of discounted seats to all deal sites/travel agents, etc. However, they also have groups of these discounted seats on their flights. Once the discounted seats sell, they go into a new price category. Therefore, on any discount site or airline, it really depends on how many of the special priced seats they sold — which is why you want to check twice. Each supplier has a limited number of these seats, take the time to make sure you found them. In my experience, I always end up with the airline, and not the discount site. Surprising but true.
5. Be flexible
If you want to get the very best deals on your vacation, keep things flexible. Oftentimes, shifting one or two days can save you hundreds of dollars. This gets tricky if you have kids, but consider the idea that travelling is a cultural experience — especially with elementary school kids who aren’t in exams, you may just be able to justify taking a few days off school to leave earlier if you are going to save a few hundred dollars.
If you don’t have kids, then be flexible. Period. If you keep your eye on the deals as suggested in number 3 above, you’ll know when the rates are good. If you see something awesome come by, being open to jumping on it is amazing. I have seen savings for as much as half the price for as little as one week difference in scheduling. Usually, I let my employer know that I’m thinking about taking a week in July or August (for example), so it’s not an imposition at work. When the time is good, I fly. An employer will usually work with you on this as long as you keep them in the loop. Give it a try.
6. Layovers aren’t “just layovers” anymore — make the most of your trip
In speaking with Andrew Hyde, “Minimalist Vagabond” and author of the recently released Kickstarter book“This Book is About Travel,“ he shared one of his favorite tricks to stretch his travel dollar in what he calls, “three leg loop” trick with airfare. “Many times you can add on a third city to your round trip for pennies, and if you extend your trip, adding a round trip in the middle of your trip can be incredibly cheap. So book a three city trip and add in loops (round trips).”
Go for it! You’re already on vacation, why not fit in another spot you’ve always wanted to visit in the “loop.”
7. Pack light and smart
The airlines started charging for additional baggage a while back. We’ve all seen the cutbacks as they’ve stopped serving meals on many flights, or charge if they do. Some airlines will allow one checked bag, while others charge for every piece. In this day and age there is no reason to travel with more than one bag. In fact, savvy travelers can do it with just a carry-on. Give it a try, you’ll be in and out of the airport much faster, save money and enjoy more of your trip.
8. Don’t pay for extra insurance
Insurance is my field of expertise, so I am very aware of ways to save in this area. Most people either avoid insurance (which is a dangerous risk), or get so worried that they double-insure themselves.
It’s not necessary. Learn about what is already covered on your home and auto policies so you do not have to pay more than you need when you go on vacation! There are many ways to save on insurance alone if you just get informed. Such as, did you know your personal property may be automatically covered while you travel? Don’t spend more if you’re already covered! Ask your personal insurance broker for advice first, they may be able to guide you. Also, remember that your company may offer you coverage for medical and health in your group benefits plan. Take an hour to check these things first, it could easily save you a couple of hundred dollars!
9. Forget hotels — join a home exchange service or rent from a local
A great option is to join a service that specializes in home exchanges (where you can also find rentals). I’ve used these myself and the experience is amazing, but you must be a member (so you have to join now, not two weeks before your vacation).
I used Homelink and loved them — I learned so much from my hosts in Paris. In the process I found new places to visit as well. Most of the people in these networks are professionals and many have families. Doing an exchange is a great way to cut costs on lodging and you also get the insight and expertise of local hosts.
I had the pleasure of discussing “Savvy Travel Tips” with Andy Murdoch, U.S. Digital Editor for Lonely Planet. I loved this piece of advice from him, “People spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about finding amazing hotels. Amazing trips come from what you do, not where you sleep. Unless you’re planning on spending your entire trip inside a hotel, find somewhere comfortable and affordable, and save your bucks for the experiences you’ll remember.” He was right on with that statement!
Another thing you can do is search the destination’s local paper (via the internet for vacation rentals). There are always alternatives if you put in a little extra time and think outside of the box. Julien Smith, an avid traveler and adventurer, currently working on an upcoming travel book, gave this as his top advice, “Never use hotels.” His recommendation: “Airbnb is better, and cheaper, every time.”
So there you have it: exploring alternative lodging options will be far less expensive than a hotel and will give you a better experience.
10. A note on all-inclusives
All inclusives are a great alternative to planning all the details of a vacation piece by piece. The trick is not to get trapped into all the added expenses and offsite visits. If you have a few that you’d like to partake in, then decide in advance and stick to your budget. If an all-inclusive is the way you want to go, then please make sure to focus on points 1, 3 and 5 above. Otherwise, all-inclusives can also end up being an unexpected fortune. Be smart about it and you’ll walk away with an amazing deal. I regularly see opportunities at about $500 a week. It’s not luck, it’s because I watch. Do the same.
11. Live like a local
Dining is always a great thing to do while on vacation. While you’re on your trip, check out places where the locals eat. Too many places overcharge for the fancy name or the tourist spot.
I remember when I was in Paris, the best meals I had were all in non-tourist areas. In fact, the worst meal I ever had was at a “must-go” place. Also to remember, locals don’t buy souvenirs. Cut down on all the junk and if you really want to buy something, make it something that will have some sentimental value or use in your life after your trip. How many key-chains and magnets do you and your family need? Invest in activities that will make memories, not a bunch of clutter for your home.
One of the most interesting things in visiting new places is often just in exploration — exploring the region, nature parks, neighborhoods and the like are often free, or can be done at the same cost as if you were at home — provided you live like a local. Tourist traps are called that for a reason. Use your guide book and word-of-mouth online to learn about what’s cool where your visiting and you’ll end up with a much richer experience.
12. If you can’t afford to really get away, explore somewhere nearby
We take for granted the cities we live in and the surrounding areas. With the recent economic situation and the necessity for families to get away, many people pack up their cars and go for a more local vacation. You can go camping but that’s not the only thing, you can visit other cities nearby.
For example New York is only 6 hours or so from Montreal, both cosmopolitan cities, but with totally different feels. Still too far? Then pretend you are a foreigner in your own town, what would you do? Splurge a little at home and take on the sights, events and explore! I guarantee you haven’t done everything in the area around you. Most people live their lives not doing half the things in their own nearby cities and natural parks — don’t take “home” for granted.
A final tip to remember from Andy Murdock, “Psychologically you get the same positive effects from a short trip that you do from a longer trip.” He said, “Don’t suffer through months of wanderlust in between rare long trips — plan multiple shorter trips so you’re always going somewhere, even if it’s nearby and just for a night or two.”
Everyone needs a break, especially when things are tight. There is always a way to make it work if you put your mind to it. So get out there and start planning — or start planning to get out there!
Where are you going to go? Have you been putting off a dream vacation because you thought it was just too expensive? What tips would you add? Please let me know in the comments below.
Mila Araujo is a Social Business Strategist and Speaker, she has a diverse background in management, public relations, non-profit, and events; she is a Director of Personal Insurance at Ogilvy & Ogilvy, Montreal. In her previous roles, Mila organized international conferences on health care, as well as programs to promote health for seniors and children in partnership with the Government of Canada. In 2009, she worked with Modica Communications on the development of the Centre for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility, part of the Canadian government's Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. Mila is a contributing author for several online sites, including 12 Most, Business2Community, Winning at the Insurance Gamble, Grow, and her own blog Perspectives featured in AllTop. Mila’s lived in Los Angeles, Paris, and Hawaii, and calls Montreal home. Mila is an active member of the Social Media community and Producer of #140 Conference Montreal. She’s passionate about connecting people, non-profits, employee engagement, leadership and using social tools for driving business to new levels.
@MoneyMasterMom Thats fantastic advice! It's always nice when we get more out of something we were already planning anyway. I think it's a matter of opening up our mind to these ideas. Great thinking! :)
I learned the "layovers aren't just layovers" trick early in my career. I used to always work out that 3rd city to get time to visit family/friends. The Saturday stay would actually reduce my airfare costs.
When we are in the Continental US, we stay in condos and cook for ourselves (along with a few nice meals in restaurants). When we travel to Mexico, we like to go to all-inclusives to eliminate that headache and REALLY relax. That is where I try to truly unplug.
Of course, give us tennis courts and nice food - and some beautiful sights - and we are perfectly happy!
I love #12! As a college student, that's definitely my reality right now. I'm looking for better ways to explore the area around me on a budget since I can't travel far away. There's always so much to discover as long as you keep your eyes and ears open for exciting new finds!
Lots of sound tips, Mila, and the final one resonates the most with me at the moment. We often overlook the attractions closer to home, then realize just what we've been missing when we entertain visitors in our own area. There's often an amazing vacation just an hour or two away, stripping away a lot of the negative points of traveling at the same time!
I loved what Andy Murdoch said about this, and it is so true. We need those psychological breaks and the get aways from the day to day.
I personally feel its essential for creativity, and objectiveness.
Some people are so locked into the day to day, its almost irresponsible to not force yourself to have a get away - we need this as humans, and when we take care of ourselves and make time for these things, I truly believe it contributes to the richness in all areas of our lives, from relationships to work itself.
Like you, I enjoy my city the most when out of town visitors come - so I now try and pretend I'm an out of town-er too , " a tourist in my own city" and it brings a whole new perspective on the things that I do- breaking away from routine.
There's adventure everywhere - we just need to keep our eyes open and make the time :) Its great to travel far, but we can also travel near as well :)