Tips and Tricks for Saving Money on Vacations
Almost everyone dreams of the day when they can take a vacation and have a break from their day-to-day routine. But the cost of some vacations can be more like a nightmare than a dream. By the time you book a flight, find a hotel, rent a car, and all the other expenses that come with taking a vacation, you could be thinking that you'd be better off staying home and saving the money. Vacations don't have to cost a fortune - whether you're taking a trip just to get away, taking a vacation to spend some quality family time with loved ones, or you're going somewhere you've always wanted to go, there are many easy ways to save money on vacations.
Save money on travel arrangements by taking time to look for online deals
There are dozens of great websites that specialize in booking travel arrangements with everything from flights, to hotels, to car rentals, to cruises, and everything else you could need. Many of these travel sites offer discounts when you book two or more of these things together or plan your entire trip through the site. If your traveling times are flexible, something to watch for is last minute vacation deals. Booking a hotel or flight can be expensive at the last minute, but there are many travel websites that offer last minute deals on hotel rooms or flights, because they want to fill otherwise empty rooms or seats.
Some hotels offer a discount if you stay more than one night, or more than a certain number of nights, so if you're staying for an extended period, be sure to keep an eye out for these deals. Other hotels offer discounts for booking online rather than by phone, so that's another good reason to book hotels online. Also watch for places where you get discounts for having memberships with certain companies (CAA, AAA, etc), and some colleges and universities send out cards to their alumni with discounts at various companies, which sometimes include hotels. For seniors traveling, be sure to take advantage of senior discounts, and some places offer companion rates for seniors where you pay for the senior, and their companion, regardless of age, is free. When you're booking a hotel online, it will have a list of the discounts they offer, so check it over carefully and take advantage whenever possible.
When looking for deals on hotels, instead of searching actual travel sites, consider searching for an attraction you want to see in your destination area, like a museum, sports arena, or amusement park, and see if they have any hotel affiliations that offer discounts. For example, in the summer of 2010, a friend and I wanted to take her daughter and my nephew to see the Harry Potter Exhibition in Toronto. We looked up the official exhibition website, found a list of the affiliate hotels and saved a lot of money by booking through there. The low price included one night at a hotel, free breakfast, 2 adult and 2 children's tickets to the exhibition, which included entrance into the rest of the Ontario Science Centre where the exhibition was housed, and a free $10 gas card.
Book an all-inclusive vacation that reduces cost and stress
All-inclusive vacations are perfect for many travelers who don't want to fuss with booking transportation, accommodation and worrying about all the other little details. Some packages include absolutely everything (including transformation to the destination), while others start from the time you arrive at your destination and include hotel, meals (it's rare that packages include 3 meals a day, but many include breakfast and sometimes dinner), and entrance into local attractions. When I went to France as a teen, the cost included transportation to the airport, flights (3 in all), hotels, breakfast and dinner every day (including all gratuities), motorcoach and tour guide everywhere we went, subway tickets in Paris, and entrance into a large variety of local attractions. The only things we were responsible for was lunch (since we were out all day every day, and which wasn't expensive), and of course anything we wanted to buy. Also, I had a friend who went to South America on vacation late last year and had everything included in her trip (transportation, flight, meals, alcohol, spas, resort, etc) and when she told me the price, it blew my mind it was so cheap. All-inclusive trips can save not only a lot of money, but a lot of hassle and stress as well.
Travel in the off-season and avoid traveling on weekends
Probably the majority of people travel during the peak seasons. They want to get away from cold winters, or take their children away during summer vacation, or travel for specific events or times of year. If your traveling times are flexible and you're not working around anything specific, consider traveling during the off-season. The prices are usually dramatically less, mostly because hotels are scrambling to book rooms.
My sister-in-law and I took my brother to Niagara Falls, Ontario, for his
birthday in November 2010. November is definitely not peak travel time
in Niagara Falls because it's so cold, but if you live anywhere in
Canada, or in any of the states that get bad winters, you're going to be
cold wherever you are, so why not have some fun? I booked a hotel
online that would normally be around $80 per night and we ended up
getting it for $30 per night. Being off-season, it was also a good time
to shop because almost every store we passed had signs advertising
sales and discounts. Also, although the prices at the attractions
weren't any different than any other time of year, they weren't nearly
as crowded as they would be the rest of the year, which meant we could
take our time and enjoy ourselves without fighting the crowds.
However, don't assume that just because it's winter, no one will be traveling. A place like New York City is a prime travel destination in the winter because of all the winter and holiday activities the city has to offer. Get online and do your research (try looking up peak traveling seasons for your destination), or ask advice from people who have traveled a lot.
Traveling on weekends (especially holiday weekends) can be very expensive. Hotels often have higher rates on the weekend because they book up faster, so they take advantage of people looking for places to stay. Many restaurants, especially those with fixed prices, often have higher prices on the weekends, too. The price of gas can also be a factor, especially on holiday weekends when places take advantage of travelers on the road. If your traveling schedule allows it, travel during the week, then even if you stay over a weekend, the rate for your room should remain the same.
Have a general idea of how much your vacation will cost
It would be very difficult to predict the cost of your entire trip because there are almost always unknowns that pop up and cost money. However, it is possible to plan for some things and know ahead what the costs will be. If you're going to a big city with lots of attractions, look them up beforehand and get an idea of the cost. For instance, if you're going to a city with a big museum that you plan to visit, check their website and find out how much admission costs, then figure out how much it will cost for you and the others on the trip. Some museums and sites offer discounted admission on certain days or after a certain time at night - if this is the case, you could try to plan around that and save yourself some money.
If you have an idea of where you want to go and how much it's going to cost, you can decide beforehand if there's anything you need to cut from the trip. This is an especially good idea if you have kids on the trip because it eliminates surprises and disappointments, which can often lead to scenes and tantrums in young children.
Saving money on food while traveling
If you're traveling for an extended period of time, possibly the best way to save money on food is to find a rental cottage or house in your destination location, extended stay hotels, or hotels with kitchens in the rooms. This way, you can cook some (or all) of your own meals and save the expense of eating out and leaving tips. If you're traveling by car, you could bring a lot of your own food (in coolers and bags), or you can grocery shop once you arrive. I've done this several times, and it reduced the cost of our vacation substantially.
Also a good idea when traveling by car is to pack a cooler with drinks and snacks. These can be priced extremely high on the road, especially at gas stations and convenience stores ($5 for a bottle of water? I don't think so!). You can take a small cooler bag or lunch bag with you not only in the car, but also if you're traveling by train and bus. With all the airport regulations these days, I wouldn't recommend taking anything other than the absolute necessities when flying, just to avoid extra hassles.
For many people, part of the appeal of vacation is not having to cook and clean up afterward, so the rentals, extended stay hotels and hotels with kitchens in the rooms are not much of an option. If this is the case, or if it's impossible for you to make your own meals, there are ways to save money on food. Be on the look-out for buffets, which are often cheap and you can fill up on all you can eat. You might also be able to find two-for-one discounts and deals, and places where kids eat free or at a reduced rate if they're under a certain age. If you're visiting an area that is highly trafficked by tourists, watch out for tourist trap places that jack up the prices to take advantage of travelers. Your best bet is to find places where they have the menus posted outside so you can get an idea of their prices. If that's possible, go inside and say that you're considering options for dinner and ask to see a menu before you're seated. If the prices are too much, you can just leave and try again somewhere else.
Whenever and however you decide to travel, there are plenty of ways for you to save money. Online travel sites were a wonderful invention for people to book their entire vacations from the comfort of their homes. With the ease of booking vacations these days, once the plans are made, all that's left is for you to sit back, relax and dream of the day when you're finally on vacation.
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