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Tips to Travel Cheap

Updated on January 3, 2016
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Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Cheap Travel- How to Save Money on Travel
Cheap Travel- How to Save Money on Travel | Source

How to Travel Cheap

Travel is expensive. Whenever something is expensive, you can find ways to save money.

When you travel, you need to pay for transportation, food, and lodging. You may need to pay admission fees for attractions as well, depending on your trip. Today, I will discuss some of the ways that I have found to make travel less expensive.

Travel Free!

The best way to save money on travel is to travel free. But how do you do this?

The answer is to get someone else to pay for it- usually your employer. Business travel expenses are usually 100% covered by your employer. There are some catches to business travel- for example, you need to travel when and where your company wants, and you have do do work or go to meetings on the trip.

But even considering the restrictions I mentioned, business travel can provide some good opportunities to see the sights in the town you are visiting and dine at some of the local favorites. Some employers will allow employees to combine business trips with vacation, for example, the employee can pay any extra expenses for extending the business trip and taking a few days of vacation after the business meetings are done. This can be a way to save more than 50% on travel costs. You may be able to arrange to have your family meet you to enjoy the vacation part of your business trip.

If you own your own business, you can take a tax deduction for travel for your business.

Save Money on Hotels

Hotels are an expensive part of travel. One approach to saving money is to reduce the number of nights you stay in hotels. You can do this by spending some nights staying with friends or family instead of staying at hotels. If you are a bit adventurous, you can pitch a tent and camp instead of staying in a hotel. Many campgrounds charge about $20 per night for tent camping. When I was younger, I would sometimes sleep in my car to avoid staying in hotels while traveling.

You can save money at hotels by using discounts and avoiding hidden expenses. This article on hotel discounts and finding a cheap hotel has all of the details on saving money at hotels.

Cheap Driving in a Cheap Car
Cheap Driving in a Cheap Car | Source

Save Money Driving

Rental Car?

When you drive on a trip, you have two options: drive your own car, or drive a rental car. If you are flying for part of your trip, your options narrow to using a rental car. If you are driving for your entire trip starting from home, you can still consider a rental car.

If you have a new car, you might be better off driving a rental car to keep miles and wear and tear off of your newer car, especially if you will be driving in heavy traffic or staying in downtown areas where your car could easily be damaged. If you end up fixing a dent or scratch in your car, this could easily cost more to repair than renting a car for your trip.

If you have an older car in good mechanical condition that has adequate space for your trip, that is likely your cheapest option instead of renting a car. My car has so many miles on it, that the depreciation from driving more miles is almost zero. Also, the reduction in value from any minor door dings and scratches is almost zero as well.

Bring Your Own Food on Your Next Road Trip
Bring Your Own Food on Your Next Road Trip | Source

Save on Food on the Road

One of the best ways to save money while driving is to avoid eating on the road. Pack a large cooler with ice, sandwiches, fresh vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower), apples, yogurt, and other good road food. Think of it as packing your lunch, but in a way that can last for several days.

Don't Get Lost

Another way to save money on driving- take a GPS receiver in your car. Some cars have a built-in navigation. If not, you can use a suction cup to attach a GPS screen to your windshield while driving. With a GPS system, you will save time and money by avoiding getting lost.

Avoid Car Trouble and Save on Gas

Get an oil change with a free inspection before your trip. If your car breaks down on your driving trip, you will be in for some inconvenience and unexpected expenses. A mechanic can check your battery, hoses, belts, tires, and other items for excessive wear and early signs of trouble. It is much easier to take care of maintenance at the shop before you leave instead of trying to repair your car on the road. Save money on gas by following these tips to get the best gas mileage while driving.

Use Multiple Drivers

As I mentioned in the hotel section, you can save money if you can reduce the number of nights you stay in hotels on the road. If you have multiple drivers, you can drive for longer days and require fewer nights staying in hotels, saving significant money for each night of hotel stay you can avoid.

Save Money Flying

When I compare the cost of driving vs. flying, I almost always end up driving. Flying is very expensive and there is a lot of hassle involved in going through airports. When flying, you need to follow a very rigid schedule. When driving, you can change your mind and adjust your schedule easily.

Airfare is Expensive!
Airfare is Expensive! | Source

If you are flying, the key to saving money on airfare is to shop around for the best deals and book your reservation at the right time. As with hotels, airlines have rewards programs- called frequent flyer programs- that allow you to earn points and get free airfare tickets. I have been able to use frequent flyer miles to get some free air travel, which is great.

If your travel plans are flexible, you may be able to accept offers to take a different flight in exchange for points or cash. Due to delays and equipment issues, many flights end up being overbooked, which means there are more passengers than seats. You may be able to take advantage of this by accepting offers from the airline to change your travel plans to get free stuff.

Another tip for air travel savings- watch out for those fees. Airlines are famous for charging fees for checking bags, carry on bags, drinks on the airplane, and many other things. Try to understand the fees and avoid as many of them as possible. It might be worth trying to take fewer bags on your trip to avoid extra costs.

Cheap Travel Video

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How to Travel Cheap

If you are willing to put some work into it, you can reduce the cost of travel using the tips in this article. Here is a quick summary:

The best way to travel cheap is to get someone else to pay for it- go on a business trip that your employer will cover. Another strategy is to take a staycation instead of a vacation, staying in your own bed at night. Reduce the number of nights you need to stay in a hotel to reduce your costs, and take advantage of free points and food at the hotel. When driving, take your own food along to avoid paying for expensive restaurant meals on the road. Flying is expensive- try to find the best deal on tickets and avoid fees as much as possible.

© 2014 Dr Penny Pincher


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    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 3 years ago from Iowa, USA

      kidscrafts, I have not found a suitable substitute for coffee! I think I would try to bring tea bags filled with coffee and brew my own if I had to... Coffee is one of the few things I don't mind spending a bit of money on. Thanks for sharing some of your experience saving money on international travel!

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I always try to wait for special fairs to come up before booking a trip! Just there it's possible to save quite a lot.

      A few years ago, my husband had to go to Argentina for his work and I accompany him. My main expense was my plain ticket (and I paid less than my husband's company paid for his ticket) and some food over there. He worked during the week at the local office and I was working from on my computer from our hotel room and we discovered Buenos Aires during 3 weekends :-)))

      I use some of the tips you suggest when traveling abroad.

      I find that in Europe it's difficult to have a big cup of tea or coffee (and it's quite expensive) so when we go, we often buy big bottles of water instead. Just there you can save quite a few Euros!

      Thanks for sharing! You always give great suggestions!

      Enjoy your weekend!