Let me just start with the truth. To save money, don’t travel. But what fun is that? Traveling is NOT free, but thanks to some of the tips and links below, you can start traveling for less in no time at all! I know it is a LOT of information I’m writing about in this blog, but I can promise you some serious savings.
Thanks for reading, as always. What did I miss? Shoot me a line!
1. Overall Savings: Savings Links & All Things Money.
My first go-to? Ebates. You may have heard of it and thought it was a hoax. It’s not. In fact, I usually get back a LOT of money on my trips by using this site. The bottom line? Get an ebates.com account. You can get some serious cash back by running your airline tickets through here first. Last summer I got around $50 back after I booked my airfare, car rentals, and hotels through their website. I even bought a bike on eBay and scored 5% back on a $2000 bike because of Ebates. The money adds up! You can also refer friends and get incentives that way. The website explains how it works, and it’s super easy. (Bonus: I use it for ALL of my online shopping and have received hundreds of dollars back already!) I forgot to mention: you can use Ebates to get Groupon discounts! (I’ll write more about that later in this blog). Ebates mails out a check to you every quarter, too. Sign up here: https://www.ebates.com/r/BBALLA119?eeid=28187
Credit Cards: If you want to save on trips and all things travel, I do recommend you be a responsible credit card owner. Why? This is where you can really score. I recommend getting an airline rewards card. Some have fees, but you can usually cancel within the first year. You probably won’t earn a free flight the first go around, but usually the bonus deals will be enough to get you one for your next state-side trip! By using airline credit cards I nabbed a free ticket to Alaska and a $40 one to Hawaii. True story! Some airlines also give you a free pass to their private lounges. I got to go to one in Chicago and loved it: snacks, comfy chairs, and no crowd.
If you don’t want to play the airline credit card game, cash rewards cards can be just as or more valuable. One of the best cards on the market right now is the Citi Double Cash card. This card gets you 2% back on all purchases. As a member for over a year, my rewards have been in the $500 range! Another third card I love is my REI card. REI is a sporting goods store, and they offer some awesome incentives such as a free $100 gift card for signing up and 5% off all REI purchases. You can also become an REI member for $20 for life, which I recommend because you can get some deep discounts and free shipping for life. You can use your REI card anywhere and use the points to buy travel gear! I used my points last year to buy a kayak/SUP. This year I used the points to buy two pair of running and hiking shoes.
Once last perk of credit cards is discounts and travel assistance. Some cards offer free travel insurance, even. Each card is different, so make sure when you log in to your online credit card portal that you check out what your card can do for you!
Coupon Codes: First, following your travel places on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram can help you find coupon codes and deals.
Next, while less popular, many airlines, hotels, and so forth will send out money saving coupons and codes when you sign up to get their weekly or daily email.
When you get to the location of your vacation, don’t forget to look for coupons in your hotel, the back of a phonebook (really!), and in brochures at the local visitor center or chamber of commerce.
AAA: I sound like an 80 year-old woman, but a AAA membership helps you lock in a plethora of deals. I use my $80 a year membership (I’m a 20 year member!) to help me get discounts at all my lodging, discounts on rental cars, free roadside assistance (gas, flat tires, locked out of car, etc) and towing up to several hundred miles, trip planning, and free guide books. If you have an older car, this membership is worth it. My car only had around 100,000 miles on it when my alternator went out in Massachusetts, but I used my roadside assistance to get to a VW dealer who could fix it on a weekend! AAA is also one of the best places for cruise deals. They have a cruise month: October. I bought one for my parents through them for a price lower than even Priceline.
2. Lodging: The best way to save is to spend more time in one place, usually. Many places will give you discounts by the week or some sort of discount for staying multiple days.
My go to? Airbnb. Definitely a favorite! Pros: find the price you need for your budget, meet friendly locals, stay where you want (near a landmark or in a quiet neighborhood), and many provide awesome amenities (laundry, wi-fi, towels). Most of the hosts are also VERY willing to give you directions, advice, tips on where to go/what to eat, and more. I’ve only had one bad stay in the past five years, but I got to rate it as such! Sometimes the homes are called guest houses. I love meeting the hosts if they’re around. Last year a woman and her husband gave my best friend and I a private tour of their island in Iceland and took us to see puffins. Cons: sometimes you have to establish a meeting time with hosts.
Want $40 off your first stay (yes, $40!)? Use my personal link here to sign up!!! www.airbnb.com/c/asampson36
This is a collage of my favorite Airbnb stops in Switzerland and Austria.
My mom likes using VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), which is similar to Airbnb.
Hotels. Sometimes staying at a hotel is worth it. Hotels offer reward programs. I used one eleven years ago to grab a free night in Anchorage, Alaska. Hotels often have additional perks, too! One is that if you’re busy during the day they often will hold your luggage for free even after you’ve checked out. This is a nice way to keep your luggage safe before or after checking in or out. You can also often get a shuttle to the airport for nothing. And don’t forget free breakfast! If you have a large family, you know that’s a big money saver. Some hotels have package deals you can find online such as stay with us and rent a car and save $200 this week. Another deal you can land is by calling to book directly through the hotel last minute. They do not like to have empty rooms and will often give you a discount for that reason. I did this in Glacier National Park and scored a room at the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel for 25% off.
Last, don’t forget you can often find that the front desk folks will help you with directions or tours in the same town/city. Just ask!
Booking.com is an awesome website I’ve used in the past to get some really nice places. I used it in Italy and Iceland, specifically.
Hostel Zoo will help you find the best or least expensive hostel at your location.
Camping might be a lost art for some, but can really save you a TON of money on lodging! If you’re tent camping, expect to pay no more than $50 a night. Usually $25 is the average cost. A few years ago I camped in some city camping in Seward, Alaska for $6 a night! Some of my favorite camping websites include Camping USA and Koa, which you can get discounts by getting their Value Kard.
There is also a way to camp for FREE. I know you thinking I’m really going out on a limb here, but it’s true. There are thousands of free spots on public land. Many are primitive, but if you can stand a few nights roughing it here and there, you can pop your tents up and enjoy some beautiful scenery.
Last, stay with friends, or try Couchsurfing.
3. Save On Food: Grocery stores are your best travel friend. You read that correctly. I use them all the time on trips domestic and abroad. In the states you can get gas, use the restroom, and get a lower priced snack or lunch at them. Want a fancy wine or your favorite chocolate to take home as a souvenir? Go to a grocery store! In a location for a few days with a fridge? Get to the store to save on a few meals a day. You can also find all sorts of other things here for less than other places: sunglasses, local treats (such as wine, spices, pasta, etc), souvenir magnets, cold drinks (most drinks are served warm overseas), toiletries, feminine products, t-shirts, and well, you never know. If you’re overseas there is often poor water you should not drink, and water is ALWAYS expensive out and about in busy areas. You will also find that in central or South America, buying the huge 2-3 liters of water is the best bang for your buck if you’re not traveling around for a few days.
Roadtripping with a cooler and making your own meals will always save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a week trip.
Street food and food trucks aren’t always the cheapest, but many times they’re the least expensive way to try out authentic and local foods!
4. Airfare: Buy early and buy on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. I use Kayak, Skyscanner, Vayama, and momondo.com to compare prices. Momondo is my favorite because it allows you to search which days are cheapest to travel on. Sometimes leaving on a Tuesday vs. leaving on a Monday could save you a couple hundred dollars. This website allows you to really narrow in on savings! Also keep in mind that your internet can have the ability to track what you’re searching, which is why you may search for a plane ticket and notice a price jump the next day. To avoid that, use your computer or smart phone in incognito mode to search prices and then make a purchase when your actually ready.
Buy direct. Sometimes it’s cheaper to purchase a ticket straight from the airline, not on another website such as priceline.com. Shop around but also be careful. One year I got a round ticket out of DC only to find out on the way home that my ticket wasn’t out of the same airport. Some cities have more than one airport and a round trip ticket might have you going and coming out of different places.
Traveling overseas? Look overseas. Sometimes the non state-side airline will have better deals than the state-side airlines. You WILL want to make sure and use a credit card like Capital One that has no foreign transaction fees.
Remember that Ebates link above? You can use Ebates to get airline discounts! Log into your Ebates account, type the word “flights” in the search bar, and start saving! Some travel websites offer up to 10% back through Ebates only!
5. Tours and Packages: Use tripadvisor.com to find the best tours and prices to start. Believe it or not, many companies and businesses use tripadvisor.com to boost their status and compete for awards that allow for them to in turn, get more business. You’ll often receive an email after a tour asking you to rate your experience. Trip Advisor allows you to see how other tourists like yourself loved a tour with thousands of reviews.
Carry your AAA card, teacher ID, and student ID with you. You can almost always find a discount for being a AAA member or in the field of education. Many of these can be done beforehand via a website or email reservation. They usually won’t tell you or advertise these deals; you may have to ask. If you’re booking via email or on the phone, always be sure to ask.
Often, hotels will have tour packages that allow you to save $. Ask by emailing the place you’re staying.
Last, use Groupon! That may sound bizarre, but tons of tourist attractions will put deals online. For example, last year I did a few days in Branson, Missouri, and got half-price tickets to the Titanic Museum. By logging into Ebates, first, I got an additional discount.
6. Free Days and Free Things: Many travel destinations offer free days and some places are always free! You need to know when or where they are. Some examples include the free national park entry days and getting into museums free or free at the end of the day. The easiest way to find out? Do a quick Google search! For example, I searched free museum days in Chicago and found this link. If you can afford entry fees, I recommend always paying them, as they help continue the good work of that park or museum for generations to come. A quick Google search with a line such as “What are the top free things to do in Denver,” will get you list after list of what to check out.
7. Apps, Apps, Apps: There are zillions of apps out there you can use to help you plan a trip, get discounts, or locate savings. A few of my favorites: Gas Buddy helps you find the lowest gas prices around. If you’re going to be in a city, especially, don’t be without the Uber or Lyft apps. Click on the links to get signed up for your free and discounted rides! Here is a great article about travel apps with links to most of the websites I mentioned above!
8. Write It Out: Plan ahead by creating a trip itinerary. Binders are old school, but always a fun option. There are some apps and websites out there that help you do your planning, but I keep it simple by using Google docs to type up my travel itineraries. Here is an example of a trip I have typed up for a friend of mine.
9. Transportation: I’ve already mentioned all the top savings links above. Some other options to save on transportation include walking or renting bikes if you’re flying to an area. Public transportation such as subways and taxis are always really easy to navigate. Make sure in foreign countries to ONLY buy from the computerized systems or information ticket counters. If anyone approaches you about tickets, beware!
Thanks for reading!