Looking to take a trip this winter, but afraid of how much it will cost? Here are five tips on how you can vacation without breaking your budget:
1) Avoid the Most Popular Locations
It's simple supply-and-demand: the more people want to go somewhere, the more expensive it becomes. Higher expenses and larger crowds mean more stress, so avoid the mess by picking a place off the beaten path. Want to relax on the beach? Check out Gulf Shores, Alabama instead of Costa Rica or the Caribbean. Total ski bum? Vermont has some of the best lower-elevation ski hills in the world and is less crowded than tourist-heavy Colorado. Thrill-seeker? Pass on Disney World and try Cedar Point, ranked the 3rd-best amusement park in the country by Time. No matter your vacation goal, there are alternatives that match the beauty and fun of the popular choice at a fraction of the cost.
2) Travel on Off-Days and Times
Companies hike up costs when they know everyone is trying to buy a ticket, so travelling at less popular times will equate to huge savings. The most effective price-reducing technique is to travel in the offseason: going to Myrtle Beach in April is much cheaper than going during peak Christmas season. However, if you want to travel during the holidays, focus on the day and time you leave. Red-eye or early-morning flights are less crowded and much cheaper, and don't be afraid to use an extra vacation day or two to fly on Tuesday or Sunday, determined by Expedia to be the cheapest days to fly, instead of Friday and Monday. Sign up for websites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Google Flights, which can alert you when airlines are having deals on tickets. Not all plane tickets are created equal, and there are many that can work with your budget.
3) Know Your Credit Cards
Many credit cards are a walking coupon, allowing you to redeem rewards for cheaper flights, hotels, and meals. Credit cards convert payments you make throughout the year into points that can be used for discounted plane tickets, while many hotels have credit cards that can give you big discounts on rooms. Many of these rewards cards have huge sign-up bonuses, so if you're looking for a new card and plan on vacationing again in the future, utilize this feature and sign-up to get a free plane ticket. (However, do NOT sign up solely for the bonus, because that's how you end up with too many credit cards and bad debt.)
Similarly, pay attention to your spending while abroad: many credit cards have an international transaction fee, typically 3% per purchase, and Forbes suggests that using your card to pay in local currency instead of the dollar (yes, you can do either!) will avoid the small conversion fee tacked on to every swipe.
4) Utilize Non-Traditional Rooming Options
Hotels can cost hundreds of dollars a night, and as much as we all love the free continental breakfast, that doesn't make up for the convenience of cheaper options. Houses listed on AirBnB offer all the amenities of a hotel at a fraction of the cost, often going for as little as twenty dollars a night. If you want to meet fellow travelers, hostels have both general and adult-centric options available. Apps like Couchsurfing and Bewelcome offers places to sleep for free (although perhaps you will want to buy your host a gift or dinner to show your appreciation). All in all, there are many sleeping options that could save you hundreds of dollars.
5) Travel like a Local, not a Tourist
There is a reason locals don't go to the restaurants where the waiters roller skate around and sing your order to you or the torture museum with a line that wraps around the block: they're more expensive, crowded, and oftentimes, worse quality. Ask locals what their favorite restaurant is—chances are, it'll have high quality food and a more budget-friendly menu. Talk to the hotel bartender and ask where you should go for the day, then take their advice and go to the small beach further down the highway from the one with the loud kids, food trucks, and flying Frisbees. Ditch the rental car and travel by rental bike, bus, train, or scooter. Avoiding tourist traps will make you feel more tied to the community you visit and will save your wallet the undue pain.
What ties all these together is the most important thing: plan ahead, but be flexible. Coordinating travel plans can be complicated, especially when you want to spend as little as possible, but if you do your research, you can have the vacation of a lifetime on a reasonable budget.