7 Tips for saving money on your vacation

By BootsnAll | February 23rd, 2009

DelanoPoolBooking a trip online keeps getting easier, but there are still many common traps people fall into during the process. If you want to know how to save as much money as possible on your next vacation, while still getting the most enjoyment, the 7 tips below should help.

1 – Compare prices for package deals with prices for booking things separately

It seems that you can divide most travelers into the package-deal group or the book-it-yourself group, and I’ll admit I have been in the latter segment for most of my life. But since I’ve been traveling and researching travel for a living I’ve discovered that neither strategy is always best. During peak season it might be hard to get great package deals to popular places, but during fringe or off-season these can be great value.

Sure, they can offer attractive pricing on hotels during peak season, but they tend to include large and fancy hotels that are often double the price of a nice and smaller place just next-door. So what seems like a bargain might still cost you much more than you really need to spend for a nice room. In other words, the Capital City Marriott might be $200 per night, and only $160 per night with your package deal, but the Downtown Inn across the street might only be $90 per night even though it’s just as nice.

It’s good to try pricing your flight+hotel, and then pricing the flight and a hotel separately just to compare before you book. Many of these package deals are great offers, but other times they are just leading you into large and impersonal hotels that might be overpriced anyway.

2 – Be flexible with your schedule

This has become a cliché in the past few years, but it’s still very true and very worth mentioning. Without much fanfare, every airline has changed the way its tickets are priced, and the winners are those who can travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturday afternoons. If you want to leave town on a Friday and return a week later, you might be paying 50% more for the privilege. Try checking for prices on Wednesday flights to see the difference, and you might realize that leaving two days early is worthwhile.

Similarly, if you can be flexible with the time of year you travel you can save a bundle. I honestly travel at least twice as much as most of my friends, and I don’t spend any more money because I specifically plan trips around fringe seasons. Flights and hotels can be dramatically cheaper out of peak season, and lines for attractions and restaurants tend to be short or non-existent as well. Would you rather have slightly better weather in August along with sky-high prices and crowds, or slightly worse weather (sometimes) with lower prices and small crowds? If you want a Caribbean vacation or a cruise you can seriously pay half as much if you go in November instead of January or June. Plan ahead like that and travel way more than you do now.

3 – Consider staying in a hostel instead of a hotel

This hasn’t been in the news much, but there has been a major hostel boom around the world since the year 2000 or so. Many assume that hostels are nothing but dorm rooms for traveling students, and that’s what they mainly used to be, but things have changed a lot. Certainly you can still find cheap dorm beds at hostels, but you can also now find private rooms with their own bathrooms (or cheaper private rooms with bathrooms down the hall) at nearly every hostel. In addition to being cheaper than most 1-star hotels, and usually very well located, hostels almost all have a community kitchen and lounge areas. You can buy your own food for one meal a day, and not only do you save money, but you also stay out of the rut of eating pricey meals in the same coffee shop every day of your trip.

4 – Get a guidebook early on

If you don’t want to buy a guidebook you might be able to get one from the library or a friend, but even if you do pay $25 for the book it’s nearly guaranteed to pay for itself several times over with savings. For Europe, Rick Steves’ books are fantastic in this regard, and for everywhere else you should look at Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, or Frommer’s. Trust me, by reading the advice on hotels, restaurants, car rentals, and attractions you’ll be able to confidently go about your trip saving money in the process. The Rick Steves Europe books all contain excellent recommendations for small hotels that often will give you an extra discount just for mentioning the book. I’ve stayed in many of these myself and they’ve always lived up to Steves’ praise in addition to offering great value.

5 – Don’t automatically rent a car for your whole stay

Especially if you are traveling with your family, it might be tempting to rent a car at the airport and keep it the whole stay, but this is often a big waste of money. In places like Florida the cars are often very cheap, and parking is abundant, but in other cities you might pay quite a bit for the car and then end up having to pay to park the thing in the city as well. If you are going somewhere for a week you might find that you can spend four of those days doing things close to your hotel or on public transportation, and then you rent a car for three days of seeing the more distant sites. Not only does this save you money,but it keeps you from having to sort out parking a few times each day. You can take a cheap airport shuttle to your hotel, and then drive back in your rented car on your way out of town.

6 – Have your fancier meals at lunch

It’s a strange phenomenon that most restaurants have one set of prices for their lunch service and a different and higher set of prices for the evening meal. Eating out at nice restaurants is one of the most enjoyable part of most vacations, so if you shift your better meals to lunchtime you can save quite a bit, and also not have to deal with huge portions or leftovers that you’ll have no use for on vacation anyway.

7 – Pay close attention to the location of your hotel

This isn’t completely a money-saving tip, although in some ways it really is. It’s not too surprising that the cheaper hotels in any given city tend to be farther away from the main attractions or best beaches than the more expensive ones. I still hear about people whom I thought would know better who fall for this, but it’s extremely important to know where a hotel is located before you book it. Every hotel on the planet will boast about their location in the best possible light, so you have to be vigilant about actually looking more into this. A hotel that says it’s 5 minutes from the beach€ might really be several miles away, and an 8-minute drive or bus ride, as long as you don’t have to worry about parking.

The old real estate adage about location, location, location is just as true with hotels, and you’ll find that you’ll get much more out of your trip if you book a more modest place with a great location than a luxurious place with a poor location (like out by the airport). With a central location you might not need a rent a car, or even to worry about public transportation. You’ll also be able to spend much more time doing whatever it is you went there to do, rather than going back and forth to your distant hotel a couple times a day. Paying more for a central location might save you money on other things, and it will definitely make your trip more enjoyable as well.

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