Save Money on Vacation – 13 Ways to Save Big on Your Next Trip!

by Ryan Guina

My wife and I recently took our first cruise, and thankfully we were well prepared for it. We did a lot of research, and we got some great advice from her parents who have gone on several cruises.

Based on our recent experiences, there are 5 things people can do to spend less money, have less stress, and ultimately enjoy their vacation more:

  • Plan your vacation
  • Budget
  • Search for deals
  • Prepare the right way!
  • Be a mindful spender

Plan Your Vacation

The most important thing one can do before going on vacation is to make a plan. Knowing where you will go and what you will do will make your vacation more enjoyable and easier to prepare for. Whether you are planning a whirlwind trip around the world or staying in the local area on a staycation, a plan allows you to start saving money in advance and spend less money in the end.

Here are some planning tips:

Benefits of booking your vacation in the off-season

Save Money on your trip. My wife and I looked at Mediterranean cruises at several times throughout the year, and finally settled on late September/early October. We chose this time because the tickets were much cheaper, there was more availability, and we wanted to make sure we would still have nice weather. We contemplated going around March/April, but realized the weather would still be a little cool, and possibly rainy. The months following that were much more expensive because people were no longer in school and were vacationing during the peak season. By booking later in the year, we saved over $1,000 per ticket.

Avoid crowds. Almost as important as saving money is avoiding large crowds! Most Americans build their vacation schedules around the school year and take vacations during March and April for Spring Break, May-August for extended summer vacations, or around Christmas and the New Year for winter trips. Many Europeans also have a similar holiday schedule, and some countries, like Italy, take almost the entire month of August off. These are the most crowded, and expensive, times to go on vacation. Planning your vacation around this means fewer people (especially children), more space, and a more enjoyable experience.

Greater availability. Fewer travelers means more available airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel related items. Some tourist attractions require booking tours several months in advance during peak seasons, but reservations can often be made a few days in advance during the off season. It is also much easier to find local services such as tour guides, restaurants, taxis, and more.

Steep discounts. Fewer people means less money being spent at local businesses. Some places will slash prices in order to gain your business. This is common at restaurants, souvenir shops, and popular attractions. Some places even have different price lists depending on the season. Use this to your advantage – the best time to haggle on the price is when the store is empty!

Stay in the local area on a Staycation

Many people enjoy exploring their local area, especially if they didn’t grow up there. A staycation can be as simple as staying at home and taking off a couple weeks to visit friends and family, enjoy some relaxing time at the pool, or explore nature. Some people take this a step further and actually book a hotel room so they can get away from the temptation of housework and other distractions. However you do it, a staycation is likely to cost much less than driving to a location several hours away.

Find creative ways to see the sights

bus tours offer vacation valueBus tours offer excellent value. My wife and I had a stopover in Barcelona when we took our honeymoon. We discovered the most efficient and cost-effective way to see the city was on the double-decker tour buses. A 2-day bus pass was priced at โ‚ฌ23 each (about $32 at the time).

The bus tours offered a lot of advantages, including easy access to all the major attractions, transportation all over the city, flexibility in your schedule – you decide when and where to go, convenient hours (around 8am – 10pm), frequent stops – both in number and frequency, and audio in multiple languages. Our bus tickets also included color-coded maps and coupon books, which helped us save money on certain attractions, such as museums.

Plan Your Budget

Make a budget, then add 10% just in case! Seriously, no matter how well you plan your vacation, something unexpected will come up. Make a budget and stick to it, but be prepared to have a little extra money just in case!

Plan for small expenses – they add up quickly! One area where I always budget extra is for small items that I either forget to pack, or that we intentionally leave at home. We find it easier to travel with only carry-on luggage. But that means we are limited to the sizes of toiletries we can take with us through security. So we make it a point to schedule a stop at a local supermarket where we can buy items such as snacks, toiletries, sunscreen, and other small items. Knowing these expenses up front and having them in our budget gives us a true handle on what the costs will be.

Search for Deals

Deals can always be found for just about every kind of vacation. Great deals can be found through a travel agent, on-line travel companies such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, or through the actual company providing the service. Sometimes package deals are the best, but other times they are not. For example, my wife and I saved almost $1,000 by booking our own airfare for our cruise instead of booking our airfare through the cruise company.

Take advantage of last-minute deals. Another tip for purchasing cruise tickets is to check in a couple weeks before your departure date. You can often find discounts. Some cruise lines will even upgrade you for free if they have availability because it’s often easier for them to sell the lower-priced tickets at the last minute. Last-minute deals are also a great way to get rock-bottom prices.

Be Prepared

Preparation can include proper clothing, foreign currency, access to funds, a raincoat, food, maps, etc. If you are traveling in the spring or fall months, or to multiple locations, be prepared for different weather situations. Also, make sure you have proper documentation, you bring your medications, your insurance will cover you overseas, you can charge your electronic items if necessary, and you are prepared for anything else that will affect your health, well-being, and vacation enjoyment. Being prepared also saves you from having to buy items at the last minute – often at a huge mark-up.

Bring your GPS. A GPS will be very handy if you will be renting a car. A standalone GPS can be purchased for less than $100, and can be used in a variety of locations, including overseas (maps for other countries can often be purchased and downloaded from the manufacturer’s site). Many people also use a smartphone’s GPS features. Just be aware of your data and roaming limits – especially if you are out of the country!

Skip the Tourist Locations for Shopping

Here’s a universal truth: vendors in tourist locations charge 2-5 times more than you would pay at a local store. Sometimes it is even more. If you can find a local grocery store, department store, or restaurant outside of the normal tourist areas, you will save a lot of money. Vacations are expensive enough as it is. You can save more than a few dollars by purchasing items off the beaten path.

A little planning can go a long way toward helping you enjoy your vacation. Remember – vacations are about enjoyment and leaving stress behind. A little work up front can save you a lot of stress and money at a time when stress is the last thing you want to have on your mind, and money is at a premium. Use these tips, and enjoy your vacation!

Photo Source: Mac Pale via stock.xchng, woodsy.


Published or updated August 31, 2016.
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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark McGuire

That is absolutely true about every single point you make. I used to work in the tourismn industry for several years, on a cruise ship, and at a ski resort.

It never fails to amaze me how “unconscious” people spend at tourist destinations. In fact, yesterday I was up in Salem, MA checking out The House of Seven Gables and we bought a post card for 75 cents there and found a store 2 blocks away with the same post card for 25 cents.

Planning is something I do a lot, I never thought of padding as a percentage. I always just say “oh, let’s try $250 or $500” for fun money. Padding makes a lot of sense, especially if you want to return.

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2 Ryan

I agree Mark. When some people go on vacation they spend because they expect themselves to spend, and they sort it out later. If they charge it, they sometimes end up paying for it for months!

Planning is the most important part in my opinion. My wife and I literally saved thousands with a little research and planning.

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3 deepali

I’ve never tried one of these (tend to prefer “traditional” public transportation), but they seem like fun. Of course, I live in DC, and we have a company that runs them here, and I find them incredibly annoying. ๐Ÿ™‚ Many of our city streets were not designed for large vehicles to pass through, so they get stuck a lot.
But, for their purpose, I think they’re a great idea.

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4 Ryan

deepali, for the regular city dwellers I am sure they are a nuisance. But for vacationers, I think they are wonderful. I enjoy taking the tube in cities where it is available (especially NYC because a bus would be awful for traffic!). But some cities like London, Washington DC, Barcelona, and Paris you just need to be able to see all of the architecture and buildings. At least that was my experience when I was in those respective cities. ๐Ÿ™‚

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5 Money Blue Book

I’d take the open bus tour just for the novelty of it and the ability to check out the major sights with a quick run through. I can always go back to those destinations later on!
-Raymond

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6 deepali

Well, in DC, the cheapest option would be to walk. ๐Ÿ™‚

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7 Ryan

deepali, the cheapest option is always to walk! But when you are on vacation the object for most people is to see and do as much as they can while they have the opportunity. For most people, their time is limited, so this type of transportation is a great way to see and do as much as possible. ๐Ÿ™‚

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8 Looby

This is a great tip, I love using these buses when I am only in a city for a short time, you can see lots of sites really quickly. Also look out for other types of bus systems, in Edinburgh there is a free bus that goes around all the museums and art galleries.

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9 Ryan

Ahhh! I missed the free bus when I was in Edinburgh! I took the red bus you pay for. But, the city is beautiful and I really enjoyed my visit there.

(OK, I’ll be honest, most of my trip to Edinburgh was spent partaking in the traditional Scottish pastime, and I don’t mean museums and galleries! Mmmm, I love Tenants Smooth!)

Thanks for the tip! ๐Ÿ™‚

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10 deepali

Well, that’s why I said DC. All the sights are right on top of each other! Although I suppose you’ll want to take the bus to get into Georgetown (but there isn’t anything to see there….). In any case, here in the summertime, the double decker buses open the tops. It would be worth the ride just for that view.

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11 PT from Prime Time Money

I’ve recently discovered the genius of the bus tour. I’ve always thought it was the cheesy/touristy way to see the city you are seeing. However, in my recent trips to Singapore and Mexico City, the bus tours have been invaluable.

I recommend taking the bus the first day you arrive. #1 You are tired and chillin’ on the bus allows you to take it all in without much walking. #2 You can see every major point quickly and then plan more intensive trips for the rest of the week.

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12 Ryan

Great ideas, PT! That’s the way I like to do it as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

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13 David

I know here in Southern California, Disney, Universal and some others have great deals during the off-season. It definitely pays to try to vacation at that time!

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14 David Carter

I have been “staycationing” to save money. It’s not nearly as fun, but I still do fun things and it saves me a lot of money that I need!

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15 Mrs. Micah

Plus the summer always makes me uncomfortable. I get all sticky and easily worn out because I’m not a heat type of person. So the off-season is perfect for me. If only we’d thought about this with honeymoon planning. :-p

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16 Ryan

David, I think “staycationing” is a great way to see local attractions that many people skip over because of familiarity blindness. I know there is plenty to do in my local area that I haven’t done.

Mrs. Micah, I agree, cooler weather makes every vacation better. September is the perfect time to go to Europe! ๐Ÿ™‚

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