Spring is one of the best times to travel. The weather’s nice, and travel deals abound for everyone headed for spring break. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy yourself this season (or any other, for that matter) with these ten budget travel tips.
10. Use Your Reward Miles
Have you forgotten about the credit card rewards and travel points you’ve accumulated? They’re an alternate form of currency and one of the best ways to fund your travel (even an entire vacation). If you’re low on points or miles, you could buy them; depending on how many miles you already have, that fee could get you a vacation you might not otherwise have been able to afford. Some people even open up new credit cards just for the bonus miles and rewards. Here are the best rewards cards for travel, and a site that will help you find the best award miles for your next flight.
9. Find Affordable Destinations
The hardest part about planning a spring getaway is deciding on the destination. If you’re open to multiple locations and your dates are flexible, check out previously mentioned Fareness, Hopper Flight Explorer, and Google Flights Search. On your phone, add “vacation” or “destination” in your search for a location, and Google’s new Destinations on Google will help you compare prices for hotels and flights.
8. Get a Better Hotel Rate
With so many hotels to choose from, it’s hard to know if you’re getting the best deal. Previous research suggests some hotel booking sites are better than others (particularly TravelPony), but it might be just cheaper to book directly with the hotel. Consider booking each night separately for a multi-night stay, since you might get a better rate. And, of course, there’s Airbnb and other hotel alternatives. Compare hotels with these new options with All the Rooms.
7. Find Cheaper Airfare
If you’re flying, the plane ticket is among your biggest expenses. Start looking for a flight on a Tuesday, when airfare tends to be lower in the week. You can also get steep airfare discounts by looking for “hidden city” fares or using a VPN on a booking site. Or perhaps score a cheap first-class or business-class ticket with ITA Matrix. Also, instead of flying out of a major airport, see if your regional airport will save you money. Here’s our frequent flyer’s guide to finding cheap airfare.
6. Check Last-Minute Deals
Sometimes it pays to procrastinate. Cruises in general offer better deals when you book at the last minute, and airlines and hotels often share last-minute discounts on Twitter. Vacation rental owners might also be open to negotiation—especially if you’re booking within 2 weeks of your arrival.
5. Trim Your Food Budget
We tend to spend more on food when we’re on vacation, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If your hotel or rental has a kitchen, you can make “home cooked” meals with little equipment. Even if your room doesn’t have a fridge or microwave, there are plenty of easy to pack meals you can bring along, such as trail mix for snacks and instant oatmeal for breakfast. You might be able to cook with just a coffee maker.
But you want to dine out too, right? Consider using a daily deals site like Groupon or Living Social to find restaurant deals at your vacation destination. Lifehacker readers suggested several ways to enjoy a vacation on a budget, including checking out street food and avoiding tourist trap restaurants, bringing your own booze to the hotel room, and timing your meals around happy hour specials. The same principles for saving money when dining out apply no matter where you are.
4. Save on Activities and Experiences
Some destinations are more budget-friendly than others. Lifehacker readers suggested New Orleans, Atlantic City, and Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, and Cambodia (assuming you can get a cheap flight there). Washington DC is awesome because of all the free museums and other attractions, and spring is a great time to visit if you can catch the cherry blossoms blooming. Other than that, again, look to daily deals sites for activities discounts or use one of these other tools for finding cool stuff to do nearby.
3. Take a Road Trip
Depending on where you are and where you’re going, driving can be cheaper than flying. If your drive would be less than four hours, it’s usually more cost-effective to drive (but check this calculator just in case). Plus, you might save money on food if you pack a cooler and some snacks. Road trips are adventures in themselves. Here’s how to plan a road trip, or follow these itineraries to visit every top city or landmark in the US, visit 45 European cities with 14 days of driving, take a scenic drive on your road trip, or visit the best breweries in the US in one road trip. Want to hit the road but don’t have a car? Get a free one to drive one way.
2. Take Day Trips Instead of a Longer Vacation
Shorter vacations are more memorable than long ones and usually less stressful and less expensive. Instead of stretching out a vacation to two weeks, consider taking a day trip or two nearby. Here’s a tool to help you find family-friendly road trips in your area.
1. Try a Staycation
Finally, the obvious way to save money on your spring vacation: Stay home. Seriously, there are probably tons of new things you can do right in your city. A good mix would be to spend 60% of your vacation at home lounging and 40% out on the town. Treat your staycation like a real vacation: Splurge, take pictures, and go offline. Enjoy!
Illustration by Nick Criscuolo. Photos by OpenClips, mikie11 and JetKat (Shutterstock), Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis, Lars Plougmann, Serge Melki and Paul Everett, Tony Alter (Flickr) and Darren Baker (Shutterstock).