Congrats! You’ve figured out where you’d like to go to spend a few well-earned days off. Now you have to jump into the droll task of setting your vacation budget.
Yes, the preparatory math is one of the worst things about taking a few days off, but we have a few tips on how to stretch your vacation budget so you don’t have to strain your brain too hard before you head off.
Use Travel Dates to Your Advantage
The earlier, the better, when it comes to vacation planning. You’re typically going to get better rates many months out than you will, say, a month or two before … though if you’re the whimsical type, you can occasionally get a last-minute bargain if location isn’t an issue.
Seasonality helps, too. For instance, after Labor Day in September, many colder-weather areas start to offer seasonal discounts to keep tourists interested. So do beaches, which typically aren’t as populated once the kids go back to school.
When you’re looking at hotel sites, if you plan on staying for just a couple of days, rather than immediately blocking out Friday-Saturday nights, look to see if a different pairing brings up a lower price. If you can do what you want to at your travel destination on the weekday, it might be worth it for the lodging savings. Also consider staying an extra day, as many hotels offer discounts for stays of three days or more.
One of the biggest decisions (and biggest lines on a vacation budget) is transportation. Typically the question is whether you will drive or fly, though trains and even water transport are options.
The best way to find cheap ticket prices is to not just visit booking websites like Priceline, Expedia or Kayak, which help you coordinate all travel plans in one place — hotels, flights and rental cars — while helping you find the best rates.
In large metropolitan areas with more than one airport, you might opt for the airport closest to where you stay … but sometimes a different airport will offer more heavily discounted fares. The question is whether additional transportation costs (metro, taxi, Uber) will snuff out all those savings.
If you decide to drive, consider the app Gas Guru to help you find the lowest gas prices along your route. Other small things to consider include parking fees, which can range from a few dollars up to $20 or $30 per day depending on location, as well as the ease of driving through the area. Public transportation, walking, bicycle renting and even other options can be more affordable than you think at less than $20 per person in most cases.
How to Have Fun on the Cheap
One of the best searches you can throw into Google is “cheap ways to enjoy (CITY/STATE/COUNTRY).” Travel sites typically are teeming with articles dedicated to specific types of travelers, be it luxury, thrifty and/or family. So just a simple search can put you in touch with dozens of low-cost options for the area you’re visiting.
If you specifically know what activities you’re looking to do, look up those businesses on social media, as they sometimes offer promotions there. Business websites are a good place to look for savings, too. And sometimes local chambers of commerce will offer up coupon books providing discounts to local attractions.
Think Through Your Meals
Apps like Yelp can help you not only find the best places to eat in an area, but also the cheapest. But if you want to eat well on a budget, consider budgeting heavily for one meal a day, and going light on the other two. For instance, if you find a hotel with a free continental breakfast, then limit yourself to $10 per person for lunch, you’ve managed to sock away plenty of daily meal budget, which opens up your options for enjoying a local dinner to the fullest.
Similarly, if you have your eye on an upscale eatery, dining there at lunch time is a smart way to keep costs down but still experience what it has to offer.
Another thing to look for when you book your hotel is local grocery stores, as picking up a quick snack there can be far cheaper than diving into a restaurant on a sudden craving.
Where will you eat? You will want to research the options for dining – including grocery stores for food and products you need. It might mean trying some new local restaurants or seasonal foods, as each tend to be less expensive. If you are looking at higher-cost dining options, consider eating lunch instead of the more expensive dinner meals to save you $50 to $100 depending on the location.