The following is a guest post by Sarah Harris of Zen College Life.
You’ve been dreaming of a European tour for years, and those exotic island getaways sound pretty sweet, but you just don’t see how you can have your dream vacation without breaking the bank. When you sit down to consider the cost of travel, lodging, and transportation (not to mention all the little extras, like say, food…and don’t even get started on souvenirs!), your ledger goes into the red. And nothing is less fun on holiday than constantly stressing over finances. But how can you be frugal and still enjoy all the fun aspects of taking a vacation? Here are some helpful hints.
1. Stay with relatives. Chances are, you have relatives (albeit distant) all over the world, and many of them would be happy to house you in exchange for a return on investment, so to speak (i.e., you put them up when they want to visit your corner of the world). This can save you a ton of money on lodging, especially if you are planning to visit a large urban area where hotels are notoriously pricey. They may also be willing to help you plan outings or take you on a tour of their hometown. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to get to know some of your extended family.
2. If you can’t (or won’t) stay with friends or relatives, then at least choose a reasonably priced hotel. Chances are, you aren’t going to be spending much time there anyway, so what does it matter if you have an ocean view? One good choice might be a business hotel, which tends to be less expensive on the weekends. At the very least, you can choose accommodations that feature a complimentary continental breakfast so you can save on the cost of one meal. Another good option for younger travelers is to stay in a youth hostel, which is specifically designed for the tourist on a budget (no private bathrooms, and you may have to share living quarters with other travelers, but at 10 to 20 bucks a bunk, it’s a steal for the frugal traveler).
3. Consider a cruise. If your goal is to tour a foreign country or three, this is a good way to get a glimpse of the port cities (often some of the most desirable tourist destinations anyway). You pay a set price for travel, food, and lodging on-board and anything extra is up to you. And if you go in the off-season, you can take advantage of reduced prices.
4. Drive. With airlines hiking prices and charging all kinds of taxes and fees (some charge for not only checked bags, but also carry-ons) and train travel almost as expensive, you could save a lot of money by putting the pedal to the metal. You can also pack a lot of your own food and if you are the type that likes to camp out, you can cut the cost of lodging, as well.
5. As for activities, if you’ve seen one mall, you’ve seen them all, so try to avoid the tourist traps. Opt instead for freebies like museums and local novelties. Every locale has its attractions (the Grand Canyon, The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, vineyard tours in Tuscany, the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, etc.), so do a little research before you take your trip to find fun (and free) activities.
The most important thing to remember is to make a budget and stick to it. You don’t have to plan it down to the penny (and setting aside emergency money for extras couldn’t hurt), but be sure you have enough to do the things you want so you don’t spend your vacation dreading your next credit card bill.