Summer is a great time to travel. Unfortunately, with gas prices eating up our budgets, it’s getting to be a challenge to find the money to travel. I will be the first to admit we don’t travel much these days (with the little ones, it’s a challenge), but when we do, we like to get the most bang for our buck.
One of the first things we do when we decide to go somewhere is to research, research, research. This means using the internet, the library, requesting info from state travel bureaus, and talking with friends and co-workers. Find out the best places to go and which ones to avoid so you don’t waste your precious resources.
Saving on Getting There and Staying There
You can use services like Expedia and Travelocity to find deals on airline tickets, but even with the high cost of gas, it may still be cheaper to drive. Use sites like Gas Buddy to get deals on fuel.
You can use services like Hotels.com to find hotel deals, but I’ve had the best luck by simply calling hotels directly and asking for their best price. Take advantage of rewards programs if you stay at hotels frequently. Some programs will give you a free meal with a night’s stay. Others will give you a free night’s stay if you stay several nights.
My travel-savvy friend AnnMarie plans her trips based on where her friends and family are and stays with them for free. She says, “We often plan our vacations this way so we save on hotel costs but also get to catch up with old friends. When we stay with people, we usually take them out for dinner or pay for pizza delivery as a thank-you. We also don’t stay with people we hardly know, only good friends. We aren’t in it only for the savings, that’s just an added bonus.”
My frugal friend Susan frequently camps on her vacations. Once you have the equipment, it is very frugal to camp… and you really get to experience your destination.
Plan your trips during the off-season such as early summer or early fall. Hotels will be cheaper and tourist sites will be far less crowded.
Think about what you will do if the weather is unpleasant. Plan indoor and outdoor activities. Plan at least one day to do nothing. After a rigorous schedule of site-seeing and exploring, it’s nice to have a relaxing day by the water.
Saving on Food and Beverages
Stay at places that have free breakfasts or continental breakfasts. If your room has a fridge and a microwave, you can also save money on snacks and meals. I know a hockey mom who brings her crockpot and a pizza oven on hockey road trips. All the kids and parents come back to her room after the tournament and they get a hot, inexpensive meal.
If you’ll be out doing lots of walking/site-seeing, be sure to bring several refillable water bottles and a cooler. Each morning we would fill our water bottles and put them in a cooler in the car filled with free ice from the hotel. We had plenty of cheap, cool drinks for our activities.
If you’re doing the road trip thing, bring your own snacks and beverages. It’s much cheaper than getting them at the gas stations. Pack your own picnic lunch to avoid spendy fast food stops.
When you get to your hotel, be sure to check the lobby (and ask the front desk) about discounts that are available at local restaurants. We found coupon books in the lobby of a hotel we stayed at and saved more than $30 on eating out over the course of our trip.
And speaking of coupons, check out the Entertainment Book for the area you plan to visit. You can often get good deals this way. You can also visit Restaurant.com to find cheap gift certificates for restaurants.
Look for places where your kids can eat for free. This is a great strategy because you’ll save money and know you’ll get to eat in a kid-friendly atmosphere. Try My Kids Eat Free, Kiddie Menu, and All Kids Eat Free for some starting points. You may want to call ahead to the restaurant to verify that their policy hasn’t changed.
Saving on Activities
One website that I find useful is Free Attractions. You can find all kinds of free things to do at that site. Be sure to ask the locals for tips, too. They know of things that are off the beaten path and what days are cheaper. For example, I recently learned that a popular museum in my area has free admission on Thursdays.
Saving on Souvenirs
As a scrapbooker, I feel that the best souvenirs are photographs. But, if you simply must buy things to remind you of your vacation, try to focus on things you will use and admire. Do you really need another shot glass or spoon? One friend of mine always buys local artwork for her house. Another buys t-shirts.
Don’t buy your souvenirs at a tourist attraction. They are often cheaper elsewhere. I’ve found fabulous t-shirts at a local Walgreens. We got our Mount Rushmore t-shirts in Mitchell, SD, instead of Rapid City, because they were half the price.
Note: This post contains affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Please read our full disclosure policy for more info.