Traveling is expensive! We’ve traveled a good amount since we’ve been married. Here are a few of our favorite ways to save money on travel.
There are several apps and websites that allow you to see current and updated gas prices during your travel! Our favorite is Gas Buddy, which is something my sister-in-law told me about. This will allow you to make sure you’re not stopping at any gas stations with gas marked up.
Often times, the first and last gas stations in and out of a town are the most expensive for convenience. You should be able to avoid that by planning where you want to stop ahead of time.
Is flying or driving cheaper?
It’s important to sit down and calculate which form of travel is more feasible and price appropriate for you. If driving is cheaper but your car isn’t necessarily
If driving is cheaper but your car isn’t necessarily equipped for road trips, flying is probably a better idea.
For instance, this last summer, we went to North Carolina. We were going to fly initially because there was no way our car was going to make it without making some major (expensive) repairs beforehand. We ended up driving in our brother-in-law’s car, but if we had to drive our car, flying would have been better.
How to Save Money on Flights
If you’re flying, book holiday travel on Tuesdays.
Many people aren’t aware that flights typically drop their prices on Tuesday. Folks don’t often purchase flights on these days so if you can fly to your destination on a Tuesday (or even Wednesday!), you’ll save a noticeable difference. Flying on the weekends are typically a lot more pricey, unless you are able to grab a “last minute deal” that same companies will occasionally put up.
Book your flights 54 days in advance
This website did any in-depth analysis of over 4 million flights in 2013 to determine when the best time to buy airplane tickets was. The verdict was about 54 days in advance, or about 7.5 weeks. When I look back on tickets that we’ve bought, this seems about when we typically get ours and find the best deals.
Southwest Rewards Credit Card
Whenever possible, we fly Southwest. They still give free bags, the customer service is pretty good, and we’ve never had an issue with our flights. I also feel like their fares are pretty affordable.
We actually use the Southwest Rewards Credit Card – when you sign up (right now, at least), you get 40,000 points after spending $1000 in the first three months. 40,000 points is a lot, and you can accumulate points otherwise. We have gotten a lot of free flights just by using (and paying off) our card.
Compare flights as much as possible
I rarely book a flight directly from their site, unless I’m flying with Southwest (because they don’t show up on sites like Expedia.) Trip Advisor is one of my favorite websites for finding affordable travel, including flights. You should definitely be spending a lot of time on that website!
I also don’t buy a flight the first time I search. I usually search over the course of a week. Several sites I’ve seen will have a flight predictor, which will tell you if they anticipate the flight prices dropping or rising in the next little while. I’ve found these to be very helpful.
I have heard great things about using AirfareWatchDog for finding the very best deals on flights. I can’t wait to use it for my next flight.
Consider One Way Tickets
Round trip tickets are NOT always going to be cheaper. Make sure you check one way tickets, too, to see if you can find a better deal.
Look at Different Airports
You can sometimes find a cheaper ticket if you fly into a different airport. Whenever we fly to the LA area, we try and fly into the John Wayne airport – it’s smaller, easier to navigate, and flights are often less expensive.
Fly to and from the same airport
If you are buying a roundtrip ticket, this will almost always be cheaper.
Skip the Last Leg
This is kind of a tricky way of flying, but it can pay off. You can try and buy a ticket that has a layover in your destination. (So, say you are flying from Denver to Chicago. Perhaps there’s a cheaper ticket that is going from Denver to Chicago to Las Vegas. You buy that one, and just skip the last leg).
If you do this, make sure they are one-way tickets, as you may get your ticket canceled by some airlines if you miss a leg. SkipLegged can help you with the research on this. Not totally sure how ethical this really is, but it’s something I see recommended a lot.
Email Lists and Social media
This is the BEST way to get hot deals on flights! I’ve signed up for Frontier, Southwest, and Jet Blue alerts, and they seriously have some amazing email deals. For instance, last week, Frontier had flights from Denver to North Carolina for $39, as well as to a ton of other locations (some for only $19.)
The only way I knew about it was because I had signed up for their email list. Often there are deals that only last for 24 hours, or that are last minute deals. I’m always seeing awesome flights through these emails, so it’s definitely worth signing up for.
Make sure you follow all your favorite airlines on social media as well! Thrifty Traveler is an awesome page to follow on Facebook. They post amazing deals all the time (for instance, I just saw some insane Europe plane tickets!).
Use your Credit Card
You won’t often hear me advocating credit cards, but I think when you travel, it’s a good time to use one, simply because most credit cards offer travel insurance (especially on hotels, flights, car rentals, etc.). Check into your credit card and see what they offer for travel!
Finding Cheap Lodging
One of the priciest parts of travel is simply finding a place to stay! Fortunately, if you are savvy about it, you won’t have to put out an arm and a leg.
Most frequently, we use Priceline for our lodging. I have a whole post about secrets to playing the Priceline game to find the best price. I highly recommend reading it. But basically, the express deals are the way to go. TripAdvisor also has some great deals, so I recommend checking them out as well.
However, something that is super popular right now is using AirBnB. Basically, people rent out parts of them home (from just a room to the whole house), and it’s often much cheaper than staying in a hotel. My sister-in-laws use this frequently and they love it. If you sign up through this link, you can get $35 toward your first stay.
I also know people who are hosts on AirBnB to fund their travels – so that’s something to consider as well!
Bring your Own Snacks (and Meals!)
This is important for road trips especially. Gas station food isn’t exactly cheap, and it also tends to be pretty unhealthy in the long run. Anything healthy like sandwiches or wraps are usually marked up, too.
If you plan ahead and bring a cooler with some fruits, veggie snacks, and sandwich ingredients, you’ll probably save quite a bit of money.
If you’re stopping in a hotel along the way, find the nearest grocery store rather than order room service so you can replenish your cooler for the next day and eat dinner that doesn’t cost a ton!
Find Hotels with Fridges or Cooking Amenities
You should also check beforehand to see if a hotel you are staying at has a mini fridge and microwave in the room. This makes it easier to eat breakfast, and even lunch, in your room.
We also love when they happen to have a mini kitchen, because then we can eat all our meals in there, rather than paying for pricey restaurants. If your hotel has a free breakfast, that’s even better.
Free Breakfast Hotels
This is always an essential with us. We never stay at a hotel (if we can help it) if they don’t offer some kind of free breakfast.
Don’t buy food from airports.
While you can’t take certain packaged foods or drinks through airport security, you can take something like an orange or apple to eat later! Doing this allows you to save tons of money that you would otherwise be spending on astronomically priced airport food.
Does your car have cruise control? If so, USE IT! Forrest always uses cruise control, even when we would just drive 40 miles up the freeway to Salt Lake. It helps keep the car more constant, which helps with fuel efficiency. Plus, as an added bonus, it makes it a little more relaxing to drive.
Bring an Empty Water bottle
You can take an empty refillable water bottle through and fill it with drinking fountain water on the other side! Water bottles are insanely expensive at airports. It doesn’t seem like a lot but the food and drinks on either side of your destination will definitely add up, especially for traveling families.
Some restaurants will even be willing to fill your water bottle up with ice and water. I recommend having one of these 24 hour cold water bottles to ensure it stays cold your whole flight!
Make sure you dump out any water bottles before you go through security though, or else they’ll likely take confiscate them (unless they have a sink you can dump it out.)
Hotel Rewards Program
I always sign up for hotel rewards programs (well, if they are free). They often will include benefits like a free room upgrade, free WiFi (though most hotels have this anyway). If you stay at a chain of hotels frequently enough, you can even earn free nights. I heard that Hotels.com has a welcome club that allows you to earn a free night with every 10 booked.
Stay in a smaller town
There’s no reason to stay in the biggest city if you don’t have to! Most of the time, you’ll find less expensive hotels and restaurants (and less traffic) if you stay in a surrounding suburb.
Don’t let this idea scare you away – a vacation home can be more cost-efficient if you are staying somewhere for multiple days (or with multiple families). For instance, you can probably avoid parking fees, make more of your own meals, and just have more space in general. VRBO is a great place to find affordable vacation homes.
You can probably even find something with AirBnB if you look far enough in advance (remember, you get $35 off your first stay using this link).
You can actually sometimes get family deals at hotels and resorts. I frequently see places that advertise that children get to eat free, so if you have a lot of kids, that could save you a lot (though, in all honesty, I think most hotel restaurants are WAY overpriced!).
It never hurts to ask!
If you are good at saying no, attending timeshare presentations can often yield big results. I often see them giving free activities, meals, etc., and even on occasion, you can get an entirely free vacation by agreeing to listen to a 90 minute presentation.
Be aware, though, that these are VERY high pressure. If you are someone that can’t say no, this is not the method for you.
Prepaid Travel Money Cards
These are great if you are traveling out of the country. You can save on transaction fees and currency rates, and it’s a safe way to travel with money.
Car rentals can cost you a lot of money! If you can, use public transportation and walk. However, that is obviously not always going to be an option, so be smart about it.
One of the best websites I’ve heard about for helping with car rental prices is Autoslash. Not only can you look for rentals, but you can also have it track your rental vehicle and tell you if a cheaper rate is found.
I often use my AAA membership to book our rentals, and I find pretty good rates that way, as well.
Car rental insurance
Oh, and be very, very careful about signing up for any extra insurance. Most of the time, if you get the rental with a credit card, it will have car rental protection on it (always double check with your credit card provider). Some car insurance companies will cover rental cars as well. This will save you a TON.
Get the smallest car you can
There’s no need to rent an SUV for two people. Make sure you get the smallest car you to avoid higher prices. Oh, and make sure you return to the car to the same place! Car rentals are way more expensive if you drop them off somewhere else.
Use other forms of transportation
If you don’t have to have a car, don’t get one. A bike rental is much cheaper. If you can get free transportation to and from your hotel, you can look into the public transportation system, bike rentals, or even Uber. I think Uber is a great idea if you don’t consistently need a car (you can even pay extra to have a car with a car seat).
Pilot Gas Stations
During our cross country trip, we discovered our favorite gas station – Pilot Travel Centers. I had seen these before, but I didn’t realize how great they were until this trip. Every single one we’ve been in always has very clean bathrooms, showers (mainly for truckers, but I think anyone can use them), lots of food, and most importantly, the cheapest prices on gas!
If possible, be flexible – with your travel dates, when you do activities, etc. If you can travel during the off season for a place, do it. You can almost
If you can travel during the off season for a place, do it. You can almost always travel for much cheaper and find activities for less expensive as well. Good off-season times are right after New Year’s, right after Spring Break, and right after school starts in September.
Six Block Radius
This is a good rule to keep in mind when eating or finding lodging. If there’s a major tourist attraction, you will probably find better deals outside of a six block radius. While you may be closer to cool things, you will certainly pay for that in other ways.
Eat a Bigger Lunch
Lunch is almost always going to be cheaper than dinner. Make your big meal of the day at lunch so you can get away with buying some cheaper or less fancy at dinner time.
Research Free Things to Do
Most cities have free things to do. For instance, we are in North Carolina right now, and the city of Raleigh has an AMAZING free Natural Sciences museum. I’ve heard that a lot of museums in Europe are free as well.
In this day and age, most major cities have a blogger who writes about free, cheap, or inexpensive things to do in the city. Don’t be afraid to search these out!.
Use Skype or Google Hangouts
If you are traveling out of the country, and you don’t happen to have a phone that will work outside the US (or it’s super expensive), use Skype or Hangouts on your computer to call people. It will save you a lot!
Use Advantages (if you have them)
If you are student, military, etc., you may get nice discounts place. For students, make sure you check out STA!
Signup for local restaurants email clubs (or follow them on social media) – you can often get free appetizers (or even meals!). Hang out at Costco and get samples. Go to a farmers market and eat any freebies that are given out. You never know where you might find some free or discounted food!
Plan Your meals
I don’t know if you are like me, but when I’m hungry, I often just go to the first place I see…and it’s not always the best price. If you are traveling, look up places before you get hungry and decide where you want to eat. This will save you from accidentally eating at a 5 star restaurant on a 2 star budget.
Apps like Yelp or Zomato can be helpful in finding good restaurants in your price range.
Follow Hyperlocal Blogs
As soon as you know where you are going, find some Hyperlocal blogs or Facebook groups. You can find some great deals or ideas for things to do that you may not have known about otherwise.
Be sure to comment below with your favorite tips for saving money on travel!
First off, if you are going on a vacation to Southern California, you HAVE to use Get Away Today! We used it when I went to Disneyland right after I graduated, and the deals are unbeatable. They have a best price guaranteed on all sorts of great Southern California vacations (the most popular being Disneyland, of course!) They have a great layaway program, as well. If you use the code ClarksCondensed, you can get $10 off a vacation package booked through them.
Second, there are a lot of travel apps out there that can make traveling a little easier. A few of these I’ve already mentioned, but there are a few other ones that you should definitely check out.
Best Travel Apps
SkyScanner – available for iOS, Android, and Windows
GasBuddy (available for all major smart phone brands)
Tourist Eye – this helps you to find the best tourist attractions
Yellow Pages – I love this one for finding restaurants (you can browse even by a specific food!)
City Guide’s Offline Apps – iOS and Android
GateGuru – this is a great app for helping you make your connections on time, find out where the best food is in the airport, and even figure out how much traveling left you have to do!
Viator – browse nearby locations and interactive maps
WiFi Finder – I don’t specifically have a recommendation for this, but it’s helpful for when you are trying to find a place that has WiFi! There are tons of apps out there for this.