Budget Travel Tips For The Frugal Traveler

by Guest Blogger on 2009-08-1323

For all you budget travelers: as a follow up to my article on best travel sites for cheap vacation deals, I present the following post.

The travel industry is really good at making you think that travel is costly. Hotels, airfare, luxury cruises, fancy dinners — it all adds up, especially if you are traveling with your family. Or so they want you to think! If you think this way, you’ll spend this way — more money for them, less money for you. But travel can be inexpensive if you just look hard enough. I’ve been traveling around for three years and if I did it the way they make travel out to be, I’d have gone bankrupt a long time ago. Check out the following ideas to save money on the road:

Budget Travel Tips For The Frugal Traveler

1. Avoid hotels.

Accommodation can be very expensive, especially hotels. Two good alternatives are hostels and apartment rentals. People think hostels are only for young backpackers and think of these as places where you’d have to share bathrooms. Well that’s not really true. Hostels offer private rooms with their own bathroom, wireless, and towels — all the amenities you’ll find in any hotel but at half the price. They have a wide range of rooms to suit all types of travelers so don’t overlook them!

On the other hand, apartment rentals are another option. Why not stay in fully furnished apartments while you are on vacation? Apartments are especially great for traveling families. They come with all the normal apartment amenities — kitchen, laundry room, and TV. If you plan to spend five or more days in a city, these are great cost effective alternatives to hotels.

budget travel tips, frugal traveler
The ubiquitous piggy bank on a cheap vacation.

2. Negotiate.

Times are tough for the tourist industry. It’s a buyer’s market. Use this to your advantage by asking for free upgrades or negotiating lower rates. Nothing was ever lost by simply asking and you may be surprised by how amenable any travel and tourist based outfit can be to helping you. Just by inquiring, I received two free dinners at a hotel in Florida!

3. Use travel credit cards (maybe).

Should you use travel credit cards? I’m going to say, it depends. If you are a frequent traveler and are comfortable with carrying credit cards, specialty cards that help you earn free miles or allow you to secure free or very cheap lodging at otherwise higher priced hotels may be worth owning. You’d have to determine if such cards are going to be a better deal for you than those that offer regular credit card rewards programs or those that give you cash back rewards.

4. Book flights 6 to 8 weeks in advance.

Airlines are always the most expensive part of a trip. Booking 6 to 8 weeks before you leave will ensure the best price. The airline pricing system penalizes last minute tickets as well as more advanced bookings (airlines need to hedge against any rise in costs). Moreover, always book round trip: you’ll get a better deal that way too. You may want to consider using Priceline’s Name Your Price feature to score your tickets at great prices.

5. Always visit the tourist office.

These offices have their finger on the pulse of a city and can help you discover all the latest deals and discounts as well as free events happening in their city.

6. Get a City Pass.

City passes give you full access to city attractions for mere dollars. If you are the type of traveler who likes to see museums or visit historic sites, then entrance fees can add up pretty quickly. It is much cheaper to get a city pass which will usually give you free entry into the majority of a city’s attractions.

7. Eat out for lunch.

Everyone wants to have fancy dinners while they are traveling but dinners can add a lot to your travel tab. It’s much better and relatively cheaper to have a fancy lunch. Lunch specials at restaurants offer better value for your money than a dinner. It might not seem as fancy but it will certainly be more affordable.

8. Stay connected for free.

Hooked on the internet? I am too. I always need to be twittering or checking email. These days, you can get free internet in libraries and free wi-fi in most cafes or at places like Barnes and Nobles. Moreover, many cities have wi-fi zones where you can plug in for free. You can find free wi-fi in parts of Chicago, in Bryant Park, and in the city of Cambridge, MA. As you can see, it’s a growing trend.

There are a variety of ways to save money when you go on vacation. It takes simple frugality and thinking outside of the box. Forget what they tell you in Conde Nast or on the Expedia advertisements. There are plenty of simple and easy ways to save money so that when you take a vacation, it’s not the only one you’ll be able to afford all year.

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Silicon Valley Blogger August 13, 2009 at 11:38 am

I’d like to ask those experienced travelers out there: have you got some money saving tips to share or things to watch out for when you’re on the road in some other part of the world? We’ve assumed that there would be extra costs to grapple with during a journey, and we’ve budgeted for unforeseen expenses accordingly. But it sure would be great if we can cut down on paying extra whenever we travel.

Kelly from Almost Frugal August 14, 2009 at 1:14 am

Good tips! I would also add that grocery stores are a great way to eat cheaply, especially because in apartments (and most hostels) you can prepare your own food.

Craig August 14, 2009 at 7:08 am

Another tip is to always use debit card, and especially at the ATM’s. You can get better exchange rates there opposed to somewhere else. Hostels are a great way to save money and meet people, especially when you are younger.

Laura August 14, 2009 at 11:29 am

Another way to save is to kill two birds with one stone. If you are attending a conference for work in a great location you can save on flights/food/hotel by vacationing with friends and family there before, during and after the conference. Plus hotels give great deals to conference attendees who extend their stay a few days. I would recommend visiting a site like conferencerater.com to find great conferences and rate the conferences you have already attended. I have already done a few myself. The site is new and needs to be populated, but its a great idea.

Silicon Valley Blogger August 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I think Laura is on the right track here. For us small business owners, this is a good way to save on vacations and traveling — you can bundle business with pleasure on your traveling expeditions if you are an entrepreneur. By doing so, you can expense part of your travel costs and deduct some of that on your tax return. If you’ve got a business meeting set in Orlando Florida, why not take the family to see DisneyWorld? A portion of your costs can be tax deductible!

Norman August 15, 2009 at 2:52 am

Matthew always has some good tips and I ‘d like to add this: look out for special offers at the city you’re going to. In London you can see many attractions at half price without buying a City Pass by using the Days Out site and for eating out you can get the EPok London Pack and get half price meals.

Nomadic Matt August 16, 2009 at 8:04 am

Thanks everyone for such a great comments and additional tips. There are plenty more but most people online don’t want to read 3,000 words lol! You are all spot on with the tips!

Sherin August 17, 2009 at 3:03 am

I agree with Craig on using debit card than credit card. International debit card with less charges are better. Also, getting required knowledge on the place about the travel, accommodation like facilities will give exact information to save money and wasting time.

The Frugal New Yorker August 17, 2009 at 8:46 am

Great article– some of us always need the reminder to negotiate, and I look forward to testing out the tip on booking flights 6-8 weeks in advance!

I would beg to differ on the “City Pass” advice, though. I’ve tried them in both NYC and in Paris, and neither time have I recouped the full cost. Usually you can’t get to more than a few attractions before the time limit is up. Plus, as someone mentioned above, there are often ways of getting in cheaper–in NYC, many museums are actually “suggested price”, so essentially they’re free.

Rick August 17, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I’d like to add to Laura’s comments. It’s a bit trickier but if you’re stuck with a high price, often if the hotel you’re staying at has a conference going on at the same time, ask if you can get the conference rate. Noone had to actually say you’re attending did they?

Meaghan August 20, 2009 at 7:13 am

Nice tips! I would also add that you should take advantage of public transit, if possible, such as the subway, bus, train, etc… It is so much cheaper than renting a car or hailing a cab!

ChristianPF August 20, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Yea, the point about getting an apartment instead of a hotel is a good one. I remember Tim Ferriss talking about that a bit as he explained that he could vacation in all these other countries for cheaper than he could live here. Short lease apartment rentals were one of his keys…

Ride Sharer August 25, 2009 at 5:39 am

Another tip: Use a ride sharing services to find lifts! Check out:
lifttowoopwoop.com or freewheelers.co.uk. Theres quite a few of them around.

Another good one is the gumtree classifieds.

Annie August 26, 2009 at 10:56 am

A critical part of the travel budget is transportation and this often includes airfare. The frugal traveler does more than keep an eye out on the internet for discounted flights. He or she looks for more creative ways to stretch the travel dollars.

Tunica August 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Really good and practical tips, thank you. But not applicable to my taste, since I always love a gambling vacation.

pps September 24, 2009 at 6:20 am

Good tips! I also suggest to use a personal finance software with a cellphone or PDA phone. This makes recording and tracking expenses much easier. An Excel sheet on a PDA would do very well as a personal finance planner and it can be easily transferred to a PC for expenses tracking and archiving.

Kallen Johnstone November 8, 2009 at 7:45 am

You all forgot, eating out of a dumpster can save you heaps! 😛

Yeah I’d definitely agree with cooking your own food. Most hostels have decent cooking facilities, so you can prepare meals in advance.

Thanks for the tips Matt!!!

Vicki Edmunds November 22, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Eat for free whilst traveling or on holiday with a new website called eatwithalocal.com that connects travelers with local people willing to cook for them in their homes all over the world. Excellent way to learn about the culture of a country firsthand over a home cooked meal. The site is free to join and use.

Silicon Valley Blogger November 22, 2009 at 1:30 pm

This eatwithalocal.com idea sounds intriguing. But how safe is this and what kind of liabilities will such a site/service potentially carry by trying to match up strangers from different countries this way?

I ask, because tourists are easy and vulnerable targets in any new country they visit. So forgive me if I question the viability of a new idea like yours; although I can acknowledge that a high percentage of the time, the experience of meeting locals would be fabulous, there’s always that tiny percentage when such meetings can prove “disastrous”.

So how well do you profile-check the locals?

Sofia December 14, 2009 at 8:17 am

I always use rentals or hostels whenever I go on a tour. It saves a good amount of my money.

Miss Platnum June 8, 2010 at 2:04 am

Thanks for the tips! This summer we will visit a few places in Europe, so I hope these tips will help us to save some money for visiting even more places! Wish you a great summer!

Roch April 16, 2011 at 6:49 am

Looking to make a Costa Rica trip this summer. These tips will certainly go a long way in making this happen.

Cap April 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I do have a spending vice: I am completely willing to spend money on experiences, mainly, traveling.

Once I’m on a vacation or a trip, all bets are off. Whether it’s an expensive dinner or pricey entertainment at tourist traps, I gladly open my wallet as long as my travel party and I will have a good time. Overpriced souvenirs that will soon collect dust? Five please.

Image from m_o_d_e

Of course, I do make attempts to put a limit to my spending spree when I’m traveling. Here are some of the strategies I take to limit my wallet busting habits:

Save as much as possible prior to the trip. If I’m booking a flight, I’ll look through numerous travel search engines to find the right combination, layover and connections in order to save as much as possible without making the entire trip too uncomfortable (e.g., yes maybe I can save an additional $30 but if it adds 3 hours to the overall travel time, that’s probably not going to be worth it). There are travel sites you can check for vacation deals.

Bring a limited amount of cash with me. Some people have issues with spending money via credit cards, but in my case, if I have cash-on-hand, I tend to do a bad job keeping track of the money and will spend a dollar here and there easily without proper accounting. I can at least capture my expenses when I use my credit cards and can check them out via card statements. For more disciplined folks, tracking expenses via a budget may be more acceptable.

Still, I’m actually fairly comfortable with splurging while on vacation. After all, the experiences are well worth the money for me, and I’ve since found a healthy balance in the way I spend, save and use money while traveling.

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