Reader Suggestions For Frugal Vacation Ideas, Hacks, and Savings!
It’s summer vacation time!!! Or at least, it’s summertime. I’ve traveled frugally and not-so frugally. I’ve vacationed with my kids and without them. Although with them, it’s more of a trip and less of a vacation…
I polled the Frugalwoods braintrust to see how you all travel and what you advise. Per usual, I learned new things, I made notes, and I was amazed at your resourcefulness. In today’s Reader Suggestions, we explore all things travel!!
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!
Hack It Till You Make It
Three words for you: credit card points. This is my first and best travel tip because, as I discuss in this post, credit card points give you something for nothing. When you use a travel rewards credit card to buy things you were going to buy anyway, you accrue points that you can later exchange for free flights and hotels. What could be better?!
I am not a travel credit card maven, but I have managed to stay in hotels for free the world over by using the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (now called the Marriott Bonvoy), which has a great hotel points system.
For me, hotel points make a ton of sense because where I sleep matters to me. A lot. Like, a whole lot.
When I backpacked around Europe with my friend during college, staying in hostels–in shared rooms on a bunk bed–was just fine. I didn’t mind the sonorous snores of strangers or the inconvenience of a shared bathroom. All I wanted was somewhere dirt cheap that would allow me to see as much of the continent as possible.
Now, however, I am not so flexible and not so amenable to the grittiness of hostel life. Now I require such extravagances as clean sheets and my own bathroom.
Hotel points are further ideal for me because I love staying in the same hotel chain worldwide because that way… I know exactly what I’m going to get (in-room coffee maker for the win!).
I also appreciate a free breakfast and, at one point, we were traveling so frequently that we had platinum status, which earned us hotel room upgrades and–something that goes down in Frugalwoods family lore–a free breakfast buffet overlooking a canal at our hotel in Amsterdam. We started every morning with smoked salmon, capers, custom espresso drinks, champagne, homemade pastries, omelettes-made-to-order, bacon, champagne, smoked salmon, espresso, champagne, and uh… we got our points worth on that one.
For some folks, where they sleep while traveling is immaterial. The cheapest is fine and they don’t plan to be in their room very much. For me, at this phase of my life, I feel quite differently. If my husband and I have our kids with us, we want a large hotel room (ideally a suite) that has space for two cribs. Plus, hope hope hopefully the room has a separate space for the kids to sleep so that my husband and I can watch TV and eat junk food after they’re in bed… just being honest.
If we’re traveling without our kids, one of our primary goals for the vacation in the first place is to SLEEP. To sleep late. To take naps. To go to bed early. To recline in bed. To watch TV in bed. Really to be in bed a lot. Since our daily lives are hectic and very much filled with our two little children, on the RARE occasions we travel without them, we like to take full advantage of the time to relax in our hotel room. Sleeping all day is not out of the question. Given that, a nice hotel room is a priority to us.
If you travel a lot (or at all) and if you can manage a credit card responsibly, then I highly recommend exploring travel rewards card options. There are lots of different cards that offer different types of points and rewards for different types of purchases. It’s good idea to sniff out a travel rewards card that matches your travel patterns. Some travel cards charge an annual fee, but, if you travel a lot and utilize the points, the annual fee can be totally worth it.
My friends who are into travel rewards told me that these three cards offer excellent rewards and are also ideal for accruing points that transfer to lots of different airlines and hotels:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Card (you can read more here)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (you can read more here)
- The Platinum Card from American Express (you can read more here)
If you want to analyze and compare travel cards, take a look at this list and figure out which one matches your travel patterns.
Note: my credit card links are affiliate links.
My Other Frugal Travel Hacks
If travel rewards cards aren’t your thing, fear not. There are tons of other ways to save while still traveling to the fullest. Here are a few more top line ideas:
1) Travel at off-peak times.
When is “off-peak”? Depends on where you’re going. A ski resort is off-peak in the summer. A lake is off-peak in the winter. You get the gist. Pre-kids, my husband and I booked cheap airfare by flying abroad at Thanksgiving because… very few people are LEAVING the United States at the beginning of Thanksgiving week.
More about that strategy here: Travel Cheap By Being A Thanksgiving Weirdo and also here: Weekly Woot & Grumble: Why We Celebrate Christmas In January.
2) Eat like a local.
Buy food at the grocery store. Prepare your own meals. Eat in restaurants frequented by locals, not at overpriced, bland tourist hotspots. Back in our halcyon days of annual international travel, Mr. Frugalwoods and I saved boatloads of money by hitting up grocery stores everywhere from Amsterdam to Zagreb.
It’s cheap, it’s an awesome way to experience a local culture, and it allowed us to feel like locals for a week. More on how to do that here: Travel Cheap By Eating Like a Local.
3) Sightsee strategically.
I don’t automatically sign up for every tour or every museum or every “must see” sight. Research ahead of time to determine: free days, non-traditional museum/sights that are less expensive and less crowded, and identify the sights you really do want to fork over the money for. Don’t be a tourist lemming.
More here: Travel Cheap: Went to Paris, Skipped The Louvre.
How Frugalwoods Readers Vacation Fabulously and Frugally
Alright, alright, ENOUGH from me. Let’s see what YOU all had to say. I sorted your responses into general categories, but most contain ideas pertaining to other categories as well. So basically, just read the whole thing to get the most thorough advice.
Caroline wrote, “it’s our winter, but in summer we usually go self-catering to a seaside town within 2-3 hours of where we live (which is Cape Town, itself an amazing holiday destination). This is so that we can drive and get there quite quickly and in an uncomplicated way and also so that we can do most of our own food / drinks prep… and we deliberately choose places that aren’t too high-end…because we have 3 kids and it wouldn’t be much of a holiday if we were somewhere immaculate and then had to try and keep it that way! Short travel = lower travel costs on everything from fuel to snacks and more time ”there” rather than in transit.”
Bring Your Own Food
Molly wrote, “In August we’ll be having my BFF’s bachelorette party at the lake which is unintentionally frugal! We’re staying in her former co-worker’s lakefront vacation home free of charge (we’ll all chip in $15-$20 and make a donation to her favorite charity as a thank you). There aren’t any restaurants super close by, so we’ll bring all our own food and drinks and make all our meals at the house. I’ve hit up Target’s dollar spot and got all sorts of cute summery items to put together gift bags for the girls. I can’t wait to float on the lake with an adult beverage in hand all day and play games under the stars every night with my besties 😍”
Laurie said, “We rent a cottage on Newfound lake every year with my in-laws. We split the cost and the cost of food. We have so much fun swimming, relaxing, reading and we cook all our meals there. It is frugal and a great getaway. We also take a trip to Cape Cod and stay with friends. Again we make all our own food and can walk to the beach from their house. The rest of the summer is spent swimming in our intex pool that we got for free. We have been using it for 5 years now. Every summer we pull it out and put it up. It is a lot of work but well worth it. Summers for us are very laid back. They are more about spending time with each other. We also use free passes from our library for day trips and bring picnic lunches for those.”
Holly said, “We just got back from a vacation to mackinac island and upper Michigan where we made sure to bring easy open cans of soups and precut cooked food for the hotel fridge since my kids tend to become conveniently starved right before bed. We did an expensive meal for lunch (because everything’s expensive there) so we got a cheap pizza for dinner, subway the next day for lunch and then a pricier dinner. Just tried to balance without obsessing too much.”
Cindy said, “Baseball. Baseball baseball baseball😂 my grandson plays for a traveling team, we take our food and drinks, I don’t shop, eat out, run around to save on gas…it all goes to baseball…but the learning experience is worth for those boys…builds character, and it’s FUN!”
Clelie wrote, “Another super key thing to reduce costs is to reflect and understand what your family will want to eat while it’s travelling. Over the years, I’ve been trying to hone in on exactly how much and what kinds of road foods we enjoy and actually eat while getting places in the car. Having food so that we don’t have to buy food on the go save so much $! Then we can still plan to buy a few treats, but it is much more affordable. And also planning on where you will eat out on the road trip- so you can look for reviews, menus etc.. You can waste a lot of time and gas trying to find a place that will suit.”
Cindy said, “Road Trips! Heading out to Indiana to visit my in-laws in late June. Frugal factor? Snacks and lunches and drinks for the ride, and LOTS of library books. Oh, and a free place to stay! In late summer, we’ll be heading up to New Hampshire. My husband is planning that trip, which involves camping and hiking and one night, maybe two, in a hotel!”
Kirsten said, “I live in New Zealand and am soon off to England. As it’s always exciting to buy momentoes while travelling I make a note of things that I will soon need (current list is eye shadow, kitchen whisk, tea towels, pair of shorts) and I’ll buy these on holiday. Giving me that sense of holiday spending but knowing that when I get home these things will bring up lasting memories for me of my holiday without filling my house with trinkets or spending money on things I don’t need for the sake of creating a memory :)”
Drive Instead Of Fly
Sarah shared, “We’ve got a few bouts of travel planned this summer, including a trip to the beach, a wedding, and a backpacking trip. We keep things cheap by driving whenever possible (for the wedding we’ll be driving 11 hours, but it’s way cheaper than flying five humans to and from Chicago), packing our own food–we’re a big fan of Aldi’s snacks, so we usually will go and splurge on packaged foods that we wouldn’t usually buy so that we aren’t tempted to stop for fast food. And finally, we stay with relatives or friends whenever possible. For our beach trip we’ll tagging along with generous friends who rented an Airbnb and had an extra room, and for the wedding we’ll be staying with relatives. And backpacking is always cheap, once you have the gear! We’ll probably pick up some groceries, but otherwise the only other expense is gas to get to the trailhead.”
Blair wrote, “My friend and I are on a years-long journey to see all of Shakespeare’s plays (18 down, 20 to go). We go to free Shakespeare in the Park in any city within driving distance during the summer. Our patented system is to get on the road early Saturday morning, see the city, see the play Saturday night, see more of the city Sunday and drive home. Our only costs are gas, one night in an Airbnb, and some inexpensive food- about $150 each. At 4-5 trips a summer, we get to see and do a lot for just a few hundred dollars.”
Staycations For The Win!
Shenoa said, “We don’t go anywhere for the summer but we do try to have fun. National Calendar Day is a website dedicated to listing out all the national holidays. A fun and unique way to keep the kids entertained this summer is to have them make a project pertaining to that day’s holiday whether that’s by making a new recipe, doing a kind deed, or making a craft. Coincidentally, today is National Creatively Day!”
Maren wrote, “This year we will replace the metal frame pool that had too many holes last season… A large expense at first, but so many hours of fun comes with it. The kids keep occupied, friends come over and we stay put at home.”
Rachel said, “I’ve got a season pass to my back patio.”
Take Just One Vacation Per Year
Kyra wrote, “We take one big vacation every year to a small coastal town in SC. It’s not super frugal, as we do go out to eat and stay in a rental cottage, but we make cuts where we can by enjoying mostly free activities (we have a state park pass) and buying groceries for the week when we get there, so we’re eating dinners out but not every meal. Where we go (Beaufort – beautiful place, check it out!) is also much less touristy than other places in SC, including nearby Hilton Head, so we try to “live like locals” and are able to find inexpensive ways to enjoy it. We just moved back to Connecticut from South Carolina, so this summer will be spent exploring hiking trails and other natural features – hopefully lots of camping as well 🙂 we did the same when we lived in the South.”
Laura shared, “I am a teacher so we take full advantage of the summer! I’ve been taking my now three-year-old camping regularly since she was born, so we’ll be spending lots of time camping in a tent or in our Subaru Forester. We always bring lots of vegetables to grill (or eat raw) and spend our days in the forest or by the water.”
Jon said, “We camped all over the U.S. what saved us the most money was fixing sandwiches and cooking our own food.”
Elizabeth wrote, “We love tent camping, and we really took it up as our only means of traveling/vacationing to save thousands of dollars. We usually go on a few smaller, more local camping trips over summer weekends. About once per summer we do one longer trip to a state park near a beach. Many of the state and national parks we’ve visited offer free educational programs with the rangers that add to our fun and learning. It’s not exactly easy and definitely not luxurious, but our kids always have a blast. We have been doing this for several years, and we regularly talk about the great memories from these trips”
Use Rewards Programs
Christine wrote, “We go to NH every summer..I have three children ages 8 and two are 3..staying on a budget is a must for us without skimping out on fun. We try to pick places to stay that give the most for our money..one of our favorite places is the Hampton Inn in North Conway..we get the king suite with an open up sofa bed-they give pack and plays for free for the twins (this year the’ll be in cots also free) they also do free full breakfast and have an indoor waterpark that is no additional cost..we signed up for hilton honors to get the lower rates and they allow free cancellation up to 24 hours before just encase our plans fall through..once we are there we always go to Santas Village (we skip Storyland it’s overpriced over crowded and just not that clean) we always go at 3pm and stay until the park closes and we request our ticket to be validated so we can come back the entire day the next day or anytime really..the twins have been free the last two years..north conway is full of shops, they have a really cool train station museum that you can walk through for free..they have a huge park and splash pad for the kids..we ride up to the Omni Mount Washington Hotel and walk the grounds,play at their park, we also sit on their back deck and share a desert. They have horses that the kids love too. We do strawberry picking and eat at places like Friendlys. We usually go during the lupine festival too which makes really nice backdrops for photos. Sometimes if we stay longer than a weekend we will get the NH funpass which gives admissions to all different places throughout the area. The Sugar Hill Sampler (Im not sure if they’re still open) is one of our favorite places to visit..Mount Cranmoore also has really fun activities on the mountain like summer tubing, moonwalks, ziplining, toboggan slides, etc and they’re tickets are cheap. Also the Christmas Store in North Conway is fun to walk through. Its like a little town with robotic animals and music etc.”
Carrie said, “I travel hacked plane tickets for my family of four and my father in law and sister in law to meet in Las Vegas. Our tickets have two free checked bags. So, We are renting a minivan then camping near the Grand Canyon, petrified forest and other national monuments. We are paying for cheap accommodations in Vegas the night we land and before we take off, but split between us it isn’t much. We like to have a plan to get the kids ice cream or something fun like that, but everything else we will get at grocery stores and cook while camping. We also love to go camping in the PNW, lots of cheap sites with beauty all around!”
Susie wrote, “My husband and I have been bitten pretty hard by the travel bug, and will typically take one international trip every year, as well as a few trips within the US. We try to frugalize our habit by:
1) Traveling on points/credit cards whenever possible
2) If not traveling by points, flying on budget airlines – We will fly with just a personal item, and I’ll even drive down to the airport to buy in person to save on booking fees.
2) Traveling at night if possible (saves on a hotel/AirBnB night and gets us to a new place)
3) Getting AirBnBs instead of hotels – bigger spaces with kitchens for cheaper
4) Traveling with friends and splitting accommodations/Ubers/etc
5) Picking cheaper international locations so we can eat out and see lots of things while still saving money (relative to life in the US)
6) Using public transportation and rideshares instead of renting cars (I’ve done the math and we’ve always come out ahead)”
Stephanie wrote, “We (husband, 2 year old son and me) are headed to The Netherlands for 10 days at the end of August. We have used airline miles to pay for the flights and used capital one points to erase the taxes (savings of $1000 per person). We are still figuring out the Airbnb/ hotels but will be using points as much as possible to go for as cheap as possible but no sacrificing!! We also plan to use public transportation as much as possible and then use Chase Sapphire points to erase those charges when we return. We are hoping to only pay for activities and food while traveling. Usually we head to the grocery store when we arrive and grab food there for the trip and eat at restaurants a few times to limit costs. I am really looking forward to this vacation!”
Victoria said, “I’m taking my boys camping in three National Parks nearby where they can practice their new bike riding skills. We’re capping off the summer with my Graduation celebration in San Diego where we’re staying for free at a 4-star resort, thanks to Credit Card Points. Add student & military discounts, and Legoland is going to be an impressive and easy cherry on the top!”
Katie shared, “I’m traveling to Ireland in two weeks and this is probably the most frugal I’ve ever traveled. I booked my ticket using credit card points and will be staying a variety of accommodations to reduce costs, like university dorms with kitchen access or AirBnBs that include breakfast. What many people don’t realize is that many European universities rent their dorms for summer travelers, so they’re a great option for someone who doesn’t need first class accommodations. Also, while traveling I’ll use local grocery stores for most of meals, but I’ll treat myself to at least one or two nice lunches or dinners. Ireland has something called the pre-theater special or early hour special, which is similar to our early bird special. They usually require that you vacate your seat by a certain time though, so that people paying full price for their meals can be seated.”
Allison wrote, “We belong to our city’s art museum, which is part of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association – with our annual membership, we get in to many museums for free across the country when traveling. It could be strategic to join a local museum if traveling somewhere with a lot of museums you want to visit.”
Nancy said, “We never travel in the summer. It is so expensive and crowed. We don’t have kids so we don’t like to be around kids, traveling off season is way cheaper. Europe in the winter is amazing just dress in layers and you will be fine and don’t break the bank 😉”
Travel ALL Year Round
Linda said, “For the last 15 years or so we’ve been traveling. I live in an RV and last year at this time we were on our way to Florida to visit children. Right now I don’t care if we ever go anywhere again! We’ll stay put and discover San Antonio and the hill country. We’re in our 70’s and still love to picnic.”
Aurelia said, “It’s not a very frugal hobby, but my husband and I love sailing. My husband bought a salvage boat after hurricane Sandy and restored it to it’s former glory. So that’s where our vacation budget goes, we do get to use it quite a lot all summer long ( at least 3-4 times a week) and it’s so much fun to be on the water! No tv, no distractions, phones are tucked away, so it’s just the two of us sailing, reading, talking ( possibly enjoying some cold beverages too😊).”
Penny shared, “We are in Central Florida so for us we book “week of” weekend cruises for rock bottom prices! They want to fill the ship in hopes of you spending a ton of cash on board!! NOT!! Norwegian is “all.inclusive” so no extra fees on their island or drinks except bottled water! We cruise for less than a weekend at a beach! Our fun way to enjoy summer!”
Work While You Vacation
Clelie shared, “Our family attends a couple of gatherings every summer. Both are a week long and we camp in tents. Our main frugalising tip is that they are working vacations for either my partner or both of us. These are festival/ camping style events with organized food and lots of workshops and adventures for all ages.
The adults in our family take on service roles to the greater community- but it is really, really fun- we get to do work that is our passion and we always learn lots and we still have lots of time to participate and enjoy the event. I love, love that there are fun things for my kids to do and friends for them to play with. It is so wonderful to get a week long break from cooking and the food really is top notch, super healthy delicious food that meets all the criteria we have at home, but even better.
Us adults also get lots of socializing time with our peers all in a gorgeous setting with the river to jump in and campfires to gather round at night. Since we are working, the registration cost is covered for the adults and sometimes some for the children and we sometimes even get some of our transportation costs to get there covered as well.”
Jill wrote, “I just got home from a vacation with my family. Best savings were staying in an Air Bnb and hotel rooms with a full kitchens so many meals were made there. We all packed a carry-on only so no luggage fees. We wore our heavier clothing on the plane to allow more room in suitcases. Lots of hiking and free activities. My Mother used her senior park pass to get all of us into three different National Parks. I also used credit card travel rewards points for airline tickets.”
Clelie shared, “It’s a funny balance b/w planning ahead and having some freedom and spontaneity during your vacations. Reflecting on what makes a vacation actually restful and fun has really helped. And this will change as the children get older etc… I think it’s important to consider who will do all the work to make the vacation fun happen. There’s an article I’ve seen around that is all about how some vacations are just more domestic work for the carers in the family, just with a different view- finding vacation options where you can actually take a break from some of the tasks of every day life can be a godsend.”
Traveling is a priority for me and for a lot of the respondents today. But it might not be a priority for you. I think vacations can serve as an enticement to “keep up with the Joneses” and inflate spending just because everyone else you know went to Hawaii last summer and so you think you should go too.
Nope, no, nope. Travel and vacation if YOU want to and if YOU can afford it without going into debt or without sacrificing your longterm financial goals. No vacation is worth mortgaging your future for.
Some people are surprised at how much my husband and I travel, but it’s something we prioritize putting our money towards. Sure, I cut my hair at home, rarely eat in a restaurant, and wear hand-me-down clothes, but I’ve also traveled to fifteen different countries and hope to visit many more in the future. That’s not to say that travel is the “right” or “best” way to use your money, just that it’s one option.
There are so many different ways to construct a meaningful life and, if travel matters to you, you’ll find a way to create a sustainable budget that allows you to do just that. And hey, if you’re looking for ideas on how to save more money so that you can travel more, you might consider taking my free Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge, which starts on July 1st! More about that here.
Where are you going this summer? How to you balance the desire to travel with saving money?
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Thank you for the timely post, Mrs. FW! I was just talking to my husband about getting credit cards for travel reward points. We were going to Austin this summer just decided not to since it’s so expensive. I just got a card approved yesterday, and I’m thinking about getting a Chase card so that we can travel for cheap in the future!
Do your research around travel cards. For us, it was better to get a cash back card and to buy flights during seat sales.
Yayyyyy you were in Slovakia!!! Hope you liked it 🙂 Great post ofc 😉
we live in Philly area so I’m taking advantage of day trips to the Jersey shore. For the price of two beach tags (this beach is $30 per person over 12), and some tolls/gas (1.25 hr drive each way), we get to spend a day on the beach, getting our sun and swim in for a small cost. We bring our cooler full of food/snacks/water and beach umbrellas/chairs (we have a cool beach cart now) so it’s a day outside full of people watching and sand playing with our son. I grew up in Dallas, TX, about a 5-hour drive to any beach, so I’m taking advantage of being so much closer to the ocean with my son! Spending the night is pricey on the Jersey shore, so we stick to day trips so we keep costs down. Then by getting our beach fill this way, we can do something different, non-beach related for our summer vacation, like drive through national parks and camp.
I’m in Philly and was shocked how much even crappy motel rooms cost at the Jersey shore during the summer! I no longer stay overnight during the summer anymore. It’s not worth it. I’d rather head down to Cape May in the off-season when no one’s there and prices are lower.
Yeah its bananas… unless you book a year in advance on Air BnB, you’re pretty screwed. Longport, NJ is the beach we go to as it’s close to AC Express and plenty of parking is available, although after the 4th it does get hard to find if you’re not there early enough on Saturdays/Sundays. My boss told me about Longport and we love it this far.
You can score CHEAP lodging by renting out someone else’s timeshare. Make sure you are VERY firm that you just want to rent for a week, as agencies and owners are DYING to have you buy off a mistake or make a bad investment.
I’m curious if you’ve done this yourself? We want to go to the Florida keys next winter and renting someone else’s timeshare sounds perfect. Where’s a good place to find these rentals? Thanks!
We are going on our honeymoon in my parents time share! We “traded” a week of theirs and they gifted us the exchange fee. We’re going to Tuscany for a week and not paying for lodging. My parents have several more weeks built up that we’re thinking of asking to use! 😉
We have teenagers now, but have landed on a travel “compromise” balancing easy (it IS a vacation for me, too) and frugal. We generally leave really early, so bring snacky stuff (granola bars/ fruit) for breakfast, stop for subs at lunch (but use our own drinks/chips), and do an easy “make and bake” pizza our first night. Then I scout out a grocery store and we plan meals. I always bring basic condiments (catsup, mustard, mayo, salsa) because I hate buying that stuff when I have it stockpiled at home! Last week in NC/TN, our older teens and their girlfriends each picked a meal to prepare and we competed against each other! Youngest son and his girlfriend won. It was fun and WAY cheaper than 6 going out for dinner. We only ate out once for breakfast, once for lunch, and once for dinner. Pretty good for 9 days on the road.
and then there are “stay-cations” – enjoying your own hometown like a tourist…
We aren’t going anywhere big this summer – we save our travel for off season 😉 Thanks to military schedules we ended up getting married in mid-November, which has actually turned out really well because we accidentally stumbled into realizing how awesome it can be to travel places when no one else is. We live in the PNW, so rain and not so perfect weather doesn’t bother us anyway.
Also, love the shoutout to Beaufort, SC! The little town where my husband was stationed (and I worked as a naturalist at the island neighboring the aforementioned Hilton Head).
Beaufort, SC is one of my favourite places!
A comment on effectively using credit card points… we always have 2-3 point earning cards. In October, my husband and I are going to Prague and Budapest for 8 nights. We used Chase Sapphire Points and transferred those to United, and booked the flight using miles. There were a few hundred dollars in booking fees and we reserved extra leg room seats on one flight. We used my husband’s Barclays World Arrival point balance to pay those booking fees and essentially wiped the charges with points, so the flight was completely free. By the time we travel, I’ll have enough points on my Barclays World Arrival to wipe the hotel costs (in two nice, moderately priced locally run hotels recommended by Rick Steves). So are our only out of pocket costs will be sightseeing, food, and local transportation. We expect the total amount to be $1,500-2,000. We’re pretty pleased with how this turned out and hope to travel internationally at least once per year reducing the costs through points.
I’m going to Las Vegas in August and two weeks in Japan (paid for by United Mileage) in September/October. I’m flying Spirit to Vegas and I won’t pick my seat and have to only pack a carry on, but it’s worth it for the cheap ticket. We chose to not do the Japan Rail Pass, because the cost didn’t outweigh the benefits. It would be $550 for both of us, but you can only use it for seven days consecutively. We are there for two weeks and some areas do not allow the JR pass. it’s cheaper to take the slower train and even buses from what I hear. We are also flying Japan budget air to get around parts of Japan we are visiting for half the price of the train ticket in some cases.
My big travel hack for European travel (and surprised so many Americans do not know about this when I tell them) is to get on Google Flights or Escapehouston (insert your city). EscapeHouston has all of the deals around the world coming out of your city and which dates / websites to book. It’s great. Anyways, find a city that is super cheap to fly to and then get a budget air to the actual city you want to visit. Last September, we paid $454 each for flights to Zurich. We bought two tickets for $123 on EasyJet to a no name airport outside of London. The total cost of both of our tickets for both flights were half the price we would have paid for flying directly to England. And we would have gotten it cheaper at $76 for both tickets if we could have flown of London on Sunday morning at 7 a.m., but paid extra, because the reason we were going to England in the first place was a baptism on Saturday in the North. The caveat is you can’t check bags, you usually can’t pick your seat and may not sit with your partner, and you have to print your tickets ahead of time. These are all things that will get charged heavily. Oh and they are restrictive on days they fly and where they fly to, but it’s worth it to me to save money. Plus, we get to see a new country that otherwise would not have been on our list of places to see. There are so many budget airs throughout Europe.
We usually always fly in shoulder months. For Europe, that’s May and September. The weather is just fine and less tourists. We went to Patagonia in March and we had a great time with weather and less people and it was half the price.
Just a warning about Spirit–their carry on size limit is smaller than the standard, so make sure to check ahead of time. I’ve seen so many people arguing with staff at the gates, and they charge $100 (a few years ago) to gate-check bags.
These are really great tips. We are definitely NOT into credit card hacking. A bit too much of a pain in the butt for me, and with identity theft (we have had our CC’s compromised annually) – it’s just not worth it. In fact, we froze our credit to avoid the hassle.
We travel 1 to 3x a year. I like travel, but my kids don’t and it can be a pain. We occasionally use hotel points – my hubby travels frequently for work, so sometimes we get lucky. Like that camping trip Thanksgiving, when we woke up to 32F. I say “woke up” when really, we were up a lot in the night due to the cold and the guy in the tent 20 ft away snoring… Enter hotel points and a massive suite with a great indoor pool. Other tips for us are obvious: AirBNB. I too like my space when traveling, and a house or condo is the way to go for trips > 2 days. In fact, most places we book are larger than our 2BR, 1BA, 1100sf home.
(Although I’m going to say that Thanksgiving is NOT a cheap time to travel, at ALL. Hawaii flights are outrageous, the Grand Canyon is PACKED, etc.) A tip for National Parks: 4th graders get a free family pass. We went to 3 national parks that year.
This year, big trip to celebrate hubby’s big birthday. Europe. Did not travel hack the flights. When you are flying 10.5 hours, just get me there as close to direct as possible please, and here’s extra $ so we can sit together. However, as luck would have it, hubby’s cousin and family are coming to the US for 2 weeks and we overlap. So for about 5-6 days, we are swapping houses/flats. Yay! Also, we are staying with friends at a summerhouse for 3 days. That left us only 6 nights to book, which we did in an AirBNB apartment. We have other acquaintances with homes large enough to host us, but we prefer our own space AND we don’t like to take advantage. They aren’t a hotel.
Off season travel: do it before the kids are in school. After that, you are out of luck. We did go to southern CA mountains in the spring (much more popular in the fall), and managed a couple of days at Great Wolf Lodge mid-week. Booking an indoor water park resort like that can be a steal if you book ahead and choose dates judiciously. But mostly: we do everything. AirBNB, camping, hotel points, house swap. Honestly, with 2 kids in school we don’t have enough vacation time to go anyplace very often.
Thanksgiving is the most expensive week to travel inside the US, but usually the very cheapest to fly out (internationally). Most people don’t leave the country during that week, so international flight deals are amazing. You can often get better mileage deals too!
And American Thanksgiving means nothing to the rest of the world. To them it’s just a week in late-November.
Those are some great ideas.
I love your photos of your travels — thanks for sharing. I’ve never traveled abroad. Not that I did not want to. My cousin who spent many days backpacking across Europe in her college/University days (student, faculty, and Dean) instilled the travel bug in me. I chose the USA & Canada. so much to see right here. Very economically for those like me who on a whim would toss a filled backpack, sleeping bag, and tent into the car or truck and take off. we even did that with our children. Eat by cooking from what we got locally, hit a nice restaurant, or if all else failed, ate backpacking food. Still my preferred way to go whether by bike, car, or truck. But, Mrs. can no longer walk so we travel the best way for her to where she wants to go, and stay in fancy hotels where I can use my travel points from business trips or our personal travels.
Happy summer and have a Great Vacation!
Driving vacations are great, however, when you’ve lived in the same region for decades, it can get rather boring to visit the same places over and over again.
If international travel is more your speed:
-Premiere credit cards are worth it. No currency conversion fees. And travel protection. Yes, we’ve had our card compromised a few times, but it’s always been a seamless process to reverse it and I’ve never been out a cent. Let alone the points which have already been discussed.
-Let geoarbitrage work in your favor. We spent 3 weeks in Thailand for less than most people spend on a weekly trip in the states.
-Holidays work out fine if you’re traveling to a country that doesn’t celebrate the same customs, we easily traveled over Thanksgiving to the Middle East this past year with hardly any other tourists and generally, pretty nice weather.
I have to travel frequently for work. I don’t go anywhere exotic or exciting but when possible, my husband and son tag along. My transportation (flight and rental car), hotels and food allowance are paid for by my employer. Our only additional costs are getting them there with me – and if it’s within driving distance and I rent a car for work, that’s covered too! We use my daily food allowance to eat cheap, they get to play all day while I work and then we “vacation” in the evenings. Added bonus, I rack up frequent flyer miles, hotel, and rental car points that we use on REAL vacations 🙂
On a recent work trip I took alone, I earned a $1200 travel voucher from United for delaying my flight home by 7 hours. I was stuck in O’Hare and spent the day reading my book (never leave home without one) and people watching. We are using that voucher to take a family vacation to CA in a few weeks. The rental car is paid for with points I’ve earned so our only costs will be food and lodging.
It’s hard being away from my family so it’s nice when I can use it to my advantage 🙂
Kindle app on your phone!
I have 15 books on my kindle, many 99 cent specials
As a Pennsylvanian, I’m glad you felt so welcome in my home state! 😉
Thanks for using my comment! My trip to Ireland cost a mere $1163 for 9 full days of sightseeing + 2 days of travel. Not bad! It’s much easier to travel on a budget in third world countries, but I needed to do something different and easy with this vacation. Fortunately, I was able to keep it well under budget.
Great post! And happy travels to everyone — as long as it’s something you value and enjoy.
I wanted to second the suggestion to buy “souvenirs” that you need anyway. I have a spoon holder beside my stove from a fun trip to New Orleans, and table linens from a trip to Italy. I’ve also purchased perennial flowers from other countries as gifts for my mom who loves gardening! I also usually purchase a Christmas ornament that highlights the place I’ve visited – most museums and tourist spots actually have these – sometimes I’ve even been able to find some that are locally made!
I love all these ideas! We got free membership to a campground chain when we stayed there for a week and it gives us a discount every time we book with them and discounts to activities in the areas too. We usually stay in the motel style units which cost about the same amount as a regular motel but you get so much more for your money as the campgrounds in this chain are very well equipped with swimming pools, playgrounds, free or cheap hire of equipment (kayaks etc) which means our teenagers and kids are entertained for very little and we can read books!! And the chain is nation wide so we have plenty of places to go and visit.
Can you share the name of the chain? I’d be interested in checking it out
I’d also like to know the name of the chain. It sounds great.
Sounds like it might be KOA
I travel a lot internationally, now with a 5 and 6 year old in tow. We always stay in air BnB’s as we get the whole place to ourselves, and my rambunctious kids don’t bother anyone. While they are young we keep things simple, they are happy with a trip to a playground or beach, so we are saving budget busting things like theme parks for when they are world weary teenagers. We spent several days on the Gold Coast in Australia, and almost everything we did was free or really cheap.
We also save time and money by making lunch our main meal and have sandwiches at night. Lunch is almost always cheaper in a restaurant, and then we merely have to find/lug around sandwich ingredients for that night’s meal, rather than finding ingredients for a main meal to cook for ourselves at the end of a long day. This way we still get to sample the local cuisine, and it saves us a lot of fuss.
I just got back from Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, and going there was an awesome vacation, my first one I fully paid for this year. I’m normally a fan of the working vacation, but it was awesome to relax and volunteer.
1) Kids love travel rituals. When you find something magical and cheap, repeat it. (We always go to the same contra dance weekend in Mentone, AL in August. It’s $250 for our whole family for the weekend, includes activities–dancing, live music, River play, etc, includes a cabin to stay, etc. The other folks who do this every year are delightful, and the whole thing is a ritual we all love and look forward to.) Similarly, a 3-day spring camping trip at your nearest beach, every spring, us a wonderful ritual for kids, and you can get better and better at it every year.
2) Visit folks. I know the trip to Grandma’s may not feel like a “vacation”, but if you’re visiting Grandma anyway, why not sightsee and make the most of the free lodging?
3) Make the most of other trips. I went to DC as a middle schooler when my dad had a business trip anyway. Adding on a person or two is cheaper than doing a trip that is *just* a vacation.
4) Savor the places you go. We’ve spent $30 to go to an amusement park and stayed *all*day*long*, but we’ve also thought oh– we shouldn’t spend all day here, well only allot 2 hours and had to leave knowing we really could have stayed and enjoyed it all day.
My frugality was learned from my parents growing up, but I have to admit, I went a bit wild once I got married, and my husband encouraged me to ‘go all out’, so our hotels got nicer, but the bill grew larger.
None the less– I’ve started retracing my path to my upbringing in an attempt to pay off my mortgage in 5 years, so here’s some of the things they did to be frugal while traveling (my parents paid their mortgage off early as well – Frugality works… imagine that! 😉
Drive everywhere — I never flew in a commercial plane until I was 25 years old. My parents drove from sea to shining sea to save money on airlines, and rental cars.
Pack a cooler – Our lunches were always at public rest areas. I’m now reminiscing of those cold concrete benches, and fire ant mounds while eating my turkey sandwich with a bag of chips. (Don’t BUY ICE — refill at your Hotel ice machine for FREE)
Budget Hotels — I don’t think these exist anymore seeing the internet has long intervened, but they used to pick up these roadside travel books with coupons in them. (It’s a wonder we didn’t get bedbugs at some of the places we stayed at.) But websites now a days like Trivago really help with reviews, and pictures.
Rewards Credit Cards — I’ve used my Visa Rewards card offered at my local credit union to redeem gift cards for major hotel chains.
Visit State parks vs National Parks — Passes to national parks are extremely pricey now a days, but some states have parks that are just as big, wide, and full of beautiful vistas, but a fraction of the cost of admission, or FREE!
Use your family — If you have connections– use them! We stayed with Family a lot in Texas as a middle ground in order to avoid hotel costs, but still be able to continue our journey, plus it’s just nice to visit family sometimes!
Travel in off-season – You mentioned this one, but traveling off-season is how I gain cheap flights to Vegas and all over, and hotel rates are MUCH cheaper in the Spring/Fall than the Summer and Winter(for some destinations)
If travelling to Europe go on Trip Advisor and look up free walking tours. My friend and I did a seven week road trip last year and took advantage of the free tours. The tour guides were generally students or older people studying history who had a great knowledge of the local areas. They also provide great tips on where the best restaurants are and good deals to be had. We always tipped the guide at the end if the tour around €10 which was way cheaper than a company run tour.
In our working years when we lived in town, we started having good vacations when we stopped staying in hotels and motels and rented romantic, secluded cabins and just staying there for a few days, occasionally venturing out to a local restaurant or sightseeing. Once we tried cabin rental, we never stayed in a motel again. These days, we are retired, travel is difficult because of my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease, and we just enjoy life on our quiet, semi rural acreage with time to enjoy our hobbies, venturing into the city now and then for a good meal out and to shop. I guess we now live the life we were trying to get away to back then. Permanent staycation.
I Love traveling… that’s probably one of the main reasons I keep working-so we can afford to go places. We still do it pretty frugally, twice a year we go down to Florida and stay at grandma’s condo or her timeshare (they gift us a week as our Xmas present). We use a Southwest cc that gives us double points for buying airfare, and usually get a few free flights a year. We get cheap minivan rentals off Hotwire.com. We eat out maybe once a day for lunch, make sure we have leftovers and eat in for breakfast/dinner. If we do Disney, the tickets are always gifted by Santa and becomes part of their Xmas presents. Then once a year we do a trip to see family or friends, and also a trip out of the country(as also try to see family/friends!). This may or not be with the kids-we went to Ireland for a week with just the baby and used miles to pay for the flights(different cc). What a lovely trip-and we stayed in a fairly inexpensive B&B in a great part of Dublin and enjoyed seeing the sights. If you keep a list of where you’d like to go, search the different airfares to different locations and pick whatever is the biggest value for the time you want to go. We did this with San Fran, London, Paris, Dublin, Greece, Milan, etc. deals come up all the time you just have to be flexible. We do prefer to fly direct if we’re going overseas, but I’d be open to a 24+ layover if we get to sightsee somewhere for a day and stay overnight. Just have to convince my husband though lol! We just spent a week visiting family in northern nj and got to see some sights-the Statue of Liberty, and some wonderful historic spots during the day then we’d spend time with family later in the day. It was great way to split our time, it was super memorable for the kids and every one enjoyed the trip a lot.
Great post Mrs. Frugalwoods,
the animals you seem to be afraid of, are not geese, they are swans, and they can indeed be quite nasty if you get near their offspring.
They are swans in Bruges not geese 😉
That must be why I was so afraid of them ;)!
I am definitely an advocate of self catering holidays. I’m not keen on having to be up and presentable at a certain time in order to get breakfast. One of my favourite hacks is getting our food delivered to our holiday destination. I’m not sure if supermarket home delivery is as big in the states as it is in the UK, but over here its quite cheap or sometimes free. We are going on holiday on Monday and if it all goes to plan our food for the week should be arriving at our lodge an hour after we arrive. This saves a ton of time before we go away as I don’t need to go to the shops or repack it, It saves lots of space and weight in our car and I can order lots of ice cream without fear of it melting!!
My all time favourite souvenirs are supermarket Eco-bags! Cheap, light, not bulky, unbreakable, and each time I use them (often!) they revive memories of other times, other places ! Here in Queensland,Australia, stores don’t provide free bags, anymore!, so I’m doing my bit for the environment, and not cluttering my home up with duct collecting knock knacks!
I love doing that, too! I love pulling out bags from supermarkets like Nakumatt or Woolworths when I’m grocery shopping here in the U.S. where we don’t have those stores. Makes me feel cosmopolitan and interesting even though I’m just a mom grocery shopping with two toddlers in that moment. 😁
I love that! I am from The Netherlands and more than a decade ago my aunt visited her Dutch daugther living in Australia and brought her sister/my mom back a couple of eco shopping bags from Australian supermarket Coles as gifts. All these years later I still use them a lot and recently had a funny encounter: while walking in a park in Belgium (country next to The Netherlands, I was visiting a friend) a man came up to me and said ‘how to spot a fellow Ozzie!’. At first I didn’t get it but he assumed I was Australian because of my shopping bag and we had a nice conversation. Both my aunt and mom have passed away and these bags to me are so much more than a souvenir or a shopping bag.
Any thoughts on the best deals on rental cars? I have two trips planned for this summer/fall that will require rental cars…. And I’m hoping to find the most frugal way to go!
Meg– Use websites like expedia, or priceline for good deals on rental cars. But be sure to read the reviews, as the cheapest option may not be the best. (Bad service, limited stock, etc)
Another great thing to keep in mind is to check your Visa credit cards, as some cards have the extra perk of ‘Rental Car Insurance’, so you can waive the offered insurance from the rental car and still be covered if anything happens! ALWAYS read the fine print, though. I actually used this when a tornado damaged our rental car, and it worked!
Good point on finding other insurance than what the rental company offers you. Your regular auto insurance might also cover you.
Love the tips here, especially having groceries delivered! Hacks I’d add are: (1) If you’re driving and staying in a hotel, check that they offer a microwave in the room; if they don’t, you can usually discreetly bring one for BYO food. And always check that they have a mini-fridge, most do but some still don’t. (2) If you didn’t drive and aren’t renting a car, and it is safe and not overly difficult to do so, take public transit. I usually travel only with carry-on so I can manage it on a subway or bus to my hotel. (3) Lodging strategically placed to where you want to be can save on transportation; when I took my son to LA for a semester away, it was cheaper to stay at a hotel walking distance from his dorm and use Lyft for a couple of touristy trips than to rent a car for 4 days. For some, that might mean a hotel further away but on a subway or bus, if public transit is safe and convenient. (4) If you’re at the hotel and just need food and didn’t bring enough or any, having Chinese or pizza delivered is cheaper than room service. Happy travels!
There are so many great tips here.
I just have one more to add, you can buy discounted Airbnb gift cards. Amazon has deals on them certain times of the year. I think I paid $90 for a $100 gift card and there are other sites as well where you can purchase them at a discount.
I can understand about trying to save money when traveling by staying with relatives. BUT, it may be cheaper for you, but consider how much it is costing them when people want to use their house as a motel. I live at a popular beach destination and have family come, which is great…but, very rarely do people offer to help pay for food or drink. Expectations are that I am the person to provide all services and put out enough money that I can’t afford a vacation! just some additional food for thought when people say to go visit relatives to decrease cost of THEIR vacation.
We clean up after ourselves, do laundry, purchase our own groceries, confirm their morning and evening schedule so we don’t impact their work, bring a gift as well as take them out to dinner. Basically, if they walk in and can tell we are there then we aren’t doing our job of being good guests. We think of our worst houseguest and attempt to be the opposite.
Same here, and now I speak up or simply say it won’t work out and insist that they book a hotel. Alternatively is when you go out, you announce that it’s their turn to treat.
@Karin perhaps you should list your place on Airbnb or booking.com so when you get that email asking if someone can use your place as a hotel you send them the link and offer a nice (30-50%) discount on your standard rate. They’ll get the hint very quickly. If not than tell them you’re place is already booked for that time frame.
@Stephanie you are the perfect guest but the problem is having someone visit is it’s a lot of work. This year we’re super privileged to have had family come 3 times, plus we’re flying home as well. Don’t get me wrong we had a blast but it was a lot of work. First off is 2 weeks of meal plans, than cleaning the house from top to bottom. Bed sheets need to be organized and washed. Than how do you fill two weeks of staycation? Making plans to keep everyone entertained. Adding the extra driver to the car Than once they are there it’s the issue of how busy to you want to be. Someone whose spend a lot of money on flights is going to want to pack the vacation full, whereas we need a day off once in a while. Than there is the issue of watching TV, after a busy day I like to watch TV and surf the internet, but guests want to chat. If someone is religious than GOT is out!
Don’t get me wrong this has been one of the best years every, by the end of the year we’ll have visited with family an insane 4 times (vs the usual once every 2-3 years). but no matter what way you cut it, it costs money time and effort.
As much fun as I had next year we’re we’ll be meeting them at a location.
Unless your friends are high energy extroverts I’d book a hotel and plan
WE MAKE MONEY BY GOING ON VACATION!
We rent out our house (smack in the middle of a beautiful city) through Airbnb. Our costs per night at the holiday destination are always much lower than the price per night we ask for our house. Of course there are costs of getting there and whatever we spend during the vacation (usually a bit more than at home, local bakery, eating out etc).
I totally missed this tip in your story. Perhaps you can add it?
What a fun post! Love all the different travel perspectives. Travel hacking has been a game changer for my family of four 😉
If you are going to a tourist area check out the multi attaction passes. We used the GO Card in Toronto and we were able to use the members only line in most places and it saved us from a two hour ticket line at the CN Tower. We are doing the same thing in NYC and Philadelphia in a few weeks. Saving time in line during vacation is frugal if what you want to do is covered by the pass.
My friend, her sister, myself and my little boy all went to Europe for the last two weeks of May. We bought ridiculously low priced tickets from the East Coast to Paris, and then from Barcelona to the East Coast. We didn’t pay for seat selection and we only packed a backpack each for the entire trip to avoid luggage fees. We had to get from STL to the east coast, but we had miles to book the flights for free. Then we stayed one night in NJ before heading off to Paris. We had hotel points to cover our one night stay and spent the day exploring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In Paris, we stayed two nights and used public transit and walked (like 12 miles each day) around the city. Our hotel rooms in Paris were booked using points. From Paris, we flew to Malaga Spain for around $25 per person. We rented a car for 3 days and drove it along the coast line (avoiding the toll roads) to Gibraltar. We stayed just outside of Gibraltar (it is expensive to stay inside of Gibraltar). This was the only hotel we paid for as it was only $60 per night and included free breakfast! We then flew to Valencia, Spain and stayed 5 nights in an AC by Marriott booked using points. While on this trip, we would typically eat a late breakfast (around 9:30 -10 am, pack some snacks to eat during our day adventure, then eat dinner out. The final leg of the trip was to Barcelona, were we did a walking tour of the city before coming back across the pond. We stayed in a hotel in Boston (booked on points) for one night before catching our flight back to STL (booked on points). It was an amazing and frugal trip, that included exploring multiple cities and multiple countries with friends and family. The entire trip for myself and my son including food, entry fees, flights, and accommodations was well under $2K for 2 weeks! Travel reward cards for the win!
for some reason my comments aren’t getting posted????
My wife and I have been road warriors for 20 plus years, both work and pleasure. We live in Germany and in no particular order here are my best money saving travel tips. I’ll expand on them below
Nomadic Matt wrote one of the best guides on how to find cheap airfares. Why reinvent the wheel when I can simply link to his sight. Posting a link seems to be messing up the comment function so simple go to Nomatic Matt and look for his find cheap flights blog post
• Join mailing lists
• Bid on upgrades
• Be flexible
• Travel off season
• Go where you money goes further
• Package deals
• Half/full board
• Go Off Piste
• Booking.com rather than Airbnb
• Book your hotel directly
• Ryanair isn’t always the cheapest
• Regular airlines can be cheaper
• Use Ryanair/Easyjet’s budget tool
• Pack light
• Ask for a kettle
• Take an electric frying pan
• Join Mailing Lists
Get on various mailing lists, not just airlines but hotels, travel agencies destinations etc. They often blast out specials to their email list before sending them elsewhere. This is how we got flights home for under 500€. Most of those emails go directly to spam where I can delete them in mass. I only read them if I’m actively looking for flights or deals.
• Bid/purchase on an upgrade
This one I just learned about and is fantastic news for those that don’t have elite frequent traveler status but you can now bid to upgrade from economy to economy plus, business or first class. Rules vary from airline to airline so read the Ts and Cs carefully. Also travelling off season makes it easier/cheaper to win at this.
• Be Flexible
You’re favourite Instagram place isn’t going anywhere so simply travel to the one that offers the best value for the money at the time you’re going.
• Travel off Season
Best time of the year to visit Europe is in Septembe/October. You get high season weather but low season prices and crowds.
• Go where you money goes further
This one is mostly for my long suffering Canadians who usually have to fork out 1.30 to 1.50 to get a dollar/Euro but look for countries that are marketing heavily to Canadians.
• Package Deals
I don’t know how common this is in the US but in Germany package deals are still the standard and is by far is my best money saving tip. Wife and I recently spent 10 days in Switzerland, lovely 4 star room with beautiful view of the alps. 110€ a night for an upgraded room with breakfast dinner. The rack rate alone for the hotel was a 120€ a night. Breakfast was OK, but dinner was amazing!
• Half/Full Board
Similar to this is to search for half/full board when looking for hotels. Just got back from Barcelona and my oh my lovely city but pricey! In the end we all decamped to Micky D’s as eating was so friggen expensive!
• Go Off Piste
I don’t mean skiing but where the locals go for vacation. The default search site from many Americans travelling to Europe is Rick Steves. Quite understandable as he’s a gold mine of information but the problem is that he tends to recommend only the major tourist spots.
Take my afore mentioned trip to Switzerland. Rick recommends going to Grindelwald nice but very pricey and busy. Instead we found a lovely hotel on the other side of the mountain (Hasliberg if you’re wondering). Just as beautiful, just as many things to see and do but half the cost. Not only that we didn’t hear a single word of English in the 10 days. Was a fantastic holiday. Gave a the hotel a rave review.
• Booking.com rather than Airbnb
In my experience Airbnb tends to be much more expensive than Booking.com mostly due to the fact you have to pay Airbnb’s fee plus the host’s cleaning fee. Instead go to booking.com and search for apartments. Alternatively you can google “furnished apartments” or self catering apartments (if your British) and the city you want to visit.
• Book your hotel directly
While I use booking.com and other sites to search for hotels I always check the price at the hotel’s own website. Usually, but not always, it’s cheaper.
• Ryanair isn’t always the cheapest
This is going back a number of years but we had family visiting and they book Ryanair Frankfurt to Madrid, but by the time you added in all the extra costs plus the (back then) 2.5 hour bus journey to the airport it ended being much more expensive than a simple Lufthansa flight. If you can travel with a simple backpack than it can be cheaper but trust me they are eagle eyed to any possible opportunity to hit you with extra fees. Is your carryon too big, or too heavy. For ladies who like to use a purse, that’s not included. Forgot to print your boarding pass, one family forked over an insane 500 pounds for this. Are you an American who didn’t know you need to check in at the counter, well you ticket just got cancelled at the gate. So on and so forth. Discount airlines can be cheaper but you really really need to pay attention to the conditions, especially around carryon. Loads of people get dinged on that one.
• Regular airlines can be cheaper
This will surprise a lot of people but the big airlines are just as competitive. Flew into Barclona and out of Madrid. Lufthansa was a mere 50€ more. For that I got a meal, 6 flights a day and no issue on carry on (Ryanair uses undersized carryon sizing)
• Use Ryanair/Easyjet’s budget tool
Now if you really want to go cheap use the flight search tool. simply put in your budget (sub 20€) and see where you can go!
• Pack Light
Still remember dropping some family members off at the airport and between the 3 of them they had 12 bags of luggage and stuff. Those were the days. Tons of youtube videos on how to pack light.
• Ask for a kettle
For Americans used to bottomless coffee Europe can be a shock. 3€ to 5€ for a Cappuccino adds up fast. I pack tea for the wife and instant coffee for me along with 2 (lightweight) bamboo cups. If we’re driving I also take along a litre of milk. I ask for a kettle at the hotel and make coffee in the morning. I do this even when we fly.
• Take an electric frying pan
I get a lot of strange looks over this one as you can just book an apartment and avoid the hassle. but sometimes a hotel makes more sense. Last Christmas I found a great deal for a nice hotel in Bern Switzerland, breakfast included. As we were on a budget I didn’t want to eat out dinner each night so we packed the “kitchen sink” so to speak. Took our camping stuff along with a frying pan, tins of canned spaghetti coffee snacks etc. Had a huge breakfast at the hotel and after a day of sightseeing came back and cooked up a tin of Ravioli. Tastey and cheap. Occasionally I can get hotel rooms with a microwave but mostly I have to haul my frying pan. Obviously this is easier to do if you’re driving.
• Google free walking tours
Exactly as it says, but please make sure to tip the guide.
One great trip we had was a service weekend for a church camp. There was no way we could have afforded the retreat. But we went the weekend before the season opened to help prepare the camp for the season. We stayed in the main building, a beautiful old house. Our meals were included, though we helped cook them. In between cleaning, we got to enjoy walks and lots of fellowship.
We are living in Stockholm and spent the first part of our vacation visiting my husband’s family in Finland. The second part we are doing a small roadtrip in Sweden. We are staying in Airbnbs because they are cheaper and having a kitchen to keep and make food is easier. We have a toddler on board!
We love traveling in our mini travel trailer. This year so far we have already gone on two trips, one was 4 nights, the other was 8, and we have a beach trip scheduled for late September. Since we have an RV, one of our criteria is to find a campground that itself has things to do like swimming of course, bike trails, walking trails, maybe a visitor’s center to learn about the area. That way, we are entertained right where we’re staying. We also bring our own food. I cook beforehand as well as at the site, hubby cleans up, which is so helpful. And since we’re self-employed, we can take the time off but still get paid, so that’s always nice. This allows us to leave on our terms, avoid crowds or busy holidays, go during the week when it’s less crowded. It’s perfect for us.
While reward points are good, many of the methods to get them usually require overspending and is not guaranteed. But I do like every other idea you state. If I may add one. State parks are good cheap, sometimes even free places to visit. And some state parks I have seen make me wonder why they are not national parks.
Next summer is my 5 year wedding anniversary, and my husband and I are hoping to go on an international trip. Our baby will be 2 years old, so she’ll fly free. We want to travel with her before she costs an extra plane ticket! We’ve been saving up points using our Chase Travel Rewards card. Everything from our wedding costs, to continuing education classes, to groceries and gas has been paid for using that card…so we have a lot of points! We won’t have to pay for airfare, and are hoping we’ll even be able to score some free lodging as well. Love reading all the advice in this post and in the comments–this is all really helpful as we plan! Now, to just decided where to fly…