As a family, we make room in our budget for family, solo and couple travel. The experiences and life lessons that come from stepping outside of our neighbourhood are more important to us than accumulating a lot of material goods. We tend to skimp on “stuff” and splurge on travel.
But the decision to live a travel lifestyle doesn’t have to mean you’re bleeding cash. A little diligence can unearth affordable flights, reasonable hotel rates, and free fun in some of the world’s greatest cities. Whether it’s the falling Canadian dollar or the pinch of everyday expenses that are causing you strain, this list of tips for how to travel on a budget should help. No more excuses, start saving and start booking!
Use a Travel Agent
Yes, it’s possible today to book a vacation using only apps and websites, and you may even find some great deals this way. But there are times where travel agents have saved me a ton of cash. The key is in the relationship you build and the agent’s area of expertise. Take some time to find an agent that you like who understands your family’s needs and budget. The benefits – which can include access to deals before they are posted or just the benefit of having seen what the field of offers looks like because they’ve bounced across their screen – might be a huge benefit to your wallet.
Find the Freebies
Fun doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. If you read one of our latest posts about free or low cost attractions in American cities, you know that it is possible to take in a lot of excitement without shelling out a lot of money. Look for museums and attractions that offer free admission – either all of the time or at certain hours of the day or week. And don’t forget the stuff that is always free: In most places getting out into the fresh air, either by visiting a beach or park, doesn’t cost you anything at all. Swimming or hiking is a great way to experience a new place, together as a family.
Travel in the Off-Season
If possible, be flexible on the time of year you will travel. You can find some great deals on hotels and airfare if you stick to the shoulder seasons and avoid the busiest times of year. When business is slow, hotels and airlines are much more willing to offer amazing deals.
Be Flexible on Your Dates
Similarly, try to be flexible on the specific days you travel. This study from Expedia suggests leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Monday is more economical than leaving on a Friday and returning on a Sunday. [Note: As a rule hotel saturday night stays tend to be more expensive.] When searching for the best airfare, your flexibility to move around your dates might save you more than 20%.
Consider Alternatives to Pricey Hotels
Sure, luxurious hotels are fun to stay in but you can create an amazing experience without that high price tag. Look at alternatives that allow you to save a bit of cash for other experiences. Or opt for a night at the fancy digs followed by some lower cost options like camping, self-catering units or a friendly B & B. For larger groups, consider home rentals that allow you to split the costs and pay a fraction of what a hotel room might be. Home swaps are another economical way to travel and some of the offerings are incredible deals.
Stay Slightly Outside of the City Centre
In general you can expect that the closer you stay to a city’s main drag, the pricier your hotel will be. If being in the heart of things isn’t key to your experience, consider staying slightly out of the city core and using a rental car or public transit to come into town once or twice. You might find the outskirts – with their less touristy neighbourhoods offer their own unique charm.
Plan Your Itinerary in Advance and Avoid Unscheduled Spending
When you are travelling on a budget, make sure you stick to it! Planning in advance for expenses allows you to see what’s possible, within the range of what you are working with. Travel wouldn’t be travel if there weren’t experiences (and expenses) waiting to be had that you had no idea would be there (and now simply have to have.) Having a portion of your travel budget allocated as “miscellaneous,” will mean you don’t have to miss out on those life-changing experiences when you bump into them.
Consider Attraction Passes
Many destinations offer packages that include the region’s most popular tourist attractions. It can be a great way to challenge yourself to see and do more, while also saving you money (discounts often included). CityPASS is a fantastic option for this. You can also check in with the tourist board of the places you plan to visit. Be realistic and do the math: If time and interest will likely only allow you to use a portion of the pass, consider its value carefully.
Find Restaurant Alternatives
You don’t always need to eat inside a sit-down restaurant. Try to vary your meals by grabbing some fresh and prepared food at a grocery store (Ish and I lived on fresh bread and cheap cheese on an early trip to Moorea ), and by having a few take-out meals. You’ll save money (cheap food and no tips) and it will offer you a chance to eat in some gorgeous outdoor parks or picnic areas.
Stay tuned for part 2 when we share more great tips!
I liked to use a travel agent before, but now I prefer to take a self-drive tour.