Many people haven’t had a real vacation since 2019 and can’t wait to take some well-deserved time off. However, a trip that’s supposed to be relaxing might be more financially stressful than ever. Airfare and hotel rates are on the rise due to all the demand and record inflation. Travel plans are also looking different in the face of a potential monkeypox outbreak. With rising prices due to inflation, it is critical to do what you can to protect your finances while traveling.
We talked to travel experts to learn the real cost of travel and get their realistic tips to help you save during your next vacation.
On the surface, life has much gone back to how it was pre-pandemic. Travel hotspots are picking up steam, offices are full again and I’m sure we can all agree not having to wear a mask is great.
It’s important to investigate travel restrictions and testing requirements that you may encounter, especially if you plan on traveling internationally. Remember, proper preparation prevents potential pandemics.
“As monkeypox has been identified in 16 countries, it is likely that some travelers will be cautious about visiting these areas this summer,” Laurence Lee, CEO of The Great Brain Experiment explains. “However, monkeypox is not a highly contagious disease, and as long as travelers take precautions, they are not likely to be affected.”
With the first case of human infection coming in the 1970s, it is a disease that scientists have studied extensively. The risk to the general public is low, but you should seek medical care immediately if unexplained skin rashes develop.
James Holland of Lifepart2.comechoes these sentiments.
“Monkeypox is a relatively new disease in comparison, and there is still much to learn about it. However, it is believed to be less severe than other diseases such as Ebola. There is no need for travelers to be overly cautious at this time, but it is always important to be aware of the risks associated with any destination.
Season swap to save
Travel during the offseason! This is one of the best tips out there. If you’re traveling within the United States, do so in September—after school and college semesters begin. For those vacationing abroad, the cheapest time to visit somewhere like Europe is from November to March. The only catch is that you’ll have to keep an eye on the weather. In Europe, it might be a little cooler during the offseason, but if you can brave the cold, you’ll have an amazing experience abroad for a fraction of the price.
If you have to travel during a peak season, like summer, try going to a place that’s usually popular in the winter. Think ski resorts, mountains, and even certain beaches that can be a steal if they are in their offseason.
In California, places like Big Bear and Mammoth Mountain are expensive during the winter months because they are prime ski destinations. From December to February, you’ll easily pay $300 a night for a place. But during the summer, prices drop substantially. Check out lodging websites like Kayak to find accommodations at these fun spots for as low as $99 a night.
What a lot of people don’t realize is these places are absolutely stunning in the summer, especially if you like the outdoors. Many offer hiking, mountain biking, rafting or kayaking, and horseback riding, among other unforgettable opportunities. It’s a great deal and a great time for everyone in your family. Just know that there are times when it’s not as cheap, like holidays and three-day weekends.
Use a travel agent
If you have room in your budget, hiring a travel agent could be worth it in terms of saving. Travel agents can often help you find cheap vacation packages, which package airfare, hotels, and sometimes even rental cars for a single discounted price. Although you can always search online for promotions and lower rates, travel agents may have access to exclusive deals you can’t get anywhere else.
Other ways to save money on vacation:
Flights and travel
When it comes to spending money on airfare, the vacation is more about where you’re going than how you got there. Instead of blowing your budget on plane tickets, consider an often-forgotten mode of transportation: Trains. They offer good value if you can plan ahead to book them.
If you must fly, be sure to compare the rates of every airline to get the best prices. Metasearch engines like CheapOAir, make finding the best airfare rates easy. The site even offers hotel and rental car bundle deals.
Traveling inside of the U.S. can be made easier with another often-forgotten way of travel, bus.
It’s something Bryn Culbert, Communications Coordinator at Wanderu, thinks people should investigate more.
“Intercity bus companies, who reduced service in the early part of the pandemic, are now restoring and adding service to meet the demand for affordable travel. The average price of a bus ticket has increased only slightly, depending on the region,” he says.
Culbert goes on to say, “For example, bus tickets from D.C. to Philadelphia cost 11% more than in June 2020 on average, while average ticket prices from Miami to Orlando increased only 4%. Meanwhile, other main routes have lower average prices now, thanks to cheap options from newcomers to the U.S. market such as FlixBus. The average price for a bus ticket from Boston to New York has decreased 23% since June 2020.”
At the end of the day, travel costs should only represent a portion of your vacation costs, so it’s OK to skip the overpriced plane ticket. Remember, you’ll also spend money on lodging, food, entertainment, and possibly even transportation once you get there.
Hotels and other accommodations
If you’re traveling with a big family or friends, rent through sites like Airbnb or Vrbo and split the cost. It’s a lot cheaper than purchasing multiple rooms at a large hotel. Almost all rentals will also have kitchens or kitchenettes, so you can bring and cook your own meals throughout your trip. Be sure to research the neighborhood around your rental before going through with the purchase, so you know how far it is in reference to any activities you’ve planned. If your accommodations are in a remote area, you could end up spending all the money you saved on gas.
If staying in a hotel is a must for you, be smart about how much you spend. Do your research beforehand and compare hotel rates with sites like One Travel. You should take factors into account such as free wifi, parking, and everyone’s favorite, breakfast.
Josh Bender, Founder of Travel with Bender, shares what works best for him.
“I’m planning several trips this year and day by day I can see the costs going up. It’s eyewatering! So, it will help to lock in prices as quickly as possible – especially flights and accommodation. Fortunately, with OTAs like Booking.com, it’s possible to book now and pay later for many properties, easing the pressure on your cash flow. Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be done for air travel.”
For a full list of hotels that offer free breakfast, and to find out more about how to save money on hotels, check out Debt.com’s in-depth report.
Dining out and cooking
One easy thing to do to save is packing your own food and drinks. This especially goes for those traveling in an RV or staying at a place with a kitchen. Buy your groceries and nonperishables with coupons and use cash back rebates to triple up on the savings!
If you want to eat out, do it sparingly. One way to start is by committing to bringing your own breakfast. If you’re not staying somewhere that offers free breakfast, try stocking up on items such as muffins, frozen banana bread, instant oatmeal, granola bars, and dried fruits. It always helps your budget to get at least one meal a day free of charge.
Do a little research on local attractions such as aquariums, theme parks, historical monuments, museums, as well as events in the area you’ll be visiting. If you see something you absolutely don’t want to miss, find out the cost per person in your party. Then you can use these prices to estimate how much entertainment on your trip will cost per day for your budget.
Souvenirs and Gifts
Although buying tons of souvenirs to remember your trip is tempting, it’s almost always a waste of money.
“You should never purchase souvenirs on vacation. They are overpriced and quite honestly useless,” explains Corritta Lewis, family travel blogger and co-founder of Itz a Family Thing. “Vacation souvenirs end up in the junk drawer in a box in the base, garage, or attic. Spend that money on a new experience or trying a new dish. Be honest with yourself, how often are you going to wear that I heart Vegas t-shirt outside of the house?”
5 cheap vacations to take in the U.S.
There are so many beautiful—and affordable—destinations right here in the United States. Here are U.S. News and World Report’s top 5 picks for the best cheap vacations:
1. Grand Canyon in Arizona
If you’re into camping, you can save a ton of money on hotel costs, plus you’ll have an even better view.
2. Glacier National Park in Montana
There is a small entrance fee, but after that, you can take in all the beautiful sights while hiking, swimming, or relaxing in the parks or nature centers.
3. Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
For an entrance fee of $35 for a week, guests are treated to stunning views, leisurely drives, and an abundance of wildlife that have all lent a hand in the unique history of the park.
4. Moab, Utah
With affordable campgrounds giving you access to the clear night sky and a whole host of activities on the Colorado River, this quiet town offers no shortage of adventure.
5. Bar Harbor, Maine
From strolling the scenic view of Frenchman Bay to exploring Acadia Park’s cliffs and beaches, it is a charming getaway for budgeting travelers.
Traveling in debt
Although everyone wants to take a vacation, you need to be financially transparent with yourself about whether you can afford one. According to Valuepenguin, 29% of travelers will go into vacation debt this summer.
Laurence Norah, co-founder of the Finding the Universe travel blog advises cutting back on taking extravagant vacations to minimize post-travel credit card debt.
“I think one should think carefully about money priorities if in debt. I’d not say a vacation should be totally ruled out, as it can be positive for our well being. However, instead of an expensive overseas trip, perhaps think about a more budget focused adventure closer to home. Look for trip ideas which don’t cost a lot like camping or hiking, or just consider taking some time to explore your local area on a staycation style break.”
Nick Mueller, Director of Operations at HawaiianIslands explores other options to lessen vacation debt.
“When planning a vacation, it’s important to plan, budget, and save well ahead of time in order to avoid debt. Having a careful, structured, but flexible budget will allow you to splurge on elements of vacation most meaningful to you while sparing and saving on less important aspects. It will also give you clear figures on what you can expect to spend.”
Cutting back to enjoy the experience
Avoid extra expenses you don’t need while on vacation. Don’t take expensive tours when you can just walk around with a guidebook.
Here’s how you use this info to help you plan…
- Take the research and use it to build out an estimated cost for your trip.
- Count the number of weeks (or pay periods) until your departure date.
- Divide the total cost by the time between now and your trip to see how much you need to save.
- If you can’t save enough, push the dates for your trip so you have more time.
This may mean delaying your vacation for a month, but think how much better you’ll feel when you get back from your trip without a bunch of credit card debt. Remember, your getaway should never add to your financial stress.
For more money-saving tips, check out How to Save Money on Flights.