Many people haven’t had a real vacation since 2019 and can’t wait to take some well-deserved time off. However, what is supposed to be relaxing might be more financially stressful than ever. Airfare and hotel rates are on the rise due to all of the demand. Travel plans are also looking different in the face of COVID-19 variants. With additional pandemic-related fees and new shutdowns, it is critical to do what you can to protect your finances while traveling.
We talked to 5 travel experts to learn the real cost of travel and get their realistic tips to help you save during your next vacation.
Additional COVID-19 Travel Fees:
COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we travel, as well as the price.
Travel blogger and founder of Live Like It’s the Weekend, Michelle Halpern, tells us, “in the current stage we’re in where the pandemic isn’t over yet but travel is opening up, there are definitely more costs associated with protecting your own health and the countries you plan to visit.”
This is why Halpern suggests researching your destination’s COVID-19 restrictions, and how much they might set you back, in advance.
Josh Bender of Travel with Bender explains some of the new costs associated with vacationing in the pandemic.
“Depending on your destination and home country, there may be PCR tests to leave and return—usually these aren’t cheap. If a quarantine is required at the destination, this will add a considerable amount to the holiday budget. But more and more countries are offering quarantine-free options as vaccine rollout progresses.”
Vicky Philpott, digital nomad and founder of the Vicky Flip Flop travel blog, also advises watching out for travel shutdowns.
“If you’re traveling abroad then you have to be prepared for borders closing, like last year, and a race to get home. I really hope that doesn’t happen again, or ever again, but I think if you’re booking travel over a month in the future, you need to be ready.”
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—when school and college begins. For those trying to vacation 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, maybe vacation is more about a destination than the journey. Instead of blowing your budget on plane tickets, try driving, which could give you more to splurge on a nicer hotel.
Road trips can be a relaxing and cost-effective alternative to trains and planes. You can drive your own car to save on rentals, or rent an RV to save on housing accommodations. Taking a road trip in an RV is a great way to travel the U.S., and you can even have a fun camping experience.
If road trips aren’t your thing, 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.
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 while you’re there.
Hotels and other accommodations
If you’re traveling with a big family or friends, rent an Airbnb and split the cost. It’s a lot cheaper than purchasing multiple rooms at a large hotel. This will also give you a bigger, more private and COVID-19 friendly space. Many Airbnbs 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 not in a remote area, you could end up spending all the money you saved from renting, 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.
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 to double down 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.
Most popular destinations are opening back up for travel, and being overrun with visitors. So if you’re looking to save, now is the best time to take an unconventional vacation. 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. Olympic National Park in Washington
Washington State’s Olympic National Park is a nature lover’s paradise. With beautiful glacier topped mountains to hike and amazing spots to stargaze, this location is best in the warmer–and cheaper–summer months.
4. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is a great place to explore American history, you’ll find tons of free historical sites to spend time at. The area is also very walkable, meaning you’ll save on transportation.
5. Sequoia National Park in California
Home to the world’s tallest trees, Sequoia National Park is an alluring spot with miles of mountains, canyons, and caves. This is a perfect and peaceful vacation that will also save you some money.
Traveling in debt
Although everyone wants to take a vacation, you have to be financially transparent with yourself about whether you can afford one. According to Valuepenguin, 27% 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.”
Halpern explores other options to lessen vacation debt. “Focus on local trips where you can travel there affordably, look into house sitting or staying in lower-priced accommodation like Airbnb, use credit card points to pay for travel whenever possible, and focus your itinerary on free outdoor activities in nature. There are plenty of ways to have an incredible vacation that don’t leave you more stressed afterwards from financial burden.”
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.