Whether your next trip is an annual family vacation, romantic getaway or that once-in-a-lifetime “bucket list” trip, there are many ways you can save money before and during the trip. Here are ten top budget travel tips to help you cut costs.
Travel in the off-season or on the edges of popular seasons – the crowds are smaller, which means shorter lines at museums, restaurants and other attractions. More importantly, hotels and tour operators lower their prices before and after peak season and holidays. Since peak season varies by location, plan accordingly. The least expensive time to enjoy a ski/snowboard resort in the Rockies or Sierras is before December 20th or after March 15th; in the Caribbean, prices are lowest between mid-April and mid-November; Europe is bargain-priced from immediately after New Year’s through Memorial Day. April in Paris anyone?
Use public transportation for city stays. Research multi-day specials and tourist cards on the websites for the cities and countries you will visit. Some international rail and travel cards must be purchased before you arrive, such as a reduced rate Eurail pass and the Visitor Oyster Card, good on all public transport in London. Using public transportation saves more than the green in your wallet. It also can be ‘green,’ helping a community keep open streets and clean air,” says Martin Hintz, a travel writer and former president of the Society of American Travel Writers.
Use multi-day entertainment packages with discount coupons . Check out an Entertainment book (800/374-4464), especially for Hawaii, for two-for-one discounts for dining,, museums and other attractions. Ditto, CityPass, which gives you up to 50% off museums and attractions, plus gets you in ahead of the line, in major cities in the US and Canada. There also are city-specific discount coupons, such as the NYPass for New York City.
Eat your big meal at lunch, when prices are cheaper. It’s also healthier than having a gigantic meal just before bedtime, and you are less likely to require a reservation. Another alternative is afternoon tea. Many top luxury hotels other than in England offer traditional tea, and you can fill up on scones, sandwiches and pastries in lovely surroundings, perhaps with a pianist or harpist adding to the atmosphere.
Stay in hotels that include a free breakfast in the room rate. This is standard in most hotels in Europe and Asia, and a growing perk in the United States. Even budget hotel chains such as Residence Inn offer full breakfasts. The location in NYC’s Times Square even serves eggs and waffles made to order at no extra charge.
Picnic instead of eating every meal in restaurants . Visit markets, bakeries, local shops and delis, but avoid uncooked street food and wash fruit with bottled water. What’s better than a fresh baguette in Paris, or a bagel in New York City. My first stop each time I visit Munich is the Viktualenmarkt, or farmer’s market, for a thick slice of leberkese (Bavarian liver pate) between two halves of a soft, freshly baked roll.
Buy souvenirs at grocery stores . You’ll be there anyway buying for your picnic, so pick up local jams, jellies, coffees and teas for your friends and family back home. Chocolate-covered Macadamia nuts in Hawaii, hot sauces in New Orleans or Santa Fe, sweet mustard in Munich, dark chocolate in Amsterdam or Geneva, are less expensive in the grocery store than in the souvenir store.
Make your first stop the local visitors center to collect coupons, brochures, free maps, etc. Ask the staff about insider tips such as free days at museums and last-minute theater tickets.
Use the local library for internet access. Lucky you if your hotel offers free wi-fi or cable internet. But it’s more likely that your hotel charges as much as $14.95 a day for access. It’s almost always free at the local library. Or, use a website such as hotspotr.com, wififreespot.com or youcanworkfromanywhere.com/wi-fi to search by city or zipcode.
Ask a local for recommendations. Yes, the hotel concierge is the most knowledgeable, but if you want to find a local, neighborhood place to eat or hang out, ask somebody else. I found what has turned out to be my absolute favorite restaurant in San Francisco, House of Nanking, by asking the hotel bellman where he goes to eat.
Yes – I said ten budget saving travel tips. Here’s a bonus eleventh:
Buy travel insurance. It will protect you in the event of missed or cancelled flights, lost baggage, and medical emergencies.