I think we can all agree that vacations are a lot of fun, but paying for them is not quite so exciting. Here are 10 tips that we personally use to stretch our travel dollars farther.
1. Rental Car without the Airport
Booking a rental car is a great way to see the sights, but rental cars can be pricey. An easy way to save 50% when renting a car is to book from a non airport location. You can easily find the closest location by opening Google Maps, going to the arrival airport, and searching for “Rental Car”. We recently booked a compact car (Toyota Yaris) for $125/wk. The same car, same rental company, airport price was $225/wk. We took an Uber taxi from the airport to the rental counter for $8 each way.
2. Uber/Lyft vs Taxi
Technology keeps advancing and one of the exciting innovations that has come about is the ability to better match resources to the people that need them. Uber and Lyft are two ride sharing companies that use the internet to connect drivers looking to make money with passengers looking to get from point A -> B. Both of these services are cheaper than a traditional taxi company because the new technology cuts out the costs of a human dispatcher. I expect that ride sharing will become even cheaper when cars become self-driving. Download the smartphone app before you leave home and make sure you setup an account as well, that way you won’t be fumbling during your precious vacation time.
3. Corporate Rental Code
Yet another tip for renting cars, and this one also applies to hotel rooms but check to see if your employer has a corporate rental code. Chances are good that if you work for a large corporation, they have deals in place for both business and leisure rental rates. In our case, we were able to shave off another 10% from advertised rates. Even if you don’t have a corporate code, you might have an AAA, AARP, or other membership that can reduce the price a bit.
4. Buy Admission Tickets Online
If you are planning on seeing the sights, it pays to buy advanced tickets online. Not only do you get to skip the ticket counter at the destination but you can also save money. We used TicketsAtWork.com which was available through Shae’s employer. The discounts ranged from 10-40%. Most of the attractions we went to offered tickets through their own websites and many of them had some form of discount. If you are planning to see a bunch of attractions you may be able to find a bundled “City Pass”.
5. Reciprocal Memberships
Do you have a membership to a museum at home? You might have free or reduced admission to a bunch of other museums. Our children’s museum membership ($120) gives us access to the ACM reciprocal network. Some of the attractions that we went to would have cost upwards of $60 for our family of four to enter, but with our reciprocal memberships they were free! It does not take long at that rate to pay off the membership and then some.
6. Early Bird Dinner Specials
Yes, the blue hair special. You might be laughing or rolling your eyes, but we actually took advantage of this twice on our most recent trip. While it varies from restaurant to restaurant, we were able to save about 40% by eating between 4-5:15pm. As an extra bonus, I think the portion sizes were a bit smaller so it was healthier. We really don’t need to eat ginormous restaurant portions. Finally, if you are traveling with kids, know this. Eating earlier before your kids crash hard at night lets you go to a bit fancier restaurants. We weren’t as nervous about getting angry glares from fellow patrons because the places were practically empty!
7. Forgot To Pack
Inevitably you forgot something at home. Maybe it was a pair of sunglasses, a cell phone charger, or just some toys to keep the kids entertained. Dollar Tree is perfect for picking up little items. My pair of sunglasses broke on the trip. Not a problem! $1.07 later and I had a new pair.
8. Preparing Meals
I know, you are on vacation and the last thing you want to do is cook or brown bag it, but let’s face it, it saves a LOT of money. Sometimes paying a bit more in lodging to get a kitchenette or kitchen can actually save you money overall, provided you are willing to do some eating in. We tried to keep our eat out/in ratio at 1:4. For every meal that we ate out at a restaurant, we would prepare four other meals. Obviously you can find a ratio that suits you. Part of the fun of traveling is trying new foods so don’t limit yourself too much. You can eat PB&J at home.
9. Pack light
Airline baggage fees seem to be extraordinary these days and it will probably only get more outrageous in the future. So stop and think to yourself, “Am I going on vacation, or is my wardrobe going on vacation?”. My recommendation is to pack no more than a week’s worth of clothing and yes, it is okay to wear a pair of pants more than once. If you are traveling for more than a week, plan on doing laundry. DollarTree has big detergent bottles that are way more economical than the detergent vending machine at the laundromat. Also, it is okay to share a suitcase with another family member.
10. Say No to Convenience Charges
Finally, just say no to convenience charges. Like weddings or babies, you are going to be a victim of price discrimination. Would you pay $16 for an umbrella at your neighborhood swimming pool? Probably not, so why are you going to pay $16 for one on vacation. The tourism industry is a well oiled machine and that machine is geared to pump as much money out of you as possible. Simply being aware of the markups will help you avoid some of the traps.