Ahh, vacation. A time to relax, unwind, and recharge the batteries, am I right? The thing about complete relaxation is that it often means staying at the nicest resorts, eating out for three meals a day, and in general having no restrictions on finances and spending. But if we all did THAT on vacation, we probably wouldn’t take very many of them! I always try to keep a good balance while on vacation, alternating between indulgence and penny-pinching. And unless you have absolutely no financial concerns in life, I’m willing to wager a bet that you are in a similar boat.
The good news is that there ARE ways to save some serious money while on vacation. You just have to be willing to put in some advance homework and planning, as well as understand that your week of vacation is not going to be in the absolute lap of luxury. But chances are you will still have an amazing trip, fond memories, and above all a financially stress-free holiday. Read on for some tips to save money on vacation:
Pick a hotel with a microwave and/or refrigerator. I’ve found that many times, these rooms are not any more expensive than others, you might just have to call around to a few different hotels to see what accommodations their rooms offer. With these appliances, you can stash leftovers, milk for breakfast cereal, snacks and homemade lunches on your trip which can save a huge chunk of cash.
Unplug your appliances at home while on vacation. Energy Star states that it takes about $100 per year, per household to power appliances on standby-mode (think: your home entertainment center, alarm clocks, iPod dock, and televisions.)
Research your bank’s local ATMs in the area you’ll be staying to avoid foreign ATM fees. If your bank does not have any locations in your destination city, pack enough cash so that you don’t have to hit the ATM.
BYOWB: bring your own water bottle. I used to spend so much money purchasing bottled water from cafes, convenience stores, and the mini bar in my hotel before I started bringing my own water bottle. If you hate drinking tap water, opt for a Brita Filtered water bottle. They run about $8-10 (you can buy them at Target, Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, and online) and they filter out chlorine and the icky tap water taste. Sure, it costs more upfront, but think of how many bottles or cases of water it’ll save you from buying in the long run. You can also bring your empty water bottle through security at airports and fill up on the other side at a water fountain. Say goodbye to $5 bottles of water at the airport Starbucks!
Go big on breakfast and lunch, and go smaller on dinner. Many times you can get about the same amount of food at breakfast and lunch as you can at dinner, but the prices are significantly cheaper. If you can, opt for a bigger lunch and then have a smaller meal at dinnertime to save a little cash.
Never leave a restaurant empty-handed: always take home leftovers when you do indulge in a meal out. (This is where the hotel room refrigerator and microwave will come in handy.) Scrape together leftovers from meals and have them boxed up to go. Even if it’s not enough food to act as a whole meal, it could serve as a mid-afternoon or morning-after snack that you would’ve otherwise had to purchase. Although honestly, I think that restaurants typically over-portion, so you should be able to bring home lunch-sized leftovers at least once on your trip.
Consider staying at a town next door from your actual destination. If you don’t mind the 15 minute commute by bus, on foot or driving, you might be able to save a good deal of money on the hotel and food costs since it’s not “the” tourist city.
Skip the morning Starbucks run and brew coffee in your room. Most hotels have coffee makers in the room, and if you’re a big coffee drinker you might want to ask for a few extra packets of beans from the front desk so you can brew more. Or, bring a plastic baggie of your own ground coffee beans from home if you’re picky about your coffee.
Avoid airport food by planning ahead for long flights and layovers. Long gone are the days when airlines serve in-flight meals, forcing us to bring our own food. Meals that carry well are sandwiches, burritos, and salads. Make your own at home to save on costs, although getting a sandwich from a Subway outside of the airport will still be cheaper than anything the airport has to offer. At the very least pack snacks (granola bars, chips, fruit, trail mix, fruit snacks) to munch on during layovers and flying time, so you’re not tempted to spend $7 on a bag of peanuts at the airport.
Sign up to receive Groupons from your destination city. I have a friend who was planning to honeymoon in Hawaii, and he scoped out Groupons for six months prior to his trip. He saved money on restaurants, SCUBA lessons, and a boat rental (things that he would have paid full price for anyway) and ended up saving an estimated $300. Living Social is another good site to check out.
Ask for discounts at your hotel. Sometimes it is not clearly advertised that they give discounts for students, seniors, AAA members, union members, and veterans so be sure to ask when you’re booking your room.
Consider staying in a 2-star hotel instead of a 3-star and save an average of $50. Unless you trip is revolving around staying in a luxurious resort, consider how much time you’ll actually spend at the hotel anyway. You definitely want something safe, but the trip is mostly going to be about the activities, sites you see, and other events outside of the hotel room.
Visit restaurant.com to get incredibly priced gift certificates to restaurants in the areas you are going. I’ve actually found some of my favorite restaurants through this website. They offer $25 for only $10 (and I can usually find an additional coupon code by searching online. I’ve gotten $25 gift certificates for $3 before.) Just make sure to read the fine print, because some are only good on weekdays, not valid for alcoholic beverages, and some require a minimum amount spent.
Use your credit card to earn rewards and cash-back while on vacation. As long as you pay off the money spent as soon as you return from the trip (or even while you’re still on the trip so you don’t forget,) you will avoid racking up debt while still getting the benefits of earning rewards.
Hit the restaurants before 4 or 5pm for a late lunch to avoid the dinner fees. Another trick I’ve learned is to hit the all you can eat buffet towards the end of the lunch day, that way you’re still there for when they switch over to the dinner items–often higher priced and better selection of food.
If I could offer one last tip, it would be to simply plan ahead for everything. It can be very fun to spontaneously up and leave on a vacation, but I’ve found that you usually wind up spending the most amount of money on those types of trips. Plan ahead, use coupons and Groupons to save money, research cost-effective but still great restaurants, find inexpensive activities in your destination town, and stick to a budget while on your trip. You can take a great vacation that doesn’t have to add to your debt or make a dent in your wallet or credit report. Just do some advance planning and you’ll be fine. But don’t forget to treat yourself—it is vacation, after all!