How To Save Money On Vacation

by heather

10023829If you’re hitting the open road this summer or flying the friendly skies, then you might be trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for it all.

Vacations can get expensive. Really expensive. If you want to save money on your next trip, then you’ve got to plan ahead.

Money Saving Tip #1: Research Your Airline

I just got back from vacation visiting family. I flew Delta/Northwest, and you know what I found out once I got to the airport?

You now have to pay for each suitcase you put on the plane. A whopping $15 each way.

I had no idea they were doing that. So, I had to pay $30 to bring my suitcase there and back. And because I didn’t do any research before I left, the fee was a very unpleasant surprise. I could have shipped my clothes there for less than that.

These days it definitely pays to research your airline before you fly. Make sure you read the fine print, because like as not there are hidden fees that are lurking in there.

Next time I fly I’ve resolved not to check a bag. I’m only going to pack the bare necessities in a backpack and just carry it on with me.

If you’re traveling with a partner or with a family, then you can lower your costs by packing less. Instead of giving each person their own suitcase, make two people share one so you pay for less baggage.

And, make sure that your suitcase doesn’t weigh more than 50 lbs. Most airlines now charge an extra fee if it’s heavier than that.

Money Saving Tip #2: Research Your Fares

Are you going to be flying somewhere this summer? Then you should know that there are plenty of money saving travel sites out there besides and

  • Kayak – Kayak is cool because it allows you to instantly search several other travel sites at once. You tell Kayak when you want to leave, and it will search Hotwire, Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline for you. Each site will open in a separate window, allowing you to easily see who has the best deal.

To test the effectiveness of these sites, I did a sample vacation to see who would return the cheapest fares. I planned a trip from Detroit to Seattle, from July 22 to July 29.

The winner? They gave me the cheapest fare, which was $278 through Expedia and Priceline (with one stop).

The loser was DoHop, whose cheapest fare was $332 for one stop.

So, it definitely pays off to spend some time researching airfare.

carbon_balanced_insigniaDon’t Forget Your Terrapass…

I know this particular post is focusing more on “saving money” than “going green”, but one great way to green your air travel is to purchase a Terrapass. Terrapass allows you to calculate your carbon footprint based on how far you’re traveling. It then quotes you a price for a “Terrapass”. The money you spend on your Terrapass funds projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So, you can help nullify your carbon footprint by purchasing a $10 Terrapass. Yes, it’s extra money to be spent on top of all those fees, but it’s a great way to offset the greenhouse gasses we’re putting into the air with our trips.

Money Saving Tip #3: Fly During The Week

This is one money-saving tip I always use: fly during the middle of the week. Fares on Wednesday and Thursday are always cheaper than Monday, Friday, and the weekend. Why? Because most people fly on the weekends, and business travelers often fly in and out on Mondays and Fridays.

You can save big by traveling on off-days. Not to mention that the airports are usually emptier during the middle of the week, which means fewer delays and less stress. And the best part? Because there is less baggage going through the airport, there’s an increased chance that your luggage might actually end up where it’s supposed to be when you arrive.


Money-Saving Tip #4: Pack Your Own Food

Ever wonder why airports can charge $8 for a dinky sandwich, or $9 for a domestic beer (no, I’m not exaggerating those prices, I actually saw them during my latest trek through the Detroit airport…).

It’s because a) they don’t get that many customers, especially now that only ticketed passengers can go into the airport and b) you’re trapped there. If you’re hungry, then you have no choice but to pay their blood money.

Solution? Take your own food.

I’m a big fan of PB & J. They travel well, have protein, and are cheap to make. I also take things like apples, crackers, and granola bars for snacking.

I also pack my Sigg water bottle when I travel. Now, you can’t take any water through security, which is an important fact that I forgot on my latest trip. I’d filled my 24 oz. bottle to the brim. What did they make me do? Either leave the enormously long line to dump it out, or drink it all at once.

Yes, I chose to drink it all at once. It wasn’t pretty.

So, take empty water bottles with you. I filled mine back up at the water fountain once I got through security.

Money Saving Tip #5: Splurge to Save On Your Hotel Room

If you’re staying in a hotel for more than a day or two, then it might pay off to get a larger room with a kitchenette. This will allow you to make meals in your room, which is cheaper than eating out every time you get hungry.

It’s important to do a cost-comparison here. If the room is $30 more per night, then you need to figure out how many meals you’ll realistically cook yourself, and if the increased price is really going to save money.

Usually if you’re traveling with kids, a room with a kitchen will save you money. If you’re traveling alone, then you might break even either way.

A and I almost always try to get a room with a kitchenette. We’ll make our own breakfast, pack a lunch, and usually eat dinners out. Preparing those two meals ourselves, however, more than makes up for the increased cost of a better room.

Money Saving Tip #6: Mix Your Own Drinks

I know it’s fun to go out to local nightclubs and bars. But, these excursions can get really, really expensive.

You can save by mixing your own drinks where you’re staying.

Now, we all know that alcohol is not cheap either. So, this tip works best if you’re traveling with others. All of you can pitch in for the liquor, which will be much cheaper than all of you going out to the bar.

Money Saving Tip #7: Stay In A Hostel

If you want to save money on your lodging (and you’re not traveling with kids) then staying in a hostel is your best bet. Most hostels charge $20-$30 per night (even overseas), which makes them a great resource for traveling on the cheap.

A and I are trying to plan a trip to Brazil this fall. I checked on a hostel in Sao Paulo. Per night price? $15. Fabulous.

If you’d like to see what hostels are located in your next vacation spot, check out Hosteling International. Here you can research hostels, check rates, and even book your bed.

Last Word…On Splurging…

For me, there’s a fine balance when it comes to vacations. On the one hand, I’m traveling to have fun, have new experiences, and really relax. And, often it takes money to do these things.

On the other hand, I try not to go completely hog wild while I’m away. There are easy ways to save money and still have an exciting, fun vacation at the same time.

Think carefully about how far you’re willing to go to save money while you’re away. You may be on a tight budget, but don’t work so hard at scrimping that you rob yourself of some really memorable experiences.

I did that one vacation, and it didn’t really feel like a vacation at all. It was just a week “somewhere else”, and I was so wrapped up in how much things cost that I forgot to have fun in the process. For instance, I really, really wanted to sign up for this program where you could swim with dolphins. But the $200 price tag threw me. Yes, I had the money, but I didn’t do it because I was trying to be frugal and “smart”.

That’s a decision I regret. I’ve always wanted to swim with a dolphin, and I passed up that experience because I thought that money would be better off somewhere else. To this day I can’t remember where the money went. All I remember is not swimming with those dolphins.

It was a good learning experience, though, because it taught me about that fine line between having fun and being frugal. I have now learned how to do both!

There are plenty of experiences and things where splurging is totally worth it. So, don’t forget that you’re there to have fun and to live.

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Amanda June 18, 2009 at 10:31 am

Spiritair has a new $9 Fare Club that if you join, you can find flights as low as $9.

Nina June 18, 2009 at 4:16 pm

I discovered your blog a while back and have enjoyed almost every post since. Loved the Kindle review.

I just wanted to say thanks for this post. I popped onto searching for airfare and it is the best experience I’ve had looking for a flight in a very long time. Wow, so much easier to navigate.

Diane June 18, 2009 at 7:57 pm

I enjoyed the post since I’ve been traveling for 50 years now, and it seems each time I learned some new money-saving method, and you’ve mentioned a number of them here.

One thing I remember to do, is first determine the budget and then one more thing. We’re often gone two or three months at a time; we know that if we were home, there would be groceries; incidentals, and of course heating/air conditioning/lighting, etc. So, I also figure what we will SAVE while we’re away, by turning down the thermostat; incorporating the normal grocery and supply costs, into the money for the meals while traveling, and it helps add a bit to the total allowance. As an example, we live in the desert; went north in the summer, and saved $180/month just on the air conditioning costs for 3 months, so that’s $540 we didn’t spend on the a.c., and we added that to our ‘fun money’.

Of course when you’re driving, you have the option of shopping for your favorite foods; beverage, and when we do that we buy ‘goodies’ for the evening meal rather than eating out. We usually stay where there’s a Continental breakfast; we grab an extra banana for the room and then we eat lunch out at a nice restaurant for much less than the same meal at dinner.

We’ve done our share of flying; loved your remarks and tips on that. I thought I was the only person who used to end up drinking my water from the bottle while waiting to board; passing through the security and refilling it at the water fountain.

And long before they charged for bags, we did the back-pack and always shipped our clothes to our destination point if it was possible. Normally this was when we were visiting family or friends who could receive the items. We used UPS (still do), and be sure you make a RETURN LABEL, so when you’re heading back home, you can repack the clothes; take them to UPS and have a ‘ready label’ handy (be sure to put in a roll of packing tape in the clothing box too).

When the gas prices a nominal, we use the motor-home. When the trip is too costly because of the gas, we use the SUV – we turn down one seat, and make a ‘single bed’, so we can alternate driving ‘straight through’ for 24 hours, and then treat ourselves to a hotel room every other night until we reach our destination.

We always have the car serviced and inspected before we leave; we carry a portable charger so we don’t end up stalled with a dead battery. We add road service and increase our coverage on our insurance when traveling, then scale back when we know we’re going to be local.

On the road, we have our food and if we do stop, we split a meal; a drink, and snack from our supply. We avoid the trinkets and tourist gimmicks; instead of post cards, we take the pictures – have them printed on 4×6 at a drug store, and use them to mail to friends. Our pictures run 10 to 25 cents a piece; the ones you buy usually start at $1.00 each.

We cut down on clothing such as taking a large garbage bag instead of a rain coat in the event we get caught in a quick shower. Using the bag means saving space and if you don’t use it, it’s a good laundry bag. We choose clothes that don’t wrinkle easily; none that show ‘spots’ if we spill, and ones that can be washed and dried quickly – no wrinkles, and while we’re driving we wear loose-fitting clothes to stay comfortable.

We always make sure we have dollar bills and quarters for the toll roads – don’t want to get caught short, or have to break a big bill at the toll gate.

We keep just one credit card for traveling only. We set the money aside for the trip into a savings account that earns interest. We pay off the entire bill, and the interest earned helps reduce the credit balance.

Always carry copies of important documents that you might need to refer to – copies, not originals – slip them in a large zip plastic bag to protect them.

We make certain any prescriptions are filled before we leave, and make sure we can fill them at the same drug store (usually Walgreens), while we’re away.

A roll of paper towels and a plastic trash bag is always ‘up front’ – for spills, etc. We carry an squeeze bottle of 90% water and equal parts of dish liquid and rubbing alcohol for quick clean-ups of hands. We carry a neutral scent of spray, to quickly freshen us so we smell ‘clean’ if we have to make a stop and haven’t showered recently.

We make a package up of stamps; envelopes and paper with pens to write letters or take notes.

Of course we stop our mail service unless we’re gone for 3 or 4 months; then we put in a change of address to where we’re going to stay so our bills are forwarded; we pay them, and then change the address at a post office 3 days before we expect to return home.

Both my husband and I also traveled for over 20 years in our careers; again, we learned the in and out of traveling efficiently and economically even when our company paid the tab.

I hope you have a great time in Seattle; I’m from Kalamazoo and lived in Seattle for 3 years. Seattle is such a beautiful city, but it can be expensive, so I imagine you’ve done your home-work on that.

Another little trick is letting people use our home (we live in a resort area) while we’re gone; they pay a small sum compared to the hotel costs, so our vacant home is making money for us while we’re gone.

Have fun – enjoy your blog…………….

heather June 18, 2009 at 9:09 pm

@ Nina- Thanks so much for reading! I know, I was really impressed with Kayak too when I found it. I’m definitely using it instead of Expedia, simply because you have so many more options!

@ Diane- Wow, those are some great tips! I LOVED your postcard idea; I’m definitely going to try that on my next trip. That’s so much more personal than just buying a mass produced postcard! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your knowledge; there are some great tips here, and I know that I and other readers will definitely benefit from them!

And, thanks so much for reading!

Diane June 18, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I just got a notice of your reply, and glad you liked the ideas. I’m probably old enough to be your mom – maybe even your grand-mother, so I was fortunate to start traveling before all the ‘red tape’ started unraveling over the many years.

Another thing with those cards, if you want them even ‘prettier’, take along a card set that accommodates the photo; a nice envelope comes with each card, and then you’ve got even more room to write. I pre-stamp at least a 12-pack of those type of cards, and use those for those who I want to write just a bit more to.

I have 5 children; 4 boys and a daughter – the youngest is 39; oldest is 49. I ‘created’ some real travelers by taking them not only on vacations, but on business meetings and conventions. As youngsters, they learned the joy of traveling and also are competent in getting the most from their vacations and business adventures since 3 of the 5 also travel a great deal in their line of work.

A bit off the subject somewhat, but my oldest son was the guy who gave the idea to Honda (since he owns 2 dealerships), to create a car that would accommodate pets during their travels. He got the idea because his wife’s dog is suffering with arthritis, and they’ve had to revamp their Honda SUV, so it would allow her dog to be ‘loaded and unloaded’ more easily as well as a comfortable cushioned area to travel in. He designed it for their car; then gave the idea to Honda, and now Honda is offering it as an option on their SUV’s.

He recently came to visit; broke his reading glasses while visiting, and I reminded him that if you need reading glasses, always pack 2 or 3 of those inexpensive ‘readers’, and keep your prescription ones safe. He laughed as I handed over a ‘spare pair’ I had in my purse, and he flew home with them. So, add that to your list – it’s hard to read a map or menu if your glasses are suddenly lost or broken. Take a spare pair – low cost ‘readers’, or definitely if you have to use only prescription, don’t leave home without an extra pair.

As I said, I enjoy your blog; it’s on my rss feed, and I save the articles that I find very helpful. No one is ever too young or too old to learn something valuable…………

Karen June 18, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Hi Heather,
I love reading your blog and the comments your readers leave are very informative too…as in this post.

I travel moderately with my kids (for sporting events) and I’ve learned to travel frugally over the years. If I’m flying, I always bring extra foods, my own travel blanket and pillow, water bottle, carry on board as much as the guidelines allow, pack a toiletry bag (w/ sample sized liquid bottles) on a carry on, divide the clothes among different bags (in case one gets lost), AND use Priceline for bidding on airline tickets and hotels. (I’ve gotten more than 70% off on four star hotels!!)
I also pack unread magazines that have accumulated for weeks (or months) at home to read on the plane and recycle them. And of course, there are books on my iPhone to listen to – Kindle in your case – but trips are great for mindless reading of magazines while knitting or crocheting. And I’m not tempted at airports from buying the glossies.

I also have found that checking airline prices at different times of the day (3AM vs. 3PM), few days apart also lowers the ticket prices. Using different computers with different IP addresses also give you different prices.

Hope that adds a little more to the great suggestions given by Diane. 🙂
Happy and Safe Travels!


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heather June 19, 2009 at 6:39 am

@ Diane- Thanks for writing in more great tips! That’s neat that your son thought of that for Honda. I’m sure many people with older pets are grateful he came up with that idea!

@ Karen- I had no idea that different IP addresses would give different prices for airline tickets! But, I shouldn’t be surprised that they track that…I figured out a few months ago that if I was thinking about buying something on Amazon (and as I made my decision I kept going back to the site to look at that product) the price would slowly start to go down. It hasn’t happened on every product, but I’ve definitely noticed it on some items.

For instance, I bought my Kill-A-Watt from Amazon, and I thought about that purchase for 4 or 5 days. I kept going to check it out at Amazon, and noticed the price kept creeping down just a bit, almost like they were enticing me to buy. But, I’ve been thinking of purchasing a Vermicompost bin by Can-O-Worms, which is a hefty $130, and that price hasn’t budged yet.

Thanks for that great tip on IP addresses though; I’m definitely going to try that (using my husband’s computer as well as my own) next time I fly!

Mary November 2, 2010 at 11:28 pm

We have saved money on vacation by packing light. We try to take on carryons, only. Since all the airlines are charging for checked bags. Also, if staying in a hotel, we try and find one with a refrigerator at least this way we can buy some water, sandwich meat, bread and mayo. We can go on our sight seeing trip with a picnic. Another great site for saving money on vacation is

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