U.S. Markets closed

7 Ways to Save Money on Travel

Lyle Daly, The Motley Fool


Think you need a lot of spare cash to travel? Not with these tips that can help you save money every time you hit the road.

Rolled-up wad of cash placed in small beach chair on a sandy beach.

Image source: Getty Images.

The most common reason people don’t travel is probably the cost. To be more accurate, it’s the perceived cost, because what many people don’t realize is just how affordable travel can be.

If money has been your biggest barrier to going somewhere new, then you’re in luck. I took multiple vacations of almost two weeks each last year, including one overseas trip to Europe, and kept my out-of-pocket costs below $500 per trip. What I’ve found is it’s not that tough to take an affordable trip, provided you know the best ways to save money on travel.

1. Stay in the less touristy neighborhoods

In big cities, the touristy neighborhoods tend to be the most expensive. Rooms, restaurants, and activities are all likely to cost you more if you stay in one of these areas.

Do your homework on the city you’re visiting and look for neighborhoods with more local flavor. You won’t have to pay as much, and you’ll get a more authentic experience where you’re not constantly among dozens of other tourists.

2. Start booking early

You stand a much better chance of scoring deals on your travel if you start booking well in advance. Airfare and room rates usually go up as availability becomes more scarce. And if you wait until the last minute to book activities you want to try, you risk them being sold out.

Just how soon should you start shopping around? For domestic trips, three to six months out is a good rule of thumb. For international trips, six months to a year is recommended.

3. Use travel rewards for your biggest expenses

Travel rewards have undoubtedly saved me the most money on my trips. Airfare and lodging are typically the biggest expenses you’ll have when you travel, and you can pay for both with credit card points.

If you don’t have a card yet, then you can start by looking at the best travel rewards cards. Any of those can help you cut your costs substantially on airfare, a place to stay, and plenty of other travel expenses.

4. Eat out sparingly

Trying the local cuisines is a huge part of getting to know a place’s culture, so of course you’ll want to check out some restaurants when you travel. I’d always recommend doing that, but you’ll spend a lot of money if you’re eating out for every meal.

Here are a few ways to cut your food costs when you travel:

  • Stop at a grocery store for some inexpensive meals and snacks.

  • See if the place you’re staying offers any complimentary meals.

  • Visit restaurants for lunch instead of dinner so that you can try local food at a lower price.

5. Don’t go into debt for your trip

One of the biggest money problems people have is too much borrowing. While there are some occasions when borrowing money can be a smart decision, travel isn’t one of them. You don’t want to end up paying even more for your trip because you put it on your credit card and now it’s costing you interest.

The smart, responsible way to travel is to save all the money you’ll need for your trip beforehand. You may want to open a new bank account specifically for your upcoming trip, as this will encourage you to start saving.

6. Rent a smaller room

No one travels to see how awesome the rooms are on the other side of the world, so why overspend in that area? You can have a much more affordable trip by only renting what you need.

This could mean renting a standard room instead of a suite, or renting a room in someone’s home instead of an entire apartment. Remember that you’re going to spend the majority of your time exploring, not hanging out at the place where you’re staying. And you may find, as I did, that renting a room from a local can actually be more fun than having your own place.

7. Cut down on what you do

It’s natural to want to see everything when you travel. You realize that it may be your only time visiting the area, so there’s a desire to take full advantage by doing it all.

Here’s the thing, though -- you aren’t going to do it all. You won’t see every attraction in a city or visit every noteworthy city in the country. If you pack your schedule full of things to do, you’ll just end up spending more and feeling more stressed as you try to fit it all in.

Focus on one or two big things that you want to do per day, and fill in the rest with more relaxed activities, such as walking around a new neighborhood. You’ll save money and get to spend more time on the things you decide to do.

The travel experience without the cost

You can spend thousands for a luxurious trip, but you can also stick to a smaller budget and enjoy yourself just as much. The money-saving tips above can all help you reduce the cost of your travels without detracting from the quality of your experiences.

The Motley Fool owns and recommends MasterCard and Visa, and recommends American Express. We’re firm believers in the Golden Rule. If we wouldn’t recommend an offer to a close family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Ascent either. Our number one goal is helping people find the best offers to improve their finances. That is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.