Last weekend was Memorial Day – which is considered the unofficial start to summer and to the most popular vacation time of the year. If your summer plans include travel, here are some tips for enjoying your trip without breaking your budget.
Where To Go
- Pick a destination that is off the traditional tourist paths. Every state offers hidden gems that are less known, less crowded, and less expensive. By doing some internet research, you can locate non-touristy sites that offer the activities you prefer.
If your goal is international travel, select a country that has a favorable rating in two important categories – (1) exchange rates so you can get the most value for your dollar and (2) travel advisories so you can feel safe. Visit a website such as Oanda.com for exchange rates and visit the U.S. Department of State website at Travel.state.gov to check about travel advisories.
When To Go
- Most locations have a “peak” travel season when most tourists visit. Often this is linked to the local weather or to local holiday celebrations. If you can avoid these times and visit during the less popular “low” season, you’ll find better prices for everything from accommodations to food, from admission prices to souvenirs.
How To Go
- If your destination is less than 500 miles away, consider driving. It will almost certainly be cheaper, less hassle, and offer you the most flexibility. If you must fly, be flexible with your travel days and hours – for the best fares, travel at times that most people are not traveling.
For example, domestic flights tend to be cheaper on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, while international flights are usually cheaper on weekdays rather than weekends. Also look for lower fares on the exact day of a holiday such as on July Fourth, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving Day.
- If you are sure your plans won’t change, then make non-refundable reservations that are usually cheaper. However, if your schedule is uncertain and may change, make refundable bookings that give you the options you need.
- Cruises can offer attractive initial prices, but typically everything is overpriced once you are onboard. The worst offenders are casinos, spas, and shore excursions – avoid them. A site called Viator.com offers reasonably-priced options for many types of activities, including shore excursions, tours, events, and attractions.
- Pack light – perhaps you’ll even be able to avoid checking bags and the associated fees. You can wash certain clothes while at your destination if you have access to a laundry. And if you don’t have luggage for your trip, don’t buy any – borrow it!
Where To Stay
- Non-traditional accommodations are cheapest – such as a hostel; a private home through sites such as Airbnb or HomeAway; or perhaps even a monastery, depending on where you are traveling.
- If you choose to stay at a hotel, always negotiate the price directly with the property. When you book online through a booking site, a hotel loses 15% or more of the room rate in a commission that it must pay to the booking site. When you book direct, a hotel is willing to offer you a better price because they are not paying a commission – both you and the hotel win.
- Booking direct, rather than through “service providers,” is also a money-saving strategy with airlines and car rental agencies.
Where To Eat
- If breakfast is offered where you are spending the night, fill up. And when you leave for the day, take some drinks and snacks with you.
- Ask locals for their recommendations – they will know where food is good, dependable, and low-priced. This will allow you to avoid expensive tourist traps. Be sure to also ask local residents about street food that is safe.
- Lunch prices in most restaurants are lower than dinner prices, so eat out for late lunch and avoid dinner. Stop in smaller, family-owned restaurants 30 or 60 minutes before closing and ask if they have any special prices on food they have already fixed or defrosted and may be forced to throw out at the end of the day.
- Shop for some meals at the local grocery store or farmers market – especially if your accommodations have a kitchen.
- Do internet research to find cheap or free events. Also, check out organizations such as AAA or AARP for discounted admission prices or for passes that allow you to visit multiple attractions for a single low “bundle” price.
- Make tours more economical by looking for “two for one” prices or for “hop on/hop off” itineraries. Visit internet sites such as Vayable and StrayBoots for ideas about walking tours. Every city has many things to see and to experience that cost little or nothing.
- To keep your local travel costs down, take public transportation or rent a bike.
- Stay out of tourist gift shops – if the cost of an item is low, chances are that so is the quality. Prices for popular T-shirts and knick-knacks are almost always high. Instead, you may wish to invest in one item that is higher in quality and can be an ongoing reminder of your trip when displayed in an appropriate high-traffic area of your home – for example, an attractive wall hanging or a piece of art by a local craftsperson.
- Cash is king – and travelers' checks are like cash. So take cash or travelers' checks and avoid expensive ATM transaction fees. If you travel internationally, never use currency exchange windows or airport ATMs – that’s where you’ll pay the highest fees.
- Before you leave for a trip, especially an international destination, call your credit card company to notify them of your departure and return dates. You want to prevent being on the road and having your card denied on suspicion of fraudulent usage. That can create a serious financial emergency while you are far from home, and it’s easy problem to avoid.
Vacations are as important for a healthy, balanced life as eating well and getting proper exercise. And with a little planning, you can spend your next trip making memories instead of spending a fortune.
Navin Shah is Chairman of Royal Hotel Investments, which owns and operates two hotels in Covington and one in Conyers. He is also Vice Chairman of Embassy National Bank, a community bank in Lawrenceville that he helped establish in 2007 and has become one of the leading SBA “Preferred Lenders” in the southeast. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com