If you’re like me, you want to experience your destination like a local – the tourist traps just won’t cut it. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save hundreds of dollars on food, entertainment, and activities without sacrificing your vacation experience.
How to Save Money on Vacation
1. Leave the Toiletries at Home
Why are you packing shampoo, conditioner, soap, and toothpaste? Those items are readily available at most hotels for free. In fact, there are many hotel freebies that are ripe for the taking.
The benefit of leaving the toiletries at home is two-fold: Not only will it preserve your own private stash, extending the life of each, but it also will reduce, albeit minimally, the weight of your bag when packing for vacation. With rising airline baggage fees, every little bit counts.
2. Download Free Apps to Find the Cheap Hot Spots
Popular apps like Foursquare and Scoutmob can help you locate one-off discounts, but how do you find establishments that offer regular deals? There are lots of lesser-known, free apps that can save you big money over the course of your trip. One of my favorites is Happy Hour Finder, which lists all the happy hours in the immediate area, what the deals are, and what day of the week those deals are available. This is an excellent way to find discount booze, as well as occasional free meals, without having to travel too far.
3. Purchase Daily Deals in Advance
Start monitoring daily deals from Groupon and LivingSocial in the city you’re traveling to. This is a brilliant idea for two reasons: First, it gives you a greater sense of what there is to do in the area (the tourism sites tend to list only the main attractions), and also, you’ll save far more than you would if you showed up to the attraction on any given day, even with a restaurant coupon.
When I traveled to Chicago last summer, I scored a deal for a day at a water park at half off. Without it, I never would have known the park even existed.
4. Research Public Transportation
Think you can’t get from the airport to your accommodations on public transportation? Think again. In New York City, for example, you can get from all three local airports to wherever you’re going in the city by bus or train.
Even in a smaller city, like my hometown of Baltimore, there’s a light rail system that connects from the airport to many points through downtown and the suburbs. If the public transportation doesn’t drop you off on the doorstep, at least it will get you closer so you can cut the cost of taking a cab.
5. Pack the GPS
If you have to drive (or want to), don’t forget to pack your own GPS navigation device in your carry-on or checked luggage. The car rental agency will try to up-sell you on a GPS rental, but that’s money that you can save to spend elsewhere.
6. Visit Your Destination’s Cultural Websites
How will you know what’s free or discounted if you don’t research your destinations’ cultural offerings ahead of time? Many museums, parks, and zoos that charge admission sometimes offer a free day or time period. If you can’t find that info on the site, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call them.
7. Stock Up on Restaurant.com Gift Certificates
I live by Restaurant.com. Nine times out of 10, if my husband and I are going out to eat, it’s because I’ve purchased a gift certificate to that restaurant at 90% off. It’s a great way for us to try new places at home and away. All you have to do is enter the ZIP code of the area you’re staying in, pick the ones you like, pay the discounted fee, and print out the gift certificates. You can also utilize the mobile app that’s available. I usually have a pile of these certificates in my carry-on luggage ready to use once we arrive. This also cuts down on time wasted trying to decide where to eat.
8. Remember Your Student or Military ID
My husband is officially out of the military, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still flash his ID card for discounted tickets where available. If you’re a student, it’s in your best interest to bring your ID along as well. Many times, these discounts aren’t advertised, so be sure to ask the attendant if such deals are offered. Don’t ever assume they aren’t just because you don’t see them listed anywhere.
9. Go Grocery Shopping
Eating out every meal is costly. In fact, it can eat up more than half of your vacation budget if you’re not careful – even with dining discounts and certificates. If you have a small fridge within your accommodations, pick up a few easy-to-eat groceries like fruit, cereal, and sandwich ingredients. Eating before you head out for the day and packing snacks will keep the hunger pangs at bay and more money in your pocket.
10. Skip the Souvenirs
I have a rule at my house: Nothing comes through the door that doesn’t serve a genuine purpose. So shot glasses, key chains, decorative spoons, and t-shirts are definitely out. I don’t need these things to remind me of the great time I had on vacation, and neither do you.
Instead, take lots of photos. It’s fun, cheap, and the fond memories will last a lot longer than any item you pick up at the airport.
11. Discover Your Member Perks
Instead of that abundance of plastic in your wallet costing you money all the time, make it work in your favor by finding out what discounts and rewards are associated with them. Bank of America, for instance, has a program called Museums on Us, where cardholders can visit partner museums on the first full weekend of every month for free. There are more than 150 participating museums across the country. A little research into what deals you already have in your wallet is totally worth it.
When you go on vacation, you want to splurge – and you deserve to splurge. It is vacation, after all. But by being smarter about how and where you spend your money, you’ll have more of it to spend on the things that matter, like extra activities or shopping opportunities you can’t get back home. Plus, forcing yourself to save on vacation will often get you out of the tourist traps and land you where the locals hangout. A good vacation doesn’t get much better than that.
Do you have additional ways to save money while on vacation?
(photo credit: Pius Lee, Nadiia Gerbish, Shutterstock)