How do I save money on vacations?
First, leverage foreign economic and cultural situations and avoid expensive conveniences like airport ATMs. Cash-back credit cards and rewards programs also reduce the burden, but sign up for email alerts and newsletters about discounted flights and hotels, anyway.
Then, choose the right time to travel. Booking during the low season, on major holidays, and midweek can save you a bundle. Just don’t let them track you online, or they may hike the prices just before you book.
But where you stay matters too. Look for hotels that are off the beaten path or skip hotels altogether by using online peer-to-peer crowd-sharing or rental apps. You could also stay at a hostel or even a monastery.
Wherever you stay, think of alternatives to a rental car like bike-sharing and public transportation and take advantage of free and cheap ways to eat and entertain yourself.
International travel is a major budget-buster, but modest weekend getaways and regional road trips add up quickly too. No matter where you’re planning to go, what you’re planning to do, or how long you’re planning to stay, it pays to take reasonable steps to reduce your expenses.
How to Save Money on Any Vacation
These tips come from my own extensive travel experience combined with input from more than a dozen travel experts. Use any and all that apply to your trip type to save the most money possible.
Pro Tip: Before you book, download the Drop app and use it to search for hotels, flights, and more. Drop offers countless opportunities to earn points on everyday purchases, including travel, and frequently delivers discounts you won’t find anywhere else. Once you’re ready to redeem, choose a gift card from popular retailers like Amazon and Starbucks to save even more when you’re out and about in your destination.
Plus, for a limited time, Drop is offering a $10 sign up bonus after you earn your first 1000 Drop points. Just use “DROPPARTNER10” to redeem.
1. Look for Destinations With Favorable Exchange Rates
If you’re eyeing a trip abroad, your first move is to look for destinations with favorable exchange rates. That means the local currencies are weak relative to the American dollar.
Look for countries experiencing minor or isolated political or economic instability, a condition that often puts downward pressure on currency values.
But don’t rush to take advantage of favorable exchange rates if it means putting yourself in harm’s way. More often than not, currency devaluation is a symptom of deeper problems.
For example, since 2013, the Mexican peso has fallen considerably compared to the American dollar due in part to widespread cartel violence. That’s an enticing proposition for bargain-hunting travelers — as long as they steer well clear of hot spots.
My wife and I have taken advantage of a slightly less dramatic discrepancy. We visited Porto and Lisbon, Portugal, in the fall of 2016, when the euro was near a multiyear low against the dollar. Our out-of-pocket costs were about 30% lower than my previous trip to Europe eight years earlier.
2. Plan Travel During the Low Season
By definition, the cheapest time to travel to just about any destination is the low season, when poor weather stymies tourists.
The “low season effect” is particularly pronounced in outdoor vacation destinations, where rain, snow, or extreme temperatures make or break travel plans. It tends to be less noticeable in places that steadily attract business travelers, such as New York City and Chicago, but you can still save.
Some popular vacation towns have two low seasons. Some tropical locales have two rainy seasons, neither of which are fun for sun-seekers. And in mountain communities, spring and fall are one and the same. Once the ski season ends, there’s not much to do until summer.
3. Sign Up for a Cheap Flight Alert Newsletter
If you’re not set on a specific destination, sign up for a cheap flight alert newsletter that curates deeply discounted flight deals to various destinations.
My go-to is Scott’s Cheap Flights, a free newsletter that comes every day or two. Each deal shows what you can expect to pay for the cheap flight versus the typical fare range plus a brief description of what you need to do to get the deal, the deal’s expected lifespan (usually no more than a couple of days from the email’s time stamp), and the travel date ranges during which it’s likely to apply (usually a span of several months into the future).
Scott’s reserves the absolute best deals for the newsletter’s premium version, which costs $39 per year and comes about twice as often. I don’t travel internationally enough to justify the investment, but if you head abroad more than once or twice per year, it might be worth your while.
4. Set Email Price Alerts
To avoid inbox overload every time a fare or nightly rate drops slightly, set your alert thresholds low — say, 20% instead of 5%. And remember to remove them as soon as you book.
5. Research & Book in Private Mode
When you surf the Web in private mode (called incognito mode in Chrome), your browser doesn’t collect cookies — the data that identifies you to the websites you visit.
Without the ability to track your movements online, travel sites have a harder time guessing your intentions. That means they can’t raise prices when it’s clear you’re targeting a particular hotel, itinerary, or date.
Another option is using a virtual private network (VPN) to conceal your geographical location and encrypt the data you send. Like private browsing, VPNs make it more difficult for travel vendors to follow your movements around the Web.
Light users and infrequent travelers can probably get away with a free version of a high-quality VPN like ProtonVPN or Windscribe (which doubles as an ad-blocker). But if you travel frequently, it can pay to upgrade to the paid version of those or just invest in a paid service like NordVPN.
Trying to conceal your identity during the research and booking process isn’t foolproof. Travel sites use a suite of sophisticated tools to track prospects as they move closer to booking, and there’s no guarantee a private tab or VPN will be enough to keep you anonymous.
6. Weigh Lower Room Costs Against Higher Transportation Costs in Outlying Districts
This is a controversial tip. Many jet-setters swear that staying well outside the town center is the obvious choice for frugal travelers. But just as many swear the exact opposite.
In truth, they’re both right.
In some places, high transportation costs to and from major attractions outweigh lower room costs in outlying districts. In others, the added cost of public transit, ridesharing, or driving is nominal compared with savings on accommodations.
And you don’t always have to go far to find the right balance.
My wife and I once attended a wedding in midtown Manhattan. We skipped the insanely expensive hotels in the district in favor of a cheaper brand-name option just across the East River in Long Island City. We saved at least $200 on a single night’s stay — not a bad trade for an extra four stops on the N train or a $15 Uber.
7. Know the Local Holiday Calendar
You’re probably familiar with the United States holiday calendar, but what about elsewhere in the world? It pays to know.
For example, if you’re planning a trip to Mexico, avoid Semana Santa, the holy week leading up to Easter, when school is out nationwide and the whole country seems to be on the road. Airfare and room rates rise proportionally.
On the other hand, certain parts of the world have anti-holidays — periods when relatively few locals take vacations. February is a cheap time to fly in many parts of the world because it falls after the winter holidays and before the spring break or Easter crush.
8. Join Travel Loyalty Programs
Even if you don’t have a credit card, you can join airline, hotel, and rental car company travel loyalty programs. It’s almost always free, and the payoff is compelling: perks like free or reduced-rate airfare, nightly stays, car rentals, and upgrades.
I belong to a half-dozen loyalty programs, including Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus. Conservatively, I’ve saved $500 in the past three years by redeeming my accumulated miles and points for free stuff.
9. Use Your Credit Card’s Point-Transfer Perk
Some credit cards have an under-the-radar perk that can dramatically increase their rewards’ value: point transfer partnerships.
Since I’m not loyal to any particular travel brands, I prefer general-purpose travel cards with 1-to-1 partner transfer arrangements. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is my favorite, but the Capital One Venture Rewards card is also quite generous on this front.
If you’re more loyal than I am, look for a branded airline or hotel rewards credit card with an expansive 1-to-1 deal.
These arrangements allow you to convert points earned on your credit card into travel partners’ loyalty currency. The gold standard is the 1-to-1 transfer ratio — one credit card point equals one loyalty point or mile.
And it’s a better-than-even swap for you. Most travel brands require fewer of their own rewards points than credit card points to get perks.
For example, you might need 40,000 credit card points to redeem for a free round-trip flight but only 20,000 airline miles to redeem for that same flight directly with the carrier. If that’s the case, a 1-to-1 transfer effectively doubles your money.
10. Negotiate Room Rates Directly
Most travelers don’t realize it, but hotels, airlines, and rental car companies pay dearly for business brokered by online booking sites and travel search engines. Their commissions can be as high as 15%, meaning they keep just 85% of your after-tax payment.
That’s why more and more hotels implore customers to book directly — and why there’s an opening for hard-nosed negotiators willing to escalate their concerns to on-site management.
Rather than accept online prices at face value, use them as a starting point when booking hotel and hostel rooms. Once you have quoted prices in hand, call the location directly and request a price reduction.
Many major chains also have hotel room booking apps. To drive customers toward booking interactions that don’t take up their associates’ precious time, they offer exclusive deals and discounts you can’t even get on their websites.
Airlines and rental car companies tend to be more bureaucratic, so you might not have as much luck negotiating with them.
11. Book Midweek Flights
If your travel dates are flexible, schedule at least one leg of your trip — ideally both — for the middle of the workweek. Fares tend to rise on Thursday and Friday, spike again on Sunday, and then fall to a low point on Tuesday or Wednesday.
12. Travel on Major Holidays
Another flexible travel tip is to travel on major holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. They’re usually the only days during the holiday seasons when air and train fares are lower than average.
Both times I flew on Christmas Day, my fare was $100 lower than the week before — and that’s for a three-hour domestic flight.
13. Take the Night Train, Bus, or Plane
Stretch your lodging budget further by taking overnight transportation whenever possible. Overnight travel is basically a two-for-one deal: You don’t have to pay for a hotel, and you get a few hours of shut-eye.
Catching a few fitful hours of sleep on an overnight bus, train, or plane isn’t a perfect substitute for a full night of sleep in a comfortable bed. But it’s much cheaper.
14. Embrace the Free Continental Breakfast
Who doesn’t like a free breakfast? Rather than bank on your negotiating skills, limit your search to hospitality chains that advertise free continental breakfasts.
You don’t need to book a fancy (expensive) hotel to find them. Most basic hotel and motel chains have serviceable breakfast options. One America’s Best Value Inn in a small Midwestern town has a continental breakfast that includes a remarkable selection of pastries.
If you’re traveling internationally, the breakfasts may be even more impressive. Some other cultures turn up their noses at America’s comparatively bare-bones continental breakfast tradition.
My wife and I were overwhelmed by our extravagant, totally complimentary breakfast options on our two most recent international trips. We enjoyed all-you-can-eat buffets heavy on cured meats, cheeses, breads, and pastries in Lisbon and Porto. And in Bangkok, we filled up on four-course feasts that left us full until well after the lunch hour.
15. Look for Last-Minute Deals
Last-minute trip planning is stressful and often more expensive than booking well in advance, but it can be worth it. The savings generally increases as the stay approaches, so this strategy is particularly useful for day-before or even morning-of bookings.
If you’re on a backpacking or city-hopping adventure, that’s great news, though you need adequate Internet access to book. But if you’re willing to be a little adventurous, you can save a bundle by rolling the dice on what’s available.
To find the best rates, check last-minute deal sites like Hotel Tonight. Hotels use them to offload unbooked rooms at steeply discounted prices, often as far in advance as one week. Some cater to extremely last-minute decision-makers — notably One Night, which only offers rooms tonight or tomorrow night.
Hotel Tonight isn’t the only last-minute booking app around. Last Minute Travel is a fantastic resource for last-minute hotel, flight, car rental, vacation rental, and cruise bookings. Big-name bookers like Expedia are in on the act as well.
You might also have luck with last-minute bookings on blind-booking sites like Hotwire. The same principle applies. Your savings generally increases as travel or stay dates approach. But since blind-booking sites generally start from a cheaper baseline, the savings can be even more impressive.
16. Get Cozy in a Hostel
If you’re OK not having private space, book a multiperson hostel room in lieu of a private hostel or hotel suite. At some cut-rate places, you can save even more by offering in-kind trades — for instance, taking promotional photos or writing website copy.
Look for hostels that offer additional values and indirect savings opportunities, such as free or cheap tours, group excursions, and meals. Some of the best hostel experiences I’ve ever had involved communal meals or outings with folks I’d met earlier in the day.
17. Go Camping
Before booking a hotel or hostel, look into the availability and legality of camping in your destination. If you already have all the necessary equipment, camping is usually cheaper than staying under a roof, even in dorm-style accommodations.
But camping gear takes up space. For one or two people, get a compact pup tent and heavy-duty duffel bag small enough to fit into the overhead bin. REI has a compact bag specifically designed for air and train travel.
In the U.S., basic campsites in national and state parks and forests can cost as little as $10 to $20 per night during the off-season.
Pricing is about the same in Europe, where quality campsites are often readily available near major cities. Schlepping your tent and sleeping bag across the ocean is a heavy lift, but it’s an excellent way to save money every single night.
18. Volunteer or Work While You Travel
If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty or working up a sweat, look into travel vendors that pair volunteer or work hours with cozy lodgings and free or discounted food.
Legitimate volunteer-travel platforms abound. Workaway caters to students studying abroad and young people on gap years. HelpX connects outdoorsy volunteers with organic farmers, and WWOOF is a similar vendor that operates primarily in the developing world.
19. Stay in a Monastery
It sounds weird, but staying in a monastery is totally real and 100% legit. Monastery stays are most common in Europe and parts of Asia, but they’re not unheard of elsewhere.
USA Today has a good primer on what to expect from the typical monastery stay, including potentially prohibited clothing, rules for gender mixing, and the likelihood of private washing and changing areas.
Use a niche travel search engine like Monastery Stays to find a comfortable option near your destination.
20. Become a Housesitter
Housesitting is another way to reduce your lodging costs or even earn money while you travel. You just have to accept the responsibility that comes with it.
If you’re an animal person, use a housesitting service that caters to pet owners. Trusted Housesitters is a good option, though you’ll want to make sure whatever service you choose is available in your destination country.
21. Use House-Swap Platforms
Want the comfort of a private home without the responsibility of housesitting? If you’re OK letting vetted strangers stay in your house, try a house-swapping platform.
Most house-swapping platforms use a membership model. You pay a monthly or annual fee for unlimited swapping with no added costs for the swaps themselves.
One legitimate platform is HomeExchange, the world’s largest house-swapping site by volume. But there are plenty of others. Do some digging to see what’s available in your area and destination. Remember, you need to match with a house and swapper in both places.
22. Use a Short-Term Rental Platform to Find a Private Room
If you’re not crazy about opening up your house to fellow house swappers, try another service made possible by the sharing economy: short-term house or apartment rentals.
The most bare-bones worldwide option is Couchsurfing, which specializes in social housing arrangements that cost little or nothing for travelers. You might be expected to hang out with your host or help cook a meal, but that’s often the extent of it. In return, you get a bed (or couch) to rest and recharge.
Airbnb is the best known of the more formal short-term rental platforms. Vrbo is also quite popular. And they don’t need to cost much more than Couchsurfing if you look for low-cost, low-amenity options.
Though they typically list more upscale whole-unit rentals, it’s still possible to find shared rooms in bigger, more expensive cities. And they’re super-cheap — often less than $30 per night.
23. Get a Place With a Kitchen
It’s not exactly rocket science: If you don’t have a place to cook for yourself, it’s hard to avoid eating out. And eating out is almost always more expensive than cooking your own meals.
If you rent an Airbnb or Vrbo home, access to the kitchen is usually par for the course. If you book a private room through one of the short-term rental platforms, check to see if you get reasonable use of the home’s kitchen.
Some chain hotels also have kitchenettes. Examples include Extended Stay America, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, and Embassy Suites.
24. Use Cash-Back Tools When You Book
Travel search engine commissions are important to understand for another reason: They open the door for impressive point-of-sale or cash-back savings on your bookings.
The secret lies in cash-back websites and browser plugins that partner with these sites. They collect a portion of the booking commission and funnel the rest back to users as cash back or instant refunds. It’s not unreasonable to expect 5% to 7% back.
My personal favorites are Rakuten and Giving Assistant, but plenty of others come highly recommended. Just make sure your chosen solution is compatible with your browser and doesn’t adversely affect browsing speed or performance.
You also have to use the regular browser (not a private tab) to enable cookies for tracking.
25. Use a Rewards Credit Card When You Book
If your credit score is sufficient to qualify, apply for a travel rewards credit card and use it when you book.
General-purpose travel rewards cards reliably return 2% or more on spending. And branded travel rewards cards, such as Gold Delta SkyMiles from American Express, let you earn valuable freebies like free flights and nights quicker.
It’s worth noting that many travel rewards and cash-back credit cards have their own cash-back portals, where direct purchases earn points faster than everyday spending. Barclaycard, Chase (Ultimate Rewards), and Discover (Discover Deals) operate online shopping platforms for loyal customers.
When you use your credit card to make purchases on these platforms, you can dramatically boost your overall earnings — anywhere from 1% to 10% or more.
In some cases, redeemed points go further. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve Card are worth 25% and 50% more, respectively, when redeemed for travel purchases through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
Plus, most premium travel rewards credit cards offer attractive sign-up bonuses for new customers. Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve both have sign-up bonuses worth hundreds of dollars, for example.
26. Make Refundable Bookings if Your Plans Are Uncertain
Cancellation policies vary, but refundable bookings are always more expensive — anywhere from 50% to 100% more than equivalent nonrefundable bookings. Still, they’re not as expensive as eating the entire cost when your plans suddenly change.
So if you’re at all unsure you can travel during your original window, suck it up and go refundable.
27. Make Nonrefundable Bookings if You’re Sure Things Won’t Change
On one trip, I slashed the cost of my car rental by more than 30% with a blind-booking deal, and I got the biggest rental car of my life. The catch was that the rental company was an off-brand operator with mediocre-at-best customer service, but I lived to tell the tale.
28. Purchase Travel Insurance
Despite its limitations, travel insurance provides valuable financial protection against various costly and inconvenient vacation-ruiners.
Many premium travel credit cards have built-in travel insurance protections, though you should read the fine print before assuming you’re covered in any given scenario.
Look for travel insurance policies that provide reimbursement for expenses incurred due to:
- Lost or delayed luggage
- Trip cancellation or interruption
- Medical emergencies (medical transportation and care)
- Travel delays
- Damage to a rental car
Standard travel insurance policies have long lists of exclusions and limitations. For example, they rarely cover trips derailed due to civil unrest or natural disasters.
If you’re willing to pay a bit more, opt for a cancel-for-any-reason policy to avoid those restrictions. But even those policies might not cover the entire cost of a trip canceled on a whim — 60% to 70% of nonrefundable trip expenses is common.
Expect your travel insurance policy to cost 5% to 10% of the total value of nonrefundable insured expenses and perhaps more for cancel-for-any-reason coverage.
29. Skip the International Phone Plan
If you’re traveling for business and need to reach local contacts by phone, an international phone plan may be worth the investment.
But as a general rule, short-term leisure travelers don’t need international phone plans. Plans backed by major U.S. networks like Verizon and AT&T are quite expensive. For example, Verizon charges $10 per day plus per-minute charges north of $0.20.
Instead, use free or cheap Internet calling apps like Skype and WhatsApp, which facilitate high-fidelity talk and text via Wi-Fi.
30. Use Borrowed Luggage
If you don’t travel often and don’t own much luggage, ask friends or family to spot you a bag or two. This trick ensures you won’t have to buy suitcases or bags you rarely use. You might not need to own luggage at all if you have reliable sources to borrow from.
Even if you’re taking a long journey that requires more bag space, you can probably mix and match luggage from multiple people.
31. Pack Light
Make minimalist packing your mantra. No matter how long you plan to be away, pack no more than a week’s supply of fresh clothing.
If you pack garments and accessories you can mix and match, you could easily wear each item twice without repeating outfits. Stick with neutrals as much as possible. Black, gray, brown, white, and denim combine well with other colors and each other.
Don’t forget other essential accessories, such as travel-size personal care products, chargers and cables, power adapters (for international travel), plastic bags, and a lock for your stuff.
32. Keep a Spare Outfit in Your Carry-On
Keep a weather-appropriate spare outfit in your carry-on. Most delayed bags are located within a couple of days, so one outfit should be enough to tide you over. If you have enough room, two outfits, even better.
Even if your travel insurance covers the cost of replacing clothing in lost or delayed luggage, it could take weeks to process your claim. So having an outfit or two with you could prevent you from having to replace your clothes on the spot or at least give you time to find good deals.
33. Avoid Excessive Foreign Transaction & Currency Exchange Fees
Many credit and debit cards charge foreign transaction fees ranging from 1% to 3% of the total transaction amount on all transactions completed outside the U.S.
Fortunately, virtually all premium travel rewards credit cards waive foreign transaction fees. So do credit cards issued by a growing number of banks and credit unions.
My wife and I were pleasantly surprised to learn our credit union waives foreign transaction fees — an impressive feat for a regional institution with only a handful of physical branches.
Currency exchange fees can be even costlier than foreign transaction fees. As a rule, don’t accept any merchants’ offers to charge your credit or debit card in U.S. dollars (or whatever your home currency is). That’s a green light for them to charge exchange fees upward of 5%.
Likewise, avoid currency exchange bureaus in airports and shopping areas. They charge as much as 8% on small-dollar transactions. Always get foreign currency at an ATM or local bank.
34. Avoid Airport ATMs
In some parts of the world, cash is still king.
Once you realize currency exchange windows are almost always the worst way to get local currency in manageable amounts, it’s tempting to go for the next-most convenient option: airport ATMs.
It’s reassuring to know you don’t have to worry about a sketchy ATM in an unfamiliar city. But only as long as you’re OK paying a price for it.
Airport ATM fees are invariably on the upper end of the local range — perhaps double the median. And paying an extra 2% on a $500 withdrawal adds $10 to the transaction’s cost. That’s not a great start to a supposedly frugal vacation.
35. Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food
In larger Western cities and pretty much everywhere in many parts of the developing world, street food is consistently the cheapest option for kitchenless travelers.
Whenever I visit major U.S. cities like San Francisco or Chicago, I relish the opportunity to try new food trucks and carts. I can’t remember the last time I had a bad experience, and they’re invariably cheaper than comparable sit-down restaurants.
Outside North America, the possibilities are even better. During our five-day stay in Bangkok, Thailand, my wife and I grabbed almost every meal on the street, often spending as little as $1 to $2 for a filling plate of noodles or curry.
36. Learn to Love Snacks
Snacking might not be great for your waistline, but it’s an excellent way to trim your traveling food budget without going hungry.
Snacking is especially important on travel days, as it’s easy to miss meals when you’re moving around. Besides, food prices in airports and train stations are typically inflated.
I always stash an economy pack of nutrition bars in my luggage before hitting the road. Substitute your favorite healthy, calorie-dense snack accordingly.
37. Visit Independently Owned Eateries Near Closing Time
To really stretch your budget, hang around traveler-friendly eateries near closing time, when they’re more likely to have prepared food and no one to buy it. But don’t count on that as your only option.
On a multicountry stint in Europe, I tried this strategy with varying degrees of success. Not everyone was willing to hook me up, but I got a few free or discounted meals out of it.
38. Dine Out at Lunch, Not Dinner
At casual restaurants, lunch is almost always cheaper than dinner. The portions are smaller, the crowds are thinner, and there’s less alcohol flowing.
That holds true in fancier places too. Rather than splurge on a fancy dinner at an upscale restaurant, make lunch your main meal. You’ll still spend a pretty penny. But it will be far less than for a comparable dinner.
Even if you don’t have the budget or inclination to splurge, you can save a great deal simply by reserving your restaurant meals for midday and cooking or eating prepared foods at dinner.
To cut your dining-out costs even more, try these tips for saving money at restaurants no matter where you are.
39. Buy Prepared Foods at the Supermarket
I’m a huge fan of prepared foods from the supermarket. When I’m out and about in my hometown during the middle of the day, I routinely substitute the supermarket salad bar or deli for a quick-service restaurant meal. The wait is shorter, the bill is smaller, and the variety is wider.
Things are no different when I’m away from home. I find it particularly easy to take advantage of supermarkets’ bounty on road trips within the U.S. But I’ve eaten like a king at grocery stores in Europe, Canada, and Asia too.
And it’s not true that supermarket food is boring or doesn’t represent local cuisine. One of the best (and certainly the cheapest) sushi boxes I’ve had anywhere in the U.S. came from a Japanese market in downtown Seattle.
40. Bring a Reusable Water Bottle
Bottled water is expensive and bad for the environment. But there’s a simple fix: Bring your own reusable water bottle. You probably have one at home already. If not, it’s a $10 (or less) investment.
In the developing world, where municipal water systems aren’t great and well water is often contaminated, you also need some sort of filtration system. Top-of-the-line bottles with built-in filters retail for just under $100 online, but they come at various price points.
41. Take Free (or Cheap) Tours
A walking or bus tour is a fantastic way to learn about a new city while soaking up some local flavor.
In North America and Europe, you can expect to pay the equivalent of $20 to $30 per day (or more) for full hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus privileges. As a two-for-one transit-and-guided-tour deal, that’s not outrageous.
Free walking tours aren’t necessarily any less interesting. Your tour guide will appreciate — and may ask for — a tip of around $5 or so per person per hour, but that’s still a small price to pay for local expertise. Plus, walking around with a small group is a lot more social than cramming into a crowded double-decker bus.
The big downside is that you can’t cover as much ground. But you’ll likely learn more about whatever you do see.
My first walking tour experience, a Free Tours by Foot production in Charleston, South Carolina, taught me more about U.S. history than I ever learned in school. For a roughly two-hour experience, I paid $10 — less than I’d pay to get into a top-flight history museum.
42. Use Public Transit Whenever Possible
Unless you’ve planned an extended journey into a countryside region without mass transit, skip the rental car.
These days, you can easily get around even the most spread-out North American cities (hello, Phoenix) using a combination of public transportation and ridesharing services for less than the daily cost of a car rental.
In many parts of Europe, it’s easy to get around rural areas without a car too. Switzerland’s beautiful Jungfrau region is a storybook tableau of small Alpine villages, many perched on sheer cliff faces beyond the reach of the country’s road system. Fortunately, the region has an excellent public train and cable car system.
43. Rent or Share a Bike
Biking is a healthy, usually affordable complement to public transportation and ridesharing in sizable cities. And it’s often the fastest way to get around in smaller vacation towns.
Before you arrive at your destination, look into bike rentals and bike sharing programs. Pricing varies, but you can generally find a quality bike on a peer-to-peer bike rental platform like Spinlister or a local shop from $15 to $20 per day.
Municipal bike sharing passes usually run $15 or less per day, with unlimited free use on rides shorter than 30 to 60 minutes. With its $15 daily passes, New York City’s Citi Bike network is a good example of what to expect from these programs.
44. Get a Multi-Attraction Pass or Discount Card
Before visiting any major city, look into multi-attraction passes and discount cards.
CityPass and Go City sell a dizzying array of discount packages in a dozen or more of the most popular urban tourist destinations in the U.S., including Seattle, San Francisco, Southern California, New York City, Boston, and Miami.
On a recent trip to San Francisco, my CityPass saved me at least $50 on some very worthwhile attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, one of the best science museums I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Abroad, you might have better luck with city-specific passes. When my wife and I visited Lisbon, Portugal, we purchased a Lisboa Card, a multi-attraction pass that doubled as an unlimited-use transit pass. We saw at least a dozen of the included sights at no out-of-pocket cost, recouping our investment twice over.
Multi-attraction discount cards are designed to encourage as much sightseeing as possible. The more sights you can cram into a day or week, the less you pay per attraction. If you’re only interested in a couple of participating sights, it might be cheaper to pay full price at each.
45. Take Advantage of Free & Pay-What-You-Can Museum Days
Only suckers pay full price for high culture. Before you buy passes online or head to the ticket window, check museums’ websites for information about time-limited discounts.
In my experience, most museums have at least one free day or evening per month, often during extended hours on the first Thursday or Friday. These days are especially valuable at science museums and aquariums, which tend to be pricier than all but the cream of the art museum crop.
Also look out for pay-what-you-can days, when you can literally name your own price.
46. Check Community Calendars for Free or Cheap Events
Check community calendars in your destination for interesting opportunities that don’t cost much (or anything) out of pocket. You can usually find up-to-date calendars online at municipal, local, or regional tourism websites.
It’s worth noting that many elite museums are completely free. In Washington, D.C., the dozen-plus Smithsonian Institution museums are free for all. You can easily spend a week inside the grand edifices off the National Mall without paying a dime.
47. Take Advantage of Group or Class Discounts
Many Americans belong to at least one professional, cultural, or fraternal organization with outsize purchasing and negotiating power, such as AAA, AARP, or Rotary International. Others belong to special demographic or cultural classes, such as students, seniors, active-duty military, or veterans.
Whether they know it or not, members of these groups and classes may be entitled to discounts, freebies, or special perks at places like museums, venues, restaurants, parks, cultural attractions, and service providers. Even if your association doesn’t promote its travel perks, it never hurts to do some research to see what you might be entitled to.
Ultimately, which money-saving travel tips you use comes down to your personal preferences, trip type, and travel style. It’s not worth forcing any strategy for its own sake — certainly not if it decreases your enjoyment or inconveniences those around you.
In fact, if your budget allows, consider making an exception or two to your frugal travel rules. That might mean splurging on a memorable experience or upgrading to a hotel suite on your last night away. You deserve it.