Has the summer travel bug hit you yet? Good news: you can wander the world – or at least a corner of it – on a budget. And the more creative you can be about your travel plans, the more money you’re likely to save.
In this article, I’ll break down how you can save on every aspect of your summer vacation!
Pick an “off-season” spot
Summer is the busy season for popular vacation destinations worldwide. But if you find a place that doesn’t see a lot of summer traffic, like a ski resort, you can get a better rate on housing and airfare.
Or skip the hyped European vacation for a country or continent with less buzz but just as many great options.
Be flexible with place or time
If your vacation dates are set, shop around for an affordable destination you might not have considered. And if your location is set, figure out the least expensive start and end dates.
Time your booking right
Most travelers know the earlier you can secure your flight, the better. Get tickets anywhere from 50 to 100 days before your departure if possible.
Truly seasoned travelers know the day you book can make a difference. Airlines usually set their prices on Tuesday mornings, so you’ll find the best deals on Tuesday afternoon around 3 PM.
Fly in the middle of the week
Midweek travel dates – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday – tend to be the cheapest. If you can avoid the weekend rush, do it.
Get one-way tickets
Believe it or not, two or more one-way tickets might save more cash than a nonstop flight. If you plan on visiting multiple places, look into one-way tickets for each leg of your journey.
Enjoy an extended layover
The “extended layover” vacation works best at destinations outside the United States. Say the easiest way to get from Point A to Point B is to stop over at a city in the middle (Point C). Why not stay a couple of days at your layover destination?
The cost of flights will often be the same, so you’re getting two trips for the price of one. Here are some of the best “extended stopover” destinations around the world.
Check flights at your destination airport’s website
Some smaller country- or region-specific airlines might not show up in a search engine, but they’ll still have great prices listed on the site.
Take advantage of frequent flyer rewards
When you sign up for a travel reward credit card you’ll start collecting miles. Several cards offer “point” bonuses for signing up which you can use for travel in the future. Your miles can eventually get you to a first-class upgrade—for free.
Score deals online
Another veteran traveler tip: you’ll save cash and time if you can get away without checking any luggage.
The old adage “bring twice as much money and half as many clothes as you think you’ll need” is often true. Look into airline regulations before you leave home and weigh your bags to make sure they don’t go over the carry-on limit.
Get travel rewards
You’re probably carrying a credit card anyway; why not sign up for one that helps you get deals on international travel?
Most travel rewards credit cards earn users points which are redeemable for airfare, lodging, dining, and other necessities on the road. While some cards require good credit, others are more flexible.
Skip the foreign transaction fees
Banks and credit card companies sometimes tack on a 2% or 3% fee to any transactions you make abroad. Read the fine print to find out if your bank or card has foreign transaction fees.
If so, it’s worth it to get a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card you can use on the road. There are plenty of them for all credit levels. Most of our travel rewards cards above will qualify.
Save on currency exchange rates
As a rule, wait to withdraw cash until you get to your destination. Take out local currency from an ATM for better exchange rates. Skip the exchange services at airports or other locations; they may come with a 3% to 7% markup.
It’s also a good idea to research currency rates in advance. Rates often fluctuate, so if you notice the rates dropping, you can exchange currency before you leave to get the most for your dollar.
Message on a cheap or free app
Several messaging apps work internationally without charging exorbitant fees.
WhatsApp is a popular choice overseas for text messaging. It uses your phone’s Internet connection instead of pricey local data networks.
Get a SIM card
Another option for cheap overseas communication is to purchase a prepaid international SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card for your phone.
These data-carrying plastic cards can connect you to other phones worldwide without the “roaming” charges your plan might accumulate. A number of major retailers carry them, and your phone provider probably does too. Check out our review of SIM cards for more specifics.
Make sure your phone is “unlocked”
An “unlocked” phone can be used on additional networks (such as international ones) while a “locked” phone cannot. With an unlocked phone, you can install an international SIM card, often the most budget-friendly communication option.
Your phone’s status will depend on your carrier, where and when you got it, and in some cases whether it’s paid off. Procedures for unlocking your phone will also vary. Often you’ll need to contact your service provider. Depending on the length of your trip it may be worthwhile to get a new, unlocked phone for international use.
Once You’re There
Use cash – carefully
You’re likely to need a little cash on the road. Carrying the local currency can save you money on any debit card transaction fees. (Again – skip the currency bureau and go to an ATM.) And if your bank has a no-fee network in your destination country you can make withdrawals for free. Find out before you go.
The best plan? Withdraw in large sums to minimize fees, keep an eye on your cash to minimize theft, and always have another payment method handy.
Join the “sharing economy” for housing
House-sharing services like Couchsurfing (on the lower budgetary end) and Airbnb (on the medium-higher end) are cheaper and usually more fun than hotels. You may not have as much space, but if you’re spending most of your time out and about, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
As a bonus, find a place with kitchen and refrigerator access so you can cook as needed.
Bring your walking shoes
If you’re physically able to walk long distances, walking (instead of taking cabs, buses, or trains) can add adventure to your trip while shaving off cost. Or rent bikes to cover a little more ground.
Take mass transit
Sometimes, though, public transit is a necessity. If you’re going to Europe, get train tickets from the official railway sites in the country you’re visiting. Eurail and rail passes are the time-honored cost-saving option for going from country to country in Europe.
The bus will be cheaper than the train in most locations. Buses may take longer, but if you’ve got the time, they can be a great way to see the local scenery.
Hit the grocery store
Food is a major expense whenever you’re traveling. Plan to find a local grocery store or market when you arrive. Get creative and think of meals or snacks you can take on the go with little prep time.
Still you’ll probably want to enjoy the local cuisine once or twice. To find the best deals, follow the six-block rule — don’t eat anywhere within six blocks of a major tourist attraction.
Find free stuff to do
Most major cities around the world have free or inexpensive attractions, especially if the location has beautiful summer weather. Public gardens and outdoor art exhibitions, for instance, often don’t cost a thing. Research online and be willing to try something new.
Advance planning and flexibility are your best assets for a summer overseas trip. Be willing to embrace the unexpected – you’ll save money and have a great story to tell.