The 25 Absolute Best Money-Saving Travel Tips Ever
When I tell people that I'm editor in chief of Budget Travel, I always get the same response. Whether I'm chatting with a twentysomething on her first overseas adventure, a seatmate on a fixed income, or a well-heeled TV personality at a dreamy ski resort, they invariably reply. "Cool! I'm a Budget Traveler myself!" I love the notion that each and every person I speak with understands that being a Budget Traveler doesn't just mean saving money, but also traveling in the smartest, most stylish way possible. It inspired me to jot down a few—well, 25—of the things that we Budget Travelers know. Did I leave any of your personal travel tips out? Drop me a line!
1. A REASONABLE PRICED HOTEL ROOM
Budget Travelers don't snap up the first appealing room at a decent price that they find. They research location—how close will they be to a city's major sights?—and make sure that a good price doesn't also come with a time-wasting long-distance schlep every morning. Budget Travelers call the hotel and ask for the best price, the most appropriate room options, and for a free upgrade. And in a pinch, they turn to HotelTonight for last-minute deals. We're also pretty proud of our own hotel research-and-booking tool.
2. THE "BEST" DAY FOR AIRLINE TICKETS
This is the question we get asked most often at Budget Travel. Traditionally, the simple answer has been: Buy your airline tickets about two months before you fly, and you'll likely get the best price by booking early in the week, when airlines often adjust fares. The "real" answer is, of course, "it depends," and you must arm yourself with an array of information to make an informed choice. That said, we also recommend that you follow all the major airlines on social media, sign up for their rewards programs, and subscribe to their free e-newsletters to get the inside track on deals.
3. PICK UP YOUR RENTAL CAR EARLY
Budget Travelers book the smallest possible rental car and a pickup time as early as possible because in this case the early bird gets the free upgrade. At, say, 8 a.m., most customers won't have returned their cars yet and it's likely that the lowest-priced compact cars will be out of stock. The rental agency is obligated to give you an available car at the same price.
4. BOOK YOUR CRUISE EARLY - OR LATE
Nabbing a cruise six months to a year in advance usually means getting the best price. At that early point, supply is high and demand is relatively flat, so you'll find appealing prices. As rooms get snapped up, of course, demand rises and so do prices—with one exception. Once you get down to the final few weeks before a cruise, the line may scramble to fill empty rooms, and you can again swoop in and find a deal.
5. KNOW THE RESORT FEES
Resort fees are quite a bit like the old joke about the weather: Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. The reality is, there's not much you can do if you've already spent your week at an all-inclusive resort and are staring at a bill that includes a hefty resort fee (which typically covers things you thought were free—those comfy poolside towels, the wi-fi in your room, the newspaper delivered to your door). The only thing you can do about it is to ask before booking so you understand the resort's fee policy. Don't care for it? Try another resort. (While you're at it, find out what beverages are included in an all-inclusive package and which you'll have to pay for out of pocket.)
6. CHECK OUT VACATION RENTALS
When faced with the notion of shelling out $1,400 per week for a beach house, some travelers will blanch. That's $200 per night, right? Way more than a Budget Traveler wants to pay for a hotel room. But consider the size of your brood. A rental home that comfortably sleeps five and includes a full kitchen is going to be much more comfortable and likely save you money on food.
7. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS YOUR FRIEND
Those of you who don't live in major cities may regard life without a car as a bit like that nightmare where you arrive at work and realize you forgot to put on any clothes. Those of us who dwell in urban areas know better. When visiting New York, London, Paris, or just about any major city, learning the routes and pricing systems of the light rail, underground, and bus systems can save you tons of time and money compared with renting, gassing up, and parking a car. These days, even notoriously auto-loving Los Angeles is playing the public transportation game. Get in it.
8. PSST! MOST MUSEUMS ARE FREE!
Sure, the world's most beautiful museums often have an admission price (or suggested donation) topping $20 per person. But they also typically offer free hours each week and a free day each month. Budget Travelers don't necessary schedule their vacations around a museum's free days, but they do weigh the option and decide if they can put that money to better use. They also take full advantage of everything a museum has to offer on a given day. There's no need to high-tail it from room to room trying to see everything—instead, find out when there's a guided tour, a hands-on class for the kids, or evening hours when the joint if often much quieter than during the day.
9. GO TO NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
When documentary filmmaker Ken Burns called national parks "America's best idea," he probably didn't have Budget Travelers in mind. But compared with any other vacation spot on earth, our national parks—and many state parks for that matter—deliver serious bang for the buck. Sure, there's an admission price (usually per car rather than per person), and you've got to line up lodgings (inside a major national park that can be around $200 per night), but once inside the park the wildlife, trails, ranger talks, evening presentations, junior ranger programs, and just about everything else is on the house. To paraphrase Verdi's famous quote about Italy: You may have the universe if I may have a fire-lit ranger talk at Glacier National Park on a crisp late-summer evening.
10. LOOK FOR PACKAGE DEALS
Don't tell! Airlines and hotels are willing to practically give away their inventory rather than see it go empty. That's right. Airlines sell their seats at rock-bottom prices. Hotels do the same for their rooms. Why haven't you heard this before? Because they don't exactly go parading down the street announcing it to the world. Instead, they roll those empty airplane seats and hotel beds into package deals. When you book a package deal, you'll get a good rate on airfare and hotels, some meals, often guided tours, and some ground transportation. Don't believe us? Take a look at a package deal and then try to book the airfare and hotel separately—the package will almost always be significantly less.
11. PACK LIKE A PRO
Budget Travelers know that a light suitcase is not just easier to travel with but can also save you money on baggage fees. Pack early so you're not in panic mode, and put some thought into packing matching tops and bottoms (rolled, not folded), as few shoes as you can handle emotionally, and wearing your heaviest layers on the plane. When in doubt, leave it at home. You never regret the things you don't pack.
12. WEAR YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE
Honeymoon? Romantic island getaway with your sweetie? Engaged? Tell everybody! It may seem counterintuitive when you're trying to get some alone time with your Sig-Oth, but mentioning your romantic status to flight attendants, waiters, and hotel managers can yield complimentary wine, upgrades, private balconies, and other surprises.
13. GO TO SMALL TOWNS
Budget Travelers know that some of the coolest places to visit in the United States are towns with populations under 20,000. Whether you want a warm welcome, a vibrant main street, a craft beer, cutting-edge gallery, or tasty bowl of chili, America's small towns make for some of the finest—and affordable—vacations on earth.
14. ASK AND YE SHALL RECEIVE
Problem: You booked a hotel room with two king-size beds at a decent rate for your family of four, but now you have dreams of an unaffordable suite where the kids could have their own room. Solution: Ask for a free upgrade. Worst case scenario: The hotel manager says no. Was that so hard? You'd be surprised at how few people bother to ask for upgrades, late checkouts, complimentary breakfast, and other negotiable perks. You're a Budget Traveler. Go for it.
15. TRAVEL WITH A SMILE (AND CHOCOLATE!)
The announcement just came over the loudspeaker: Your flight has been canceled due to bad weather. You jump on the airline's website to find out what your options are, and you get in line at customer service. When it's your turn to speak with the ultra-harried airline employee, you're going to do two things: Smile and offer him/her chocolate. Because Budget Travelers aren't just the smartest people at the airport. They are also the nicest. Make the difference in that beleaguered airline rep's day and he might make the difference in yours.
16. KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
In general, Budget Travel has not always recommended travel insurance. Instead, before you travel, check all your existing insurance policies to make sure you'll be covered wherever you'll be traveling—including health, auto, and any possessions (which are sometimes covered by home insurance). That said, if you're booking a package tour or cruise make sure you understand the cancellation policy and consider paying a small premium if you think there's a chance you'll cancel.
17. KEEP THE LITTLE ONES BUSY
Keeping traveling children "happy" may be impossible. But keeping them busy is a breeze. You just have to travel with plenty of activities, games, art supplies, and patience. Old standbys like license plate bingo and I Spy still get plenty of mileage—and the fun of playing together (instead of losing themselves in a tablet screen) is priceless. Some Budget Travelers hit the dollar store right before traveling with little ones. Stock up on affordable activities and hand them out whenever the kids get restless.
18. SENIORS HAVE MORE FUN
Start with the fact that travelers 55 and up can usually get a cruise discount by mentioning their age, then consider the boatloads of seniors taking off for the Caribbean in a few weeks. Book a package tour of any European country and you'll see busses packed with empty nesters and retirees. Sure, Millennials and Gen-Xers are happily checking off their bucket list items, but these days it looks as if the Boomers are the ones having a blast out there. You know who you are, and we know you're proud Budget Travelers.
19. GET YOUR SHOTS
In addition to T-dap, measles/mumps/rubella, and annual flu shots, Budget Travelers know to check the health risks of the region they are planning to visit. A travel clinic is a one-stop-shopping option for obtaining vaccines for serious risks such as typhoid and hepatitis before visiting a developing region.
20. GO ROAD TRIPPING
Budget Travelers know that a plane or cruise ship is optional when going on vacation. Some of the best trips are to be had on America's highways. And to celebrate the Great American Drive, we regularly cover accessible getaways, including itineraries, directions, lodgings, attractions, and food along the way.
21. KNOW YOUR HOME'S "ONE-TANK ESCAPES"
Looking for something between a staycation and a road trip? Budget Travelers love "one-tank escapes." You can start by exploring locales within a two-hour drive from your home. For most Americans, that includes gorgeous parkland, cool small towns, food you won't find at home, and often the kinds of surprises that most of us travel for.
22. LEARN CULTURAL ETIQUETTE
Don't be "that guy." You know, the one hitting McDonald's in Rome. Or wearing an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt to a museum of tolerance? Learning how to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank-you in a foreign language will yield more goodwill than you can imagine. Learning the ins and outs of a culture's body language, hand gestures, food customs, and tipping will help you fit in, avoid embarrassment, and possibly nab you a deal at a bazaar or shop where haggling is expected and even encouraged.
23. TRAVEL FRIENDLY WITH CREDIT CARDS
No, Budget Travelers don't charge trips they can't afford. (One rule of thumb: If you wouldn't ask your parents or close friends for a travel loan, don't borrow the money from a credit card company!) But there are credit cards that partner with airlines to deliver rewards points, mileage, free upgrades, free baggage checks, and more.
24. FASTEST WAY THROUGH AIRPORT SECURITY
Ok, this isn't exactly a secret—and we don't have a magic wand to get you through security any faster than this—but we're seeing more and more people using the TSA's Pre-Check program, which allows pre-approved individuals to bypass much of airport security for a more efficient arrival at their gate.
25. KNOW WHEN AND WHERE - OR NOT- TO DRINK THE WATER
Water and food safety is an issue in most parts of the world. When traveling outside the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia, there are many countries where tap water should be avoided, including ice cubes and mixed drinks unless you're on the grounds of a resort. When in doubt, drink bottled water or other bottled beverages, and don't eat fruit or vegetables unless you peel them yourself. Avoid street food unless the food is hot out of the oven and the cart is free of flies.
How to Survive an Air Disaster
In the wake of the uncontained engine failure on Southwest’s flight 1380 earlier this week, we feel a responsibility to remind our audience, in no uncertain terms, that you already know the best way to ensure your safety on a plane: It is vital that you learn how a plane’s oxygen masks work, listen and watch the crew’s safety demonstration, and understand the layout of the plane every time you fly. Southwest flight 1380 experienced engine failure that appears to have caused pieces of the engine to pierce the exterior of the plane, killing one passenger and injuring others and triggering a decompression that required the flight crew to rapidly descend to an altitude where oxygen was adequate. Of course we hope you’ll never face a situation anywhere near as harrowing as the one that passengers on that flight endured, and Patrick Smith, a Delta pilot and author of Ask the Pilot (askthepilot.com) reminds readers that prior to the tragic events on flight 1380 week, U.S. air carriers had not had a fatality since 2005. Here, the essential, common-sense steps every flier must take to survive and thrive at 30,000 feet: PAY ATTENTION TO THE SAFETY DEMONSTRATION You think you’ve seen and heard it all before - and the flight crew may even joke a bit about how difficult it is to hold your attention as they demonstrate how to buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt - but the fact is most passengers zone out and miss vital information about the plane’s exits, proper use of oxygen masks, and the importance of wearing seatbelts even when not absolutely required. LEARN HOW TO USE AN OXYGEN MASK There’s evidence that most passengers don’t know how to deploy oxygen masks properly, meaning that in a serious emergency, on top of the anxiety of cabin depressurization and the plane descending tens of thousands of feet in a matter of seconds, unprepared passengers find themselves gasping for air. Surprised? Well, do you know how to use a plane’s oxygen mask? The simple solution? Watch the safety demonstration to see how the oxygen mask should cover your face. WEAR YOUR SEATBELT (EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE TO) Sure, seatbelts on a plane sometimes seem like an unnecessary pain. You know what else is an unnecessary pain? Getting tossed around by major turbulence or an emergency descent. Wearing your seatbelt even when its not required, especially if you plan to fall asleep for the flight, is always a good idea. KNOW WHERE THE EXITS ARE LOCATED This is simply a matter of listening to the safety demonstration and watching when the crew directs your attention to the exits. Memorizing the exits when you’re relaxed and settling in for your flight is a lot easier than scrambling to figure out where they are during an emergency. UNDERSTAND THAT DECOMPRESSION IS RARE AND EASILY MANAGED Movies and TV, urban myth, and frantic social media posts have taught us all to believe the cabin decompression is a disaster on an epic scale. Not so, says Smith in his recent post on Ask the Pilot. “Essentially, the pilots don their oxygen masks and initiate a rapid descent to a safer altitude (normally ten-thousand feet). Passengers, meanwhile, have ample supplemental oxygen if need be. An emergency descent might feel very abrupt, but it will be well within the capabilities of the airplane,” Smith notes. DON’T LET MEDIA COVERAGE AND ‘PASSENGER ACCOUNTS’ FREAK YOU OUT Smith also points out that, in the wake of air emergencies, first-hand accounts from passengers via social media and the news media can sometimes be less than reliable. “Claims that the jet was in ‘free fall,’ was ‘diving toward the ground,’ or was in any way out of control are simply untrue,” he reminds readers.
7 Eco-Travel Tips for Earth Day—and Every Day!
You already know that the best vacations aren't just about you, right? Seeing the world brings a new appreciation for that world, and a natural desire to leave it a better place. And it's never been easier to be good to yourself and the planet at the same time. Here, our top trip tips for an environmentally friendly—and totally brag-worthy—vacation. 1. PACK FOR THE PLANET Between disposable snacks, Ziplocs, water bottles, batteries for electronic gear, and wrapping paper for gifts, just one carry-on can contribute an awful lot of junk to airport trash bins. Multiply that by the nearly 2 million people who pass through security in the U.S. each day and you've got tons of garbage headed straight to landfills. Instead, opt for reusable options such as sandwich bags from ReUseIt.com, clear Tupperware containers for toiletries and souvenirs, re-chargeable batteries, and BPA-free plastic or metal water bottles. And in place of gift paper, wrap presents in light fabric that can be used (either by you or the giftee) again. 2. STAY AT AN ECOLODGE The notion of a resort that does no environmental harm—or even gives back to the Earth with sustainable practices—would have sounded a bit like science fiction a few decades ago. Now, stylish lodges across the globe offer luxury, adventure, and sustainability all at the same time, and many will set you back less than $200 per night. Some of the highlights of an eco-stay can include imaginative architecture that often relies solely on local materials, solar power, innovative water filtration systems, environmental education programs like guided tours and nature walks, employment of local residents and native peoples, and restaurants whose kitchens rely on locally sourced produce—often grown right on the lodge's grounds. 3. TAKE A VOLUNTEER VACATION There's no better way to say thank-you to America's phenomenal parks and trails than by volunteering your time to build or repair a trail. Right now, there are ample opportunities to volunteer to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastating hurricanes last fall. And right here in the lower 48, the American Hiking Society offers weeklong stints that can include backpacking or day hikes with a group of up to 15 volunteers and a group leader. Lodgings are simple: cabins, bunkhouses, or just campsites. The work? Trail maintenance and construction, bridge and shelter renovation, and native species reestablishment in national parks and forests, state parks, wildlife preserves, and other unique environments across the U.S. 4. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS It doesn't matter whether you're in the heart of the Amazon or on a crowded boulevard in Paris—reaching out to the people who actually live year-round in your travel destination is the easiest and most reliable way to deepen your experience. It can be as simple as asking locals to recommend a public park or a favorite hike. Over the years, Budget Travel has highlighted readers' True Stories, often demonstrating how a smile, nod of the head, or a politely asked question can turn a tourist into an honorary local, privy to sights, tastes, and feelings unavailable to those who simply pass through. 5. SEE THE U.S. We're not suggesting you pass up the opportunity to see every corner of the world—we're all about stretching and crossing boundaries—but the simple fact is you'll be responsible for fewer carbon emissions (and save more than a few bucks) if you explore closer to home. And you don't have to go coast-to-coast to savor homegrown delights. This weekend, visit the nearest state park, historical society, or winery. Next time you've got a few days on your hands, we've got budget destinations across America you'll love. 6. SHOP AT A FARMERS MARKET Here in the U.S., we tend to think of farmers markets as a groundbreaking component of the local food movement—and no doubt the explosion of markets in recent years has helped bring home cooks back in touch with the folks who actually grow their food. But, of course, green markets have been a staple of civilization for centuries and can be found just about anywhere in the world you might be visiting. Dive in to local markets, try fresh fruits and vegetables you've never eaten before, ask farmers and locals for recipes, and if you have access to a kitchen, bring home a bagful of homegrown produce, fresh flowers, and the satisfaction of having contributed to the livelihood of a farmer. 7. WALK, RIDE A BIKE, OR TAKE A TRAIN Being on vacation shouldn't be an excuse to put more car and bus fumes into the air. No matter where you're staying, opt for walking tours over buses, rent bikes, and get to know the public transportation system.
5 New Rules to Guarantee a Great Trip
What does the vacation of your dreams look like? Are the skies are impossibly blue, beaches powdery and pristine, the kids perfectly behaved, and there never are any crowds? Me too. But as much as you hope for that Instagram-worthy trip, sometimes it rains. Or the airline loses the bag you’d packed with the only swimsuit that fits just right. Or tickets to the Eiffel Tower means a two hour wait, baking in the Paris summer heat. Now and again, the stars do align, granting you a bliss-filled, picture-postcard week away. But the truth is, a great vacation takes a little work. With a little planning, some flexibility and a dash of creativity, you can have a fantastic vacation anytime, anywhere. Here’s how. 1. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS Hopping on an open-top, double-decker tour bus is a great (and fast!) way to see the sites, but you’ll likely miss out on those cool nooks and crannies only a native will know about. Make new friends instantly with a good travel social app. Vayable will hook you up with locals who lead insider excursions from restaurant and pub crawls to neighborhood exploring, photo-walks, and even running tours. Some extra friendly folks will even join you for a meal. The Like a Local app offers in-the-know travel tips, tours and listings of things to do curated by locals in close to 4,000 cities around the world. Bonus: skip the long lines and book tickets directly from the app. 2. DOWNLOAD A PERSONAL ASSISTANT Love to travel but hate all of the planning? Let your phone help lead the way. Apps such as Field Trip and Time To Enjoy use the GPS on your smartphone to automatically suggest cool activities and places to visit right as you are walking around. Tell it your faves (Gothic architecture! Ethopian food! Fusion jazz!) and it will customize its recommendations. Activities can also be synched up to your phone’s calendar so that you don’t accidentally double-book a Broadway matinee and lunch reservations at that cute little French place. Detour delivers expert narration for great self-guided walking tours. 3. THEN PUT YOUR SMARTPHONE AWAY Sure, it’s tempting to take a selfie at the edge of the Grand Canyon (pro tip: don’t) or to Instagram your latte art at that impossibly adorable Venetian café. Who doesn’t want a Facebook page filled with bucket-list pix? But while you’re busy capturing yourself at just the right angle, you’re also missing out on the experience of, you know, actually being at the Grand Canyon. Yes, some of the apps recommended above will help you get the most out of your trip, but at the same time, multiple studies suggest that we are spending way too much time on our phones, whether it’s texting or posting to social media, and we’re ignoring the world around us. So you really want to enjoy your vacation, and all of the sites, sounds and smells? Stash away your phone for at least a few hours a day. 4. TAKE A CLASS One summer a few years ago, it poured every day during my weeklong Cape Cod vacation. After a few days of drowning my disappointment in the hotel’s indoor pool, I wandered into town and found a little art shop that was holding daily scrapbooking classes. A closet crafter, I was thrilled to find something creative to pass away the stormy days. Plus I met a bunch of regulars who gave me lots of good local tips (the pub down the street waters down the drinks, the pancake place serves to-die-for crepes). Explore a new interest or keep up with one you’ve already mastered (Crossfit to burn off those crepes, anyone?). Dabble can help you find local classes in everything including food and art, business and technology, fitness and even education. Plus there are volunteer opportunities to make your soul feel good. 5. BE SPONTANEOUS My husband and I like to leave at least two vacation days completely unbooked. That means no hotel reservations, no plans and no apps to help us out. The first time was admittedly nerve-wracking. What if we couldn’t find a decent place to stay? With some faith and a full tank of gas, we went off-script and explored the tiny towns we’d otherwise drive right by. The results? A cozy night outside of Taos, New Mexico, in a palapa with a hand-carved four poster bed, a wood-burning adobe stove and a complimentary bottle of tequila left on the nightstand. Sometimes the best plans are the ones you don’t make at all.
Nab These Great 2018 Deals Now!
As our name suggests, Budget Travel is all about empowering our audience to get out there and see more for less. We spend a good deal of our time (and have a lot of fun) researching bargain trips, great hotel rates, and airfare-booking secrets. So we’re psyched to report that the U.S. Travel Association is launching Daily Getaways 2018 (dailygetaways.ustravel.org) on Monday, April 9, offering some of the year’s best deals for up to 60 percent off, just in time for the summer high season. LOYALTY POINTS FOR SALE Are you one of the 72 percent of Americans who crave an easier, more affordable way to redeem loyalty points to book travel? The U.S. Travel Association found that nearly three in four travelers face that challenge, and this year’s Daily Getaways is making it easier than ever to capitalize on rewards programs, with top travel companies offering deeply discounted loyalty points for sale. A few examples of loyalty points for sale include Choice Privileges, IHG Rewards Club, Hilton Honors, and more. DAILY DEALS From April 9 through May 9, new, limited-quantity deals will go live at 1pm Eastern each day. Deals include the loyalty points sale mentioned above as well as coupons for car rentals, tickets to popular attractions, deals on hotel stays, and more. Spoiler alert: The very first deal, on April 9, is a discounted Universal Express Ticket including admission, for $139, and there will be only 250 on sale. BROWSE THE DEALS IN ADVANCE Our favorite part of Daily Getaways is that you can start browsing the month of deals now to see what’s on the horizon and mark your calendars (paper or virtual) and sign up for daily notifications to make sure you don’t miss out. In addition to the Universal deal mentioned above, others we may mark our calendars for include: A one-day car rental from Avis for $30 (April 13), a four-night stay at Excalibur Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for $475 (April 18), and a two-night escape at Omni Hotels & Resorts for $245 (April 20).