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Planning a vacation is supposed to be fun. No one wants to think about money while they’re planning on jet-setting to Tokyo! Let alone figure out how to plan a vacation on a budget… You also want to live comfortably during your trip, but your budget can’t allow for a nice hotel and a ticket to Disney World–right?!
With the internet and mobile apps, you have plenty more options than a dingy hotel and breakfast, lunch, and dinner at McDonald’s. You no longer need to cut your hotel and food budget in order to afford that Broadway show you’ve been dying to see!
There are plenty of ways you could save money on vacation–without falling for “free” vacation scams online or committing to credit cards for travel rewards.
Here are my 7 tips on how to plan a vacation on a budget:
Before you think you can’t imagine staying in someone else’s home, trust me–I’ve been there. When my brother suggested it to me for our 2015 PNW trip, I was horrified at the thought of sleeping on someone’s couch! But Airbnb is waaay more than that (unless you want to sleep on someone’s couch, then I’m sure there’s an option for that).
And I definitely could have saved tons of money on that trip if I had looked into Airbnb instead of rejecting the idea on first thought.
I love Airbnb so much now that I wrote a whole post about it:
Still want a hotel?
For vacations, my first choice is always Airbnb, but for away conferences, I usually opt for a hotel near the conference center. My favorite resources to save money on hotels are…
2. Hotel Tonight (mobile app)
I love the simple interface of the app and their unique discounted rates. The more you use Hotel Tonight, the more perks you get. You start at Geo Rate with location-based discounts, then after spending $250, you get exclusive extra-discounted rates!
Even with the lowest level of Geo Rate, I was able to find discounts that I couldn’t find anywhere else online!
If you are new to Hotel Tonight, sign up with promo code STEADYBLOOMING for $25 off your first booking. The promotion also doesn’t expire, so you can sign up with this code now and it’ll be saved for your first future booking!
Before I found Airbnb and Hotel Tonight, I always used Expedia. You can easily search for hotels at exclusive discounted rates, and my favorite part is that you can cancel at any time for almost all hotel reservations!
If you like to book your hotel ahead of time to avoid getting stranded on vacation, then Expedia is a great place to start! If you find a better discount closer to your vacation date, then you can cancel your Expedia hotel reservation. No hidden fees! Just make sure the “No Expedia cancellation fee” applies to your hotel reservation before booking!
I was rewarded 2,184 Swagbucks (about $20 credit) for booking 2 hotel stays, which doesn’t seem like much, but hey, it’s money in the bank for doing what you were going to do anyway! Also, your purchase has to be made through the Swagbucks and Rakuten websites in order to receive credit.
My biggest tip is to download the Google Chrome extensions for Swagbucks and Rakuten, so the button to apply cash back will pop up automatically when you visit Expedia! I’ve lost at least $100 from forgetting to go through the Swagbucks website, but I haven’t made that mistake since!
If you don’t have a Swagbucks or Rakuten account yet, don’t wait any longer!!! You can earn cash back from shopping anywhere online. And with Swagbucks, you can also earn money by completing surveys or even using the search engine just as you would use Google.
4. Southwest’s Low Fare Calendar
I’m sure you all are familiar with using Google Flights to find the cheapest prices. When traveling in the US, your cheapest options are mainly Jetblue, Spirit, United, or American Airlines. And you usually trade in comfort (no food, less room, red-eye flight) and human decency (ahem, American Airlines flight attendants) for a discounted price.
But I’m going to show you one trick that many people overlook at the bottom of every Google Flight search.
There’s another option!!! Southwest Airlines has a Low Fare Calendar where you can search for their most affordable flights–this is especially beneficial if you have flexible travel dates!
The price doesn’t show up on Google Flights because you have to buy your ticket straight from Southwest.
Using the Low Fare Calendar, I got a round-trip ticket from Miami to Las Vegas in late October for $260, which is about the same price as cheaper airlines but without skimping on comfort!
Our flight to Las Vegas was on a weekend, no red-eye, and we had a straight flight on the way back to Miami! Not to mention that the service is amazing, the seat space is comfortable, and they even allow 2 checked bags for free! You also don’t have to worry about sitting next to a sneezing, coughing mess on the flight instead of your friends and family. Southwest has open seating! So you’re free to sit wherever you like.
The Atlanta CityPASS includes admission to 5 attractions out of 7 offered. I stayed in Atlanta for 2 days, so I only went to 3 attractions with the intention to go to all 5. I didn’t lose any money (okay, maybe $1) even though I didn’t go to all 5 attractions.
It cost $83 with tax for my pass, but Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and Center for Civil and Human Rights cost $82 anyways. You also get discounts in the ticket booklet for food & gift store goodies at the attractions.
If you’re going to a major city for 2 or more days, CityPASS is a must. Check out where it’s available below!
6. Local event calendar
Before you head over to your vacation spot, look at the local event calendar. There are plenty of free festivals and street fairs, which are great ways to get a feel for the local culture.
You can find hidden gems at merchants and small businesses that are set up in tents. I usually find the best gifts for my friends and family without having to step into a souvenir store!
And my favorite part is that there are local food vendors, including popular food trucks, so you get to try food from all over the area–at one spot!!! No need to spend your money on Uber to get to all the top Yelp restaurants. You can find them at a local event!
7. Cash Back on Groupon and Yelp
I’m a complete foodie, and my kind of vacation is one where I could stuff my face with all the food.
I’m sure you’re well aware of using Yelp to find the best eats on vacation, but remember to keep a lookout for restaurant deals on Yelp pages! They’re easy to miss when you’re drooling over all the foodie pics!
There’s also the relatively new Groupon and Yelp cashback programs. They’re free to use and are another great way to keep your money where your mouth is! (literally)
All you need to do is link up your credit cards (which you do anyway if you take advantage of Groupon or Yelp deals) and pay for your meal with any of the credit cards you linked. Then you get cash back automatically credited to your card!
For Groupon, it’s as easy as grabbing any other deal–some restaurants have up to 30% cash back!
For Yelp, you actually need to sign up for the program, but it’s still easy to do! Sign up here to enroll!
- 8 Reasons Why I Became An Airbnb Convert
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- 8 Travel Essentials to Maximize Comfort on Long Flights