Your dream vacation doesn’t have to just live in the realm of fantasy. With smart planning, you can make that trip to Paris, a week at the beach in Brazil or an adventure in Costa Rica happen for real.
Smart travelers know the importance of saving both money and time. You can pull together a fabulous weekend getaway or the vacation of a lifetime and keep it all within a reasonable budget if you know where and how to shop. Sometimes you need to look outside the travel box and explore beyond hotels or hit the pavement and enjoy a low-cost walking tour.
Check out these seven hacks that will help you navigate your next trip (and your travel budget) like a pro.
1. Skip the lines with Global Entry and TSA Precheck
U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers the Global Entry program to help “pre-approved, low-risk” travelers get through security more quickly when returning to the U.S. The expedited lines will get you on your way faster, but you will need to apply ahead of time.
The TSA Precheck program helps you get through security lines without having to remove your shoes, open your laptop, or take off your belt. This program costs $85 for a five-year membership, but quickly pays for itself in time saved at the airport.
2. Know where the travel deals are
Shopping online for travel deals can net you amazing savings, but it can also feel a little overwhelming as hundreds of sites all promise they can get you the hottest deals on hotels, car rentals and flights. We’ve done the work for you and rounded up some of the best places you can go on the internet to score a sweet travel deal. Check out our suggestions here.
3. Play the credit card game
Savvy shoppers know how to use the right mix of credit cards to their advantage and earn free travel in the process. Travel rewards cards can cover everything from flights to hotels, but you need to be smart about the terms and conditions and know how to use them to get the most of out of them. Check out our tips for mastering the art of travel reward cards.
4. Look beyond hotels
Once you’ve settled on your dates and travel method, your next step is usually to check hotel prices for your destination. Go ahead and do that, but be sure to compare it with other options, including Airbnb and vacation rentals. You may find a cool and unusual accommodation or a really great location by skipping the hotels and motels.
Many vacation rentals include kitchens, which can be another smart money-saver, especially for long visits. You won’t have to eat out all the time and you can explore the local grocery and farmers’ markets instead.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can also check into hostels or camping options. Those aren’t for everyone, but they can be a huge help when it comes to stretching your budget.
5. Travel off-peak and off-season
Paris in the summer makes for a pricey excursion. If you have the opportunity to travel at a less-crowded time of the year, you can save on everything from airfare to accommodations. If the dead of winter doesn’t sound appealing, then look into the seasons of early spring and late fall. It can still be beautiful, but it can also be a lot less pricey. As a bonus, you won’t have to squeeze through the crowds to reach the Eiffel Tower.
Even the day of the week or the time of day you choose to travel can have an impact on your costs. Compare prices and take a good look at differences between flying on a Monday or Tuesday versus shipping out on a Friday. Check out early-morning or late-night flights as another way to shave some money off your flight expenses.
6. Bring a real map
We’ve become incredibly reliant on technology to help us find our way around unfamiliar locations. This is great…up until it doesn’t work. Keep a real map handy as a backup in case you experience unreliable cell coverage or lose your phone. Pick one up before your trip, look for a local visitors’ center at your destination, or check with the hotel staff. Mark your hotel or accommodations on the map as a quick reference for getting back to your base at the end of the day.
7. Take a walking tour
One of the best ways to explore a new city is on foot, but you don’t have to be on your own while you’re doing it. Most big cities (and a lot of smaller ones) have tour guides who specialize in themed walking tours. You might try out a Sherlock Holmes tour of London or explore the hidden gems of Paris. Walking tours are fun, inexpensive and informative.