We all want the cheapest trip to our dream destination, but pulling it off requires being strategic, planning ahead, and knowing all the tricks in the travel-hacking book.
Luckily for us, seasoned travelers all over the world have spent decades getting budget-friendly travel down to a science. And they’re seldom shy about what they’ve learned.
Here are some of the top travel hacks for getting the most out of your trip while paying the least.
When it comes to getting the best deal on flights, timing is often the biggest factor. A 2021 CheapAir Survey concluded that the best time for booking domestic flights, on average, was around 64 days prior to departure. Seasons also affect the cost.
As noted by Travel+Leisure, you’ll find the cheapest flights 67 days before a summer trip, 94 days before a winter trip, 84 days before a spring trip, and for the fall, you should book about 89 days in advance.
For international travel, the rules have changed in recent years. CheapAir now advises booking closer to your travel date, ideally two months prior to departure.
Also, booking a roundtrip might seem like the best option, but pricepoint-wise, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, you’ll get the best deal by booking two separate flights, so be thorough with your flight search.
Last but not least, browse in private mode. It’s a surprisingly easy and effective way to save on plane tickets. Those who travel frequently often say they swear by this one for a number of reasons.
Per Insider, “By changing your country of origin to a developing nation, but keeping the prices in your currency of choice, it also allows you to save up to hundreds of dollars on your ticket.”
Going to popular destinations during the off-season is often considered budget travel 101. Think of every place you’ve always wanted to go and google their off-seasons. The price difference is often drastically lower.
With that said, pay just as close attention to the weather. Some off-seasons are way more severe than others. Aim for cooler seasons, but avoid times that promise rain.
On top of lower price points, the lull in tourism will give you the chance to experience your surroundings more like a local, intermingling with those who are there all the time, and significantly fewer tourists.
If you’re going to be traveling, you’re obviously going to be spending money. So if you’re traveling internationally, familiarizing yourself with the exchange rate of where you’re going will definitely pay off.
Pick two or three places you’d like to go and compare their currency to your country’s currency. Sometimes, the value of a country’s currency will be on a steady decline, and that’s likely the most financially frugal time to visit.
When the exchange rate works in your favor, you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
Once you start looking around, you might be shocked by just how nice many hostels are. Some are even luxurious, offering pools, gyms, and cafes. But do your research. Across the board, they’re cheaper than hotels, but some are more worth whatever you pay than others.
Once I started staying at hostels, my only regret was not doing it sooner.
Most times, you share a room with other people, but private rooms are also a reasonably priced option. If you want a private room, the earlier you book, the better.
While some might find sharing a kitchen or living space with strangers unappealing, there are unique upsides. For instance, you’ll meet a wide array of travelers, with their own set of travel stories, tips, and tricks.
If your heart is set on a reasonably priced hotel, check out booking sites for deals. Most times, sites like Booking, Trivago, Expedia offer significantly better options than if you booked straight through the hotel, or once you arrive. Also, the less popular the booking site, the better the discounts nine times out of ten.
For diamond deals in the rough, look into Vayama, CheapOAir, and Momondo.
You don’t have to be traveling with a group to benefit from this one. Even for solo travelers, this is a tried and true travel hack.
The first step is seeing what’s out there. Look into the prices of group tours for the places you may want to go, see, and do. There are a lot of discounts designed not only for group activities but for traveling alone in mind. In fact, there’s so much to choose from it can sometimes get overwhelming.
Luckily, there are plenty of businesses that exist solely for helping travelers looking for a little guidance, group tour spots for one, and a low price.
This one seems small, but it could really add up on international trips.
As noted by Passport Symphony, “if you’re withdrawing money from the ATM, commissions for using your card in a foreign country can be high.” A commission is charged from your bank, and typically, an additional commission is charged by the ATM. So if you plan on using an ATM abroad, know your options.
Find out if your bank offers fee-free cards. You’ll be charged a yearly fee, but you’ll likely save a significant amount at the ATM. If your bank doesn’t offer this service, there are plenty to choose from.
Airport exchange rates are infamously high, along with most everything else you’ll find there. This one is hard to fully avoid, but limit how much you exchange.
To steer clear of this common money pitfall, plan ahead. After familiarizing yourself with the exchange rate, set aside only what you’ll need to cover transportation to your hotel. Otherwise, a big currency swap could cost you way more than it’s worth.
Obviously, how you get around will be a significant factor in your trip, but it doesn’t have to be one of the most expensive. With public transit, it could potentially be one of the least. However, be mindful.
Any seasoned traveler will tell you that trains are not just packed with people, they’re known for crafty pickpockets, often waiting for unsuspecting travelers. Hide your money in an out-of-reach place.
Rideshares can also save you a significant chunk of change. But whenever possible and safe, consider getting from point A to B on foot. You’ll undoubtedly see the most of your surroundings while strolling between destinations and being at one with the setting.
Personally, dining in places I’ve never been and may never return is one of the biggest selling points for any trip. And if your goal is to get “the full experience” of wherever you go, the local flavor must be factored in. But dining like a local is key.
Of course, that’s often easier said than done, especially when you’re somewhere unfamiliar for the first time. Because you’ll undoubtedly be eating out sometimes, make it count. Learn your budget-friendly options and do as the locals do.
Talk to residents and fellow travelers who know the lay of the land. This is another instance hostel communities will come in handy. If you’re going somewhere famous for street food, try it out. Explore and inquire about where the closest food trucks, bodegas, markets, grocers, and street carts are. Oftentimes, this one hack makes the biggest difference.
No matter the city or country, there will be free things to see and do.
Do some research about the general area you’ll be in first. Maybe there’s a nearby museum to explore. You might find a festival at the time of your trip. You won’t know until you look, but there will always be interesting freebies waiting to be discovered.
Even if you don’t find out what’s free in advance, you can always head for the tourist center once you arrive and find a full list of no-cost activities waiting for you. Or, you can download all the guidance you’ll need on your phone.
If you haven’t done so yet, go ahead and set up alerts to track flight prices. You’ll know every time the cost of flights you’re interested in go up or down. And it’ll also help you become well-versed in how and when the costs fluctuate.
Once you’re on your trip, don’t pay for Wifi when you don’t have to. Lots of Open WiFi zones exist and it’s relatively easy to find free WiFi. Also, cities with lots of people often offer public wifi.
Lastly, download free digital guides and use them. Phone-friendly city guides are often loaded with free activities, budget-friendly food options, and tourist-oriented maps. Best of all, you’ll be able to acclimate on the go and not miss a moment of your once-in-a-lifetime trip.