Almost everyone I know is busy making summer travel plans. After all, summer is a great time to travel: The kids are out of school, and the weather is glorious. Many of us felt like we couldn’t travel, at least not the way we wished to, in the past couple of years, so it makes total sense that we’re all ready to make up for lost time. However, mixed in with the feeling of freedom this summer is the reality of levels of inflation that many adults have never experienced in their lifetimes. But does this mean that travel is completely out of bounds? Absolutely not! With some forethought, travel hacks, and careful planning, it’s possible to stay within your budget while having the vacation your family dreamed of last summer!
The first thing everyone should do to save money is plan ahead. For instance, while many countries are now allowing tourists back in, you’ll need a passport for international travel, and it was pretty easy to let passports lapse when we couldn’t go anywhere. Check the date on yours now, and if there’s any chance you or your family will need passports, start the process of acquiring or renewing them as soon as possible. It could take as long as three months to get your new passports in the mail, and expediting the process, which may still take up to seven weeks, costs an extra $60 each. And remember that many countries won’t let you enter if your passport expires in the next six months, so even if yours isn’t expired yet, you might still need to renew it before you travel.
If you’re not planning to travel internationally, planning is still a smart strategy. Planning ahead can help you to get the lowest prices on things you’ll need and avoid unnecessary expenses.
Keep an Eye on Airfares
The best tip for scoring good prices on air travel is to watch how prices fluctuate and understand historical pricing patterns for the routes you want to fly. Tools like Google Flights allow customers to see pricing data for their destination and set up email alerts to track price changes. If you’re worried that you’ll buy too early or that your plans will change, the good news is that for now, almost all airlines have removed change fees for domestic flights and even on flights to the Caribbean or Mexico. So if you see a good price, book it! If your plans change or you find a lower price, you should be able to cancel your tickets without losing money. However, beware of always booking the lowest-priced ticket. Some economy fares don’t offer the ability to cancel or change a flight without incurring fees.
Most travelers have become accustomed to paying if they have to check a bag, but some bargain carriers now charge for carry-ons, so keep an eye out for that, too. People flying on those airlines are only allowed to bring a personal item (like a laptop bag or backpack) for free and have to pay for either a larger carry-on or a checked bag. There are some ways around the checked bag fee. For example, people who have frequent flier status or have the airline’s credit card often can check a bag for free. But the reality for most of us is that we either pay to check a bag or we make do with a carry-on. Luckily, there are many great tutorials on how to pack everything you need in a carry-on, which will let you save money on baggage fees!
Take Thrifty Road Trips
It feels like every time I fill up my car at the gas pump, the amount I have to pay reaches a new high. This is not an enjoyable milestone! I’m more aware of how much I’m driving in my daily life, and I’m doing my best to combine errands and cut out unnecessary driving. Driving anywhere this summer is going to cost more, but there are still a few ways to stretch your gas dollars and therefore your travel budget.
- Download GasBuddy. Users rave about how easy this app makes it to find the cheapest gas wherever you are. It also offers features like trip planning: Plug in your trip details and GasBuddy will return an estimated gas budget for the trip.
- Take advantage of discount programs you already use. For example, I do my best to maximize my gas points at my neighborhood grocery store because doing so lets me save up to $1 a gallon. The chain only has locations in my region, but it’s owned by a larger corporation that operates grocery stores (and gas stations!) across the nation, and points add up at all of their stores, no matter what the name over the door is. They also partner with a gas station that has locations across the country. Similarly, if you have a Costco membership, it’s smart to fill up whenever you’re near one of their locations.
- Upside is a newer app that lets users earn cash back on gas purchases. Some gas stations offer deals that let Upside users earn back 25 cents a gallon! It’s as easy as scanning your receipt into the app.
- Along with saving money on gas, making each gas purchase last as long as possible is important. Improving gas mileage can be as simple as avoiding idling as much as possible. On a road trip, this means staying off the road during rush hour. Another easy trick is to use cruise control as much as possible.
- Avoid gas station snacks. Many adults (I’m among them) act like unsupervised 10-year-olds when it comes to buying snacks on road trips. Avoid overspending by your family (and yourself) by bringing your favorite snacks along. A cooler with cold drinks, sandwiches, and a bag of shelf-stable snacks can help keep your family full and eating better than they would if you were running through fast-food drive-throughs or grabbing stuff at the gas station. Another way to save money is by refilling your cooler at a grocery store. A grocery store dinner of a rotisserie chicken, fruit, and a loaf of bread is tasty and much cheaper than almost any restaurant meal.
Save on Lodging
Lodging is another area where prices are being influenced by high levels of demand. There are still ways to score a great deal, though.
- Join motel and hotel chains’ loyalty programs. Even if you never get enough points to attain elite status, just being part of their loyalty program can get you fantastic discounts on stays.
- Take advantage of the hotel’s free offerings. Do they offer free breakfast? That saves you the cost of one meal. Do they have a shuttle service? That can equal significant savings over using Uber or Lyft or renting a car.
- Rent a home. Everyone has heard about services like Airbnb or VRBO, where it’s possible to either rent a room in someone’s home or an entire home. There are great deals to be scored on these sites. Remember, though, that they can come with lots of fees (like cleaning) that hotels don’t. Make sure you know exactly what the total bill will be when trying to determine if a hotel or rental is the more economical choice.