8 Money Saving Tips for Planning Your Next Vacation

You don’t have to spend a fortune to travel well! Here are a few tips to keep your trip from breaking the bank.

Piggy bank on a suitcase on a beach

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Being homebound during the pandemic gave many of us a newfound appreciation for travel, and many people are making up for lost time by planning their dream vacation. If you’re doing your research, maybe you’ve noticed that just like everything else in our economy, travel prices are on the rise, too. Here’s how to plan that bucket list post-pandemic vacation without breaking the bank.

1. Be Flexible on Travel Dates

One of the easiest ways to save money is to be flexible about when you travel. Opt to fly mid-week and visit off season. If you’re a culture vulture who longs to see the bright lights of a big city like Chicago, consider visiting in February for Theatre Week, where you’ll get deep discounts on big budget touring Broadway productions as well as tickets to Tony award winning local theaters. If a tropical island in the Caribbean is your dream vacation, consider visiting during the region’s shoulder seasons of late spring or fall and you’ll find fewer tourists and more discounts.

2. Avoid Renting a Car

If you’ve tried renting a car during the pandemic, you’ve likely noticed they can be hard to find and pricey. Top that with gas prices being higher than ever. Ditch the car rental and head to cities with good public transportation or consider destinations like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the beaches and tourist attractions are a quick Uber or Lyft ride from the airport. Once at the beach, there’s a free Fort Lauderdale Community Shuttle bus that can get you around easily. But the most scenic way to move around what’s known as the “Venice of America” is the water taxi. A $30 day pass allows you to explore the city via the waterways instead of being stuck in traffic. Plus, the pass gives you discounts at a variety of restaurants and attractions. Stay at the iconic cruise ship shaped hotel long known as the Yankee Clipper. It’s now the B Ocean Resort and is just a couple blocks south of Fort Lauderdale’s infamous “strip” where the perennial party is at. B Ocean is a quick walk to the action, yet a peaceful oasis from the Bourbon Street excitement of Fort Lauderdale’s party area. If you must rent a car, use money-saving tools like autoslash.com to find the lowest rates.

A Ft. Lauderdale
A Ft. Lauderdale water taxi (photo from watertaxi.com/gallery)

3. Visit Off-The-Radar Destinations

Looking to enjoy the great outdoors? Hike the road less traveled. Bypass the crowds and expense of national parks while still enjoying breathtaking scenery by going to a state park. Two good Midwest options are Illinois’ Starved Rock State Park and Indiana’s Turkey Run State Park. Both parks are known for their deep sandstone canyons and waterfalls. You won’t feel like you’re in the flat Heartland here.

Just like our nation’s national parks, many state parks have one-of-a-kind lodging. Turkey Run Inn lets you choose from a room in the lodge or a cabin. After a day of hiking, enjoy the lodge’s indoor pool, then head over to Turkey Run Inn’s restaurant to enjoy Hoosier hospitality and famous fried chicken. Illinois’ Starved Rock State Park has a new nearby lodging option. Camp Aramoni may sound rustic, but it’s closer to the luxury trend of “glamping” than any old-school memories of camping. You’ll rest easy in safari tents with hardwood floors, air conditioning/heating, and full bathrooms with showers. Tents can sleep up to six, with some of them having family-friendly bunk beds. Guests can also take advantage of complimentary bicycles. Another budget-friendly bonus is that nightly rates include chef-prepared farm-to-table dinner and breakfast for up to four people. The seasonal menu showcases produce grown on-site in gardens the guests are welcome to visit. End your day by stopping at the repurposed Airstream trailer that’s been turned into a bar for a nightcap. Stateparks.com is a helpful website for planning a vacation to state parks throughout the U.S.

Turkey Run state park photo
Turkey Run State Park in Indiana (Shutterstock)

4. Stay at Hotels with Budget-Friendly Perks

Certain hotel chains are known for their free or budget-friendly extras. Embassy Suites is an all-suites brand, meaning there are separate living and sleeping areas, giving you a little more space… perfect for families. The recently opened oceanfront Embassy Suites in St. Augustine, Florida, even has designated family suites with bunk buds. Plus, all Embassy Suites offer made-to-order breakfasts and happy hours with complimentary cocktails and snacks. Staybridge Suites is another hotel brand known for its complimentary hot breakfast and happy hours with free appetizers. Most Staybridge Suites only offer the complimentary happy hours a few nights each week, so make sure and check before booking.

5. Book a Hotel Spa Treatment, Enjoy a Whole Day of Amenities

Hotels have some of the most luxurious spas, and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy them. Besides being pampered with a lavish treatment, hotel spa guests are often welcome to enjoy a resort’s many other amenities. Visiting family in the Phoenix area? Need a little time to yourself? Enjoy one of the more than 50 spas in the neighboring town of Scottsdale. Book a treatment at The Phoenician Resort’s spa or the Agave Spa at the Westin Kierland Resort and you’re welcome to spend the day enjoying their pool.

A swimming pool at the Westin Kierland Resort
Westin Kierland Resort (photo from Westin Kierland Resort)

Here are more money-saving tips from Eric Bowman, Executive Editor of the website and podcast Travel Pulse, which covers travel industry news.

6. Use a Travel Advisor to Book Your Vacations

Not only can they save you money by finding great deals, advisors know the ins and outs of the industry, work with the top suppliers, and are up to date on the latest travel restrictions. They can guide you to the best possible destination and hotels that fit what you like most as a traveler. You can’t get that by booking online. Travelsense.org is a user-friendly site where you can find travel agents verified by the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) based on your destination and/or vacation preference.

7. Use a Credit Card with Travel Perks

If you like to travel and want to save money, build points or miles to help offset the cost of a hotel or flight by making your most used credit card one that includes travel perks. “I have one hotel company card that gives me at least one free hotel stay each year,” says Bowman. “I also have an airline card to build up miles to eventually use for a free flight.” U.S. News and World Report regularly publishes lists of the best travel credit cards.

8. Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights Alerts

If you are open to spontaneous travel and booking on a whim, Bowman recommends Scott’s Cheap Flights, which sends out cheap flight alerts with great deals. Typically, those deals don’t last long, so you have to be open to booking quickly. However, you can save hundreds of dollars on flights to bucket list destinations if you act fast.

Being budget conscious doesn’t mean you can’t have a great vacation! These tips and digital tools will help score you the best deals.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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