We asked the experts – frequent fliers and travel experts from across the country – to share their top travel tips and insider secrets.
1. Make a Budget.
What’s the maximum you can afford to spend and how do you figure that out?
- Before you plan your summer vacation or search for cheaper solutions, know your limits.
- Estimate what you’re willing to spend on the basics – food, accommodation, transportation, and entertainment.
- List areas where you might cut costs or look for alternatives if necessary (e.g. rental cars, hotel expenses, activities)
- Factor in travel insurance so – if something happens – you don’t lose your hard-earned money.
2. Consider Transportation Options.
- Book now.
“Book right now for Thanksgiving, holidays, kids heading back to college in August; there’s no reason not to lock that in right now,” says Rudy Maxa, PBS’s “Savvy Traveler” and the host of the series Rudy Maxa’s World.
- Be flexible with your dates and airports.
“Do more research, dig in deeper. You might find out you might save extra if you fly one day earlier or later,” says Maxa. “Fly into secondary airports – fly into Providence instead of Boston, Oakland instead of San Francisco, Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami.”
- Plan ahead for those unexpected surcharges and extra fees.
Instead of raising fares, airlines are tagging on hidden costs. Here’s a great article from MSN Money on how to avoid ridiculous airline fees.
WHN TIP – Upgrade: “Don’t ask for a free upgrade when checking in – the agent at the ticket counter has little control over this and instead you may be charged for the upgrade. However, if you ask nicely the attendant at the gate, they have the authority and may be able to bump you to business class, or even better, first-class and they won’t charge you,” says Missi Firth, frequent flyer, New York, NY
- Before a long road trip, schedule a maintenance check.
It’s better to have your car worked on before you go and by a mechanic you know and trust. Otherwise, you might be paying extra for towing fees, roadside assistance, or other unexpected costs along the way.
- Try to get better gas mileage.
- Look for rewards and club programs.
Browse travel rewards programs. “Get a AAA Triptik. They will tell you where the cheapest gas stations are on your route,” says Maxa. This is a free service for everyone, not just AAA members.
- And link to this article with associations and help in case you need help while on the road.
WHN TIP – Check out these tips on prepping for your vacation.
Other Transportation Options
Research other transportation alternatives such as buses, trains, ferries, cruises, and rideshare programs.
“I’m a big fan of East Coast travel on trains, especially if you’re going downtown to downtown, you can’t beat the time and convenience,” Maxa says. “[Financially] it’s not really worth it for long-distance but could be worth if the trip’s experienced-based. Just getting there – that’s part of the adventure.”
3. Research Accommodation Choices
- Look for vacation packages.
Online travel sites might offer discounted packages when booking hotel, car, and airfare all at the same time.
- Think seasonally.
Hotels in ski areas or hot winter vacation spots might have rooms available at a great discount during the summer months.
- Rent a vacation home.
“Travelers can save money by renting a vacation home. Vacation homes cost, on average, 50 percent less per square foot than hotels,” says Denise Fraser, VRBO.com
- Trying bargaining.
“Locally- and independently-owned inns and B&Bs, for instance, they have the power to make a deal with guests, especially if your stay will be longer than a few days, or occurs at an off-peak time of year,” says Michael Dolan, BnBFinder.com
- Don’t forget hostels!
Hostels aren’t just for students – many hostels have private rooms and family rooms that you can rent at a low cost.
WHN TIP – Upgrade #2: “When asking for an upgrade, always do it in person when picking up the car or checking into the hotel. It is far easier to get a ‘yes’ from someone in person than it is over the phone. Smile a lot too, because people want to help happy, friendly people!” says Missi Firth, frequent flyer, New York, NY
4. Bargain-shop for Food, Entertainment, and Activities
- Head to the local grocery stores.
Pick up fruit, granola bars, and sandwiches instead of hitting the restaurants.
- Save on rental cars and use local public transportation.
Many places offer visitor passes at a discount.
- Look for free activities.
Visit your destination’s travel and tourism bureau website to learn more about your destination. Tourism sites will often have a list of suggested events and attractions. Keep an eye out for “free” or “family discount” days at zoos, museums, and tourist centers.
Don’t have the cash at the moment? Stay home! You can have plenty of adventures in your hometown – here are a few ideas:
- Visit local parks
- Visit historical sites
- Plan a family bike trip
- Stay at a local hotel
Thank You …
A special thank you to the industry professionals, travelers, insurance agents, and people who gave us their time, insight, and real-life advice.
Photo Credit: Thomas Lefebvre