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How to Save Money on Your Summer Vacation

July 02, 2018
save summer vacation, budget travel

Miles, Groupon, and sink laundry are your friends

4 min read

So you’re going on a summer trip, and you’re very excited! Hooray! But you’re also a bit nervous about how to keep that price tag down while high on the joy of a few days off.

Fear not, intrepid traveler. Here are a few simple, easy, and entirely doable ways to minimize costs and maximize fun.

Make a budget

Sit down and realistically plot out all the costs for your trip. Remember things like: city and state tax for hotels, your fondness for purchasing ridiculous souvenir magnets at the airport, and the actual cost of a rental car (don’t forget gas!) Then throw in some extra probably-won’t-happen costs—like what if XYZ happens and you’ve got to stay at a different hotel and it’s a little pricey?

Build in a mini-emergency fund just in case. The point isn’t to get anxious; the point is to be prepared.

Airline points are your friend

Seems obvious, right? And heck, if you had a zillion airline points stored up, you’d already have a free ticket booked. But I don’t mean just using your airline points for a ticket. Maybe you’ve earned enough for a hotel room discount, or a gift certificate to a local restaurant, or a free whale-watching trip—I seriously saw this once on an airline rewards site.

If you booked your ticket before joining the airline rewards program, see if they’ll let you join retroactively. You haven’t used your ticket yet, so it’s worth a shot. The points will be deposited after you complete your trip, and you can get started on making your next vacation more cost-effective.

Use public transportation

Many cities have discount passes for visitors, that knock some of the cost off public transportation, museums, occasionally even restaurants. And you’ll certainly get a more intimate view of your environs than you will in a rental car. If the city has notoriously bad traffic, public transportation may be a big win for you and your “trip mates.”

For a great example, check out NYC’s MTA tourism site for a host of cool options.

It’s Groupon o’clock

Ah, the joy of finding an excellent Groupon in a city that isn’t your own! A little advance research on coupon sites is well worth the fun you’ll have, and the relief your bank account will experience.

Think outside the box. Maybe you’re going to gorgeous Charleston, South Carolina and instead of hitting the usual tourist traps on King Street, you find a Groupon to a family-owned soul food joint or a local rock club you’ve never heard of.

Why not go for it? You could even try a dance class or exercise class at a studio or gym. You’re a lot likelier to make local friends at one of these places than at Joe’s Crab Shack Store #5367. Plus, you’ll support the local economy. If you have a good time, write a nice Yelp review after. Which reminds me – sometimes Yelp offers discounts, too.

Eat cheap

Look, I know I just recommended you support local establishments, and I truly want you to do this. But I also will admit I hit a fast food place on a recent work trip to Indianapolis, and man did I enjoy every single bite. You can mix up the corporate/independent eating!

On a recent trip to Massachusetts, I ate a great, affordable meal at a diner that’s been in the same family for thirty years. It was nearly as inexpensive as a fast food meal would’ve been. I also went to a more upscale place in the same small town and enjoyed that, too. If you’re hungry enough and you enjoy the company you keep, you can have as much fun at Chipotle as at Le Fancy Café.

Pack (some of) your own food

Checking a bag will likely cost you around $25, but it may just earn out if you pack carefully. What should you put in there besides clothes, sunscreen, and toiletries? Specifically, snacks to keep you fortified against the temptation of unnecessary expenses. Nuts, seeds, chips, crackers, peanut butter, even powdered soup packets.

If your hotel doesn’t offer free coffee—check ahead of time—you might even bring your own. I’ve heard of folks bringing their own mini-coffee makers and ground coffee beans. Hey, whatever works. Bring some plastic baggies to store sandwiches, and consider silverware. Use real, recycled plastic or bamboo kind.

Sink laundry on the go

You can do your own laundry in your hotel sink or bathtub (and maybe even cut down on the temptation to buy souvenir t-shirts) by bringing a little detergent with you. I’ve used Dr. Bronner’s wacky hippie all-purpose soap for this purpose as well. I’m always bowled over when people actually get their laundry done by the hotel—it’s so expensive! (Unless they’ve got laundry machines, in which case it’s usually pretty cheap.)

These recommendations are just the beginning. I really recommend Lonely Planet guides as well as various country-and state-specific tourism websites to help you out.  A little research can make your trip even more fun.

Enjoy yourself! And don’t forget about the sunscreen, please.

By Sara Benincasa
Sara Benincasa is a screenwriter, recovering stand-up comedian and the author of "Real Artists Have Day Jobs"

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