Don't set your dates—or your destination—in stone
Georgejmclittle/ShutterstockWant to travel cheap? You can follow this great advice from travel agents, but here's a bigger secret: Being flexible about when you take off for vacation can be a mega-money saver. Travel blogger Paula Dixon, who has visited more than 11 countries by herself or with pals, says searching for the most cost-effective travel dates, instead of specific times and days, is a smart way to save money. "I only decide which month I will travel, but not specific dates within that month. Doing this will ensure that you find the cheapest flights for whatever destination you are looking to go to," she explains. For your search, Dixon recommends Skyscanner.com and Momondo.com to aggregate the best deals. "Skyscanner, in particular, allows you to search for the cheapest flights within a specific month. And, if you have a specific month you want to travel but do not have a destination in mind, then Skyscanner will also help you find the cheapest destination to travel to in the month you are looking to travel," she explains.
Book directly through the airline
Pressmaster/ShutterstockSo you searched on all of the websites—SkyScanner, Priceline, Kayak, you name it—and you're ready to book. Before you input your credit card info, travel writer Lola Mendez says to think twice before booking on a deal site. Though she says it's a smart tool to scope out the best deals, sometimes you won't reap the rewards and benefits of booking directly with the airline. And hey, she should know, considering she has explored 47 countries and counting. "I never book through third party booking sites for flights as there are often hidden fees and questionable customer service," Mendez says. "I try to book directly through the airline's website once I have found a suitable flight on SkyScanner. Usually, the price is the same or reasonably close." Here's where to learn more about airline secrets.
Consider hostels, but read reviews
kavalenkau/ShutterstockWhen you first think of hostels, you might envision grimy, sketchy bunk beds far off the beaten path. But Mendez says hostels across the globe continue to improve in quality and at times, can even be a better experience than staying at The Ritz. "I typically stay in hostels, as they are more cost-friendly and often have better facilities than budget hotels in developing countries," she says. Obviously, it's still important to do your research. Mendez uses Hostelz.com to compare prices for free between Hostelworld, Booking, Gomio, and other accommodation sites. Hostelz.com shows the price difference between each site and allows users to book directly through the site with the lowest rate. "I prefer to make the actual reservation through Booking.com as there is no fee, and usually reservations can be altered at no cost before the arrival date," she adds. Spend even less during your vacation with these cheap travel tips that booking companies don't want you to know.
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Take buses when you can
Concept Photo/ShutterstockGrowing up, Linda Martinez's father was in the U.S. Army, which took her family around the world. Once she became a mom herself, she's continued traveling to Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and countless other regions. These days, she owns a hostel in Italy, and says one of the biggest cost-savers for traveling is your mode of transportation. While it might take longer to get from point A to point B by bus—as opposed to plane, train, or even car—the ticket price difference can be tremendous. She recommends FlixBus and Megabus specifically.
Book travel between European countries when you're there
Nut Iamsupasit/ShutterstockIf you're planning a European getaway for a few weeks and you want to country hop, Martinez says to book your round-trip ticket from the U.S., but to wait until you've crossed the Atlantic to book your intra-Europe commuting. Because so many airlines—like Ryan Air, EasyJet, and Vueling—offer super-inexpensive travel between Spain and Italy, England and France, and countless others European destinations, you'll save money. Though you might want to study up on baggage fees and any carry-on rules, these small aircrafts are a quick and cheap way to check off all of those countries on your bucket list without dipping into your savings. Here's how to travel in Europe without stress.
Use cashback websites
one photo/ShutterstockThis hack will actually let you make money while on vacation—by earning a commission fee. According to travel blogger James Cave, using TopCashBack.com puts more dollars in your account instead of sending them to larger aggregate sites. "Before booking a hotel through a website like Hotels.com, Expedia, or Booking.com, I sign into my account on TopCashback.com and click through to the booking website from there. Cashback websites like TopCashback.com give you back the commission that they would normally get from referring you to a booking website," Cave explains. He explains that the rates vary from 5 to 10 percent, but you could expect to save around $5 to $10 a night on a $100 nightly booking. "It may not seem much, but over the course of a week that could end up close to $100." Cashback websites also work with car hire, travel insurance companies, and hundreds of other travel companies. "Together, it all adds up to big vacation savings," he adds. And considering Cave has traveled throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, and lived in Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, we bet he has a grasp on the best way to save.
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Consider house sitting...
nenetus/ShutterstockIf you're a pet owner, you know the added layer of stress when you leave for vacation: What do you do with your beloved pup? Or kitty? Instead of paying for expensive boarding fees that don't allow your furry pal to roam free, many pet owners offer up their house to travelers in exchange for pet sitting. "In return for feeding the cat, walking the dog, and doing whatever else the homeowner needs, you get to stay in the person's property for free," Cave says. "It's a great option if you're planning on visiting an expensive location like New York, Sydney, or London, where renting an apartment would normally set you back hundreds of dollars per night." Try checking out TrustHouseSitters.com to list your own property or book a stay abroad or stateside.
...Or home swapping
Monkey Business Images/ShutterstockNope, it's not just out of the rom-com movie The Holiday. House swapping is a real thing—especially for people who don't want to leave their homestead untended while they're gone for weeks, traveling for vacation or for work. "Many people want someone in their home while they're away, just to keep an eye on things and act as a deterrent to burglars. House sitters are a great option for this, but another option would be to put your home on a home-swapping website," Cave explains. "You don't need to swap with the person that stays in your home and, for every night that guests are there, you'll earn points that can be redeemed against other homes on the home-swapping website. It's a great way to get someone to look after your property and save money on your next vacation."
Get to know the locals
ProStockStudio/ShutterstockWorld traveler Brian Corsetti says an often overlooked way to save money—and have a truly remarkable experience—is to strike up a conversation with a local. Not only is it great to be friendly, but people who live in popular destinations know the best ways to find sales or inexpensive eats, and they're connected to the culture, which can help you avoid falling into tourist traps. For another one-of-a-kind experience abroad, consider sharing a meal via EatWith. Instead of going to a restaurant you stop by the home of a local, who will prepare traditional food for much less, giving you a glimpse into how locals really live and eat.
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Sign up for airline mailing lists
SFIO CRACHO/ShutterstockWe know, we know—you probably don't want yet another email hanging out in your inbox and making that red bubble pop up on your iPhone. But Corsetti says one way to find the cheapest airfare is to make sure you're tuned in to the latest news. "You should sign up for the airlines mailing lists. Sometimes they have 50 percent off deals, or programs that pay for your time with miles," he says. Here are more tips for stress-free air travel that you should know before you book.
Get a travel rewards credit card
Hamik/ShutterstockLast but definitely not least: If you love to travel and still don't have a rewards card, it's time to sign up ASAP. As Corsetti says, the more points you earn, the more things you can buy, including plane tickets to anywhere you'd like to go. The main qualities to look for when selecting a travel credit card is annual fee, number of points per purchase earned, and related perks. Some cards will pay for TSA precheck or Global Entry, provide a travel credit right from the get-go, or after you spend a certain amount in the first few months. Bottom line? You want to sign up for a card when you're about to book a big trip, so you can reap the rewards ASAP.