- Photo courtesy of Gloria Atanmo
We all want to figure out how to take our dream vacations without spending a fortune.
To travel as cheaply as possible, you need to be flexible, not afraid of negotiating prices, and aware of the little-known websites and hacks that can save you major cash.
Here are 18 tips for traveling on the cheap – from people who do it all the time.
1. Look for flights on a private browser tab.
- Photo courtesy of Gloria Atanmo
“One of the easiest and most-effective ways to save money on flight tickets is to search in a private or incognito browser,” Gloria Atanmo, a travel blogger and self-described adventure junkie at The Blog Abroad, told INSIDER. “Not only that, but by changing your country of origin to a developing nation, but keeping the prices in your currency of choice, it also allows you to save up to hundreds of dollars on your ticket.”
The price of your flight ticket actually depends on the strength of your local currency, Atanmo explained. So by pretending to be in a country with a weaker currency, you can book a flight for much cheaper than in countries such as the US, the UK, or Australia.
2. Score cheap one-way tickets by using airport hub pricing.
“Flights in and out of major airport hubs, such as Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, or Newark are more expensive, so if you’re flying to a hub city, one way to save big is by buying a ticket to a nearby city with a connection in the hub,” Janet Alvarez, editor of personal finance site Wise Bread, told INSIDER.
“For example, if you want to fly to United’s hub of Houston, buy airfare to nearby Austin, instead. The airline will route you via Houston, anyhow to a connecting flight, so just get off in Houston and ignore the segment to Austin.”
Unfortunately, this only works on one-way flights and if you’re not checking any bags, Alvarez said.
“Savings can be hundreds of dollars easily,” she said. “Skiplagged is a wonderful resource to search for such flight routings.”
3. Book a last-minute cruise for a surprisingly cheap vacation.
“Unlike air travel, cruises are often cheapest when purchased last-minute,” Alvarez said. “This is a particularly great option for longer cruises, such as Trans-Atlantic’s; I was able to sail from Miami to Barcelona for $299 last minute.”
Cruises also include meals and entertainment, making them an even better deal when compared to airfare plus meals and hotels, Alvarez said.
4. Score amazing flight deals on offbeat websites.
“When it comes to flight deals, I use three websites: The Flight Deal (great deals from the US), Secret Flying (great deals from Europe), and Holiday Pirates (great deals from anywhere),” Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt told INSIDER.
“I’m subscribed to all of their newsletters so I don’t miss any flight deals,” he said. “Often you’ll find the same deal on all three sites, but getting all three in my inbox each day ensures I won’t miss anything in case one website doesn’t pick up the deal.”
5. Take advantage of the sharing economy.
Using the sharing economy when traveling has endless benefits, according to Kepnes.
“You can find cheaper accommodation, quirky tour guides, rideshare options, and home-cooked meals with local chefs,” Kepnes said. “You can bypass the traditional travel industry with sharing economy websites and gain access to locals using their own assets and skills to become small tourism companies with cheaper prices.”
When he traveled to the Caribbean island of Saint Croix, Kepnes said he paid $50 a night for his Airbnb, while the cheapest hotel room he could find was $150.
“Moreover, locals know where to find deals,” he said. “They know which supermarket is cheapest, which stores offer the best sales, and where to find the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars with the tastiest food at the lowest prices. Talking directly to them gives you access to that knowledge.”
The sharing economy has “changed the travel game and made travel more accessible for everyone,” Kepnes said, whose favorite websites include Airbnb (accommodation), Vayable (tours), BlaBlaCar (ridesharing), EatWith (meals).
6. Take free walking tours.
“Want to learn about the city, get your bearings, and see the major sights? Take a free walking tour,” Kepnes said. “You can find them in 90% of the major cities in Europe, and there are also a few in large Asian cities, South America, New York, Australia, and New Zealand.”
He said you can find these tours by asking the local tourist office, your hotel or hostel, or just Googling “free walking tour (city name).”
7. Get free flights with travel credit cards.
“I hate when people tell me they can’t afford to fly,” Kepnes said. “Sign up for a few travel credit cards, collect miles, and then fly for free.”
“Most cards offer sign-up bonuses of 50,000 points – and if you sign up for both an airline card (think a United Airlines card) and a general rewards card like the Chase Sapphire or Amex card, you can combine the two-point balances and get a cheap flight faster.”
Just make sure you travel enough to take full advantage of your credit card rewards.
- Universal Pictures
“Can’t afford your vacation? Watch someone’s house while they go on theirs,” Kepnes said. “You can sign up for one of these sites and watch people’s homes for free, allowing you to stay in one destination for a while and get to know it well without having to pay for accommodation. Added bonus: you get a kitchen to cook your food (which saves you even more money!)”
You can also do a home swap as in the 2006 romantic comedy “The Holiday.”
9. Get city tourist cards.
- RossHelen/ iStock
“If you plan on seeing a lot of sights in a city, you should get a city tourism card, which offers you discounted and free access to the major attractions and museums, as well as free public transportation,” Kepnes said. “I saved over $100 with the London pass, $80 with the Paris museum card, $50 with a Helsinki card, and tons more with other city tourism cards. They are an amazing way to save money on attractions that not enough people use.”
10. Take the red-eye.
- CandyBox Images/Shutterstock
“If traveling long haul, try to book red-eye flights so you save on booking an extra hotel room and sleeping onboard,” travel writer and Nat Geo Creative photographer, Lola Akinmade Akerstrom, told INSIDER.
11. Make lunch your biggest meal.
“If traveling around Northern Europe and the Nordics, eat your largest meals of the day during lunch when most restaurants have ‘daily specials’ with meals almost 50% cheaper than their dinner equivalents,” Åkerström said.
12. Book extra long layovers on flights.
- Shutterstock/Dutourdumonde Photography
“I love booking flights with the longest layover possible – sometimes I will purposefully book a 48-hour layover in a city that I can explore to tick it off my list,” Elena Nikolova, founder of travel blog Muslim Travel Girl, told INSIDER. “With many airlines nowadays offering free tours and even hotels, it is an even better offer. Airlines like Qatar Airways offer this and Doha is definitely one of the cities you can explore in 48 hours. Singapore and Turkish airlines to do this too.”
13. Keep a stash of snacks.
- Shutterstock/Aaron Amat
“Eating out is one of the quickest ways to drain your travel funds,” Kristin Luna, journalist and travel blogger, told INSIDER. “And while I’m never one to miss a meal – and I’ll be honest, I travel to eat – I always keep a stash of RxBars on me, which fills me up until the next meal. I’ll eat one for breakfast, then hold out until 11 a.m. or so for brunch, then just need to buy two meals for the day instead of one.”
14. Carry a reusable water bottle.
- Shutterstock/Kelly vanDellen
“Years ago, I started carrying an empty S’well bottle with me so I could fill up immediately on the other side of the TSA checkpoint [at airports],” Luna said. “This saves me $6 on a bottle of water multiple times a day, as well as when I make it to my destination, and those little things add up – just think if I were going on a trip for a week and buying three bottles of water minimum every day; that’s a lot of pocket change.”
Another bonus is reducing your use of plastic to help the environment, she added.
15. Negotiate prices.
- Worawee Meepian/Shutterstock
Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on certain things when traveling.
“You can often negotiate a better rate on your Airbnb rental if you message your host before booking,” Oneika Raymond, a journalist and travel blogger at Oneika The Traveler, told INSIDER. “No price is ever final.”
Don’t insult the hosts with your offer, but putting a per-night price on the table and letting them know you’re an excellent guest is a good way to get started.
You can also try this at hotels, Raymond said.
“If you’re flexible, there’s no need to pre-book a hotel,” she said. “Walk-ins can often yield better rates as you can negotiate better prices in person. (This typically works at smaller hotels).”
16. Be flexible with your travel dates and destination.
- Shutterstock/Iryna Rasko
“Use the ‘travel anywhere’ feature on Skyscanner to find the cheapest fares from your airport to any destination in the world,” Raymond said, adding that you should be flexible.
You can find some amazing last-minute deals this way, such as a $350 round-trip ticket from New York City to Stockholm, Sweden.
17. Keep an eye out for fare mistakes.
- Universal Pictures
Act fast to book these types of fares, because they will most likely quickly disappear once the airline realizes its mistake, according to Business Insider.
18. Teach your language in exchange for room and board.
- Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
“You can snag free room and board via language exchange programs (a number of these programs exist in Spain),” Raymond told INSIDER. ” In return for a few hours of language tutoring, you will get accommodation and food for free.”
Workaway is one popular site where you can find such gigs – for short or long-term.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.