10 tips for saving money when travelling

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Travel can be expensive, whether it’s high gas prices during your road trip or increased travel demand resulting in rising hotel and airfare costs. But it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think with these travel saving tips.

How to save money when travelling

1. Pack light

Packing light is undoubtedly beneficial in avoiding checked bag fees, but there are a few other incentives to do so. For starters, packing light means getting around much easier. With a light suitcase or backpack you are more mobile and can move around on public transport instead of feeling like you have to pay for a taxi.

How do you pack light? Bring clothes that you can easily wash in a sink. Look for items that dry quickly and choose clothes that you can mix and match. Standardize on basic items that go with pretty much any outfit, so you don’t have to cram four pairs of shoes in your bag.

Plus, packing light means you’re not tempted to pay for souvenirs — the limited capacity in your suitcase or backpack will discourage your urges.

2. Shop at local grocery stores

Visiting local markets can be an adventure in itself. You will find different types of food that you would not necessarily find at home. Having food on hand will likely save you money, since you’ll be less tempted to buy that stale, overpriced muffin from the hotel cafe just because you were hungry.

3. Pack snacks

If you can’t visit a local market, packing snacks from home is the next best thing. Look for high-protein products like jerky and protein bars that can fill you up and won’t take up too much space in your luggage.

Bottled water can also become a significant expense when you’re on the go. Assuming you have access to a clean water source, pack your canteen and consider a portable water bottle that folds up to fit in your bag.

4. Go to the airport lounge

One of the best ways to get food while traveling is at an airport lounge. Many premium travel credit cards offer lounge access as a perk, generally through the Priority Pass lounge membership program. Food quality varies by lounge, but you can usually expect light bites like fruit, chips, cookies, and coffee. The fancier lounges sometimes offer entire buffets.

Beyond food, lounges can offer Wi-Fi speeds that are typically faster than what’s offered at the airport. In addition, some lounges offer showers, exercise rooms or massages. Arrive early to the airport to maximize amenities.

5. Arrive early

Allow enough time to be at the airport early. If you’re running late, you can panic and hail an overpriced taxi instead of taking public transport, which is usually a fraction of the cost. You may also find that fares for routes to the airport may be higher at certain times. If you have more time, you can avoid the price increase.

Don’t risk having to rebook a flight at the last minute because you arrived late.

6. Get a refund for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership fees

You can tear through the airport crowds by applying for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Both are types of Trusted Traveler programs offered by the US Department of Homeland Security.

If approved, you can use expedited lanes, which tend to have shorter and faster queues since travelers are not forced to remove their shoes, laptops, belts or jackets. According to TSA data, 94% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in December 2021.

See also: Southwest Airlines resumes in-flight alcohol sales on February 16

Certain credit cards will refund your application fee, typically $85 for TSA PreCheck or $100 for Global Entry.

7. Benefit from credit card-free accommodation vouchers

Some hotel credit cards — even those with annual fees under $100 — offer free hotel stay coupons. Assuming the value of your hotel room is more than the annual fee on the credit card (which can very easily be), getting one of these cards to save some money with a free night could be a smart move.

Plus, these cards usually come with additional perks like elite status, which makes your stay more enjoyable, and bonus points that can make future stays free — or at least cheaper.

8. Book hotel rooms by points

Speaking of bonus points, it’s almost always a good idea to spend your hotel points rather than save them. Booking rooms with points instead of cash is certainly a smart way to avoid using your savings on a vacation, but there are a few other perks:

You can avoid resort fees: Resort fees (the extra fees hotels charge to cover additional amenities like pools and Wi-Fi) are irritating and can sometimes top $50 per night. Thankfully, some hotel loyalty programs, including Hilton HLT,
+0.69%
Honors and World of Hyatt H,
+2.33%,
do not charge them for rooms booked with points.

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You may receive additional discounts: For stays booked with points, you can unlock additional discounts for longer stays. For example, get the night with the lowest point value free for every five consecutive nights at a Marriott MAR,
+0.66%
Properties financed with Marriott Bonvoy points. Hilton has a similar policy where members with at least a Silver Elite membership get the fifth night free when booking with points.

9. Off-season travel

Being able to travel in the off-season not only avoids crowds and the headaches that come with them, but you can usually get a better deal. A Spring 2021 NerdWallet analysis of over 1,110 airfares found that holiday airfares were, on average, more expensive than all other booking windows.

booking window Average cash fare in Economy Class

15 days out

$576.51

180 days out

$464.77

During Holiday Season (December 22-29)

$655.32

Airfares for holiday route routes are on average 41% more expensive than other flights booked around six months in advance outside of the holiday season.

See: 5 reasons why winter is a great time to take a vacation

10. Explore tourist attractions that won’t cost you money

Even trips to notoriously expensive places like San Francisco, New York City or Walt Disney World don’t have to break the bank.

For example, at Disney World DIS there are tons of free activities,
+3.35%.
Ride around on the monorail or watch fireworks from the beach at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Additionally, you can find free walking tours in most major cities (although tour guides usually require tips, so tip appropriately).

Give priority to free tourist attractions over paid ones. For example, tickets to the de Young Museum in San Francisco cost around $15, but you can visit one of the coolest rooms, the Hamon Observation Tower, for a free panoramic view of the city.

And while there are dozens of excellent cultural institutions in St. Louis, start with those that offer free admission, including the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Science Center, and the Saint Louis Zoo. If time permits, contact the attractions for a fee.

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The final result

Travel expenses may apply. Your vacation may not be as cheap as this clever airfare would make you think when you factor in other expenses. Oftentimes, vacation spending can exceed your original budget once you’re away.

Saving money while traveling with these tricks will give you more money to spend where you need it, whether it’s on this trip or your next.

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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.

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