Travel spend is on the uptick, now 23% above pre-pandemic levels, according to Personal Capital data.
Anonymized data shows that in April 2022, the average person spent $1,283 on travel. (Top vendors include Airbnb and airlines like Delta Air, United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.) In February 2020, travel spend was at $1,038, then tanked to $405 in April 2020.
A recent Personal Capital survey revealed that 51% of Americans are looking forward to travel and vacations. Others may be holding back because of budget concerns or savings goals.
For those looking to head out and save up, here are ten travel hacks for vacationing on the cheap.
1. Be Flexible
Above all else, frugal travel is facilitated by flexibility — especially when it comes to selecting a destination. One way to snatch cheap airfare is to be location ambivalent.
Rather than having your hearts set on going to say, Budapest, you can determine a region you want to visit – such as Eastern Europe. Then search for flights to that geographic area.
This way, you take advantage of the least expensive flights, but even more importantly, you often end up exploring cities you may have otherwise overlooked! Who knows — you could fall in love with Krakow, Poland.
The same lesson applies for your travel dates themselves. The more flexible you can be, the better. You can find wildly different prices just by tweaking your arrival or departure days ever so slightly.
2. Be Aware of Transaction Fees & Exchange Rates
If you’re traveling to a foreign country, be sure to look into exchange rates and transaction fees. If you don’t have a credit card with no “foreign transaction fees” already, it’s probably worth getting one for the trip.
Further on the credit card front, some places will ask if you would prefer to run the transaction in local currency or in U.S. dollars; there may be a fee associated with the transaction in dollars by the company running the transaction, or they may not offer a favorable exchange rate. Because of this, local currency transactions may make more sense, assuming your credit card company does not charge an associated foreign transaction fee.
3. Get Cash Before You Go
Call your bank before and let them know where and when you are traveling.
Again, if you’re headed abroad, look for favorable transaction rates. It’s best to limit your transactions — meaning get enough so you don’t have to convert multiple times, but not so much you are having to convert the excess back to USD at the end of the trip.
4. Track Your Spending
One way to make sure you don’t overspend? Keep a close eye on your cash. You can use Personal Capital’s free online financial tools to see all of your account balances in one secure location.
Before departure, you can even create a savings plan for trips.
5. Eat Like a Local
Once you’re on the ground in your vacation destination, abide by the “do as the locals do” motto. That means hitting up the grocery store.
Browsing the aisles of a local neighborhood market saves tons of money on non-destination worthy meals — usually breakfast and lunch. As a bonus, you can enjoy the entertaining experience of perusing the city’s unique signature flavors.
When you do opt for restaurant meals, avoid tourist traps like the plague. Skip the main part of town and instead scope out side streets where restaurants are packed with locals. A full dining room is usually a sure sign of tasty food.
6. Walk It
Another way to embrace local culture is by walking or taking public transit. Renting a car is expensive and a hassle (particularly in a foreign country), and taking taxis is a surefire way to run up your vacation tab. By walking, you get to experience a city up close and happen upon all sorts of delightful little places along the way.
Most large cities offer free walking tours at least once a day. If you feel like roaming, head out afterward to soak up the sights at your own leisurely pace.
7. Know Your Free Days
Many museums and attractions offer a free visit day (often on a weekly basis). By strategically organizing our sightseeing around these pre-existing free offerings, you can enjoy a city’s cultural highlights for next to nothing.
8. Decide on Your Big Spends in Advance
Since you do want to fully savor whatever city you’re visiting, I find it helpful to plan out our “big spends” in advance. If you’re visiting France, for example, Versailles may be a priority, so you can budget for the required euros. While in Belgium, you may want to tour breweries – another planned-in-advance expense. By prioritizing these purchases beforehand, it will be easier to pare down the list of sights we wanted to see.
In this same vein, it’s important to know what you’re OK with skipping.
9. Pack Light
You can aim for one carry-on suitcase — especially for international trips. Why? You won’t pay to check a bag, you won’t need to wait around at baggage claim, and you have no fears about losing your luggage.
Packing light allows us to roam around cities with ease. If you can’t check into your hotel immediately, it’s no problem to tote along one small bag. Having minimal luggage also makes it easier to take public transit or walk from the airport as opposed to paying for a taxi. It pays to be a minimalist when going abroad.
10. Go With the Flow
Similar to being flexible in creating our travel plans, going with the flow once you’re at our destination is essential. Rather than adhering to an ironclad schedule, you may want to be inclined to do things on a whim so you can enjoy each other’s company more than stress over a missed bus ride.
The key to making on-a-whim travel a vacation and not a last-minute, expensive summer scramble is relishing the unexpected. If you’re not too tied to where or when, this type of vacation is the perfect way to have an adventure – and let the world happen to you.