Those shots you see on social media that look like a $1 million have a secret — many hot locales may be more accessible than you think. To save on travel, establish a saving plan, do your research on transportation and lodgings, look for deals and get creative about your goals.

There are so many travel sites that give you flight deals, hotel deals, etc., you can almost always find a way to save on a trip. If you want a flexible travel card to redeem miles for cash and road trips, in addition to earning miles for everyday purchases and receiving rewards on your trips, consider  a Discover it® Miles credit card. Your morning coffee, online shopping and even groceries all earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar you spend on purchases. At the end of your first year we’ll match all the Miles you’ve earned.*

No matter what your situation, consider these tips for saving money while traveling.

1. Develop Responsible Saving Habits

2. Go Off-Peak

3. Shop Around for Lodging

4. Buy on Sunday, Fly on Thursday

5. Hit the Road

6. Dine In

7. Retail Therapy, Done Smart

8. Roller Coasters, Waterslides, Oh My

9. Cruisin’ Around

1. Develop Responsible Saving Habits

Vacation may feel necessary, but for many ensuring they have an emergency fund of three to six month’s expenses may be their first savings priority, followed by funding retirement. But if you have all that squared away, consider earmarking extra cash to a dedicated vacation fund, so you can plan and budget without risking your daily needs.

If you trim bits from your budget, you might roll those dollars over to your vacation fund. For example, if you negotiate a lower premium on your insurance policies, you can pay that money forward to your vacation savings. Knuckling down and paying off all of your credit cards frees up money. Bonuses and tax refunds might also funnel to savings.

2. Go Off-Peak

Before getting into the details, consider when you want to travel. If you can travel during off-peak times, or the in between weeks known as the shoulder season, you might save serious cash on a dream destination. Many factors determine peak season. In the U.S., peak times are usually summer, when the sun hits and schools are out. But in South American or Australia, January is summer and March the shoulder season. If you have a strict schedule, think outside-the-box destinations that aren’t as popular and are likelier to offer better deals to attract tourists.

Once you nail down the dates, start looking for museums, amusement parks, and other attractions that can tack big expenses onto an already expensive jaunt. You may be able to save money on admission cost by booking in advance. Search for deals on the internet and research whether the attractions that you plan to visit offer discounted rates that apply to you — military, student, AAA, senior and so on.

3. Shop Around for Lodging

Don’t be afraid to ask hotel staff about promotions or specials. If you’re traveling in a shoulder or off-season you may be able to score a three-star room for a one-star price. Travel websites can offer significant deals, offering opportunities to bid on properties or take advantage of cut rates for places that want to fill rooms fast.

For hotels, consider booking your room at the last minute to take advantage of cancellations. If you do see a low price on a third party site, consider asking the hotel directly if they’ll match the price. The third party sites take their own fees off the top, so a hotel might knock a few dollars off or offer an upgrade if they can keep the full fee.

You might also find package deals that better suit your needs. Discounter sites offer weekly deals that, if you can purchase off-peak or fly out during the week, could net you significant savings with little research. You can sign up for weekly email alerts.

4. Buy on Sunday, Fly on Thursday

Saving on airfare is probably near the top of your list, but there’s been so much written on the subject that it makes more sense to reduce it to the basics.

Weigh the days you plan to travel — for example, Sunday prices can soar as travelers race home before the work week, but heading out on a Thursday could be ideal. 

Many trip-planning websites allow you to set price alerts for chosen destinations. And some airlines offer discounted rates for taking connecting flights instead of nonstop. You might even be able to include hotel and car rental reservations with a package that costs less than it would if you had booked each element separately.

5. Hit the Road

Road trips often seem like the best option for cost-conscious travelers, but depending on the length and details of the trip, driving can be quite expensive.

Before you go, get a tune-up. so you can avoid expensive emergency repairs during your trip. Make sure you have a first-aid kit, flashlight and other supplies in your car emergency kit. Portable devices that allow you to jump start your car or inflate your tires can be inexpensive and well worth the cost.

Before you leave, create at least a rough itinerary so you’ll know if you will need a bathing suit, hiking shoes, gym clothes, camping equipment or other essentials. Pack plenty of snacks and a cooler full of drinks, and check out grocery stores along the way to create less expensive meals.

Consider the cost of gas and tolls as well. Parking, too, could be a hassle depending on your destination, and a pricey one at that. Apps and online tools can help you find the cheapest gas in your area. You might also be able to save money by filling up well outside of major cities.

6. Dine In

When it comes to dining on vacation, you can save money while still enjoying the local cuisine. If your lodging comes with a kitchen, shop for local groceries, prepare meals and take them with you. Stocking up on little things like water and snacks can wind up saving you money.

If food feels like a key part of your travel, one sit-down meal a day is a budget friendly option. Take advantage of your included continental breakfast in the morning, grab provisions for a picnic lunch from a market at noon and enjoy a full dinner to cap off the day.

If you can, avoid restaurants menus in tourist areas. They are typically more expensive and less authentic than the mom and pop shop around the corner. When in doubt with a foreign language menu, ask for the daily special. If you’re staying a hotel, local staff or a concierge might know just the spot.

Finally, don’t over tip. Very few places outside the U.S. have an assumed 15-20 percent gratuity. Research the tipping customs before arrival to tip appropriately.

7. Retail Therapy, Done Smart

Shopping can feel like a travel treat as much as a leisurely coffee or a view of the Mona Lisa. For some, it’s a chance to experience a different view of a city, and indulge in a pastime you may not have time for back home.

First, make sure you know the exchange rates and the best way to maximize your dollars. Exchanging cash at those convenient airport kiosks will typically charge you an unfavorable rate, so either obtain cash from your bank before leaving or use a regional ATM once you arrive. 

Open-air and flea markets are a great choice for finding unique gifts at flexible prices. But come prepared to negotiate. And be sure to keep a close eye on your wallet as they can be popular areas for pickpockets as well. If you’re visiting multiple countries or regions, save your shopping for the most affordable destination. The same shell necklace can cost $100 in St. Johns and $10 in Jamaica.

8. Roller Coasters, Waterslides, Oh My

While breakfast with a cartoon character may cost you, many amusement parks offer a variety of entertainment choices and great packages.

Research the amusement parks that fit your interests. Knowing exactly what you want to get out of your amusement park adventure can make it a memorable occasion for the entire family. Also remember that some amusement parks are seasonal and that their hours (and prices) may vary by season as well.

Amusement parks typically offer a variety of discounts. Check available promotions at the park’s website before purchasing your tickets. You can also check for discount flyers online and in some retail stores.

Some parks may offer packages that include the price of park attendance, lodging, dining and entrance or special access to various areas and activities within the park, which could make your stay more enjoyable. But make sure that the features of the package include the products and services that you’ll actually use.

You may be able to partially reduce your wait time by reserving your rides in advance, too. While you will spend more money with a premium line-skipping pass, that might be the difference between enjoying eight rides, or 18.

9. Cruisin’ Around

If you want to hit the high seas, some of the best deals come about three to six weeks before the departure date, according to some experts. Also consider options closer to home, where you may not need airfare just to board the ship if you live near places like New York, New Orleans, and Seattle.

Make sure enough is included in the pricing option you select and read the fine print. By choosing the least inclusive option, you might save on the base price of a cruise — but you may be on the hook for lots of additional on board expenses. Make sure to read the fine print.

Check with your cruise line for the rules relating to your trip — some may allow you to bring food or drink with you, or buy a bottle of wine with dinner, and have it corked and waiting for the next night.

Notify Your Credit Card Company

And before you go, be sure to inform your banks and credit card companies that you will be accessing accounts from unusual locations. Otherwise a charge from a Turkish bazaar may set off fraud alerts. Discover makes it easy to do online or through our mobile app.

If you think you can’t afford to travel on your vacation, think again. Put all of these savings together and traveling might be closer to your budget than you think.

Originally published July 13, 2016

Updated October 15, 2021

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