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20 ways to save on vacation

Planning on taking a vacation this summer? Don't forget to pack your sunscreen, beach towels and these 20 money-saving tips.

By Stacy Johnson May 11, 2012 5:52PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneySummer vacations are on the rise again -- as long as vacationers are getting a good value.


Eighty-seven percent of Americans surveyed for Choice Hotels International said they planned to take at least as many summer vacation trips as they did last year, and 21% said they definitely expect more summer travel. Nine out of 10 said they're looking for the best value in their hotel stay.


Surprisingly, when asked what they consider to be a good value from a hotel, 75% ranked free breakfast as their No. 1 priority. While I love free cinnamon rolls as much as the next girl, that isn't the best way to save money on a vacation. Stacy Johnson shares his five top tips in the video below. Then read on for more ways to go on vacation without going broke.

1. Be flexible with both time and place. You'll save the most if you keep your vacation options open -- and that includes both travel times and locations. For times, book in the off-peak seasons when popular destinations are cheaper. For locations, you'll pay less year-round for less popular destinations. For example, instead of Miami, try Fort Myers, Fla.


2. Compare transportation options. Don't limit yourself to flying or driving. Depending on the distance, day of the week, and time of year, it may be more cost-effective to take a train. For example, the travel costs for a trip I'm planning from New Orleans to Chicago break down like this:

  • Estimated driving cost -- $554
  • Cost on American Airlines -- $394
  • Cost on Amtrak -- $234

Also, a new breed of luxury buses operates in several states -- cheaper than flying, but with more legroom, free Wi-Fi and other amenities. 


3. Fly midweek. If you do decide to fly, tickets are typically cheaper midweek. Most airline sales start on Tuesday and end on Thursday, and the two cheapest days of the week to fly are Tuesday and Wednesday.

4. Travel light. Some airlines, like JetBlue and Southwest, allow you to check one or two bags for free, but most charge an additional fee for your luggage. Airfarewatchdog has compiled a list of airline luggage fees. If you're flying on an airline that charges, downgrade your suitcase to a carry-on. Not only is it cheaper, it's easier to handle and there's less risk of loss or damage.


Worried about not having enough stuff to wear? That's what laundromats and hand washing are for.


Image: Young woman sitting on the hood of a car © rubberball/Getty Images5. Have a checklist. Make a checklist of everything you need before you pack and double-check it before you leave. If you get to your hotel befroe you realize you forgot something important -- like your cellphone charger or the SD card for your digital camera -- you'll waste money buying another.
6. Check your insurance. Travelers insurance and rental car insurance can save you a fortune if something goes wrong, but you don't have to buy them independently. Both types of insurance are often covered by credit card companies, homeowners insurance or auto clubs. Check what you already have before purchasing more.
7. Stay outside popular areas. Having a hotel room in the center of everything is convenient, but staying a few miles outside the city is often cheaper. For example, for next weekend I could book a room at the Omni Hotel in Dallas for $149 a night through  or I could stay a few miles away in Las Colinas, Texas, at the Wyndham for $64 a night. I'd save $85 a night just by staying in the suburbs.
8. Find cheaper lodging with vacation homes.Vacation home rentals cost the same or even less than hotels, but offer more than most standard hotel rooms -- full-service kitchens, washers and dryers, and bigger living spaces. So you can eat out less, stay in more, and never have to worry about a late-night trip to a Laundromat.
9. Sleep at a hostel. A hostel is dirt cheap compared with most hotels. You'll get only the basics -- a bed and linens -- but you'll save a ton this way. For example, a private room in the India House hostel in New Orleans costs $23 a night; the Best Western French Quarter Landmark Hotel is $180. Use a site like to find the going rates.
10. Consider house swapping. If you're willing to swap homes (temporarily) with someone, you can stay in their house for free during your vacation. Several sites allow you to view ads for available homes and post your own; the sites include:

Don't assume that because you don't live in a vacation destination, nobody would want to stay at your home. People choose their destinations for lots of reasons, from business to visiting Grandma. 


11. Dine out less. Dining out is my single biggest "extra" when I travel. During a three-day weekend in Austin, Texas, I spent more than $150 on food. Don't do that. Instead, book a hotel room with an in-room kitchen, rent a vacation home, or do a house swap and cook most of your meals.


12. Use discount food apps. If you do dine out, use a restaurant-locating app to find special deals and the best prices. Some of my favorite apps include:

Split your meal in half, ask the waiter to box it up and use the hotel's mini fridge for storage.  That way, you get two meals for the price of one.


13. Turn your vacation into a tax deduction. Turn your vacation into a business trip and you can write off some of your expenses, including transportation, lodging, dining out and even some cruises.


14. Take an alternative vacation. No one says your vacation has to include a pricey tourist destination. There are plenty of cheaper ways to enjoy some down time. For example:

  • Take a staycation in your own city and live like a tourist for a few days.
  • Go camping in a national or state park.
  • Visit your state's capital for the weekend.
  • Visit friends or family (especially those with guest rooms).
15. Plan cruises carefully. The listed price of a cruise includes food, lodging and on-ship entertainment. It doesn't include tips, the cost of onshore excursions or airfare -- and those costs add up. Research all the associated costs before you book a cruise. If you're not sure how to find the best deal, let a travel agent handle the arrangements for you.
16. Go sightseeing for free. Popular tourist attractions can be pricey, but there are plenty of places you can tour for free. For example, admission to popular plantation homes in Louisiana can cost up to $18 per adult, but the National Park Service hosts free walking tours of the French Quarter in New Orleans. 
17. Use multiple travel sites. Travel sites save you a ton of money, but they don't all have the same deals. Check multiple travel sites before you book, including:
18. Take public transit. Rental cars and cab rides are expensive, but public transportation is a steal. For example, in New Orleans a cab ride across town runs about $22, but a streetcar will take you the same distance for $1.25. Major cities post their public transportation routes online.
19. Ask a local. Want the real scoop on the best cheap food, fun and free entertainment ideas, or which souvenir shops aren't overpriced? Ask a local. As a local in a popular tourist destination, I can promise you, many of us are happy to help you have a good (and cheap) time.
20. Don't pay for overseas phone service. If you're traveling overseas, plan your calls before you leave. While the hotel will let you use its phone to call internationally, you'll pay a hefty premium for it. If you'll have Internet access in your hotel room, set up a Skype or Google Voice account before you go. If not, ask your wireless provider if it offers temporary international calling. Many providers offer global SIM cards or rent overseas-capable phones for a small fee.

More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

May 14, 2012 9:41AM
The cost of transportation is typically cheaper to fly if there is only one person. Depending on your vehicle, of course. Last year I took a road trip with my two children that started in Oklahoma City and went to Orlando, FL and as far north as Washington, DC and only spent $500 in gas (Dodge Caliber).  The air tickets alone would have been at least $1500/each. Then add in the cost of a rental car for places that don't have a good public transportation system (Las Vegas, New York City, and Seattle all have good systems) and it becomes entirely more economical to drive.  I'm taking a van on our camping trip to the GSM this summer and plan to spend $350 for gas. For four people. Sometimes driving is entirely more economical than flying. If you have the time, drive.
May 12, 2012 2:33PM
If you have several things you want to do during your life, say, Alaska Cruise, Tour of Holy Land, Hawaii, etc. one trick is to NOT decide the order you'll do them.  Look at the prices of each one and if you can find a deal, take that one.  The Summer after 9-11 we were thinking Danube Cruise, but the prices of Alaska Cruises (Inside Passage on Holland America) dropped from $1800 to $1100 (including several hundred dollars in side-trips) each as a July cruise date approached and it wasn't sold out, so four of us went.
May 14, 2012 4:45PM
Go  camping,    a  little pop  up  trailer  and a  list  of state parks campgrounds.    Sure you  cook  your  own  meals,  make your  own  bed   but  it saves a lot  and  no  need to worry about bringing bed bugs home  from  the swanky hotel  you thought was  "clean"
May 12, 2012 2:10PM
"The listed price of a cruise includes food, lodging and on-ship entertainment. It doesn't include tips, the cost of onshore excursions or airfare -- and those costs add up." +++++ It depends on the cruise.  Most foreign river cruises include airfare, hotel if any, and all meals and on-shore excursions.  Many Ocean/Mediterranean cruises include some excursions, but not all and foreign ones usually include airlines.  RESEARCH.  For example, the city of Rhodes is 1 mile x 1 mile.  I bought a $7 walking tour guide and the two of us saw MUCH more than those on our Aegean Cruise who spent $68 to see the main sites plus being Shanghaied to the obligatory rug factory where such tours usually end.  It turns out I have a distant relative in Juneau who's on the board of the Salmon Hatchery ($75 sidetrip!).  I contacted her by email, we met and she took us for a tour of the city, Hatchery and the Mendenhall Glacier, etc. that saved us $200 each.  Plus we got to spend some time with the family of my father's first cousin, who I'd never met.  When I went to Istanbul (end of the Aegean Cruise) I asked online acquaintances for tips.  Next thing I got an email from a friend of a friend who was a Turk living in Paris who told me to see the artist's village at Ortakoy.  We got $7 souvenirs that would have cost $50 in the tourist traps.
May 21, 2012 5:16PM
In response to #9- I have stayed at the India House Hostel in NOLA, and it was wonderful!  However, we had a private room, and the price is $55...  It is usually about $25 for most hostels in a SHARED DORM room- in the case of IHH, it is shared with seven others.  Private rooms in most hostels average about $50-60.  Otherwise, great article!
May 14, 2012 1:00PM
Remember 99% Americans, NO VACATIONS, NO EATING OUT, only BUY ENOUGH gasoline to get back & forth from work and STOP for GROCERIES on the way home!!
May 14, 2012 8:47AM
Many Ocean/Mediterranean cruises include some excursions, but not all and foreign ones usually include airlines.
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