How to Plan a Summer Trip on a Shoestring Budget

Plan a fantastic summer trip without going into debt.
Plan a fantastic summer trip without going into debt. Chris Lawton
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The living may be easy in summertime, but the travel can be expensive. Airlines and hotels are keenly aware of the universal urge to hit the road (and the skies) when the weather turns warmer—but, as savvy travelers know, there are ways to reduce the impact on your wallet, from choosing lower-priced lodging to visiting a destination farther off the tourist track. Here, insider tips on how to plan a fantastic summer trip without going into debt.

1. Consider a cheaper destination.

When deciding where to go, consider underrated destinations over popular ones—Sardinia over, say, Florence, or Buffalo instead of the Big Apple. While domestic travel is usually far cheaper than international, many other countries have a much lower cost of living than the U.S., helping to even out your airfare expense. Plus, transportation and accomodation are cheaper than anywhere domestic. And don’t forget about friends or family members who have offered up their place to stay—that’s a great way to save a ton of cash (just be sure to be a gracious, grateful guest.).

To help dig into less-spendy cities and countries, check out Numbeo, which aggregates user-contributed data and breaks it down into factors like the average cost of a meal out or a gallon of milk.

2. Find less pricey flights

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A few tricks can help keep your airfare costs down. Suhyeon Choi

From ditching the checked bag to religiously checking flight deals, there are plenty of ways savvy travelers can keep airfare costs down. One good place to start is the excellent site Scott’s Cheap Flights. They offer a paid subscription, but the free option is sufficient for most travellers (case in point: a recent round-trip flight from Pittsburgh to Paris for $400, and another round-trip flight from Pittsburgh to Japan for $600, via their e-mail alerts). Secret Flying is another solid resource for finding cheap airfare. If you’re not looking for a specific destination, the site has an option to just search for cheap airfare from a designated departure city.

Local airfare deals may also be available in your area if you live in a U.S. city with an international airport. In Salt Lake City, for example, an instagram account under the handle @flightsfromhome that regularly posts discounted fares departing from SLC. It may take some digging to find similar resources where you live, but a couple hundred dollars off a roundtrip flight is worth the extra effort.

Being flexible on dates is important for saving money. If you’re set on a specific date range, set up price drop alerts on Google Flights or Kayak for e-mail notifications. Airlines like Southwest won’t show up through these providers, so make sure to check their site for prices before booking through search engine tools. This goes for any other discount airline like WOW, Spirit, and Frontier as well.

Finally, you can also consider what’s known as “hidden city ticketing”: a controversial (but sometimes effective) tactic used by some travelers to score cheap airfare. Here’s how it works: You find a flight much cheaper than a direct one that has a layover in a city where you actually want to go. If you skip the first leg, your itinerary will automatically be terminated, but you can skip the last leg without jeopardizing your flight. Sites such as Skiplagged (which was actually sued by some airlines) will show you these fares. Carriers, obviously, aren’t at all fond of this tactic, which violates their terms of carriage and can get you in a lot of hot water with them. But it’s perfectly legal, and it can save you a lot of cash if you do it right.

However you find it, if you come upon a ridiculously cheap ticket, just book it. Don’t mull it over for days or weeks, because you’ll most likely lose out on the deal—some flight sales only last one day, after all. You can save a lot of cash from being spontaneous.

3. Be diligent about scoring cheap digs.

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Hostels have come a long way over the years. rawpixel

In the last decade, home-sharing options like AirBnb and VRBO have drastically changed the travel landscape, and at the same time, hostels have really upped their game. The end result for travelers? Saving a few bucks on lodging has never been easier.

House rentals are an excellent option, especially if you’re traveling with a group, and if you’re solo, you can almost always snag a private room for a great deal. And it never hurts to ask a host for a discount such as a reduced cleaning fee, especially if it’s during an off-peak time or mid-week. Hostels can be hit or miss, but reading reviews will help you chose one that suits your needs. One especially popular site is HostelWorld, whose rating system is an easy way to get intel on properties. You can see comprehensive information on each one such as amenities, prices, nationalities of guests, and photos. And sometimes shelling out an extra few bucks is well worth it for breakfast included or sublime views.

And for travelers who really want to save, there’s Couchsurfing. It takes some effort to create an account (you’ll share lots of personal info in the process), but if you get lucky, you’ll find a welcoming local to crash with and get the inside scoop on from. Couchsurfing fans swear by it, but you must take into account that you’ll be sleeping in the home of a complete stranger. However, if you’re comfortable taking that risk, you may make a new friend and have some truly unique travel experiences.

Finally, don’t forget about camping. Free camping areas like state parks are often way cheaper (and easier to get reservations for) than popular national parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon. You can also look into WWOOF, WorkAway, or HelpX if you’re willing to put in some work for free room and board.

4. Transportation

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Cabs are convenient, but public transportation is almost always cheaper, especially for individuals or couples. Fancycrave

Transportation options and costs vary tremendously by location. If you’re in urban Japan, you’ll have seemingly endless ways to get around, from high-speed rail to Uber to bike. If you’re in rural Canada, you’ll likely be stuck renting a car. The upside to rental cars is the freedom they offer; the downside is they can be stressful and expensive, especially when you consider higher gas costs overseas (around 7 USD per gallon in France, for example, and even higher in some European countries like Norway and the Netherlands).

Public transportation is almost always cheaper for individuals or couples, and be sure to research options for rail or bus passes at your destination. In Japan, you can purchase a pass for 1-3 weeks to get unlimited access to the bullet and (most) local railways. These types of passes can save you loads of cash and exist in many countries with well developed infrastructure. For larger groups, splitting the expenses of a rental car may be just as affordable. Do the math before you book anything.

For shorter distances, consider bikes, which are becoming more popular in many mid- and larger-size cities in the States and abroad. Some hostels and AirBnBs even have bikes that they’re willing to lend out to guests. Obviously, walking is free and gives you the chance to take in your surroundings at a slower pace. Don’t forget supportive footwear.

5. Saving while eating and drinking.

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Eating local is always a great way to save some cash. McKay Savage

Digging into the local food scene is a big part of experiencing a new culture—but it doesn’t have to take a huge bite out of your budget. Even in countries like Australia and those in Western Europe where food is more expensive, tipping isn’t as high as it is in the United States (usually, no higher than 10 percent). In addition, street food tends to be on the cheaper side, and it’s an authentic and affordable way to truly get a taste of local culture. Local farmers markets and supermarkets are other less spendy options, too. And lunch is always cheaper than dinner, so plan your mid-day meal as the one you eat out.

Written by Dawn Davis for RootsRated Media in partnership with RootsRated.

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