Taking that next vacation doesn’t have to break your budget. Follow these travel hacking tips for the frugal traveler for travel on the cheap.
I love to travel. Whether it´s just visiting friends in another state or headed for another country, there´s nothing like a vacation to get me out of a rut. It’s gotten harder though since I went on a fixed income and I was almost resigned to a life of being stuck at home.
That’s until I discovered travel hacking, the art of getting great deals and traveling on the cheap! With a little flexibility in your plans and thinking outside the box, even the frugal traveler can take their dream vacation.
Travel Hacking Where to Go and How to Get There
Travel hacking may mean going off the normal tourist’s path when it comes to picking your destination. I’m fortunate enough that my son settled down in Colombia where travel and activities cost about a quarter of what they would in most large U.S. cities. I visit twice a year for a few months and spend just a few hundred on things to do.
There are some great travel hacking destinations right in your own backyard also. I love Yosemite and Yellowstone for frugal travel plans. The national parks can make for nearly free vacations for those that enjoy the outdoors. For those that like the city-life, check out Washington D.C. for a ton of free activities around our nation’s history.
For more travel hacking tips, check out my earlier post on How to Get the Best Price on Priceline!
When you’re searching the internet for deals and flights, make sure you use private browsing. A lot of sites will follow your visits, raising the price of tickets you see because you’ve already been to the website.
It’s a little more work but make sure you check the websites for a few airlines as well as the online travel sites. The flights and deals offered on sites like Priceline and Travelocity are only there because airlines opted to be included in the listing. Some airlines may hold back some seats or offer their own specials to travelers on their own websites.
Travel Hacking Where to Stay
House swapping has never really caught on with most people but it can be a great way to save hundreds when you get to your destination. LoveHomeSwap and other websites charge a small monthly fee to list your home and browse listings by destination. I always pack up and store my really valuable stuff with neighbors but have never had a problem with the swaps I’ve done. It’s incredibly inexpensive and the swapping family is a great source for ideas and activities.
If you’re up to sharing like you’re back in college, hostels can be some of the most frugal traveling you’ll ever do. Hostels range from communal living space for backpackers to pretty high-end private rooms. The owners are usually locals so can be another great source for activities and attractions.
Along the same lines, Airbnb is becoming a go-to source for inexpensive accommodations for just about any destination. The site offers deals in over 190 countries and I regularly find stays for less than $40 a night in most cities.
Travel Hacking on the Road
Both the AAA and the AARP offer discounts on car rentals, vacation packages and hotels. It took a while to get comfortable flashing my AARP card everywhere but it saves me a lot of money.
One of my favorite travel hacking tips is to embrace your younger self and go on road trips. Four friends and a nice van takes me back to the 70s and [besides the price of gas] can cost about as much as it did then.
Set rules for specific places you want to visit, how far everyone will drive until stopping and how much each person can bring. The owner of the van pays for maintenance and getting it tuned-up while the rest pay for lodging, food and gas. We’ve broken down only once on the road trips I’ve taken and even that didn’t spoil the trip because we were enjoying each other’s company as much as the destination.
Check out college campuses and local seasonal festivals for free things to do at all your destinations. Learn to look off the tourist path to historic sites, local hangouts and other cheap activities.
Travel Hacking as a Volunteer
One of my best vacations was actually a fluke. It started out as a visit to my brother in Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. My brother and his wife decided to wait out the rebuilding with friends in Alabama so I joined a local volunteer organization.
The devastation of the region was horrible but the warmth in everyone’s hearts made it the most enjoyable vacation I’ve ever been on. I helped cook and clean at the volunteer camp to pay for my stay.
You’ll have to do some work on your volunteer vacation but should be able to get by without spending much money at all. You’ll meet new people and make friendships that will last a lifetime. That beats the pants off any traditional vacation where all you’ve got is some scrapbook pictures for memories. Visit redcross.org or ask around at your local red cross to find out where you’re most needed.
Priceline Last-Minute Cruises up to 75% off from $60/ night!
What are your favorite travel hacking tips? I’m still pretty new at the whole frugal traveler idea and would love to hear how you travel on the cheap. Write me an email or leave your travel hacks in the comments below. Happy Trails from the Frugal Grandma
About the Author
Joseph Hogue is a financial expert and investment analyst. After serving in the Marine Corps, he started his career investing in real estate before becoming an investment analyst for some of the largest private investors. He's appeared on Bloomberg and on CNBC as an investment expert and has published ten books in personal finance. Now he helps investors reach their financial goals and invest in the stock market with some of the same advice he used when working for the rich.