budgeting · travel

How to Save Money on Travel

Frugal Travel San Francisco

Traveling is an indulgence that I love. It’s expensive when you’re away from home and you feel like you’re constantly opening your wallet and the money is flowing out. These are the methods I use to keep our travel costs as low as possible – so I can travel again sooner rather than later. By planning ahead, considering creative alternatives, and making the ordinary into an event, you’ll definitely save money on travel. Some of these tips are for before you go and other tips are for while you’re on a trip. These tips are how to save on travel and still have a fabulous trip whether you’re having a stay-cation in your hometown or you’re traveling to another country.

How to Save Money on Travel

Paris trip


  • Use Kayak and/or Orbitz to compare fares. Once you’ve found the lowest fare, check the individual air carriers site to see if it is even cheaper.
  • Start researching fare prices a couple of months ahead to get a sense of what the ballpark cost will be.
  • If you can be flexible with your dates, fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Flights are almost always cheaper on these days.
  • Purchase airline tickets on Tuesday at about 2:00PM or 3:00PM EST.  I have heard varying theories for why this is (it’s something magical and mysterious about when the carriers set their prices but I honestly don’t know), but regardless, it does seem to get the lowest price.

How to save money on travel


  • Consider alternatives to standard chain hotels.  Most big cities in Europe have well located, safe, modest, inexpensive family run places that are small but great, since you are not spending most of your time in the room. If you are willing to accept a room with shower and toilet down the hall, you can save even more money. Many rooms do have sinks.
  • Hostels are another great option.  For singles, couples or families most hostels have moved beyond the “only for college age backpacker” type. Our experience in Prague, Czech Republic at the Hostel u Melounu was excellent for our family and the cost was very reasonable – oh, and it included breakfast.
  • Try a home exchange. Both within the United States and overseas a home exchange gets you free (you can’t beat that price!) lodging and a kitchen to boot.
  • Camping.  In the US and Europe, camping makes any trip a fun adventure.  Camping in Europe is not rustic and it’s the only time I put on lipstick while camping!
  • Apartment rental is another option. We have not done this but many friends have and their experiences have been excellent. Much like a home swap, you have a place to stay and a kitchen. Airbnb and 9flats are sites that help individuals renting out their apartments, homes, and rooms.

Mountain Hut Switzerland


  • Use public transportation whenever possible.
  • For a family traveling in Europe, many times the train is too expensive and car rental becomes a more economical choice. We have had great luck with AutoEurope for our car rentals. Check countries you’ll be driving in to see whether you need an International driver’s license or not.

Don't pay these prices


  • Always bring a water bottle and fill it up whenever you can. Do you want to pay those prices?
  • Public and street markets are great places for fun and relatively inexpensive meals. Market shopping turns the need to eat into entertainment and an event.
  • Picnic. The absolutely least expensive way to eat, see, and experience the place you are visiting. Whether it’s in a park or town square, grab some meat, cheese and vegetables or fruit and make a spread.  Napping after your picnic is a requirement.
  • Always keep snacks with you in a backpack. You never know when hunger will strike. Nuts, pretzels, carrots, bread, cheese or dried fruit always satisfy while on the go and you won’t feel the need to run into a restaurant.

Eating while on vacation


  • Free concerts: Whether in your own neighborhood, across the country or the world, especially during the summer months, there’s usually a free event scheduled. Ask around and you won’t be disappointed.
  • Free museum days: Many museums have times set aside that are free. It may be crowded, so you’ll need to weigh crowds vs. cost but it’s worth checking into.
  • Parks and playgrounds. We all need to stretch our legs and run and if you’re traveling with kids, this is especially true. When we traveled to Paris and had a tour of Versailles, our then 7-year-old son wrote in his journal, “Versailles is great except there’s no place to play.” The language of play is universal. We try and find a playground daily when traveling.
  • Sights and architecture: Look up and around and don’t forget to bring a sketch pad. Sketching while vacationing is a gift for you and your kids. Take time to enjoy what’s around you.
  • Hikes and scenic walks: Free and especially lovely with that picnic lunch you have tucked away in your backpack.
  • Public pools: Great for kids and families and always refreshing on a hot summer day.
  • Libraries: don’t overlook your local library for books, music, and DVDs. Don’t hesitate to ask if you can get a card while traveling, too. I’m happy to say that we are card-carrying-members of the San Francisco Public Library system as of our home exchange there this past spring.
Sketch and play on vacation
From our photo album – sketches and kids at playgrounds! Luxembourg Garden, Paris, France. A family favorite!

So, plan ahead, consider creative alternatives, and make the ordinary into an event, and you’ll definitely save money on travel. You may even find yourself enjoying your trip more.

What’s on your travel list this summer?

Go Gingham related links:

Travel packing tips are here
Frugal travel in San Francisco, CA is here
Home exchange and how to prepare your home for one
Vacation meal planning is here and meal planning for campers is here

14 thoughts on “How to Save Money on Travel

    1. Thanks, Minnie! It definitely saves money to pack your own food – I just stocked up at Trader Joe’s for our next trip…


  1. Great tips!

    When my husband and I honeymooned in Bermuda (11 years ago) we found that the all-inclusive resorts were very pricey and we could only afford to stay 3 or 4 nights. I researched and found that many people in Bermuda will rent an efficiency or an apartment on one end of their home for a much more reasonable rate. Bermuda required 2 taxes (1 at 10%, 1 at 8%) in a standard hotel but if you stayed in one of the home-based lodgings, you were exempt from the 8% tax. We had a kitchenette and could cook light breakfasts and suppers and ate lunch at a restaurant for a much more reasonable price. We also had carte blanche to use the pool/grill. We were able to stay for a full week by doing this. It was clean and attractive, the “host” family were able to tell us which restaurants were good and what to avoid, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


    1. Kris, this sounds like a great trip – and a wonderful to way to begin a marriage – keeping costs low to enjoy more quality time together. I love it!


  2. Great ideas! Also, Saturdays can be less expensive days for air travel, but depends on the destination. And I once heard that airlines release their bargain fares about 2-4 months out of the departure date. So I begin checking fares just before that 4 month mark, so I have an idea of what to look for price-wise. And if you’re using reward miles, it’s best to book as soon as you know your dates. The lower mile-cost seats go first.


    1. Lili, you’re right about the bargain fares! It drives me nuts to pay any more than the bargain price on airline tickets. It helps to be on top of the dates/timing. Thanks for the tip, too.


  3. Love this post – makes me want to get planning – and now I think I can do it a little more guilt-free! You do make saving money seem like a joy rather than a burden!


    1. Thanks, Rebecca! I know you home swap with your family and we both know the benefits of it. It’s amazing how doing a few things in the above list can save thousands and then you’re able to go on another trip! Seeing the world for less money is always my goal so I can check another destination off my travel wish list! Thanks and happy holidays to you and your family.


  4. We’re going to Italy and Paris in July – and are being frugal with our vacation time by researching ahead of time what we really want to see and the best times to go to avoid lines. On our trip to London a few years ago, we stayed in a dorm room of The London School of Economics. Prime location and inexpensive, and definitely stylish!


    1. Michelle, these are great ideas and locations! I’ve got London on list of places to travel and will definitely be checking out dorm rooms as an option.


  5. Transportation is a huge chuck of cost during traveling! I live in Boston, so I can’t complain. Getting around the city costs $2 no matter where you go, and going to New York can cost as little as less than $15. Taking public transportation is also green and sustainable and fun! Plus you can ask the locals from hidden gems in the city. Going to other cities especially abroad is confusing though! Also doesn’t help if I don’t know the language!

    Anyways, I love your site on living a frugal life! I actually have access to some incredible travel resources in the Northeastern region. If you are interested, feel free to drop me an email! sherry@wanderu.com


    1. Sherry, thanks for the offer and will take you up on it when we head your way! I totally agree with you that asking the locals is a great resource for tips while traveling. Folks love to talk about where they live and who doesn’t want the inside scoop?


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