There’s no way of sugarcoating this, taking a trip is going to cost you. But with a careful budget in mind and few tricks of the travelers trade, you can at least determine how much a trip has to drain your funds. Vacations first and foremost should be a time to relax, and there’s certainly nothing relaxing about regretting your destination or choice of hotel if it doesn’t offer you the full bang for your hard-earned buck. Trips are expensive enough so if you can save a little extra cash for your spending money (or just to treat someone with an extra generous souvenir gift), then it’s worth pursuing a few tricks and tips.
Fortunately, there are more than a few travel hacks you can tap into that will not only get you some helpful freebies while on your vacation but can sometimes make the trip all the more rewarding. If making small sacrifices here and there and being extra vigilant when it comes to your travel plans sounds like something that interests you, then keep reading to see how you can travel both light on the wallet and heavy on the adventure! Here are 20 ingenious tricks to help you get access to the most free stuff possible on your next vacay.
20 54 Is The Magic Number When Booking Flights
First things first, you don’t want to fall at the first hurdle of money saving on your travels by spending an unnecessary amount before you even depart, so be wise and book your flights way in advance of your trip—54 days, to be exact. But why 54 days in advance exactly? Well, because according to a 2015 customer survey done by Cheapflights.com, this appeared to be the best time to book a flight.
After looking at 1.3 billion air fares for 3 million trips taken in 2015, a booking time frame of at least a month and a half before departing turned out to offer the best rates for a majority of flyers.
To be clear, this number shouldn’t be taken as red for optimum booking, but anything above and including 54 days is normally going to be a good time to book. The cost of your flight is going to be one of the biggest drains on your funds, so don’t let it damage the purse strings any more than humanly possible! Always be sure to use a flight price comparison tool as well since some flights may even offer better rates 60 or 70 days in advance. It’s also well worth signing up to email alerts for the best flight prices.
19 Clear Your Cookies Before Booking Online
Most people overlook this simple trick when shopping online, but it’s usually in your best interests to clear out your cookie cache when making a purchase, particularly when you’re buying something as significant and as expensive as plane tickets. Have you ever noticed when browsing a particular product online that the price has actually increased slightly from your first visit up until your last? This is because most websites–and price comparison sites in particular–will actually use your browsing history to track your interest toward a particular product and sneakily drive up the prices. For this reason, it’s recommended that you clear your cookies before browsing and be sure to always use a private browsing or ‘incognito’ window when booking your flights.
Because websites do this in such a gradual underhand way, we may not always notice the price hike, but it’s so important to be wary of it, as this could end up costing you way more in flight ticket prices than necessary. It’s all too easy to only regard online shopping as buying actual tangible products from an online store, but using price comparison sites for things like flights and hotels is just another form of shopping. And a bit like a shady car salesman, some sites will be ready in wait to fool you with a newly-invented price tag for your flight.
18 Fall Back On Hotel Toiletries
It’s a familiar scene. We get on our flight or arrive at our hotel room only to realize that we left about half of the beauty products and holiday essentials we need back at home in the bathroom. We then end up dipping into our vacay spending money to replace whatever we lost in a local mall or worse, at the hugely overpriced airport shops and pharmacies. It’s cool, we’ve all been there. The good news is, you don’t always have to do without your favorite products while abroad. Most hotels will provide them for free, including the non-essential stuff!
Gone are the days when compliment hotel products meant only a measly bar of soap and a shower cap. Most hotels around the world are impressively well-stocked when it comes to providing their guests with everything from hygiene needs to beauty and styling products.
The Kimpton hotel brand, for example, have a ‘Forgot it? We got it’ policy with a list of items that go beyond the basic needs such as lip balms and hair straighteners. Elsewhere, the Cambrai hotel in LA allows guests to request a missing product via an app, whether that’s a set of earplugs, some headphones, or a sewing kit! While there’s no guarantee that your specific accommodation will provide the same kind of service, it never hurts to ask. Don’t ask, don’t get!
17 Take Advantage Of Free Walking Tours
Whenever you can, exploring your holiday destination by foot is one of the best things you can do. (You just better be sure you packed a super comfy pair of shoes in your case along with those cute but not so practical wedges!) This is an especially important top if you happen to be on a city break. Just one day in most city destinations can see you part with an eye-watering amount of cash just by using public transport alone, and in most cases, you won’t always be in need of a taxi to get you to all the hot tourist spots. This is what walking tours are for, and if you know where to look, they’re usually free.
Walking tours, first and foremost, get you moving (providing a great way to walk off that extra indulgent sundae you had for lunch!), but best of all, you get to be guided by an experienced local. And what better way to explore a new location than through their eyes? Travel guide books are all well and good for a general overview, but a tour can lead you to interesting people and places that may not have been on your travel itinerary.
16 Sign Up To Hotel Loyalty Schemes
You may already be part of a loyalty program with a local supermarket or your favorite clothing store, so why not consider doing the same for your holiday digs? Most of us sign up to loyalty schemes in the knowledge that we know we’ll frequently return to said shop to reap the benefits. So why would anyone sign up for a hotel on the other side of the world, knowing you may never return? Because thankfully, most hotel loyalty rewards are not always exclusive to the hotel itself.
Do a quick bit of research into hotel loyalty programs and you’ll discover that most feature deals like ‘sign up’ bonuses and rewards for first-time members. In this sense, you don’t necessarily need to make a return trip before you can start enjoying the savings.
Also, a lot of offers put on by hotel loyalty schemes will sometimes overlap into things like offering more air miles and discount meals at certain restaurant chains. Cross-promotional deals like this can be a great way to save a little extra here and there, and if you happen to find a hotel you adore enough to make return visits each year, all the better!
15 Visit Tourist Attractions On Discounted Days
It’s a fairly obvious budget travel tip but a classic one nonetheless. A simple way to see the best sights and pay hardly anything for the privilege is to visit attractions on days where admission is free (or at the very least, on days promoting some kind of offer). The frugal traveler will realize that not every tourist attraction and local curiosity needs to be visited on a specific day, so if you can afford to be more flexible with your travel itinerary for that week or weekend you happen to be visiting, then it really is worth having a more mellow approach to your holiday.
It’s understandable that in certain circumstances, such as the season you travel in or the distance from your accommodation, that you may not always be able to take advantage of the discounted museum days. But if you’re the kind of traveler who loves to squeeze in as much culture as possible on a budget, then it can be well worth checking gallery and museum websites in advance. Most of the major museums in Barcelona, for example, are completely free after 3pm on Sundays, and the museums in Vatican City are always free on the last Sunday of every month.
14 Take Free Local Classes
Many travelers develop a kind of tunnel vision when they get to their holiday destination. By this, we mean stick to the same bars and restaurants, keep to a strict itinerary, and visit a set amount of tourist attractions while splitting up sightseeing and dining out with a trip to the nearest possible beach. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with this kind of schedule on vacation, sticking to strict routes can cause you to miss out on a lot of other cool and exciting opportunities that weren’t included in your travel plan. And for those wary about trying new things in a different country, the most fun and accessible way to tread these nervy waters is by signing up to a free local class (yes, free!).
It’s not only walking tours and museum guides that can enlighten you at no extra cost, but your hotel or local souvenir shop could also be advertising a whole host of free classes that may take your fancy.
Ever wanted to try a spot of yoga or go surfing? How about trying your hand at a cooking class? Getting familiar with the local cuisine whilst learning a new skill and having fun? (Add in the fact that you normally get to keep whatever you’ve made in cookery class and you’ve got yourself a free meal out of it too!) Ask at your reception or research your location beforehand to find a local class to suit you. You won’t regret it.
13 Offer Skills For Free Hostel Stays
As accommodation options go, hostels are probably one of the cheapest places to stay when traveling. But what if we told you that you can even swerve the cost of your hostel stay while abroad?
There are certain hostels around the world that allow you to stay completely rent-free in exchange for providing your skills and expertise to something that can benefit them.
Take a look at online travel communities such as Worldpackers to see if this might apply to your location and travel circumstances. While mainly suited to gap year students and overseas volunteers, this is open to any willing traveler, making it a great way to save a little extra cash whilst helping out.
Instead of paying cash for board, your hostel may be in need of a part-time cook, a teacher, or even just someone to help them paint a snazzy new wall mural. Whatever unique skill set you have, a hostel may be looking for it, and in exchange, you have a free place to stay! What could be more rewarding than helping out a community and making a difference whilst saving some spare cash for your travels? You’ll also get to meet new people (and maybe even learn a new skill or two along the way).
12 Haggle For The Best Room Rate
Understandably, not every holidaymaker is going to feel 100 percent comfortable with the idea of haggling for a better room price, particularly if it happens to be your first proper holiday abroad. However, once you know how, haggling doesn’t have to be such an intimidating venture. So if you can learn how it definitely doesn’t hurt to hustle your way to a cheaper room price, how do you go about paying less than the asking price for something like a hotel stay?
Well, despite what you might have seen in shows like Entourage or the Ocean’s Eleven movie franchise, hustling for a beat down price can actually be a friendly and pretty undramatic affair. All it takes is a little research and knowing when to settle at a reasonable price without getting confrontational about it. Haggling can simply mean contacting the hotel directly and asking about their current rates and offers while mentioning better rates seen elsewhere in your location. Once they have your interest, they’ll want to keep it, so keep at it. In a lot of cultures around the world, bargaining is part of daily life, so some places may even be surprised if you didn’t try it. Don’t be afraid to if it means saving a few bucks to put towards another exciting day out.
11 Get Paid To Be A Traveling Postal Worker
Are your friends and family members ever bugging you to bring them back ‘something nice’ or ‘weird’ from your travels? Whether you rarely travel abroad or have pure wanderlust running through your veins, this is something we’re usually all asked at one time or another, and if we’re being honest, it’s quite easy to feel pressured into bringing back an amazing souvenir or gift for someone. But instead of making another mindless purchase for a family member,
why not put your shopping time to good use on your travels by picking up a requested item and actually getting paid for it in return?
We hate to sound cynical, but most ‘souvenirs’ we bring back from our travels are usually from the airport, and even when we do return with a genuine interesting souvenir, it’s almost never fully appreciated by friends and family! That’s why signing up to a company like Grabr is so great since it allows you to earn a little extra for sourcing out a quirky item for a shopper on the other side of the world. Grabr takes care of all the applicable fees and expenses of finding and posting the item, so if you’re up for a little adventure on your travels (and earn while doing so), this is a pretty neat arrangement!
10 Prioritize Lunch, Not Dinner
No matter where you travel, the price of lunch out is usually going to be cheaper than the price of an evening meal. Following this logic, it can sometimes be a good idea to prioritize your lunch meal instead of your dinner if you love to eat out and make lunch the second most important meal of your day. Depending on what you may have planned for your trip or however many people there are in your traveling party, prioritizing lunch every day may not always work out. However, if you can find a way around it, having your big meal at lunch will leave you with extra cash to do more awesome things the following day, and this is surely something everyone can be happy about.
When out and about in your holiday destination, keep your eyes peeled for lunch deals in restaurants and cafes, as most places may charge a dinner-sized portion for half the normal price.
It really all depends on how much you want out of a dinner. But when traveling, it’s a good idea to scale down your portions anyway. Most eateries will happily serve up pretty sizable portions of things like lasagna, pizza, pasta, and burgers at lunchtime. If you love to eat out, save where you can by taking a romantic picnic dinner to the nearby park or beach.
9 Volunteer On Farms For Free Board And Meals
If you’re willing to swap your skills for a hostel stay as mentioned above, then maybe this could also be your speed. WWOOF or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a global network that links up volunteers with organic farmers to help bring better sustainability to communities. Luckily for casual travelers, WWOOF can provide a free room and meals to dedicated volunteers on their organic farms. This incredible movement has organizations in over 120 countries, so you can take your pick of where to help out if you’re on the lookout for a budget trip with a different experience.
Again, as with hostel skill swap programs, the majority of WWOOF volunteers are usually there in a gap year capacity. However, any amount of volunteer work is always going to be appreciated, so whether you’re looking to work and travel in the long term or just looking to save some money on a short holiday break, you pretty much can’t go wrong with offering your time and services in exchange for free board and food. Also, no prior farming experience is required, making this a great way to meet like-minded people whilst giving something back to the land. Win-win.
8 Travel At Night To Save A Day’s Accommodation
If you need to travel a fairly long distance for your trip, it only makes sense to get plenty of rest on the journey. And if this is the case, you might as well book one less night’s sleep at your chosen accommodation and sleep on the plane instead. Bear in mind that this isn’t limited to plane journeys, though. Whether you’re getting a flight out to your destination or taking the train or bus, most forms of public transport will run an overnight sleeper service, so if you can, try to plan out your journey this way, as you’re guaranteed to save more than a fair few bucks. No-brainer, really.
This option may not be for everyone, but if you can sacrifice all the comforts and luxuries of a hotel room for just one night, then catching up on a few zzz’s is well worth it if it means spending an extra day in your holiday destination. Taking the night train is becoming more popular with backpackers and budget travelers, and both train and bus companies have caught on to it. As a result, most coach companies now offer premium quality sleeper seats and amenities to make sleeping on a bus almost as good as sleeping in airline business class.
7 Use Public Transport Passes
Sometimes, traveling abroad means using public transport a lot of the time. But just because it’s a more convenient way to get about, it shouldn’t have to be something you rely on for the entirety of your trip. You take a quick cab to the bar at night or a bus journey to take you to the local cathedral and back, and before your realize it, nearly all of your travel funds have been drained, which makes for a lousy last few days of your hard-earned vacation.
Since public transport costs can add up in the blink of an eye, it’s a smart idea to invest in some travel passes for the duration of your stay.
Those of us who regularly commute to work or visit distant family are normally signed up to some kind of monthly or annual travel scheme because to buy single tickets every time would be nuts! The same should go for your holiday. You may only be on vacation for a short period of time, but this is all the more reason why you should be allowed to savor every last day of it without having to worry about the next bus or train fare. Check out your chosen rail line or bus company for their rates on daily or weekly travel passes and you may just save yourself a small fortune.
6 Rent A Bike
As well as taking advantage of public transport at a discounted price, you could also consider renting a bike during your stay to save a little extra cash. Daily taxicab fares and train hops can quickly add up to a ridiculous amount during your vacation. Step back, take a look out your plans for the week, and you may realize that not everywhere requires a ride on public transport. Work out which walk and routes you can feasibly get by a short car journey and aim to take a bike there instead. Fortunately, most cities around the world provide bikes for hire at very reasonable rates.
Bike rental prices in most Asian countries, for example, let tourists explore cities for as little as $3 for an entire day (in Vietnam, this can be as low as $2!).
Understandably, exploring certain locations by bike is not always ideal, but for city breaks and holidays that are more suited to casual sightseeing, a pleasant cycle through the parks and streets can be an amazing way to take in all that a city has to offer. And don’t fret if you’re not an avid cyclist back home. Many city locations around the world put on free cycling tours for tourists (as long as you pay the hourly/half-hourly bike rental), allowing you to get lost in the crowd if you’re not overly confident about navigating your way through the streets.
5 Ask About Hotel’s Skype Policy
While on your travels, it’s always nice to know that you can share something with a friend or loved one back home. But since phone tariffs and mobile data are a minefield to deal with when it comes to traveling abroad, it can often be easier to limit your communications to a couple of Skype or Facetime calls with the people in your life, courtesy of your hotel. This isn't always a guarantee, but it is always worth asking your chosen hotel about their policy on long distance calls via Skype or any other means of video-calling as in some cases, they may be able to provide guests with complimentary calls from their room.
Most hotels around the world offer free long distance calls as standard to be included in the price of your room and specific package deal, etc. However, in recent years, some hotels are getting with the times and partnering up with Skype to provide guests with a free voice or video call per day.
It’s always worth asking your hotel reception about this possibility, as it can be a much more straightforward way of keeping in touch when you compare it to the confusing and often hidden charges of international mobile calls and texts.
4 Score Free Drinks During Happy Hours And Tastings
A lot of hotels and bars around the world have a daily happy hour going on, so if and when you can reap the benefits of a few drinks on the house, then be sure to stick around for it. If it’s not advertised in plain sight, don’t be afraid to ask about happy hour at your accommodation or indeed in any passing bar as a few complimentary drinks and bar snacks can go a long way, especially if you’re saving up for a big meal later in the day. It’s also always worth touring the local bars to see if there are any beer or wine tasting events going on, as this is another great way to try new things and enjoy a free tipple with friends.
These methods are great for scoring free drinks while abroad, but as with everything, all good things must come to an end. So for the times when paying for restaurant and bar drinks are unavoidable, you can always save a bit of extra cash by opting for local brands of alcohol instead. Local wines and beers are always going to be cheaper than ordering the more well-known international brands behind the bar, so indulge in local tastes (and save a bit too!).
3 If You Can, Only Take Hand Luggage
If you’re the kind of person who can’t bear the thought of traveling without their entire wardrobe and contents of their bedroom vanity in tow, then you’re already setting yourself up for a financial pitfall when it comes to traveling. Traveling light doesn't have to mean taking a provincial handkerchief tied to a stick, but by learning to travel a little more resourceful, you can do yourself so many favors in the long run. Most airline companies will charge between $25 and $30 for every piece of checked luggage (and that’s there and back!).
Taking excess amounts of luggage that needs to be weighed and checked in can weigh you down in more ways than one, so when you can, it’s beneficial to think like Baloo and only look for the ‘bare necessities’ when packing your suitcase. If you’re immediately panicking about the restrictive size of plane hand luggage, just do some quick research into your chosen airline. You may be surprised by just how big the allowance is for hand luggage. While all airline companies will specify length and width dimensions, some don’t even specify a weight limit for your carry-on luggage! Just don’t get carried away with that by traveling with a prized bowling ball or something.
2 Download Free Navigation Apps Beforehand
As hard as it may be to imagine now that we’ve all gone digital, finding your way around a holiday destination or seeking out the best bars and beaches used to mean either A) asking a friendly passerby for directions in your best attempt at the local lingo, or B) referring to a chunky travel guidebook that was so not worth the price you paid and only drags your handbag down further towards the ground. Although we’d still very much encourage asking a local for advice or directions (presuming they seem friendly and willing enough to offer it), navigating our way around a foreign city needn’t be as much of a pain as it used to be and it needs not cost you a thing either.
Other than clearing out your phone’s photo gallery cache, another useful way to prep for your trip is to download a few of the best navigation apps you can find. Luckily, some of the most highly-rated travel apps out there are free.
A particularly popular navigation app is Maps.me for the iPhone. This is tried and tested by over 90 million globetrotters worldwide. It also uses GPS rather than your mobile data, so no surprise roaming charges. Another great choice for more adventurous travelers is Komoot for both iPhone and Android. This has features like smart tour guides and turn-by-turn voice navigation to aid travelers who prefer exploring off the beaten track.
1 Explore The Great Outdoors In Local Parks & Gardens
Other than celebs and the wealthy few, the vast majority of us can’t always afford a ride in a helicopter to get to the best mountain views or have the privilege to hire a private boat to take us to the most remote part of the beach. But this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy all the great outdoors has to offer in our chosen destination. There is plenty of holiday joy and relaxation to be had simply by exploring the local parks and taking trails in the local gardens. What’s more, it’s almost always free entry into these places, so as long as the weather’s nice, it can make a for a lovely day out.
Other than taking a trip through public gardens and parks on your vacation, why not go exploring the little-known pathways that are off the beaten track? Chances are, these humble little gems will provide just as many picturesque views, with the added bonus of being relatively free of bustling tourists. Visiting a foreign country should not have to mean ticking off every sought-after tourist hot spot or iconic view. It can simply mean enjoying a picnic of quirky local cuisine in the park and drinking in a different culture at a familiar pace.