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It’s clear that people are thinking about travel this year, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them. Whether a weekend getaway, staycation, cruise, or faraway excursion, a trip is in the plans (and/or wishes) for many Americans. According to an IPX1031 survey with 1,000 participants, more than 90 percent of Americans plan to travel in 2023. The majority (86 percent) are planning a trip out of state, and nearly 30 percent expect to vacation abroad.
RetailMeNot asked 1,000 U.S. consumers about their spring and summer travel plans and found that 96 percent hope to take at least one trip between March and May. Their survey also revealed that price is the most important factor when it comes to deciding on vacation experiences and activities. Two-thirds of the respondents agreed that inflation is impacting where and how they travel, especially the high cost of transportation.
Even with budget concerns, though, travel is still possible. Getting away from the daily routine, even briefly, provides relaxation, enjoyment, enrichment, and health benefits. To help make those travel plans come to fruition, we gathered some ideas on budget vacations from travel and finance experts.
How to Plan Travel Within a Budget
“Don’t let Instagram influencers make you think you can’t travel on a budget, and don’t believe travel isn’t worthwhile just because you don’t have a lot of money to spend,” Samantha Brown, travel expert and host of PBS’s Emmy-winning series, Samantha Brown’s Places to Love, told Travel + Leisure.
With that encouragement, Brown offered some suggestions: “Road tripping saves on both costs and stress because so much travel anxiety can be attributed to airports and airlines.” She continued, “Take more road trips in your own car and explore your own state. Travelers rarely think about their own backyard, but they should.”
Along those lines, Brown suggested checking out the National Wildlife Refuge System, with more than 560 refuges, including 100 urban national wildlife refuges located near metropolitan areas. There’s also access to hiking and biking trails, wetlands, and a thriving animal population.
Brown added, “Think in terms of opposites: If it’s summer and everyone’s going to the beach, head to a city and enjoy all their free events such as outdoor concerts.”
Consumer financial advocate Courtney Alev of Credit Karma echoed Brown’s suggestion to avoid popular spots during their high seasons, when prices are guaranteed to be more expensive. Instead, look into alternative, similar destinations. Alev added, “A fun getaway doesn’t always involve a flight. Look at destinations that are within driving distance of home and see where you can go close by.”
T+L A-list advisor Jonathan Alder agreed that travelers should seek out the shoulder and off-season periods when costs are lower. He suggested considering destinations outside of the U.S. “Many people might assume it’s less expensive or a greater value to travel within the U.S., although that is far from true for the last few years. Consider destinations that might not be your first thought as there are so many amazing countries out there.”
Saving Dollars on Air Travel
Kristin McGrath, shopping expert for RetailMeNot, suggested signing up for email alerts from tools like Expedia, Travelocity, and Google Flights to get early access to coupon codes. “Experiment with different travel dates,” she said. “If your travel plans are flexible, check alternative flight dates to see if you can dig up a lower fare. You may be able to trim your ticket price by changing your dates by as little as one day.”
Alev added, “When your travel plans are flexible it’s usually easier to find cheap flights. Traveling during the week, tolerating a longer layover, or taking a red-eye flight often provides the best deals. Also, book somewhat in advance so you aren’t paying last-minute prices.”
A travel trends report from Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo suggests Sunday is the best day to book and Wednesday is the best day to depart. They recommend one month lead time for booking domestic flights and six months for international flights. Of course, advice on this topic varies, but it’s a good idea to compare and learn as much as you can before booking.
Spending Less for Hotels
“Spend no money on accommodations. Think of house swapping or housesitting. You can stay all over the world for free,” Brown told T+L, recommending TrustedHousesitters and Home Exchange as two sites to explore.
McGrath, meanwhile, advised, “For vacation rentals, book your stay as early as possible. Whether you’ve been dreaming of a tropical vacation or are planning to head home for a specific holiday or event, book early. Vrbo, Airbnb, and other vacation rental prices tend to be less expensive when booking months or even weeks ahead.”
McGrath also suggested booking bundled vacation packages that include flights, hotels, and car rentals. In addition to saving money, you’ll know the price of your entire trip at the time of booking, rather than getting a cheap flight only to be surprised by the cost of hotels and car rentals.
The Expedia travel trends report points out a boom in more affordable three-star hotel stays. “Fewer stars don’t equal lower standards … Many properties still offer excellent amenities, stylish interiors, and unique vibes…just at lower rates.” The report continues, “As nearly a quarter of global travelers plan to be more frugal in 2023, added value without compromised quality is vital.”
Budget Travel Without Debt
According to a study from Accrue Savings, one in five consumers have gone into debt for travel, with 81 percent incurring more than $500 worth of debt. Instead of facing payments for a past vacation, the company recommends saving in advance for a trip.
Alev advised creating a separate savings account to give your money a purpose. “Dedicating that account to a specific getaway will make it easier to see how your savings are growing over time, and will help you avoid accidentally spending that money on something else.” She also suggested setting up automatic withdrawals from your checking account or having part of your paycheck automatically deposited into your savings account.
Retail and shopping expert Kristen Gall of Rakuten understands it’s hard to resist buying items to have a piece of that memory at home. “However, it’s important to remember you don’t need every souvenir that catches your eye. I recommend only purchasing items that you simply can’t get back at home or that are small enough to not impact your luggage weight.”
With these expert suggestions and your own creative approach to budgeting, this may be the time to start planning a well-deserved vacation.