Top 10 travel hacks to save money on every trip – without skimping

Beach House in Cayucos, CA
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Here are 10 simple hacks to help you save money when you travel, without skimping

We are about to head out on an epic road trip real soon, and that got me thinking about the different ways that we attempt to save money whenever we travel.

Here are the tried and true ways that we continue to save money, but continue to live large, stay at 5 star hotels, amazing rental properties and eat fantastic meals:

1) Utilize your AAA discount

AAA is the easiest way to save an estimated 10-20% on most hotel visits. This is by far the best “hack” – simply by having a AAA membership and utilizing it for 1-2 nights per year, you will make your money back, not to mention have great roadside assistance in a bind.

We usually opt for the AAA Plus membership, because if we ever run into a real situation needing a tow or roadside assistance, I want to be more than covered and not have to pay for a 50-60 mile tow.

2) Book directly on the hotel’s website

This one is probably overlooked a lot, but I have found that booking directly on a hotel’s website will save you money over the booking engines.

Many hotels will also have promotions directly on their website and many will offer a free night if you stay for 3 or more nights.

When you book directly, the hotels do not have to pay commissions to the booking engines, and they therefore can pass the cost on to you, the traveler.

3) When booking AirBnB or VRBO, ask for a discount

I personally love this one. Especially with small kids, we will often need more than one room or a suite at a hotel to make the stay enjoyable for all.

So as long as the market isn’t super competitive (think San Diego in the summer), then you likely can message the owner and ask for a discount.

I typically will say something like “Hey, we really love your property and would love to stay there, but it is a tad over budget. I was curious if you would be willing to knock a little off the price. If not, we totally understand, but figured I would ask. Thanks!”

9 times out of 10, this will work, and the owner will give you a discount of some sort. I really can only see this not working in a really competitive market and time of year, where the owner is likely to book it up for their stated price (4th of July, New Years, etc.) OR if it is being run by a large property manager similar to a Vacasa or something.

4) Be flexible with your destination and look farther afield

We did this last summer. We were looking to book in a very popular summer vacation destination in California, and the prices for a spot directly on the beach were just outrageous.

So we looked farther up the coast and sure enough there were plenty of properties that met our criteria for half the cost.

We ended up finding the perfect property and though it was a bit farther than our initial destination, we were treated to an entirely new place and at half the cost.

5) Work with a travel agent

They exist still? Turns out, they do.

I have found that while they sometimes they can offer no better rates than booking directly with the hotel, they DO get access to deals and other offers than are not listed publicly or available to the booking engines.

Therefore, if taking a major vacation, it is worth at least double checking.

6) Bring your own alcohol

Another solid method to saving money, simply bring your own alcohol. Wine, beer, hard liquor.

Doesn’t matter, by bringing your own drinks you will be able to save on the one food and beverage item that has the highest markups.

We often will cart in a large cooler filled with water, beer, soda, etc.

This doesn’t mean we don’t purchase beverages at meals, but at least cuts down on the amount of beverage purchases overall.

7) Research and book excursions in advance

This is especially important on cruises. You can book the same exact or similar excursion as the cruises offer, for half the price.

But even when traveling to a non-cruise destination, looking up tours in advance, searching for coupons and asking for discounts are all much more pleasant when doing the research up front.

Sure there are those serendipitous moments you want to allow for during any trip, but if you do most of the research for your trip ahead of time, it will save you money and stress and allow you to enjoy the trip more.

8) Look for coupons and ask for discounts when booking

It’s that simple. Researching things in advance, allows you to find and secure the best deals. If that fails, call the tour company or hotel and ask if they have any deals or discounts. Sometimes it is as simple as the AAA discount.

9) Share meals with your significant other

This works for us, but maybe not everyone. However, we find that eating out at restaurants day after day, meal after meal, restaurants just serve too much food for one person.

So we will often share an entree, then split appetizer(s) and a dessert.

We do this at home on date night’s as well, but this will save a lot of money on a trip.

10) Set a yearly travel budget, and a trip by trip budget

I think the yearly travel budget is the most important.

Once you set a budget, you can then figure out how much you want to go towards your bigger trips and how much will remain for the smaller weekend trips.

For 2021, we set a $10K travel budget.

We are now planning a 20 day summer road trip that will be an estimated $8K. This gives us an estimated $2K for weekend trips, and shorter trips.

The weekend trips can often add up fast, especially with a family of four or more, but having a budget helps us to keep those in check, and sometimes opt for camping trips or other cheaper excursions.

And even if we go over budget, having a target will at least ensure that we don’t go overboard.

Last year, we had a $10K travel budget, and ended up only spending $6K due to COVID…so there’s that at least.

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  1. Perfect example of “it never hurts to ask”. The worst that will happen if you ask for a discount is the person will say no.

    We’ve split meals for takeout or fast-casual meals. I remember going to Disney and a simple deli sandwich was like $12 but it was huge! We split it in half and it was still more than enough for two adults. Bringing your own food, drinks, snacks is another easy way to save as well.

    Great tips!

    1. So many meals are really two meals in one. Once you realize this, it’s pretty easy to take advantage of.

      I love having leftovers, but when traveling unless I know we are 100% going to have time to eat it, it’s not worth getting the extra entree.

  2. Here is a trick on AAA membership. For years I had the Plus membership for the additional towing. My membership was June to June and I always noticed that around December they would offer me an upgrade to the Premier highest tier for free for the remainder of the term. I never took it in the past. When the pandemic hit last year, I downgraded to the Classic membership since we weren’t driving much. Sure enough, in December 2020 they offered a free upgrade to the Plus. This time I took the upgrade, which came in handy for road trips we took this spring. I renewed at the Plus rate this year because we are still just doing road trips. I will be curious to see if they offer me a free upgrade to Premium in the winter.

    Good suggestion on asking for discounts on Airbnb rentals. How far in advance do you usually book your Airbnbs and ask for the discount? Is there a sweet spot in terms of advance booking where the host might offer up a discount? Do you usually ask for a certain price or just a discount in general and see what they offer?

    1. I think asking for a discount works better in advance, but I think it depends on the exact circumstances. Sometimes they say “no”, and I can see it backfiring if the host has a surplus of alternative renters (like this summer). But I think as long as you do it nicely, you really can’t lose.

      Last fall I was emailing with a host directly to book her property for the summer. It was the very beginning of her high season and I noticed the price was cheaper the week before we were booking. So I just said “Can you go any lower on price at all since we are right at the start of the season?” – she lowered the price by 10% total.

      And that is typically. They’ll knock off maybe 10% or so with this method.

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