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Travel Hacks That Will Save You Money

I love to travel, I really do. Well, I probably love the idea of traveling more than traveling itself—because it can be expensive, exhausting and anxiety-inducing if you don’t do it right.

The dreaming, researching, booking, packing, traveling—it can be a lot of fun, but it can also just be . . . a lot. Nevertheless, we’re adventurous beings, so I compiled my best travel hacks for those of us who crave the occasional escape from the chaos or monotony of our normal lives. These simple tips, tricks and hacks will help you save money, time and stress.  

Flights

It’s no secret that people are starting to fly more and more as we get further away from the pandemic shutdown of 2020. In July of 2021, the United States Department of Transportation reported that 65.3 million people were airline passengers.1 And the numbers just keep going up. If you’re about to be one of them, here are my travel hacks to save on airfare:

Get the Cheapest Airfare

When it comes to buying your flight, we actually busted the myth that any one day of the week is cheaper than another. Some travel bloggers claim that the best flight deals start on Tuesdays, but a recent study by CheapAir found that to be untrue.2 

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What does make a difference, though, is how early you shop for airfare. Many times, the earlier the better. Industry experts recommend booking your ticket 95 to 21 days before departure. (To save some brain calories, that means 3 1/2 months to 3 weeks out). If you’re going to a super popular or international destination, you’ll want to go with the longer lead time.

The best days to leave for a trip to get the cheapest fares are usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. The most expensive days are typically Friday and Sunday. For example, I looked at prices to fly on Southwest from Nashville to Los Angeles about three months from now. If I were to leave on a Tuesday and return a w­eek later on Tuesday, I’d be looking at a round-trip flight cost of about $313 per person. But if we decided to fly from Sunday to Sunday, the ticket price would jump up to $694 per person! That’s an extra $762 for two people! So yeah, I think we’ll leave on Tuesday.

Pack Light

Another great travel hack is to avoid baggage fees. Most airlines will give you one free carry-on bag along with a personal item (a large purse or backpack). If you can get everything you need in a carry-on suitcase and a backpack, you’ll save a ton of money.

My friend, Rachel Cruze, always travels with just a carry-on bag. Very impressive. One of her favorite sayings is, “A checked bag is a lost bag.” I don’t know what happened and why that’s one of her favorite sayings, but Rachel must have had a traumatic travel experience at some point. So, if you can swing it, pack it light and tight in a carry-on for worry-free and fee-free travel.

 

But if you’re like me and need to check a suitcase—for your pillow, hair dryer (because you have trust issues with the vintage dryers in hotel bathrooms), noise machine, and way more toiletries than any grown man should need—your best bet is to fly on Southwest Airlines. They allow two free checked bags per passenger, up to 50 pounds each! That’s huge. So, if you’re flying home for Christmas and have a bunch of gifts to take, look for a flight on Southwest. (Or if you’re extra smart, have the gifts shipped home, or get everyone gift cards to lighten the load.)

Other airlines will charge you anywhere from $25–50 for the first checked bag, and even more for the second. Booooo. Whatever you do, if you are checking a bag, don’t fly Allegiant. With them, your bags have to be under 40 pounds. If they’re not, you get charged an extra $50 on top of your baggage fee. Ask me how I know.

You know what else you save when you don’t have to check any luggage? Time! That’s right, time. And a lot of it. You know how painful it can be standing at the luggage carousel waiting for your bag to show up. I think carousel is way too generous of a word. It’s nothing like sitting on the painted horse and going around in circles for five minutes. Instead, it’s a bunch of sad, tired people watching precious cargo slam into a metal wall.

Use an App

If you know me, you know I love using all the different apps and websites out there that are designed to help save me money. In fact, I have over 250 apps on my iPhone right now. Do I use them all? No! But before you judge me, do you wear all the clothes in your closet? Didn’t think so.

Here are some of my favorite sites and apps to help you find a great deal on airfare:

Don’t miss out on the great deals that can be found online and in travel apps. I’ve saved hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars just by doing some research and being intentional when planning travel.

And speaking of apps and staying on a budget while planning your travel, I love using EveryDollar, Dave Ramsey’s practical and free (yes, really) mobile budgeting tool. You can use it on your desktop or download the app to your phone. This means EveryDollar goes where you go, even on vacation, which makes it super easy to budget from everywhere.

Lodging

Now, when you travel, you’ve got to stay somewhere. And let’s be honest, staying with family is nice (and cheap), but sometimes you just need to have your alone time. But I don’t want you to stay in a dump just to save money . . .

Hotel Deals

I want you to stay at a nice hotel but get a great deal on it. I like to start with Hotels.com to see what’s out there and check out the reviews. They’ve got a great app as well. Trip Advisor is also a great place to read reviews.

Once I’ve done my hotel research, I go to the hotel’s website so I can compare rates to make sure I’ve got a good deal. Another trick is to call the hotel and see if they’ll compete with and negotiate against the rates you’ve found online.

If you want to get an even better deal, try the Priceline app to bid on a hotel room in your budget. You’ll get a cheaper price on a hotel within your preferred star-rating range—the only catch is you won’t know where you’re staying until you book it. (I know you Enneagram Sevens are all about this kind of adventure!) The key here is flexibility—the more flexible you are, the better deal you’ll be able to find. I also like to check out the HotelTonight app for last minute hotel deals.

Stay in a House

Another great option is to live like a local through sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. Now, if you’ve never done it before, you might be hesitant to stay in a stranger’s spare bedroom. But rest easy, because both Airbnb and Vrbo have options to book places that you’ll have entirely to yourself. One of the nice things about these places is they actually feel more like home—because they really are someone’s home. You generally have a full kitchen and can save money by not having to eat out.

Just read the specific rules for each location and pay attention to the extra fees (like cleaning fees) that are often added—which can knock an Airbnb or Vrbo out of the deal range. Always remember to work within your budget.

Transportation

Transportation is another great area to find some deals. Ever since the pandemic, finding deals on rental cars has become difficult—not impossible, just difficult. So, here are my best travel hacks for transportation at your destination:

Public Transportation

If you’re going to a big city, consider using public transportation. I grew up in the Boston area, so I’m very comfortable with subways, trains and busses. It really helps you feel like you’re catching the vibe of a city. And bonus: It’s always cheaper than renting a car.

If you’re comfortable using public transportation, most cities have websites or apps that show you their subway, metro, train and bus system lines. These are great tools to help you get around. Just use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings when using public transportation. Use those street smarts your mama taught you!

Rental Cars

If you need to rent a car, there are still some great ways to save money. One of my favorites is to use Costco Travel. Most people don’t know Costco has their own travel section where you can rent cars and book vacations, but I’m a huge Costco fan, and I absolutely love it.  

Always do your research and shop around when planning to get a rental car. And be aware that some rental car companies can get really weird about renting with a debit card. But there are companies out there that will work with you. They just might have to put a hold on a certain amount of money.

For example, on a recent trip to Arizona, I booked with Enterprise through Costco Travel, and when I picked up the car, they let me know I’d be charged an extra 20% deposit that would be returned to me when I brought the car back. If you do your research and budget for it (and plan to have that extra money for the deposit), using a debit card for travel is no big deal.

Ride Sharing

I get anxiety driving myself around in new cities, especially big cities. I’d much rather have someone else drive me around so I can actually enjoy the sights, sounds and surroundings. Both Uber and Lyft have apps where you can pull up your location and ask for a ride to your destination. Within a few minutes, you’re on the road to wherever you want to go!

And, if you’re really adventurous, you can choose the shared-ride option where the driver will pick you up along with a couple of other people who are all headed in the same general direction. You may have to wait a little longer for the ride and make a few quick pit stops, but it’s a great way to save some money.

My wife and I used the shared-ride option in San Francisco and shaved off a few bucks per ride. Again, as with public transportation, just pay attention to your surroundings. With Lyft and Uber, always ask the driver who they’re picking up, check to see that the license plate and car match your app, and don’t get into a car if you feel uneasy when the driver arrives.

Vacations

If you’re not a research nerd like I am, you might want some help with planning your trip. There are two main ways to do that:

All-Inclusive Packages

One of the coolest travel trends is an all-inclusive vacation package that literally includes everything you need:

  • Flights
  • Lodging
  • Food
  • Room service
  • Entertainment
  • Transportation/shuttles

Personally, I start by finding a great deal online on sites like Kayak, Expedia or Costco Travel. Then I’ll check the resort website to see how their rates compare, and even call the resort directly. There’s so much competition out there right now that the resort may offer you a better deal if you contact them. Tell them the deal you’re looking at online and the price it’s offered for—and then ask if they can do better. Many times, you’ll get a better price or extra perks if you put in a few minutes and a little bit of effort. The resort staff are always very helpful, and they’re willing to go above and beyond to earn your business.

Work With a Helpful Human

As I said before, I’m a fan of Costco Travel, and their website offers some great vacations, especially if you’re not really sure where you want to go. I always look at their website first, then I’ll call or chat with someone.

My wife and I recently went on an anniversary trip. After researching online, I called Costco Travel and told the agent, “I want to do an all-inclusive at a warm, beachy location, and here’s my budget. Where should I go?”

On the phone, the rep gave me three possible locations based on my budget. Then she told me the best times to go based on my budget so I’d get the best price. I said, “You just saved me 14 hours of research.” And then I asked, “What are your recommendations for the best resorts in those areas, if you had to choose?” And she told me exactly where she would go. From there, I did some final research, read some reviews, and booked it!

I’ve said it a couple times now, but being intentional and doing some research will help you save money. It all comes back to regret and FOMO. One of my biggest fears is ordering the wrong thing at a restaurant, and then a server walks by with sizzling fajitas, and I think, Oh man, I should have ordered the fajitas.

So before you hit the road, fly the friendly skies, bivouac in the backcountry, or do a little glamping—just do your research. That way, you can save money and have a sweet, memorable vacation while you’re at it with no FOMO. No regrets. And no debt. And if you remember one thing from this article, I hope it’s this: Always get the fajitas.

George Kamel

About the author

George Kamel

George Kamel is a personal finance expert, certified financial coach through Ramsey Financial Coach Master Training, and nationally syndicated columnist. George has served at Ramsey Solutions since 2013, where he speaks, writes and teaches on personal finance, investing, budgeting, insurance and how to avoid consumer traps. He co-hosts The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk show in the nation that’s heard by 18 million weekly listeners. He also hosts The EntreLeadership Podcast and The Fine Print podcast, which has over one million downloads. You can find George’s financial expertise featured in the U.S. Sun, Daily Mail and NewsNation. Learn More.

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