As the weather heats up and days grow longer, for many of us, travel is on the brain. But the desire and ability to travel don’t always come as a package; a trip to the next town or the next country may not be in the budget. With some solid planning and strategic thinking, however, you can trade wishes for plans and nurture the travel bug no matter how big or small your budget. Here are my best summer travel hacks to ensure you can get on the road without running on fumes.
Go With the Flow and See Where the Deals Send You
Instead of starting with a set-in-stone date and destination and trying to make a dream trip fit into a limited budget, start with just a budget and a desire to travel. Flexibility is key in scoring summer travel deals.
One of the best tools for flexible travel is HotelTonight. You can score major discounts, even on five-star luxury resorts, if you’re open to snagging last-minute or day-of reservations. Hotels with unfilled rooms post them on HotelTonight at steep discounts compared to standard rates. Plus, HotelTonight also offers the ability to book a couple of weeks in advance rather than just the day-of, so you don’t have to be totally last-minute with your reservations.
Another way to take advantage of travel flexibility is to use the “Everywhere” feature on Skyscanner, ideal for people who just want to get away and don’t really care where. You can score some bafflingly low-priced flights if you’re open to traveling wherever the planes are heading for cheap.
Input your departure airport and, for the destination, select “Everywhere.” You can search based on specific days if your travel dates are locked in, or you can search by “whole month” or even “cheapest month” to see the most affordable time to travel. Plan it right and you can pay hundreds less to fly to the exact same place.
Book Directly—After a Little Negotiating
Sometimes, it pays to book directly rather than scour travel deal sites.
According to Jared Nusinoff, chief adventurer and owner of Out Here Travel, in many cases travelers can get bigger savings by booking directly with their provider—but only after taking a few extra steps.
“At the highest level, all these travel booking marketplaces charge providers anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of the fees and commissions received,” Nusinoff explains. “These commissions are some of the reasons why group and tour travel is expensive—so many people are getting cuts along the way before your trip even starts.”
He continues, “One of the best tricks is to go ask the provider directly to book with them and ask for a certain percent discount rather than paying it as a commission, showing them where you would book. Tell them you would rather not pay someone else but still want to get the best price you have seen online plus 5 percent and book direct.” This tip generally works best for tours and smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts, Nusinoff says.
“You’ll get the best deal and it provides more money to the provider, even while you pay a lower price than you see anywhere else. You need to mention commissions and such to get it, usually, or else they will assume it’s just someone asking for a deal who is going to book regardless.”
Become a Travel Minimalist
You can save hundreds of dollars—and hassle—by packing light and bringing only a carry-on. Fill it with clothes and fill a medium-sized backpack (your under-seat “personal item”) with toiletries and miscellany. You’ll find it’s more space than you expected.
For many, however, packing light is easier said than done. One of the best strategies is to include only items that coordinate with each other—a neutral travel wardrobe of pieces that easily mix and match.
If you really want to maximize the clothing items you can bring and how far you can stretch their wear, consider a few staple items from Unbound Merino—they’re clothes you don’t have to wash for two weeks or more. (Seriously—the shirts went through rigorous testing, including trips to the sauna and 46 days of continuous wear.)
Unbound Merino items are made of a light and breathable Merino wool, so they’re odor-resistant, but they also dry super fast in case you opt to give them a quick wash in the sink. They’re also wrinkle-proof, so no need to worry about ironing.
Travel Where It’s Off-Season
For travelers who do most of their exploring during the summer, it can be hard to conceive of any place where summer is actually the “off-season,” but such places exist, and often these wintertime destinations are just as desirable in the summer—and far less costly.
Palm Beach, Florida, is a perfect example: Despite the fact that it’s a beach town, November through April is Palm Beach’s social season, so the area is sleepy during the summer. However, summertime is when the beaches clear out, and world-class resorts like The Breakers offer rooms at a fraction of the usual cost. A bit further south at The Seagate Hotel & Spa in Delray Beach, summer rates start at $190 per night—39 percent lower than peak season.
Many destinations also offer special summertime promotions, such as the Love Your Summer hotel package in Alexandria, Virginia. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, hotels go as low as $89 per night with added benefits like free parking, water taxi passes, and museum tickets. Families who plan to visit Washington, D.C., can instead base themselves in Alexandria—it’s less expensive (an average daily rate of $146 compared to D.C.’s $218) and provides easy access to the city.
Take Walking Tours
Tours and activities can add up quickly, but they’re a vital part of travel. That’s why a good walking tour is one of the ultimate budget-travel hacks.
In many places, walking tours are free, and they’re almost always available at a lower cost than other types of tours. Walking tours not only showcase a city up close, they also allow you to get a little exercise in and see a city from a local’s perspective.
To find free walking tours wherever you are, use the site GuruWalk. Co-founder Bernard Sury says, “Our online platform gathers more than 1,500 ‘pay what you want’ tours, also known as ‘free walking tours,’ in more than 90 countries. These tours don’t have a fixed price, so travelers can decide what to give at the end of the experience, according to their budget and how satisfied they were with the tour.”
Booking a tour on GuruWalk is free and takes less than a minute to complete. Plus, local guides can give personalized recommendations based on their deep knowledge of a destination, providing travelers valuable insight to help them save even more.
Skye Sherman is a freelance travel writer based in West Palm Beach, Florida. She covers news, transit, and international destinations for a variety of outlets. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @skyesherman.