Recently my husband and I took our second trip to Key West, Florida. The trip got me thinking about what we did to keep a budget and how to travel cheap while on vacation. I wanted to share a few of my tips from our recent trip in the hopes they might save you some money on your next vacation.
Taking a vacation does cost money but I think the investment is well worth it. In the past we have only flown anywhere once every five years or so. I think this definitely needs to change! We have taken weekend trips in the Midwest on a more frequent basis, but our recent Florida vacation has me itching for more of the longer weeklong vacations on a regular basis.
How to Travel Cheap
Our Vacation History
Growing up we never flew anywhere. My first airplane flight was when I was in college and around age 20! I am by no means a flying expert, but I’ve now learned a few things about taking flight and keeping airfare expenses cheap. Most of my flights have now been with my husband.
Moving forward I would like to take more trips and I’m especially intrigued about the idea of visiting walkable cities all while figuring out how to travel cheap. By visiting a walkable city, such as we did with Key West, you can easily reduce your vacation expenses in the area of travel. I’m not sure about you, but I would rather spend my vacation fund on good food and activities than travel expenses!
Vacation for Less
I’d like to now share my tips on how to travel cheap on your next trip or vacation. These tips can work for a short trip or even a longer trip and I hope you can use at least a few of my tips when planning your next getaway on the cheap. Now all about how to save money on vacation:
1) Utilize Rakuten: Use Rakuten which is a cash back website. Use this website when you book your hotels, rental car and airfare to receive cash back on your bookings! The cash back might not be received until after your vacation has been completed but ever dollar counts.
2) Use Trip Advisor: Use Trip Advisor to review and research destinations and attractions prior to visiting. Being it had been a decade since our last trip to Key West, a lot had changed. I read Trip Advisor reviews and notes to find out what attractions were most popular today and would interest us. This helped us spend our funds most wisely on attractions and entertainment!
4) Utilize Memberships: If you have any kind of membership such as AAA membership be sure to use it while on vacation! We are AAA members and I used the membership to receive discounts on tickets to attractions and more. Do not be afraid to call the attraction and ask!
5) Buy Tickets Online: Buy tickets for attractions online for savings, also search for “coupon code” or “promo code” to receive the best deals. In today’s online world buying a ticket online is typically the best way to figure out how to travel cheap.
6) Request Pamphlets: Another one of my vacation hacks is to request brochures and information from the local visitor’s bureau and/or chamber of commerce prior to your trip. These materials will not only keep you informed and educated prior to your trip, they may also contain coupons or discount codes for attractions. This helped us big time at The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory where we used coupons on ticket fees, and then additional coupons to buy souvenirs.
7) Free Breakfast: Stay at places with continental breakfast or at a B&B. We almost always book hotels or inns that include free breakfast. For our recent trip to Key West, Florida we booked two hotels with continental breakfast and one bed and breakfast (which obviously provided breakfast every day). This takes the guesswork out of deciding where or when to eat breakfast and reduces food expenses.
8) Save on Lunch: Visit a local grocery store to buy food for lunch. In addition to booking lodging that provides breakfast we typically will shop at local grocery stores to buy food for lunch. It’s paramount to book a hotel with a mini-fridge. A microwave is an added bonus. This allows us to store food and save money on eating out.
9) Happy Hour Specials: Pay attention to happy hour specials for dinner and drinks. For dinner and evening we would usually eat dinner out and enjoy happy hour. In order to learn how to travel cheap, be sure to pay attention to happy hour specials and hours and partake during the specified time to save money and to travel on a budget.
10) Stick to a Budget: Set a budget for your vacation and stick to it, also plan ahead and save a certain amount per month leading up to your trip. If your vacation is in six months, this allows you six months to save and start budgeting for vacation and plan for the expenses!
11) Travel Off-Season: Visit during the “off season” for that area for cheap vacation deals. When we visited Key West it was August. Sure, it was hotter than heck but it was the off-season so we took advantage of off-season rates for lodging and entertainment. Consider traveling during the off-season to save money and find trip deals!
12) Walkability: Another of my budget travel tips is to visit a walkable destination so you don’t have to pay for any travel expenses once you arrive at your destination. As I mentioned at the beginning we really appreciate that Key West is a walkable city. We got a rental car to get there but upon arrival we parked and then spent five days simply traveling on foot or by bike!
13) Airport Snacks: Bring food to the airport and on the way back, along with an empty water bottle. I learned this time that I could bring an empty water bottle into the airport. I was then able to refill it once inside and avoid spending $4 or more on a bottle of water! Additionally, we packed food to eat in the airport so we did not waste money on food while waiting for our flight. A few favorites of mine are Justin’s Nut Butter and Epic Bars.
14) Avoid Extras: Avoid any extras on the flight, don’t pay for an assigned seat and bring your own earbuds so you aren’t buying theirs. For our flight we avoided any extra fees. We stuck to the basics… a fee to get us to Florida and back! Again, I would rather spend money on great food at dinner and entertainment than for airplane earbuds. Plan accordingly!
15) Avoid Fees: Don’t pay for checked luggage, pack light and use carry ons. Or if you do check a bag check one bag and share the bag. Because we were traveling during the off-season it would be very hot in Florida. We knew we would not need heavy clothing so we each packed a carry-on bag and a small “tote” to keep under the seat in front of us. By doing this we saved roughly $50 per person on our vacation savings.
16) Free is Fun: Research free activities in the area and plan to take part, such as local parks, beaches, walking paths, etc. We made a point to stop at any free points of interest, in state parks, at local beaches and more. Any of these activities were free or very low cost. A great vacation does not need to cost a lot of money and you can easily vacation on a budget.
Cheap Trips to Key West Florida
As I said at the beginning, I am by no means a travel expert but we have now taken two successful and affordable trips to Key West, Florida. I think the tips in this post can help you to save money on a weekend trip and a longer week-long or longer vacation and to experience firsthand travel savings.
By saving money on vacation you have the potential to enjoy more vacations, to vacation while meeting financial goals and enjoy life. I would really like to learn how to travel cheap even more after our recent trip and plan another vacation very soon!
How to Travel for Cheap
I hope the tips in this travel post are helpful and informative and provide some budget vacation ideas. If you can use even just a few of the suggestions to create travel savings I am sure you can save on your next vacation or weekend trip. Every little bit counts and the experience of time away is truly priceless!
How do you spend less on your vacations?
*This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated and republished for accuracy and comprehensiveness.