We love showing our audience how to travel smart and save big. And we love that they often return the favor.
One of the things I love about working at Budget Travel is that nobody—and I mean nobody—has a more engaged, travel-savvy audience than BT. Our mission is to dispense the smartest travel advice around, and our readers often feel compelled to return the favor. Here, some of their best tips for saving money, time, and hassle on your next vacation.
1. Sip Affordable Airport Joe
Coffee chains in airports sometimes charge twice what they do at home. And in-flight coffee is a dicey choice. So, I join the chains' rewards programs and save my free drink redemptions for my overpriced java at the airport. —Byron Flitsch, Los Angeles
2. Get Mexico's Best Exchange Rate
When traveling in Mexico, I get the best exchange rates at the supermarket. All you have to do is buy a few groceries, pay in American dollars, and you will receive your change in pesos. On a recent trip I got more pesos for a dollar while most other places gave much less. —Sophie Pascard, Burlingame, Calif.
3. Save on a Cruise Spa
I've been on many cruises with various lines, and I've learned that the spas usually offer discounts on days when the ship is docked. So while one parent takes the kids on an excursion, the other can sign up for a massage! —Rhonda Grabov, Philadelphia, Pa.
4. Pssst! Learn a Family Stateroom Secret
Families have trouble finding affordable staterooms that sleep more than four, and connecting rooms usually require you to book two rooms of the same category. Well, here's what we do: My husband and I stay in an ocean-view cabin, and our three kids are in a cabin across the hall. I bring a baby monitor that I bought at a garage sale and use it to listen to my kids' room. I can sleep knowing I'll be in their room the minute I hear a "Mom, I need you!" Plus, we get two bathrooms, extra closet space, and plenty of room to road. —Penny Laschanzky, Lincoln, Neb.
5. Get free Admission to Some of London's Historic Sites
If you're heading to London and plan to spend time touring castles, it pays to become a member of the not-for-profit Historic Royal Palaces (hrp.org.uk). You'll get in free to five of the city's most impressive landmarks, including the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, and Kew Palace. Flash your card to bypass long lines and visit unlimited times within a year. —Tarryn Rivkin, San Jose, Calif.
6. Get free admission to 70 of Ireland's historic sites(Martin Mullen/Dreamstime)
Admission to many of Ireland's historic sites can really add up. Buy the Heritage Card, good for unlimited admission for one year to more than 70 heritage sites across the country (including Dublin and Kilkenny castles). Buy them in advance at heritageireland.ie. —Nuala Banner, Westwood, Mass.
7. Eat Cheap in Italy
If you're looking for a place to eat in Italy, check to see if the restaurant has a coperto, or cover charge. If you want only a light breakfast or lunch, skip the sit-down places, buy a pastry or a panini from a bakery, and picnic by a fountain or sightsee while you eat. —Blair Sechrest, Cary, N.C.
8. Save Euros and Skip the Lines at Florence's Top Museums
Buy a Friends of the Uffizi Gallery pass before you go to Florence (florenceforfun.org). Membership is good for a year and covers the entry fee to the Uffizi and several other attractions, including the state museums of Florence, the Pitti Palace, the Medici Chapels, and more. The best part is that you get to skip ticket lines. —Mary Davis, New Port Richey, Fla.
9. Learn a Smart ATM Technique
In France, ATMs sometimes distribute €50 notes, but many shopkeepers won't break them—especially when you're buying a €2 pastry. However, if you make sure your ATM withdrawals aren't divisible by 50, you'll get €20 notes. Fees add up, so you don't want to take out just €40 each time. Instead, request €130. Save the €50s for museum shops, which have no problem breaking large bills. —Shelby Foster, Fremont, Calif.
10. Avoid Airline Baggage Fees by Mailing Your Stuff Ahead of Time
Now that most airlines charge a fee to check even one bag, we pack a box with our bulkiest items and send it to our destination a week before our trip. If the box is going to a hotel or a time-share, we attach a note asking the front desk to hold it for us until we arrive. —Jane Scott, Beverly, Mass.
11. Find Theme Park Discounts at Costco
If you're a member, check Costco's website for discount tickets to theme parks. You'll find more park options on the Web than in your local store. Have the tickets mailed to your house—just be sure to allow at least a week for them to arrive. —Kati Knudsen, Lake Oswego, Ore.
12. Get Free D.C. Tours
If you're planning tp spend time in Washington, D.C., always write in advance to your state's congressional representatives, requesting passes to attend sessions of Congress, and even discounted tour tickets. —J. Morrill, Alexandria, Va.
13. Find Out Where the Dollar Is Worth the Most
If you want to find out where the U.S. dollar goes the furthest, go to the Office of Allowances page of the U.S. Department of State website (aoprals.state.gov). Click on the Foreign Per Diem Rates link. The site lists the daily travel expenses allowed for U.S. government civilians who travel overseas. The expenses are in dollars (they represent the maximum amount government civilians will be reimbursed per day), are updated monthly, and include hotels, meals, and incidentals in more than 1,000 locations around the world. —Barbara Zalot, Rocky Hill, Conn.
14. Enroll Your Kids in a Frequent Flier Program
You're never too young to be a frequent flier. Register your kids with the airline's loyalty program when you pay for their first airfare. But not that many mileage programs will erase your miles if the account is inactive for 18 months; before that happens, donate the miles to a charity at miledonor.com —Laura Hunt, Chicago, Ill.
15. Save on Rental Cars
If you Google "rental-car discount codes," you'll find a number of websites offering consolidated lists of these codes. You just may discover you're eligible for a load of reductions. —Lawrence Spinetta, Poquoson, Va.
16. Beat the High Cost of Highway Food
When you're exploring the United States, you can avoid busting your road trip budget! Deli counters in grocery stores are great mealtime alternatives to restaurants and fast-food fare. The food is fresh, there's a good variety (hot and cold), and economically it's a great break. I've bought a complete hot meal, including beverage, for a few dollars from a local deli. —Teresa G. Barcus, St. Paul, Minn.
17. Keep Restaurant Coupons in Your Car
I clip restaurant-chain coupons and store them in the glove compartment. On car trips, when my family and I eat most of our meals on the road, we enjoy the discounts. —Rebecca Ayala, Houston, Tex.
18. Rent From an Off-Airport Car Company
When you rent a car at an airport, you often have to pay extra taxes and fees. Instead, rent from a location away from the airport and have the rental company pick you up (many offer this service for free). We once saved more than $50. —Diane Ketcham, Naples, Fla.
19. Get a Gas Station Charge Card
Get a credit card from a company with gas stations nationwide. Many offer a percentage rebate, a gift card, or a certain percent off for an introductory period. —Amy Sutton, Farmdale, Ohio
20. Rent a House Instead of a Hotel Room
For us, the ideal way to take a family vacation is to rent a house or condo. We've done it several times in Maine as well as in England. Cost-wise it works out to be less than a hotel, and you get space to run around, plus a kitchen, so you can have breakfast in your pajamas and actually relax. —Sara A. Ward, Fairfax, Va.
21. Get the Most Out of Resort Day Passes
Even if you're staying at a standard resort hotel, take advantage of the day passes sold by many all-inclusive resorts. The passes—which give visitors access to the facilities, such as restaurants, swimming pools, and beach chairs—are primarily designed for cruise passengers on day trips, but anyone can obtain them. —Mandy Vieregg, Waco, Tex.
22. Get a Last-Minute Deal on a Condo
Booking condos last minute can yield incredible bargains. ("Last minute" generally means a month or less before your stay.) Here's the best strategy: Buy your plane ticket and book a refundable hotel room you can use in case you can't find that bargain condo. Then, a month or so before your trip, start looking for a last-minute condo rental. If you find a deal, simply get a refund on the hotel room and pay the cancellation fee, if there is one. Using this technique, I found a great beachfront one-bedroom condo on Maui for hundreds less than my first booking. —Joan Chyun, Irvine, Calif.
23. Get a Multi-City Museum Membership
If your travels take you to American cities large enough to have museums, zoos, or botanical gardens, consider buying a membership in your home city's counterpart. Many have reciprocal privileges with institutions elsewhere. A membership at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, for example gains entry to zoos in Los Angeles, Des Moines, and Jackson, Miss., all at no charge. —Alice M. Solovy, Skokie, Ill.
24. Give Your kids a Travel Allowance
To avoid the "Can I have…?" questions, set a trip allowance and stick to it. Upon arriving, we give our kids their souvenir money for the whole trip, and it's up to them to spend it wisely. —Nadine MacLane, Seattle, Wash.