We recently asked via our blog for some tips on how to really stretch a dollar—and you more than came through.
Below you'll find some of our favorite tips. You can check out the whole list—and add your own—here. (60+ comments)
WHERE AND WHEN TO GO
Jessica had a simple but effective tip: "Travel in the off season!" Similarly, Lili wrote, "I highly endorse off-season, mid-week traveling. I've always planned my trips during these times and have yet to be disappointed. Seriously, prices are too good to pass up. I once paid $250 RT from NYC to London during December. It was actually warmer in London than it was in New York."
Victor saves money "by choosing destinations where I don't need to rent a car: Miami and Washington, D.C., were two recent examples."
For airfare and hotel bargains, Moren Andersen praised so-called metasearch engines, which "scan the web across hundreds of travel websites simultaneously" and "give an overview of the cheapest flights. This means that hours of searching can be replaced with one search on one site with an even better result!" His favorites included Momondo, Mobissimo, and Kayak. He added that you should "remember to search several of these search engines to make sure that you find the best fare."
Melissa Woods pointed out that "good planning is a time saver. In addition, she saves money "by cutting vacations short a few days and condensing my sightseeing. It seems faster paced, but cutting one day or more could mean I saved $100 or more per day."
And Cara agreed that you can save money by "researching your destination" before you go. "A well planned day saves you time, effort, and unexpected expenses (e.g., [having to take a] taxi ride across town to the Louvre before it closes)." "Read blogs, boards, and the like to get hints on cheap/free things to do, cheap modes of transport, etc. Look for off-the-beaten track activities that usually don't cost much, if anything. For example, I attended a great organ concert in Westminster Abbey for about 5 pounds, and it was performed by the current organist for the church—amazing!!"
Wandermom said to "search for airfares well before you want to travel (i.e. 6+ months) and watch the fares regularly. Fares on the same route change over time. The trick is to buy your seats at or near the low point. Tools like Farecast can help with this."
Kenneth suggested a little low-effort price comparison and bargaining. "When attempting to find the lowest hotel prices online, get a price from the major online travel agencies and then call the hotel directly and inquire about the price. Most often they will honor the online site prices, except for [offers from] the auction or bidding sites, [such as] Priceline and Hotwire. Being a member of AAA, CAA, AARP or having a coupon from the Entertainment Value Book helps also."
Lisa Siverman mentioned that her daughter "has used "CouchSurfing to connect with a number of places to stay for free. This tends to be something that young people would be more comfortable with!" For herself, she added, "Occasionally, if the airport is not far from the city, we will stay [near it] for the cheap rates and choose [a hotel] with a free shuttle."
Wandermom weighed in with a family-travel tip: "Book hotels with breakfast included. It's amazing how long a kid can go with a good breakfast. Reduces total food costs." (She has more family travel tips on her own website.)
Char's family travel idea was to "look into cabins at state parks or RVs at travel parks. Some RV parks have onsite trailers to rent by the night or week. Some even have separate bedrooms and you can cook and snack out your own kitchen. Cheap or free entertainment at parks can include canoes, horseback riding, put-put golf, and movies."
Steve D chooses "hotels that offer a kitchenette and outdoor grills. We bring food from home and cook it ourselves. Local restaurants may lose some of our dollars but we still get to travel and sightsee."
Char recommended eating out at lunchtime rather than at dinner: That way, you "often get the same food at much lower prices. If you have a nice lunch, you can have fruit, crackers, and cheeses for your evening meal."
In a similar vein, Angelina recommended checking out restaurants' happy hour menus. "Sometimes they'll offer a smaller portion of their specialty dishes for a fraction of the cost. You might have to eat a little earlier (around 4pm-7pm) and at the bar, but [you'll have] more opportunities to mingle with locals. Do a search online for the city's best happy hours!"
If a happy hour isn't for you, maybe you'll want to eat out beyond restaurant doors. "Street food rules!" wrote Lili. "It's local cuisine, food of the people, and often delicious and inexpensive. Just look for the lines of people, because if it's bad food or questionable, people will not be lining up to get more." She also adds that supermarkets are "great for food and souvenirs." She packs "plastic forks and spoons for yogurt, ice cream, cakes, etc."
And when in Europe, "live like a European," wrote Mike. "Shop at the market, and do your own cooking in your apartment. Most apartments come stocked with staples so you can get through the first couple of days without buying hardly ANY food. Save the restaurants for a splurge...you'll appreciate them all the more! When on the go in Italy, grab street food, pizza, sandwiches, etc...as long as you DON'T SIT DOWN in the place you buy them, you'll save a ton. And once more, when you DO sit down for that nice restaurant meal (which we did once per city) you'll appreciate it completely! Despite the fact that we walked everywhere within the cities, I still GAINED weight on my Italy trip, I ate so well!"
Lisa Siverman wrote, "I eat two meals a day when traveling. We make coffee in the room or tea (I bring my own tea bags, just in case) and we get a bagel or croissant in the morning, and then stop for a lunch that costs around $20 for two—usually a salad or sandwich...For dinner we find somewhere cheap by looking on various websites or by bringing stuff into the room."
You may even be able to score some free food while on vacation. Katie wrote: "Check out the weekly local newspapers (like RedEye or the Chicago Reader, The Stranger, Time Out, and websites like going.com and yelp.com (or just hit Google) for free events and happy hour deals."
TAKING THINGS A STEP FURTHER...
There were also some tips that we're not so sure we'd try ourselves. That said, they definitely embody the super-cheap lifestyle, and we salute their creators' ingenuity.
Stephanie uses a hotel clothes iron to heat up leftovers: She leans the iron against the wall and puts a slice of old pizza on it (presumably with something covering the iron's base). In addition, "Don't forget that you can make soup, rice, etc., in the coffee pot." We can't forget this one because we never knew it was possible—but we're glad to know now. For the curious, a YouTube video showing how to make ramen soup with a drip coffee maker is here.
Finally, although several people mentioned taking a cooler along to save money when traveling, Michael pointed out that you can often avoid having to even pay for ice. "Stock it from home at first, then at motels as you travel," he wrote. "Even nature provides ice. I've used snow, glaciers, and even hail to fill my cooler, all during July. Having a cool soft drink as you drive, or adult drink at the end of the day is wonderful." You'll get no argument from us on that that last point.