Ways to Save on Summer Travel

summer vacation

by Holly Mascaro, Manilla.com  

It’s that time of year — the weather warms up, school hiatus approaches, and the travel bug starts biting. Unfortunately, the size of our wallets doesn’t always reflect the size of our travel ambitions. Generally, the largest vacation expenses are flights, lodging, and food. However, in today’s tech-savvy age, there are plenty of ways to cut these money guzzlers down to size. Before embarking on your trip, take a minute to ensure that you’re equipped with the following money-saving tools and tips.

Timing is Everything

Timing is key while planning summer travel, particularly when it comes to flights. Most people know not to wait until the last minute to book, but purchasing your tickets too far in advance can actually result in higher prices because airlines won’t yet have started posting cheaper prices. In a 2012 study, the Airlines Reporting Corporation stated that flights are generally listed at their lowest prices six weeks before your trip. If your travel dates are flexible, the best days to fly are typically Wednesdays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays, respectively, (Fridays and Sundays are, understandably, the worst). If booking through sites like Kayak or Hipmunk (both highly recommended), be sure to separately check low-cost airlines, like Southwest, because they often aren’t included in those larger search engines.

The Road Less Traveled

For domestic travel, you’ll likely want to avoid the infamous long lines and exorbitant prices at spots like Disney and Universal. Instead, discover nature’s theme parks and visit the USA’s many spectacular national parks. Some budget-friendly parks include Crater Lake Park, Oregon; Glacier National Park, Montana; Redwood National Park, California; and Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. These parks are far less visited and, therefore, less expensive than their more famous counterparts (Olympic National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yosemite, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, respectively). Plus, a national park trip can save you money by allowing you to picnic instead of spending on the pricey meal options at theme parks, popular cities or resorts.

If you prefer a city trip, do your research in advance since many U.S. cities host free or cheap summer activities, such as festivals, live music events and movie nights. In terms of free attractions, Washington, D.C., tops the list with 19 Smithsonian Museums, the National Mall, the National zoo, plus lots of sightseeing opportunities such as the Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Hill, and the White House.

Location, Location, Location

Summertime is peak travel time, so choose your destinations wisely. For example, consider saving your trip to Europe for a winter vacation, when prices are at their lowest. If you’re set on an international experience, consider spots whose hotel prices have gone down significantly since last year: South Africa; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Warsaw, Poland; and Seoul, South Korea, are all great options for 2014. If you do visit popular countries like Italy or France, stay off the beaten path: Skip the packed Amalfi coast and instead check out quieter areas like Calabria or Puglia — you’ll pay less but still experience amazing Italian vistas and food. Or, stay closer to home and journey up to the beautiful Canadian Atlantic Coast.

Daily Deal Sites and Apps

Daily deals sites and deal-finder apps should be a bargain hunter’s best friend, as they can really make a difference in how much you’re paying for flights, hotels and even food. If you haven’t yet heard of it, download the On The Fly app — it allows you to easily figure out the most and least expensive dates to fly using a calendar. Services like Groupon will regularly send you emails offering various trip bargains, including offers for all-inclusive stays or hotel plus flight deals.

When it comes to saving on food, use apps like Yelp to scout nearby restaurant prices before committing to a location. Or, earn percentages off your total meal price when booking through services like Savored or Scoutmob.

Ensure that you use your travel rewards points through apps like Manilla, which manages your various travel and household accounts all in one place.  Plus, you’ll be able to stay on top of your bills while you’re on the road and avoid any late fees.

Holly Mascaro is a regular contributor to the The Manilla Folder at Manilla.com, the free and secure service that lets consumers manage all of their bills and accounts in one place or via the 4+ star consumer-rated mobile apps. Holly is also a regular contributor to Yahoo! Finance. For more budgeting tips, visit Manilla.com.

Image: Sarah Chambers

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Published April 16, 2014 Updated: April 18, 2014
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