Money-Saving Travel Tips

The first weeks of January are typically not too rough for me. While basking in the afterglow of holidays with family and the promise of a new year ahead, I embark on those days with a sense of discipline, purpose and optimism. It feels good to get back into a routine that includes healthy eating and physical activity. But if you’re like me, by the time Martin Luther King Day rolls around I’m ready for spring. The combination of cold, gray days and early sunsets has me yearning for the oppressive humidity of July, while finding it a supreme challenge to keep up with the vigorous routine that sounded so satisfying just two weeks earlier.

When the winter doldrums trump my desire to get in shape, I’ve found a way to trick myself into staying with the program: vacation! OK, so I’m not the first person to think of this idea. But hopefully some of my ideas for saving money while still enjoying a dream vacation will be new to you. Read on for tips on planning the perfect getaway without straying from the budget I know you’ve set for 2010. (if you haven’t yet, refer to my Money Makeover column from December)

Once you’ve figured out your destination, the first step is finding a place to stay. If you’re open to a little adventure, consider renting a house through sites like Vacation Rentals by Owner or Home Away. These sites make it easy to sort by property types, dates of availability and preferences. Because some of the properties may have standard check-in/check-out days, it’s important to book this before your flight.

If hotels are more your style, try to find out what is available. I recommend going ahead and booking a refundable/cancelable room as soon as possible directly through the hotel’s site. You can always change your mind — just don’t forget what reservations you’ve made! Then as your departure dates draws near, look for lower prices knowing that you already have a place in case you don’t find a last-minute deal. A trick that has worked for me several times is to wait until one week from the date of my trip, then using Priceline to try an absurdly low rate. I’ve ended up staying in the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver for only $50 per night using Priceline. Just keep in mind that once your price is accepted, you are locked in and your card will be charged. Don’t forget to cancel your original reservation!

Once you know where you’re staying, it’s time to figure out how to get there. If possible, use the credit card points or frequent flyer miles you’ve been saving for something special. Booking early gives you a greater chance of being able to pick the dates you travel. Try traveling on “off” days like Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for greater availability. If you don’t have points to use, I still like for finding the cheapest flight. Once you find the airline, Kayak takes you directly to the airline’s site for booking, which saves you any fees incurred through third-party sites.

Finally, as you begin to pack for your dream vacation, you’ll have to deal with the latest airline restrictions on luggage and liquids. Most airlines charge a fee to check a bag, forcing travelers on a budget to try and fit everything in a carry-on sized suitcase. With the restrictions on liquids, this can become impossible if you’re going away for a week. Unless you’re heading for a remote destination that won’t have a Walgreen’s or grocery store nearby, think about buying travel size toiletries at your destination. This will save you room, hassle and hopefully enable you to carry your bag on without paying the baggage fees.

Regardless of where you end up for your getaway, having something to look forward to in the near future will help you stick to your guns and realize your dreams of a beautiful beach bod.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on January 18, 2010.


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