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Travel planning: Tips to help you save money on your next vacation

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Whether we’re flying across the world to visit exotic locations or driving across states to visit family for the holidays, most of us have to travel at some point. While things can get expensive, if you plan ahead, there are a lot of opportunities to save money on vacations and travel.

Episode notes

In this episode we’ll cover:

  • How both planning ahead and being flexible can help you save money on travel.
  • Where to find deals on airfare.
  • Things you should consider if you’re driving to your destination.
  • Tips to save money on common expenses while you’re on vacation.


Brent: Welcome everyone to the Sound Cents podcast. I'm your host, Brent Sabati, and today I'm joined by Michael Ruzycki, our financial wellness curriculum developer and Nate Juvera, our community education events lead.

So today we're gonna talk about vacations.

You know, people love to travel and take vacations, but they can get pricey really quicly. So on this episode, we're gonna focus on how to save money on your next vacation. It seems like there's so many options to think about before you travel, between travel points, booking sites, hotels, or short-term rentals. So tell me, Michael, how soon in [00:01:00] advance should you start planning for your next vacation?

Michael: I would say as soon as possible. You're right, it does take a while. You have to book your hotel, your flight, you know, if you're gonna rent a car. So the sooner the better. All of this stuff costs money and it's nice to be able to plan in advance and start saving for that beforehand. So you know how long you have to save for.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. I it really helps when you think. Planning for where you want to go. Cause honestly, depending on where you're going really, will help you decide when to start saving. So sometimes we, take trips that are a little bit more, unexpected and takes us a little bit less time to, save, depending on where we're going.

If it's like a state away or maybe like, you know, we're gonna go somewhere here in Colorado, might be a little bit less time to save for where, you know, if we're gonna go to somewhere like Hawaii or something like that, you might wanna start planning, maybe even a year, in advance so you could start researching and making sure you're finding the best deals.

Another thing I like to consider is, [00:02:00] If you have some kind of travel credit card, depending on when you start thinking about going out there, you may wanna start using that more so you start building points so that saves you some money in the long run as well.

Michael: That's a good point. Also, you know, your work, you have to think about asking for that time off, organizing everything.

If you need babysitters, that takes time. So the sooner the better really.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. Not to mention, pet sitters. So a lot of people have, you know, animals, things like that. You may wanna start asking them in advance too, just because depending on who you're asking, they may be traveling at the same time you are.

Especially if it's a popular time in the year to travel. So lots of things to consider before you start planning a vacation.

Brent: Yeah, those are all great points. And one thing I wanted to ask as well, as you mentioned looking at travel points with a credit card. So if someone knows that maybe they have a big, trip planned for, the next six months, the next year, is it worth looking at taking out a new travel card if they don't have one already?

Nate: You know, I think it just depends on that individual. There's lots of [00:03:00] different ones out there. One, popular one I use is, one of the Hilton cards and that I'll try to use regularly throughout the year. That way if there is an unexpected trip that comes up, hopefully by that point I have enough points that we can get a couple nights free, which is nice. But then there are other travel cards that I know that like, have annual fees, things like that. So you may just wanna, you know, weigh your options there and see if, the annual fee outweighs the points or vice versa.

Brent: So once you have kind of a, destination in mind, you know, you're gonna take a trip. One of the major expenses when it comes to travel and vacation planning is that airfare cost. So what are some ways you can save money on the flight? .

Michael: Well, I think the first step is figuring out what you need. There's a lot of different airlines and they offer different packages.

So think about your baggage. How much are you going to need to take? Are you planning a big trip where you'll need plenty of bags checked? Or maybe you're just going for a couple nights and you could get by with a, you know, a [00:04:00] backpack. So think about that first, and that could help guide you throughout where you're planning to go.

Nate: Absolutely. I think kind of going back to, planning in advance that vacation goes with flights with being flexible, right? So if you can be flexible with your, flight dates, oftentimes that can help. And then always doesn't hurt to keep an eye on flights. I know just last night actually, my brother called me and he said he got too good of a deal that he couldn't pass up to where now he's coming out to see us for , like a little over a weekend.

but he got tickets for $75 coming from Florida to here, which I mean, that's dirt cheap right now. But he just happened to be looking and found that. So, wasn't necessarily planning it, but again, just keeping an eye out can definitely help for sure.

Brent: So if someone is looking to buy a plane ticket or looking for flights, like I mentioned before, there's so many different options on where you can actually book between directly with the airlines or using different booking agencies and things like that.

So what are some options that people can use to look [00:05:00] online for cheap flights?

Michael: I tend to look directly for the airline website and go there. I don't usually do the package deal. I find it's just a better deal to go and book it yourself. But yeah, certainly there, that's an option as well.

Nate: Yeah, I think sometimes if you're looking like on like Priceline or you know, one of those things it is nice in that it can give you a nice range of different airlines and such but then narrowing it down to the one that you like to Michael's point definitely helps.

You know, after my wife and I had our first baby, the way we looked for flights has really changed in that now we really search for honestly Southwest.

And the reason for that, for us at least, is that like all of her car seat her stroller. All the baby stuff basically gets checked for free and, and it's really nice cuz when you get on and off the plane, like you can pretty much take it up to the plane and then when you get off it's kind of right there waiting for you.

Where before we had kids, we can [00:06:00] kind of look through you know, take American out and take United back. And we kind of did more of like the Priceline type of thing. But, just kind of depends on what you as an individual or a family are looking for.

Brent: And if you look online for advice on when to book your tickets, you see a lot of conflicting information. Is there kind of a set timeframe on which you should try to purchase the ticket, whether it's one month in advance, three months in advance, or even further out? ,

Michael: I would say further out to me, in my experience, the closer you get to the flight, the more expensive it becomes.

So I think as soon as you know, you should be shopping, looking for different deals, if you have emails that you get from various airlines, check those because they do vary. But I think the sooner the better.

Nate: Yeah. You know, I'd agree with Michael in that, but again, it doesn't hurt to always keep an eye out cuz like I said with my brother, he, you know, he's flying out in about a month or so and he happened to find a pretty good deal, but he just was keeping an eye out.

[00:07:00] So as long as you're flexible and you can just kind of go, when you see those good tickets, then that might be an option as well.

Michael: I think that's a good point you bring up Nate, in being flexible. Certainly there's probably a timeframe you're looking for, but you may be able to find a flight that's cheaper on Tuesday than it is flying out on Saturday.

So from what I've found, usually flying out during the week is a bit cheaper than flying out on a weekend or towards Friday.

Nate: Yeah, for sure. I also have found that in the past, especially when I first started traveling and everything, I would always try to find the cheapest best deal. And so oftentimes it was like, this is non-refundable.

Like once you buy it, it's yours. Nowadays though, I think it doesn't hurt to pay just a little bit more, get one that you can cancel within 48 hours or whatever. And that way you can still, you have your tickets, but you can still keep looking. So if you do find something cheaper before that time, you can always cancel your tickets there and get your new ones.

Brent: Those are all great pieces [00:08:00] of advice and tips for when booking a flight. But the next most expensive area for most people is your accommodation. So whether you're staying at something like a hotel or Airbnb what are some things you should look for when booking a place to stay?

Michael: I think the first thing you should look for is the location itself. Try and find somewhere where it is going to be suitable for what you wanna do in that area. If you get too far from your destination, that could just cause problems in the future when you're trying to travel to all the fun things you want to do.

So first things first would be, you know that location.

Nate: Yeah, I agree for sure. Just finding a good location can definitely help with transportation and everything else. Another thing to think about is, depending on where you're going, do you have friends or family that you can stay with instead of a hotel or Airbnb?

Or if it is an Airbnb, do you have friends or family that you can bring with you that can kind of help cover the cost of that and you know, just get a big house. So all kinds of things to [00:09:00] consider. Kind of going back to the credit card piece depending on if you have like one of the hotel's credit cards or something like that.

Oftentimes they'll give you like a discount on the stay right off the bat. Plus, again, if you have the points, you can use that towards your stay to either get a free night or knock some money off of the night as well. Another cool thing with some of those hotel memberships or their credit cards is I've found that they oftentimes allow for early check-in and late checkout, which is kind of nice too, especially if you're someone who's not necessarily up really early in the morning. It allows you to kind of take your time that last day as well.

Michael: And while you're talking about check-ins, one thing to keep in mind is baggage check-ins. Sometimes you don't even have to get like an early check-in for your room. Some hotels allow you to just check in the bags with, you know, the front desk and you could go out and about and wait for your hotel check-in time.

And that's, you know, potentially a good way to save some money.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. That's key for sure. One time I remember when Megan and I were [00:10:00] traveling, we didn't have that option and we got there so early cause we were like, oh, we're just gonna, you know, spend the morning doing whatever. And we ended up getting, it was like a red eye flight that we took.

 Got a good deal on that too, doing a red eye. And we got there really early and like, basically like just took a nap at the pool on the lounge chairs cuz we couldn't check in yet.

Michael: Oh no.

Nate: So it was fun memories for sure. Lessons learned.

Brent: So speaking of things like checking in a bag early and just being able to lounge by the pool while you wait for your room to be ready, what are some other perks or amenities that you should take a look at when booking a hotel or any other type of accommodation that really sweetens the deal and gets you your best bang for your buck..

Michael: One thing to keep in mind is maybe a free breakfast. So continental breakfasts are huge with hotels. If that's something that you like and you enjoy and you're a breakfast person, you may be able to save a whole, you know, meals worth of, you know, by not going out to another restaurant by just using whatever they have. So something [00:11:00] to look in to.

Nate: Yeah, for sure. Some of them even have the happy hour things in the evenings as well, so you kind of get a little snack and like a cheaper drink or, you know, a free drink or whatever. So those are for sure good things to look at. The other thing I'll often check when I'm looking into hotels, especially going back to as Michael mentioned earlier, locations and amenities is I'll call the hotel ahead of time if there's something that we want to do and see if they offer discounts with the hotel.

So this summer we went river rafting in Glenwood and I called the hotel to see if they offered any kind of like discount package or something if we booked our rafting trip through the hotel.

Brent: Those are all great tips that we can use. Definitely look at those packages and just see what else you can really get included with your stay.

So, you know, all of those ideas I really love. But let's say that I want to go on a vacation, want to have a great time, but I hate flying. I hate dealing with airports. I don't wanna step foot on a plane. What are some other options I have to still have a great vacation without having to [00:12:00] deal with the hassle of air travel?

Nate: you get on those jogging shoes.

Michael: I would say car. So potentially renting a car or driving your own car. And you really have to weigh the costs and benefits of either, because there's benefits to both.

Nate: Yeah. I was just telling Michael this just yesterday actually, that for me, oftentimes when it comes to renting a car, the kind of rule of thumb that I use for that is if I'm gonna be traveling within the state, I'll often use my own car if I'm not, if I'm going out of the state.

 For me personally, it's just better to rent a car. Oftentimes they're not very expensive unless you start upgrading and getting these really fancy cars that you're taking. But I really enjoy renting cars cuz it's nice cuz you don't have to clean it out when you come back. I mean, to a point, right?

But you're not like deep cleaning it like you would your own car or anything. And really you're not putting that wear and tear or miles on your own vehicle. Just cuz those things add up too. So, if you take your car on a long road trip and then now you come back and you gotta get new tires and everything else that can add up [00:13:00] fast.

So lots of different ways to look for rental cars. Kind of similar to the airplane, you can either go directly through the site of, if it's like Budget or Hertz, or Dollar, there's so many different rental car companies. Or you can look through something like Priceline. One more thing I'll add is oftentimes once I find the car that I want, I'll look up coupons for that company and sometimes they'll give you up to 30% off on your rental car, which is pretty cool.

Brent: So up until this point, we mostly focused on things you should be looking at ahead of time before you start traveling, whether it's booking a flight, a rental car, or a hotel. So let's talk a little bit more about what you can do to save money once you're actually on the vacation. So what are some of those costs you consider when you're traveling?

Michael: I think one of the main costs is food. I mean, you have to eat, so you're probably eating three meals a day and there may be room for snacks. So food is a big one.

. Another big thing to keep in mind is entertainment. You're wanting to do [00:14:00] fun things. That's why you're going on vacation. So start thinking of those things early.

I mean, shows, games, sporting events, all of that you could potentially be saving money on. So that's something to keep in mind.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely as well as things like transportation. So maybe you're flying there, are you gonna rent a car when you get there? Are you gonna take public transportation, Uber?

 Lots of things to consider there. Another thing I feel like oftentimes gets forgotten about is souvenirs and gifts. So, you know, a lot of people, well, they like to think, oh, I, I never do that. You still sometimes find yourself buying something from the place you went, or maybe you have loved ones or friends at home that you're like, oh, they would love this.

I gotta get this for them, and that's sometimes like that unexpected cost that people forget about.

Brent: So what are some specific things you can do to save money on some of those costs?

Michael: I think the whole theme of this has been really planning ahead. So when we talk about entertainment shows, sporting events, whatever you wanna do, plan ahead.

You may [00:15:00] be able to go directly to that company's website and get a deal. Oftentimes when you're trying to buy stuff and tickets on that day it does get more expensive and you're kind of at the mercy of the ticket sellers there. But if you have your tickets already before you even go on vacation, you may be able to find yourself a good deal.

Nate: Yeah, and , I talk to people all the time who are like, oh, well, when I go on vacation, I like to be spontaneous and I don't really want to plan every day what we're gonna do. That's fine.

Just maybe plan ahead by setting aside whatever X amount of money to be spontaneous in the moment. So if you find something fun that you didn't know about you have the money to do that. I also think food cost. So, it's funny, oftentimes we'll go on vacation and we will start ordering out cuz pretty much that's one of the only ways to eat when you're out on vacation. But we'll be ordering and we start to realize, man, these plates are so big or we can't finish all our food. And being that we don't necessarily have our home to go back to and save it for [00:16:00] lunch or whatever the next day, then we start to get into food waste and nobody likes that.

So one way that you can kind of help reduce food waste and save on cost is find a plate maybe that whoever you're traveling with that you can split. And then if you still want more after that, you can always order more. But oftentimes we find that, you know, we can get a whole lot more for a whole lot less that way.

Michael: Another point is local grocery stores. So if you are just going out for a day on the beach, check with the convenience stores or grocery stores because you may be able to find the exact same thing that they're serving in the bars and the restaurant. Just add, you know, a 7-Eleven or a Walmart, so check those and shop there.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. Kind of jumping back to transportation as well. Be aware if the state or the place that you're going to has any toll roads or when I go to Florida, they have a lot of 'em out there, so I have to make sure that before I go I set my Google Maps to avoid tolls, things like that.

Cuz you'll [00:17:00] definitely find yourself very easily on one, and then it's hard to get off. And there oftentimes you have to pay as you go, so you gotta go through these stations. It's, it could be a lot. So make sure you do some research ahead of time on that as well.

Brent: So those are all some great ways to really cut back on some of those more common costs. And we all associate travel with being a little bit more pricey, I think a lot of people are familiar with going to a destination and seeing, hey, this cup of orange juice is $5. That's kind of crazy. So along those lines of saving costs, what are some of those tourist traps or travel things that really can hurt your budget.

Nate: I think it never hurts to ask the locals there, ask the person at the front desk at the hotel, what are some places that they recommend or where do they like to go when they're not working?

 Cuz oftentimes if you ask 'em, Hey, what's a good place to eat around here? I feel like sometimes they just refer you to like where all the tourists are going, which doesn't help. So when you just reword that a little bit and say, "Hey, where do you like to go when you're not working? Or, what do you like to [00:18:00] do around here?"

Then it, it becomes more personal and they'll oftentimes refer you to some pretty cool places where you can avoid those tourist traps.

Michael: and I think one thing to keep in mind is to have multiple forms of payment. You mentioned that $5 for the orange juice, there's a lot of places where you might be able to get a discount by just paying cash, so bring multiple forms of payment that way if you do find those places, you're able to pay cash and get that discount.

Nate: Yeah, for sure. That's actually like a nice safety feature as well in case you were to lose something or anything like that. I like to take multiple forms of payment and I keep 'em in multiple spots when I'm on vacation, so I won't have just my wallet with my credit card, debit card, cash, all of it in there.

I'll, leave some back at like, maybe the hotel's safe or my wife will keep some and I'll have some, we try to space it out just in case anything bad ever happened. We have multiple places we can make sure we're provided for.

Michael: Another thing to keep in mind is scams. We're all aware of those time share presentations, so [00:19:00] just make sure you're not getting involved in anything like that if you don't want to.

So they're very high pressure. So if that's not something you're looking to do and you wanna spend all of your time enjoying your time, don't be forced into those kinds of things.

Nate: Oftentimes they'll let you stay in a nice place, but you gotta go hear one of their presentations and I guess you gotta just weigh if it's worth it to you or not.

 I feel like you waste your vacation time listening to that . Or you end up buying one that you're like, oh my gosh, why did I do this?

Brent: So those are all some great tips and as we kind of close out today, wanted to ask kind of two questions here.

One, if you had to leave the listeners with your favorite travel tip, what would it be?

Michael: Well, I think my tip would be it's an overall package. So we've talked about, you know, the flights, the hotel rooms, the travel, when you're within your destination, the entertainment.

So it's not one thing. You save on all things. So my one tip would be really try and save wherever you can. You may be able to save here, you may be able to [00:20:00] save there. Sometimes you can't save it all, but if you're just consistently trying to save money throughout your vacation, that adds up a little bit adds up to a lot.

Nate: Yeah, that's a good tip, Michael. I would say mines is a little bit similar in that pay for as much as you can upfront. For me, at least when I know that my plane tickets have been paid for and my hotel's been paid for and all of that, it definitely makes checking out a lot less stressful cause I know it's already paid for.

And now whatever money I'm bringing on vacation or whatever I've budgeted for this trip, I know it's just for like the fun things that we're gonna be doing actually on the trip, but the two big things like the travel and the stay is already paid for. So if that's a possibility for you definitely try to do that.

 It will help alleviate a lot of stress when it comes to eating out and doing all the fun things. Yeah, that would be my biggest tip I'd say.

Brent: And last question is kind of a fun one here. What is your bucket list Travel destination.

Nate: Oh, wow. Can I share [00:21:00] two?

Brent: Sure. Go for it.

Nate: All right. So, I would definitely see Israel, there's some really pretty places we were planning a trip there in 2020 and Covid shut everything down for us. So I still want to try to make it out there, but there's really pretty places to see. Just a lot of exotic things to see out there. The other one would be Greece. I like food in both of those places. So, yeah, I think if I could ever make it out to one of those places that would be awesome.

Michael: Those are both good ones. I would have to say Australia, I just think there's something so cool about the Outback and the kangaroos and the Sydney Opera House and just wanna see it all. So gotta schedule a couple weeks off and go out and fly there.

Brent: Well, thanks so much Michael and Nate for joining us on the podcast today.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having us.

Michael: Yeah thank you.

Brent: That's all the time we have for today. We hope that you gained some great practical advice and some money saving tips for your next vacation, and we hope to catch you next time on the Sound Cents Podcast.

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