30 Travel Hacks That Will Save You Money

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Excited young woman sitting in an airport with her ticket
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It takes a little extra effort to find the best deals on travel, but when done right, all the savings add up, making your trip a bargain. From knowing how to get free flights and cash back from airlines to the best way to book hotels abroad, there are plenty of money-saving hacks to know before you book your next adventure. We've found the most useful apps and websites as well as insider tips to create a definitive list of the best money-saving travel hacks.
Airplane taking off into the sky
Photo credit: MJ_Prototype/istockphoto

Each connection is an opportunity to miss flights, and airlines have varying fees and policies for refunds and rebookings, assuming the responsibility falls on their shoulders. Missing a connection could result in missing an event you've already paid for and/or paying more to ensure you reach your destination on time to avoid further throwing off your itineraries.
Paris in the winter with Eiffel tower in the background and snow on a pine tree
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Every destination has a prime time season and an off season, and visiting when tourism is less dense can result in everything from cheaper rates for travel and lodging to local discounts at restaurants and shops. Catching the end of the season usually allows for all or most of the benefits of both on- and off-season specials.
Selection of travel booking websites
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When searching for the same flight more than once, some websites track the searches and block certain discounted rates since they know you are looking for a specific flight date and time. Clearing your browser's cache will prevent the tracking and allow you to access all of the options.
Man looking at camera sitting on a seat in an airplane
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If your travel plans allow for plenty of flexibility, you may be able to offer your seat on an overbooked flight without messing up your plans. Airlines sweeten these deals by rebooking you on an upgraded flight, sometimes even first class. Most airlines also offer airline credit or regular gift cards for up to $600, and sometimes the difference is just a few hours.
Currency exchange kiosk at an airport
Photo credit: jessicaphoto/istockphoto

Changing currency in a foreign country is an easy way to get ripped off. The safest way to ensure you are getting a verified and fair rate is to change money at the airport kiosks where there is full transparency. If there are different stalls, it's a good idea to check each of them to see which one is offering the best deal on the currency you have to change.
Brown paper bag lunch with sandwich and apple
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Simple snacks in travel hubs like bus and train stations and airports are often triple the usual price, because they know hungry travelers will pay the marked up prices to assuage their hunger. Stay ahead of the game by packing travel snacks that are easy to access throughout your journey.
Hilton hotel in Brussels
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Joining a hotel rewards program is an easy way to get free perks for frequent travelers, especially with hotels than have properties all over the world. The Hilton Honors program offers free Wi-Fi, VIP service, and points that can be used toward free nights for Honors members, plus it's free to join!
Woman taking a selfie on a street in an Asian city
Photo credit: swissmediavision/istockphoto

There are people waiting to scam tourists everywhere, and nothing is a better tip off that you are a foreigner than not being able to speak even a word of the local language. Printing out a cheat sheet with the basics or investing in a small pocket dictionary can help you blend in and not seem so vulnerable; and also, it's just polite.
Women tourists shopping at an outdoor market
Photo credit: Imgorthand/istockphoto

The United States has a very generous tipping policy when compared with the rest of the world. While it may feel uncomfortable not to tip if it's your custom, it may actually be rude to tip in some contexts. So find out what the local tipping rules are. Similarly, learning the common practices for haggling in markets can help save you money.
Couple standing under an umbrella in Paris in the fall
Photo credit: espiegle/istockphoto

Umbrellas, raincoats, and footwear can be necessary last-minute purchases if you get surprised by inclement weather. Similarly, tank tops, bathing suits, and flip-flops can add up if purchased from a hotel gift shop. Always check the weather near your destination and arrive prepared.
Booking flights online
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It never hurts to look around for deals and discounts when thinking about planning a trip. If you have friends with connections to airlines, cruise lines, or other travel agencies, ask them when their packages go on sale. A little preliminary research can help the details come together around upcoming sales.
Young couple speaking with an airline attendant
Photo credit: xavierarnau/istockphoto

Travel personnel, from train conductors to flight attendants, often get treated like they are invisible, or worse. Asking for a free upgrade in a friendly way is more effective than you might think, especially if they have the upgrades available anyway. If you don't ask, there's no chance you'll get it.
Man using ride sharing app on the side of the street
Photo credit: Mlenny/istockphoto

In this age of ride sharing services like Lyft, Via, and Uber, which often have their own running promotions, it can actually be cheaper to take a car than the bus or subway. This is especially true if you are traveling with a small group that can all fit in one car, rather than individually paying the entry price for public transit.
Using TripAdvisor app in the car
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TripAdvisor is a wealth of information on almost any destination. You could plan an entire trip with just this one website, which features in-depth user reviews on everything from specific hotels, restaurants, and attractions to overviews of entire areas and things to do. Updates come in all the time, so you can stay up to date on real-time changes that affect your plans.
Woman making a to-do list at a desk with her laptop and coffee
Photo credit: MangoStar_Studio/istockphoto

Making a to-do list beforehand can help plan the budget. Being organized will protect against routes or activities that call for extraneous spending. You don't have to plan every second, but having something of a game plan will give structure to the trip.
Women shopping for souvenirs
Photo credit: Imgorthand/istockphoto

Rather than setting an unrealistic goal of not spending anything on gifts and souvenirs, figure out a realistic budget and stick to it. Record your purchases and make sure you stay on track. If you go over, decrease the budget for something else on your trip to keep everything within your spending limits.
Looking at a map of Bangkok while sitting on a bed in a hostel
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If your destination is more about exploring the area rather than a resort-style trip, consider a hostel. Basically a cheaper version of a hotel, most hostels offer inexpensive lodging in shared or private rooms with shared bathrooms and basic amenities like water, internet, maps, and security.
Woman sitting in an airport with her backpack listening to music
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Extra-luggage fees are stricter than ever for train and plane travel, but it doesn't stop there. Getting around with lots of baggage can mean more expensive car rentals and storage fees at hostels. One helpful tip to keeping your bags light is to buy or bring a small bottle of detergent and wash some essentials like socks, underwear, and T-shirts midway through the trip.
Tourists feeding elephants at a sanctuary
Photo credit: psisa/istockphoto

A work-cation is one option for people who couldn't normally afford a vacation. Organizations like Workaway exchange volunteer work, like cleaning up local areas, for lodging and basic meals. Since it is technically on a volunteer basis, there is no exchange of money, and doesn't affect income for tax purposes.
Couple having a picnic on the beach
Photo credit: Squaredpixels/istockphoto

Dining out every meal adds up quickly. Not to mention that rich restaurant food can be taxing on the digestive system, too. If your lodging has access to a kitchen, check out the local grocery stores and prepare a meal at home. If you don't have access to a kitchen, you can still make picnic-style meals with ready-to-eat items from grocery stores like cheese, jarred vegetables, bread, and salads.
Clock with an airplane behind it
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Travel writer Zach Mack shares one of his tips for finding the best flight deal: "Tuesday afternoon is when airlines dump new seats … around 2 p.m. in the time zone of where the airline headquarters is located." Figuring out when new seats come on the market, even if it's in the wee hours of the morning in your time zone, can give you the best seats at the lowest prices.
Example of flight options from Google Matrix
Photo credit: Courtesy of matrix.itasoftware.com

The Google Matrix flight search engine gives you at a glance access to all possible flights for your destination. Unlike other sites that only show a portion of the airlines, this allows you to see everything. You can't book directly through the site, but it's a great way to line up your best options.
Exterior of an airport with an airplane taking off
Photo credit: silkwayrain/istockphoto

It's worth checking the options in and out of different airports, even if they are a little bit farther from your hotel. Sometimes switching the airport can lower the rates or provide other travel times that fit your schedule and budget better. Be sure to add up any additional costs of traveling to and from the airports by checking for public transport options as well as taxi and car-rental prices.
Hopper app
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The Hopper App is a frequent flier's best friend. The app calculates the best time to buy your ticket based on where and when you are going. They amass data to let you know if six weeks, three weeks or four months out is likely to give you the best price, so you don't have to worry about buyer's remorse.
Planning a trip
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Shifting your travel dates just one day on either end can reduce your fare by half. The best days to fly are weekdays, between Monday and Thursday, since many people have to work. Leaving a day or two buffer on either end when booking will give you optimal flexibility to take advantage of the lowest prices.
Person with feet up on luggage in an airport with Santa hat on shoes
Photo credit: Manuel Faba Ortega/istockphoto

Traveling for holidays is usually more expensive, since people plan to arrive just before the main event to spend with loved ones. Traveling on the actual holidays is less conventional, and usually equals big discounts on planes, buses, trains, and even cruise trips.
Hipmunk app
Photo credit: Courtesy of hipmunk.com

Hipmunk is a website that helps organize flights, cars, and hotels with full price transparency. Some of the features include showing you all of the options to avoid taking bad deals. For example, if you have an option to pay much less and arrive less than hour later, it will come up on the site.
Friends giving guest a hug at the door
Photo credit: jacoblund/istockphoto

Staying with friends and relatives who have ample space can be the key to being able to afford a trip of a lifetime. To avoid any misunderstandings, be upfront about your plans and how much time you would like to spend with them, and find out about any house rules they have. Of course, be sure to give a generous gift. Even a $100 bottle of wine will be less than lodging.
Woman with a map looking out of her window at a mountain range
Photo credit: swissmediavision/istockphoto

Renting a car can often be the most cost effective way to travel a region. In addition to freedom and mobility, the one-time cost could be the same or less than all of the added up taxis, and bus and train fares that would otherwise be necessary to cover the same ground.
Students having fun in London
Photo credit: franckreporter/istockphoto

Student ID cards often work all over the world, and provide generous discounts on museums and other attractions. Pop your ID card in your travel wallet to use it wherever possible. Even a recently expired student ID card can work in some parts of the world.

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