Plan the getaway of a lifetime without pinching pennies with these expert tricks.
If embarking on a far-flung adventure is at the top of your 2017 resolution list – perhaps taking in the great outdoors along snow-covered trails or soaking in dramatic backdrops and powdery sands in a tropical locale – you've probably already started saving. Of course, there are tempting money-saving tactics such as searching for deeply discounted flights, selecting budget-friendly destinations with favorable exchange rates against the dollar and avoiding extra travel fees. But travel pros have plenty of other time-tested hacks for saving and putting travel plans into action. Here are smart strategies for saving for the ultimate trip next year.
1. Create a separate savings account.
Consistently contributing to a separate trip savings account is a smart way to reach your vacation goals. "Set up a holiday savings-style account that automatically deducts from checking each month. Ideally, keep it an old-fashioned non-electronic account that is harder to withdraw from," advises Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of BudgetTravel.com. Starting a recurring automatic transfer may seem like a simple concept, "but it works," explains managing editor at Lonely Planet magazine Rebecca Warren. "It's hard to spend money that never makes it to your checking account," she adds. Also, consider adding extra bonuses to your account. For example, if you file your taxes early, the typical refund is around $3,000, Firpo-Cappiello explains.
2. Prioritize what's most important to you.
When deciding where to splurge or save on your vacation, consider which experiences and places you value most, Firpo-Cappiello says. "If you are a museum fan but not a gourmand, for instance, focus your Paris vacation on art and save money by not eating out," he advises. And if you're the type of traveler who's passionate about giving back, an easy way to avoid overspending is planning a volunteer vacation, where you can "spend time helping others overseas," Firpo-Cappiello adds.
3. Set a realistic budget.
"For an extended around-the-world adventure, I usually base my budget on about $50 a day," says Matthew Kepnes, the author of budget travel advice site Nomadic Matt. In that price, Kepnes factors in the cost of flights, lodging, travel gear, tourist discounts and travel insurance. In total, this averages at around $18,250 for a year of all-inclusive travel, he explains. And though you may not be spending around $50 each day and the amount you should allocate largely depends on where you want to visit, it's an ideal benchmark for a frugal traveler planning an active trip, he explains.
4. Earn extra money with a part-time gig.
A simple way to build toward your dream getaway is to start earning more in the new year. It's easy to take a modest part-time job to earn a few hundred dollars each month and add it to your designated vacation account, Firpo-Cappiello says. "For instance, you can make a little bit of money by taking consumer surveys, testing and reviewing new products and even watching new television series," he explains. And thanks to the sharing economy, earning extra money is a cinch, Kepnes says. "You can rent your spare room out on Airbnb, drive with Lyft, cook dinner on EatWith or lead personalized tours through Vayable," he explains.
5. Use the sharing economy to your advantage.
Aside from utilizing a new crop of peer-to-peer booking sites to secure inexpensive accommodations, the sharing economy also enables travelers to pinpoint "quirky tour guides, rideshare options and home-cooked meals with local chefs," Kepnes says. Relying on locals can help you score the best deals, he adds. "[Locals] know which supermarket is cheapest, which stores offer the best sales and where to find the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars with the tastiest food at the lowest prices," he says. "The sharing economy has really changed travel and allows people to save big and connect with locals. It's the biggest thing someone can do," he adds.
6. Rely on the right travel apps.
With the right travel apps, you can "get the most bang for your hard-earned buck," Warren says. Beyond fare-casting sites such as Kayak and Hopper, Firpo-Cappiello points to travel search engine Skyscanner as a great tool to get a sense of less in-demand periods to fly. Warren also suggests utilizing Skyscanner to "find the cheapest flights available for your trip." It's also a smart idea to set up fare alerts and sign up for news alerts with travel-deal sites, such as The Flight Deal, Airfarewatchdog and The Points Guy to find deals and seize upon them, explains John "Johnny Jet" DiScala, editor in chief of the travel site JohnnyJet.com.
7. Add savvy financial apps to your arsenal.
Another easy trick for saving is investing in personal finance apps. Warren points to the money-manager Mint app as an ideal tool for saving on a vacation. With Mint, you can "see exactly where all of your money goes each month" she explains. Plus, the app can "help you figure out where you can cut back to fund your travel dreams," she adds. You can also keep your savings in check with the free tool Digit, which analyzes your spending habits and sets aside small dollar amounts each month into a separate savings account without requiring any transfer or service fees.
8. Leverage loyalty program privileges and points.
To optimize travel rewards benefits, invest in a card that doesn't impose foreign transaction fees, Firpo-Cappiello says. "Also, look for the ones that offer free checked bags and the ones that deliver lots of points upfront just for signing up," he adds. Even if you don't travel often, you can still reap generous rewards by signing up for deals and optimizing everyday spending for bonus points, among other tactics, he explains. But while you can easily earn a high sign-up bonus with a variety of cards, the key is paying off your credit card bill, DiScala cautions. He suggests using auto-pay to remember to pay off your balance each month.
9. Plan to travel like a local.
"The key to living on a local budget is also living like a local would," Kepnes says. Keep your budget in check by skipping dining out, he advises. "I typically eat out during lunch when I'm traveling because in lots of countries, they offer lunch specials, especially in Europe, where you can get a huge meal for half the price," he says, noting he prepares breakfasts and some dinners at his apartment, hostel or Airbnb. Another simple way to absorb the local culture is planning an off-peak or shoulder-season trip, Warren says. Plus, visiting at an off time "will be cheaper and there will be less crowds," she adds.