Vacations have a way of making money disappear—and I’m not just talking about the large sums spent on airfare or lodging costs. Smaller expenses—breakfasts out, daily cafe visits, souvenir shopping, and the like—can add up. Fast. It can be hard to strike the right balance between treating yourself and reining it in while traveling; vacations are meant to be enjoyed, but not so extremely that your bank account is in shambles afterward.
Knowing this, I spoke with some travel experts—in this case, people who travel a lot—to learn about the little, creative, and sometimes-fun steps they take to save money while on vacation. Here, 23 of those tips.
1. Stay somewhere with a washer/dryer, so you can pack super light and wash your clothes while you’re there.
“To save on checked luggage costs, we try to stay at Airbnbs or hotels with laundry facilities. We've been able to cut our packing in half thanks to this tip.” —Lori LeRoy, 45, a travel blogger who takes at least six trips a year
2. Pack light so you can avoid checking bags.
“I use carry-on luggage so I don’t have to pay to check my bags. If I’m tight on space, I use a backpack as my personal item and put clothes and valuables in it. Not only does this carry-on-only trick save money, but it also eliminates the risk of losing luggage.” —Lauren Maffeo, 29, a former expat who’s so far visited 26 countries on five continents
3. Don’t “wait to buy it there.”
“I always try to avoid the oh-I-will-just-buy-it-when-I-get-there stuff, like toiletries and sunscreens. These things are usually less expensive than they are at your destination, so bring them with you.” —Megan Trivelli, 29, a senior account executive at a PR firm who travels once every few months
4. Don’t buy a souvenir the moment you see it.
“I buy my souvenirs last, after I’ve scoped out all the shops and their prices. Throughout my trip, I take a mental note of how much items are, and I revisit the least expensive stores at the end. A lot of people buy something the moment they see it, but that’s a sure-fire way to get ripped off. The only exception to this rule is: If you want something that’s rare or limited, snag it when you see it, because it might be gone by the time you circle back.” —Nicole Faith, 26, an entrepreneur who typically takes six trips a year
When eating and drinking:
5. Score a cheap airline lounge pass online and cash in on the free snacks.
“If I don't have a VIP lounge club membership or credit card that offers me lounge access, I buy a pass on eBay—sometimes I can find them for as little as $1. These passes come in handy when I have a long layover and need something to eat or drink; whereas airport snacks and drinks are usually overpriced, snacks and drinks at the lounge are usually free.” —Mona Molayem, 28, a travel blogger who takes five international trips a year
6. Bring some food and drinks with you—for both the plane and the trip itself.
“I bring snacks with me so I have something to eat on the plane (that I didn’t have to spend money on at the airport). I also bring crackers and almond butter packets with me so I can eat breakfast at my hotel, rather than buying it every day while I’m traveling.” —Kim Kessler, 43, a PR representative who spends about five months each year traveling
“I always bring a refillable water bottle with me, even to use at the airport. You’d be shocked by how many places you can find a refill.” —Megan Trivelli
7. If you really love coffee, consider packing an on-the-go French press.
“I travel with an Aeropress. I love coffee, but it can be expensive on the road. Instead of buying it out every day, I grab a bag of local beans from a specialty roaster and make my own coffee. This saves me quite a bit of money.” —Megan Starr, 34, a travel blogger who spends eight or more months each year traveling
8. Eat at least one meal in your hotel room.
“My family of four often eats at least one meal in our hotel room every trip. I just run to a grocery store and pick up ready-made food—or something that doesn’t need to be cooked, like hummus and veggies. It’s great for saving money, and we’ve found that at the end of a long day, it’s often a lot of fun to kick off our shoes, sit on the floor, and snack on delicious food I’ve picked up. Pro-tip: This is a particularly great strategy if where you’re staying has a mini-fridge.” —Lori LeRoy
9. Book hotel rooms that include breakfast in the price.
“If your hotel offers free breakfast, eat it! Such an easy way to save money.” —Jamie Harper, 36, a family travel blogger who takes about 20 trips a year
10. Consult your location’s destination marketing organization website to see if there are any good restaurant deals.
“Check out your destination’s destination marketing organization (DMO) website. It’s a promotional website full of great deals. Not many people think to check them, but they’re often full of ways to save money on restaurants and hotels.” —Alexa Johnson, 26, a PR manager at a travel and tourism bureau who takes four or five trips each year
11. Check out local food carts and markets.
“Have dinner at food stalls, night markets, and other similar, inexpensive options. You can save money while getting a taste of what the locals eat.” —Clemens Sehi, 34, a travel writer who spends half the year traveling
When visiting tourist attractions:
12. Search Groupon Getaways to find deals on group tours.
“Groupon Getaways is one of my favorites. If you're traveling with a friend or partner, you can usually find huge discounts. Just be sure to check the reviews before you book something.” —Monica Rivera, 38, a podcaster, writer, and photographer who takes at least six trips a year
13. Check out free tourist attractions, like parks and no-cover museums.
14. Tour the city by foot instead of taking a bus or car.
“Many cities offer guided walking tours that don’t cost a lot; travelers are asked to pay what they want. I’ve done several, and I’ve consistently enjoyed the tour guides I’ve met, information I’ve learned, and hidden treasures I’ve discovered along the way. —Adriana Smith, 29, a travel blogger who takes seven trips a year
15. If you’re in Europe, get a city card. It might grant you free admission to popular attractions.
“Several European cities offer city cards, and they’re a great way to save money. Typically, they give you access to free public transportation, free admission to local tourist attractions, and discounts on restaurants.” —Heather Ebert, 26, a travel blogger who takes at least six trips a year
16. Get to know your hotel’s concierge.
“I'm really big on getting to know the concierge. They often have access to discounts for dinners, tours, and day trips. It’s a win-win-win; I get a discount, the concierge gets appreciation from the local establishments (and a tip from me), and the local businesses get more business.” —Laurie Richards, 55, a public speaker who is constantly traveling
17. Use the internet to find discounts and coupons on stuff you’re interested in.
“I'm not ashamed to use coupons from travel books, brochures, and online searches. If I’m going to visit a site or do a chauffeured day trip, you can bet I've Googled the attraction alongside the words ‘discount’ and ‘coupons.’” —Laurie Richards
When traveling around your destination:
18.. Avoid costly airport cabs if you can.
“I absolutely hate spending a ton on taxis to and from the airport, so I research public transport and rideshare options to avoid costly fares where I can.” —Zoe Macfarlane, 44, a freelance travel writer who’s been to 10 countries in the last 10 months
19. If you’re renting a car, do a price comparison to get the cheapest option.
“For car rentals, I have two tricks up my sleeve. The first: Priceline.com’s name-your-price option. I’ve gotten daily car rentals for as little as $9/day. The second: Costco travel. They have some of the best deals on car rentals.” —Tania Elliott, 35, an allergist who loves to travel and takes about 15 trips a year
20. Use apps like Gas Buddy to score deals on fuel.
“I use the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest prices on gas nearby, which is great when I’m renting a car.” —Jamie Harper
21. Take advantage of public transportation.
“Public transportation is a great resource. This week, I traveled from Venice to Ljubljana in less than four hours for just $21 on the bus. It was comfortable, and way less expensive than an intercity flight.” —Sarah Mikutel, 36, a podcaster who currently lives abroad
When exchanging (or just generally budgeting) money:
22. Use a credit card that doesn’t charge you for international expenses.
“Learning how to avoid paying international fees while traveling is key. Airport foreign currency exchanges usually have some of the worst rates around, so those are good to avoid. Withdrawing currency from an ATM usually offers a much better rate, but ATM fees can seriously eat away at your travel savings. I use a debit card from Charles Schwab bank, because they reimburse any ATM fees I incur.” —Trang Pham-Nguyen, 29, a travel blogger who used to live abroad and now takes full advantage of her vacation days
23. Create a checking account that exclusively holds the money you’ve budgeted for a trip.
“While on vacation, I only keep the money I’ve budgeted for traveling in my checking account. I move everything else to a savings account so I can’t overspend. I’m taking a trip only lasting a few days, I might even just bring cash with me so I have a clear visual of when I can spend and when I need to rein it in.” —Lexi Palmer, 25, a jewelry studio employee who travels once or twice a month