I recently traveled to the Cincinnati area to surprise my Mom. I took this vacation on my own and I did so for very cheap. Here are some tips that you can use when planning your next vacation.
If you are flying:
*Use a "budget" airline.
-I used Allegiant on this flight and paid only $200 for a round trip ticket from St. Petersburg/Tampa to Cincinnati. This is VERY cheap. I only found one other flight that was $399, all the rest were around $500. My flight was also direct. All of the more expensive airlines involved a layover in another city. (NOTE: Do your research! Allegiant and similiar airlines are known for delays and cancellations and lack some comforts that other flights may have.)
*Eat before arriving at the airport and pack snacks in your "personal item" (purse, backpack, etc. that you take on the plane with you) to avoid expensive airport food/ drinks. Do this even if you aren't hungry in case there are delays or someone gets nauseous on the plane.
*See if a friend can drive you to the airport or take a shuttle:
-If you are gone for more than a day or two, you are not going to want to do long term terminal parking. It is ridiculously expensive and you will have to worry about your car while you are gone. I normally offer a friend $20 or a 12 pack of beer each way for dropping me off/ picking me up. Just make sure it is someone you can rely on. If that fails, a cab or airport shuttle (I have used SuperShuttle a few times) is still normally cheaper than parking.
If you are taking a bus or renting a car:
-Many of the city coupon books that are sold yearly in large cities have coupons for car rentals. I also check Retail Me Not for coupon codes of all types (including cars). You can search "car rental". In addition AAA and some colleges/ employers offer discounts on car rentals. Ask around. I was able to get a great deal from Expedia on an Alamo car rental ($78 for 3 days, 4 hours with a mid-size car).
*For car rentals, keep it clean and fill the gas tank:
-Most rental companies charge a ridiculous amount if the car is dirty and if the tank is not full. I also keep my gas receipt and I take a picture of the mileage/ gas gauge when receiving and returning the car. I have had to use these in a dispute with a rental company in the past.
*Pack a cooler if on a long road trip.
-Minimize your spending roadside by packing a cooler full of water, soda, sandwiches, yogurt and other assorted food items. Top it with ice and grab your snacks from the cooler when you pull over for gas. This will help to avoid costly snacks and drinks at gas stations or fast food on the road (bonus: you will probably eat healthier too).
*Look for gas card deals.
-My local grocery store (Publix) has specials where you can save money on gas cards if you spend $50 in groceries. Since you will probably be spending $50 on groceries regardless, this is a great way save money off of your gas fill-ups. This is also a great way to "save" towards your vacation. If you have your gas paid for, then that is one less expense you have to worry about when the time comes. Note: make sure the gas station you get the card for is available in the areas you are traveling through.
Do not eat out every meal.
-Just because you are on vacation does not meal that you have to eat out every single meal. Eating out can get expensive (and unhealthy) even if you are only eating fast food. If I am staying at a hotel with a fridge, I buy lunch meat, cereal (if free breakfast is not included), milk, cheese and bread. If I don't have a fridge it is bread, peanut butter and snack bars. We can then can eat meals in the hotel. Bonus: this comes in handy when we are hungry late night or too tired from walking all day to go out.
Track your spending.
-No one wants to do bills while on vacation. However, it is very important for you to keep track of all your spending while you are traveling. You don't want to end up coming home completely broke. Or worse, coming home early because you ran out of money on day three. If you are aware of your spending, you can pace your money throughout the trip. A method you can use is to use all cash on your vacation and divide it up into equal envelopes for each day. If you borrow from one envelope, you will have to do cheaper (or free like the beach or pool) activities that day.
Sign up for Groupons / Living Social deals for the area you are visiting.
-Sign up for the deal websites several months before your vacation. This will allow you to purchase tickets for many activities in advance at a discount price. I recommend reading Yelp or TripAdvisor reviews if you are unfamiliar with the company offering the deal. Note: make sure the expiration dates are past your visit and make sure you will be able to use all the certificates you purchase.
-I know that this is not what you want to hear. However, to get the best deal you will have to do some work on your computer. If I had purchased my plane tickets at the first few websites I had searched, I would have paid at least double. I also originally thought $180 was a good car rental price. After half an hour or so of research I found $78 for a better car. Your vacation is going to be unique to you in date/ location/ travel method/ etc. As a result, only YOU can find the best prices.
Do you have any more Frugal Travel Tips to add? I hope this will help someone plan a frugal vacation. I know that sticking to these tips will help me take more vacations in the future.