Travel Tips: Where to Splurge & Where to Save

Summer is officially here! So, I thought I’d bring something a little lighter to the blog. For many people, summer is the season of vacations. As you probably can already tell, I’m a huge travel fan. Adventure is near the top of my husband and I’s values lists. And, I’ve had the blessing of traveling about 30% of the time for my job the last three years so I’ve picked up a few tricks and tips.

I was talking to my husband, Mr. Classy Frugalist, about this topic and his biggest tip was to set a specific intention for your trip. Are you hoping to relax? Shop? Hike? What is your main focus? When seeing new places it’s easy to get overwhelmed and what to do it all. Why did you choose to go this place? What are you most looking forward to? Plan your budget around your intention and let the rest fall into place. Let your intention guide you on where to splurge and where to save. I think this is the best place to start when planning your trip.

Looking for some more travel tips to help you decide where to splurge and where to save? Check out these ideas to help you fill your trip with meaningful moments not mountains of debt.

  • Flights:
    • Save: While it may be difficult, it really pays over time to pick one airline and try to fly that airline as much as you can. You’ll begin to accrue points and status that make future travel easier. Also, if you are a status member, changing flights and/or getting service when your flight is delayed is often easier. Other ways to save? If you can, fly at odd times – like earlier in the morning or late in the evening. Also, unless you need it, forgo the travel insurance and paying for an upgraded seat.
    • Splurge: Over time I’ve found that paying a little extra to fly at a time that fits my schedule often pays off like getting home from a business trip on the same day rather than staying until the next one or leaving on an 8am flight rather than a 6am one. I really value my sleep – it’s nice to leave rested rather than spending the whole day exhausted. If it’s going to make a difference for your well-being, splurge a little. Otherwise a little inconvenience in flight times can save you a lot of money.
  • Vacation Rentals:
    • Save: My husband and I are big fans of staying at a home (Airbnb, HomeAway, etc.) instead of a hotel on longer trips. It gives you a completely different sense of a place’s culture and can help you save money on housing and food costs.
    • Splurge: As you look for places, be sure to choose one in a part of the city that you actually want to stay in. It pays to spend a little more to get the location that you want. No one wants to spend most of their vacation travelling back and forth to the part of the city they will spend most of their time in. Also, be sure that the home you choose has the amenities you want like Wi-Fi and a kitchen.
  • Hotels:
    • Save: On shorter trips, we like to stay in hotels. Unless you have an upgraded status or it’s a really special occasion, don’t opt for a fancy hotel. Look for a cheaper one with all of the amenities you want like breakfast, wifi, airport transportation, and a good location. Similar to flights, choose a brand and stick with it – it pays.
    • Splurge: If you have an early flight, stay near the airport. Every time I haven’t done this, I’ve regretted it. My husband and I will often change hotels on the last night if we have an early flight. Again, location matters. Make sure, at least for the bulk of your trip, you are near the sites you want to see or near a bus/subway line.
  • Rental Cars:
    • Save: Check the prices on all of the classes of vehicles – I’ve sometimes found that the higher classes of cars can be nearly the same cost as the lower class. Stuck with a small car? You might be surprised to get an upgrade you didn’t purchase once you get to your destination or you might be able to secure an upgrade at the rental car kiosk for a lower cost. Again, choose your brand. Not renting a car? Utilize public transportation to save money on Uber rides.
    • Splurge: Unless you’re staying right in the city and public transit is easy and safe, opt for a car. I’ve often found that a rental car is cheaper than the cost of Uber rides. Heading out into the back country or traveling in the winter? Opt for a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
  • Food:
    • Save: Make eating out special – not a necessity. One of the biggest cost savings we’ve found is to cook most of our meals at home. Not much of a cook? Buy things to make picnic meals that you can bring with you. We also try to eat out for breakfast or lunch, instead of dinner. Go where the locals eat, not the tourists. You’ll often find cheaper prices and better food.
    • Splurge: Find a few places to eat out and make it really special. Do your research and make your reservations ahead of time. Planning to cook in your accommodation? Splurge on some local delicacies to spice up your meals.
  • Entertainment:
    • Save: Do your research – some places may have free entry during certain times. Invest in a few things – don’t try to see everything. Buy tickets in advance to get a cheaper rate. Have a lot of places you’re hoping to see? Look for city or museum passes to lower your costs
    • Splurge: Find a few fun places to splurge that really allow you to explore your destination in a unique way. When we travel, my husband and I generally like to find 1-2 special things to do. We’d rather sit up close and personal for our favorite play than try to see every attraction. Focus is your friend.
  • Shopping:
    • Save: Give yourself a specific amount of cash to spend and don’t go over. Buy things that are meaningful, not kitschy. For most places my husband and I go, we buy a postcard to put up on our travel wall at home and nothing more. Occasionally, on very special trips, we find things to buy that help us celebrate our trip that we’ll also use and appreciate when we get home. Really want to shop? Use this as an excuse to buy gifts for other people. On our trip to Iceland, my husband and I got almost all of our Christmas and birthday gifts for our families purchased in one day. If you do this, make sure you have enough saved up to pay for it so you don’t go into debt.
    • Splurge: Give yourself some splurge room in your budget. Planning out your shopping costs as part of your savings for the trip gives you the freedom to spend without regret.

Where do you like to splurge and save when it comes to travel? Share your tips in the comments section below.