1. Set aside money each month for traveling. Since I was 18, I have an automatic amount transferred from my checking account to my travel savings account monthly. I've kept the amount pretty consistent - about $300-400 a month. This may seem like a lot, but I've always been pretty frugal and had the ability to put aside this much, even as a student. Even if you can only set aside $50/month, it all adds up. (Of course, I realize paying off debt and other circumstances may not make this feasible, especially as a student. But, starting a savings goal and contribute to it monthly, no matter the amount.)
2. Consider alternative times of the year. The first time I paid for my own international trip was when I was 21 and traveled around Ireland and Italy for 24 days with a girlfriend. We couldn't have afforded the trip if we went in the summer. Prices drastically increase during the peak season. We were both students, so we only had two options; travel over Christmas break, or during the summer. Because of the price difference, we choose Christmas break. We got round-trip tickets for $400! I know the experience is totally different in the winter, but the crowds were almost non-existent, and it was still warm enough to spend all day outside touring.
3. Shop around for hotels, B&B's, etc. I've done hostels, condo rentals, bed and breakfasts, hotels, and anything else in between. Where I choose to stay all depended upon the price. Condo/house rentals are great options, I love www.airbrb.com. Hotwire.com is also another great option. I saved 50% on a hotel I was going to book for our recent trip to California by booking through Hotwire!
4. Consider eating out less. This is one I'm often bad at. I love to eat out when vacationing. But, if you're really trying to stretch your dollar, stop by grocery stores and stock up on foods you can eat on the go, or in your hotel. Fruit, granola bars, bagels, yogurt, or nuts are great, healthy alternatives to eating out. I love buying cheese, crackers and fruit and picnicking on the beach or in a park at least once a trip.
Pizza and beer picnic on the beach in Florida.
5. Use budge airline sites. Two sites you should utilize frequently are kayak.com and bing.com/travel. Kayak is great for searching numerous airlines to find the best price, I always find the best priced tickets through Kayak. I always search early and watch prices for a while. I'll set up flexible dates and figure out what day is cheapest to fly out and come back (if I have that flexibility). Then, I'll check back daily. I heard more than once that Tuesdays are the cheapest time to book airline tickets. Not sure how true that is, but I do tend to find tickets are cheaper in the middle of the week. Even still, how do you know it's the best price? How do you know if the tickets will double in price, or be cut in half the next day? Enter bing.com/travel. This site predicts that for you, with a certain level of confidence. After searching for your tickets, at the top of the results, it tells you if you should buy now or wait. For instance, it will say, "Tip: Buy. Fares rising $50+. 80% confidence". Genius!
6. Use any reward programs you can. Many companies offer travel discounts on hotels, rental cars, etc. I always use my corporate discount code for rental cars. It saves me about 20% on the total cost of the rental. Also, if you get reward points through your credit card, cash them in! I always cash mine in for a Visa gift card before traveling to use for expenses. Of course, other reward programs like frequent flier miles or Hilton reward points are great rewards to use.
7. Research modes of transportation. Sometimes you need a car, and sometimes this is the cheapest mode of transportation, but other times it's worthwhile to look into other options. Buses, trains, taxis and even short flights have been cheaper than renting a car and driving from my past experiences. Research all options before committing.
8. Take advantage of time changes. This one may be be a stretch, but it's actually been quite useful. When traveling West, your hunger is often early for normal dining hours, but in a good way. I've often stumbled into a restaurant at 4pm starving for dinner because my body is registering 6pm, and I fall into happy hour specials! Wahoo, half price drinks and food! When your on vacation, there is no schedule, so take advantage of specials and odd dining hours.
9. Don't buy souvenirs. After years of buying knickknacks at every travel destination, I finally found that I don't need or even enjoy the souvenirs I bring home. I found that keeping a thorough journal and taking lots of pictures was the only souvenir I really enjoyed. When I get back home, I make a photo book with all the details I wrote in my journal - the best kind of souvenir!