Key takeaways: 

  • Summer travel expenses extend beyond the costs of getting and staying there.  
  • Doing some advance planning and online searching before you leave home can help you save on activities and attractions. 
  • Reduce on-the-ground transportation costs with smart planning on gas purchases – and skipping the car altogether when possible. 

Higher prices aren’t keeping Americans from traveling this summer. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed by travel site Tripadvisor planned to travel as much or more than last summer. If you’re in that group, chances are you’ve already booked your transportation and accommodations, but you may still be searching for ways to save while you’re on vacation. We compiled some money-saving vacation trips to consider once you’re on your way. 

  1. Do some advance searching for discounts and deals. Travel expenses include more than just the costs of getting there and your overnight lodging. Before you leave home, go online to deal sites (like Groupon or LivingSocial escapes) for savings on activities and attractions (think miniature golf, zip lines, go-kart facilities, shows). You can also search for activities you know you want to visit or do, along with the word “coupon.” Always read the fine print regarding extra fees and taxes, blackout dates and other restrictions.

    Check websites for places you’d like to visit, such as museums, zoos, monuments and historical sites. See if they might offer any free-admission days during your trip. Many also offer discounts if you purchase tickets online ahead of time. (You’ll avoid standing in ticket lines when you arrive, too.) Some even offer expedited admission if you reserve and/or buy tickets in advance. 
  2. Look into whether any memberships you have offer discounts.  Auto clubs, alumni organizations, credit unions and professional groups may all provide discounts on activities and attractions. 
  3. Consider contacting libraries in the areas you’ll visit (or reviewing their websites). They sometimes offer discounted or free tickets to local attractions. Be aware, though, that many have requirements restricting these offers to residents of their area, county, state or region. 
  4. Make lunch the main event when it comes to meals. If you’re going out to eat, do so for lunch instead of dinner. It’s usually much less expensive, even for the same food at the same restaurant. 
  5. Visit local grocery stores. If you stay in a place with a refrigerator (and maybe a microwave), you can easily save money, time and hassle by purchasing items for breakfasts, lunches and snacks during the day. Plus, grocery stores often sell discounted tickets to some local attractions. 
  6. Plan an inexpensive outdoor adventure. You don’t have to go to a national park to have a memorable outdoor adventure. Check state, county and even some city parks in the area you’ll be visiting for hiking, walking and biking trails. Some will offer affordable watersport activities, such as canoe rentals or stand-up paddleboard lessons. 
  7. Plan your transportation. Will you really need a car? In some areas, you may be able to get around more easily and less expensively by public transportation, rideshares or a combination. For touring an area, consider renting a bike or using a bikeshare program if you’re visiting a city that offers one. Even if you’ll be renting a car, think about using other methods of transportation to get around once you’re at your destination – especially if you’re visiting a larger city. You may see more and eliminate the stress that can sometimes accompany driving in an unfamiliar or busy area.  
  8. Save on gas. If you’re taking a road trip, use your phone to identify stations with the lowest gas prices. Some mobile apps may share information from the device you use to access them, such as your location and other data. To avoid privacy issues, use the company’s associated browser-based search engine (just don’t register). Or simply type in “gas” in Google Maps or Waze in a browser window. In addition, adopt the habit of consistently using navigation apps that warn you of traffic delays. By avoiding congestion, you will avoid wasting both time and gas by idling. And don’t forget your warehouse club membership on the road. Check out locations ahead of time to plan your gas stops. 
  9. Figure out how you’ll pay tolls. If you’re road-tripping in an area with tolls, it will pay – literally – to do your homework ahead of time to determine how you’ll pay.  If you have a Uni or E–Z Pass – available in 19 states, mostly on the East Coast – look at the website and see if it will work in the state you’re visiting. If so, it might (but not always) provide a discount on tolls.

    If you’re renting a car, the easiest way to deal with tolls, of course, is to avoid tolls entirely. But that’s not always possible. Your rental car will likely have a toll pass included in the vehicle. Toll charges will then be billed through your rental car company, and you’ll see them on your final bill. You can use your own toll pass if you have one, but make sure that the rental car toll pass isn’t activated. You’ll also need to enroll the rental car’s license plate in your toll tag account for the period of your rental, then remove the tag from your account once the period is over.

    You can also “pay as you go.” This can be trickier than it sounds, with many toll roads eliminating cash toll booths. In some states, you can go online to the appropriate department, find (or enter) your rental car’s license plate and pay the tolls there within a specified time period.
      

Summer travel can be fun, but also expensive and stressful. Fortunately, with a little forethought and planning, it’s possible to cut down on both. You’ll make your budget, your wallet and yourself much happier..  

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