Traveling is a high priority for many people and highly desired by many more.
In fact, studies have shown that people tend to be happier when they focus on experiences rather than spending their money on material possessions.
While spending money on experiences may make us happier, they can certainly put a strain on our wallets.
In fact, the average cost of a vacation is $1,145 per person, which equates to around $4,580 for a family of four (including airfare, hotel, food, and activities).
Obviously, not everyone spends that much money on vacation, as the cost of traveling varies greatly based on where you go, what you do, and how many travel hacks you employ. There is no such thing as a free trip, but there are a lot of ways to reduce the cost of your travel.
While utilizing points and miles will often give you the biggest savings, don’t overlook how seemingly small choices can make a big impact.
Here are some small travel hacks that will save you big money.
Fly at the Right Time
If you have some flexibility with your travel dates, one of the best small travel hacks that will save you big money is buying your flight at the right time.
Airline fares are constantly changing. Prices vary depending on the day, travel days, whether the dates fall on or around a holiday, peak travel times, or sales.
The time you purchase your flights, as well as when you intend to travel, could see your fare prices fluctuate hundreds of dollars.
If you have some flexibility a great option for finding cheap flights is Scott’s Cheap Flights. You pick your departure airport and watch your email for deals from the airports you follow. They recently just launched a focus on deals for domestic flights from 35 U.S. airports. Sign up for a free trial and give Scott’s Cheap Flights a try.
If you have a specific destination in mind and can plan a few months out, you can use Hopper to help you find the lowest prices. Simply set up your desired travel destination and travel dates and Hopper will send you notifications when airfare is lowest.
Another option for finding cheap flights is Google Flights, which allows you to search multiple departure/destination cities at once.
Some rules of thumb for saving money on flights is to buy between 30 days to 3 months before departure for domestic flights and between 1 ½ to 5 ½ months before departure for international flights. Tuesday is also touted as the cheapest day of the week to buy flights.
On the other hand, the cheapest days to actually fly are typically Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday for domestic fares, and weekdays for international fares.
If you like flying a specific airline, signing up for their email newsletters and looking to buy when fares go on sale is another way to save money on flights.
Finally, if you’re flexible with your destination and travel dates a huge opportunity to save a lot of money on travel is buying on Travel Deal Tuesday, the Tuesday after Black Friday.
These tips are by no means exhaustive, but you can see that with a little planning (or flexibility) you’ll potentially be able to save hundreds of dollars on your next flights.
Note: The same applies for hotels. Prices will vary depending on travel dates (day of week, holidays, on or offseason, etc.) and sales. Kayak is a good option for hotels.
Delete Browser Cookies
Speaking of searching for cheaper travel, did you know that your browser cookies track your searches and prices may actually INCREASE because of that?
The prices you’re shown for travel may actually increase if your browser cookies show you searching for a certain destination.
This is why you might start seeing advertisements for a certain destination or hotel if you’ve been searching it.
With this in mind, it’s important to regularly delete the cookies in your browser history or to use a secret browser such as Google Chrome’s incognito mode.
Incognito mode deletes cookies every time you open up a new browser, which means you’ll be getting a fresh search every time and the best prices.
Use a Carry-On
Anyone who flies regularly knows that the base fare may be just the beginning, and that fees can add up quickly.
The most common fees associated with air travel are for checked bags, and while one checked bag may not break the bank, multiple checked bags on a roundtrip flight could cost you a pretty penny.
In fact, most domestic U.S. airlines charge checked baggage fees that increase in price with each additional bag.
For example, a family of four traveling on Alaska Airlines will pay $30 for the first checked bag, $40 for the second, and $100 each for any additional bags.
That’s $270 one way, just in checked luggage!
While most domestic airlines charge at least $25 for the first checked bag, carry-on luggage and personal items are typically free.
Although it may not always be possible to travel without checking a bag or two, one small travel hack that will save you big money is to utilize carry-on luggage and personal items as often as possible.
Free is a nice number, and with some extra attention to your packing, you will likely be able to avoid adding baggage fees to your trip.
If you’re still worried about having enough space, you can take a backpack as your personal item for extra packing room.
Don’t waste your money on baggage fees and instead use that money for activities once you reach your destination.
Buy Travel Size at a Dollar Store
The only drawback to using carry-on luggage (other than size) is that you have restrictions on what you can bring and how large many of those items can be.
When using carry-on luggage any liquids, aerosol, gels, creams, or pastes are restricted to a limit of 3.4 ounces per item.
These limits force travelers to utilize “travel size” containers for their products.
While you’d think that travel size, being significantly smaller, would be fairly inexpensive the opposite is often true.
For example, a regular size bottle (10 fl oz) of TRESemme hairspray will run you about $5.29. That’s $0.529 cents per fluid ounce.
On the other hand, a travel size bottle of the same TRESemme hairspray at the same store will cost you $2.39 for only 2 fluid ounces ($1.195 per fl oz).
In this case, buying travel size means you’re only paying 45% less for getting 80% less product.
This scenario is typical of travel size items, where you’re being significantly overcharged for the smaller item.
You must use travel size containers for carry-on luggage, but one small travel hack that will save you big money over the years is to buy your travel size items at the Dollar Tree or other similar dollar store.
If you’re not familiar with Dollar Tree or other dollar stores, all their items are a dollar.
While you may not always be able to find all your preferred brands, you’ll save money by buying travel size items there as opposed to other stores.
Refill Travel Size Containers
Yet another option to save money on travel size containers is to buy a set and then refill them before taking your next trip.
Using this hack, you can buy all your preferred products in the regular size and simply use those products to refill the travel size containers.
If you really want to go on the cheap, you can refill any carry on approved containers you have with the products you’ll need while on vacation. Just make sure they’re no more than 3.4 ounces.
Bring Food to the Airport
While you may be able to partially thwart the high prices of air travel through savvy fare buying and packing, chances are they’ll still get you with high-priced items once you’re trapped in the airport.
Or will they?
Around half of the airports within the U.S. will charge you more for food/drink, so another great small travel hack that will save you big money is to bring food with you to the airport.
Surprisingly, you can bring just about any food item through security as long as liquid food items meet the 3.4 fluid ounce rule.
In fact, according to the TSA website you can bring pies/cakes, pizza, sandwiches, cereal, snacks, and a plethora of other items.
Knowing that you can bring food with you through security can save you tons of money on meals over the course of your travels.
We recommend taking several types of packaged snacks (breakfast bars, granola bars, protein bars, etc.) along with some larger items such as sandwiches.
Don’t forget to stop and grab something to eat on your next trip to the airport.
Bring Empty Water Bottle/Refillable Bottle
Along the same lines as the food hack mentioned above, yet another small travel hack that will save you big money is to bring an empty water bottle or refillable bottle.
As you’re probably well aware, you are not allowed to bring any liquid over 3.4 fluid ounces through security, but that rule doesn’t apply if there is no liquid in the container.
Bring your empty bottles through security and then fill them up with water at the drinking fountain or bottle fill-up station.
You’ll save a bunch of money and be well-hydrated for your flight.
Moving on from flights, another small travel hack that will save you big money is to book a hotel that offers free parking and breakfast.
While you may take these two items for granted, paying for them can quickly add up.
Many hotels do not offer parking, especially those that are downtown. Even hotels/resorts outside the city sometimes charge for daily parking. Street parking is a hassle because you’ll need to feed the meter every few hours and you’ll constantly be looking for places to park. On the other hand, a parking garage or hotel parking fee could cost you $20 or more a day.
Before long, those daily parking fees could add up to $100 or more for your car to just sit there.
Similarly, having breakfast included could save you anywhere from $10 to $40 a day in food costs depending on how many people you need to feed.
Plus, having breakfast included means you’ll be able to take some snacks back to your room, which will save you even more on food costs.
Another thing you may not think about when booking a hotel is whether the room includes a mini-fridge or microwave.
In fact, you probably assume that your room will include those items, but you may be surprised to know that not all do.
Before you book your next hotel, check to make sure your room includes a microwave and refrigerator. If it doesn’t, consider booking somewhere else.
Reserve Smallest Size Rental Car
The last major expense for most travelers is booking a rental car.
Depending on the area, days needed, and size, a rental car could end up adding several hundred dollars to your trip costs.
However, our last small travel hack that could save you big money is to reserve the smallest (or smaller) size rental car and see if you can get a free upgrade.
You see, most people go on the cheap and reserve the smallest car available, which means that most of those cars will be loaned out.
How does that turn into a free upgrade?
If you get to the rental company and they’re out of the car class you reserved they will upgrade you to the next class available at no extra charge.
Although this hack requires some luck, it happens more than you may think.
Moral of the Story
Travel is highly desired for most people in the modern world.
It can also be pretty expensive, which limits many people’s ability to make their travel dreams come true.
While travel hacking using points and miles will give you the biggest savings, all the smaller expenses along the way can begin to add up.
Luckily, there are travel hacks for those items too.
We’ve outlined many small travel hacks that will save you big money, including booking your flights at the right time, deleting browser cookies, using a carry-on, buying travel size at dollar stores, and refilling your travel size containers.
You can also bring food and snacks to the airport, fill up empty bottles once you’ve made it through security, book hotels with free parking and breakfast, make sure there will be a fridge/microwave in your room, and booking the smallest size rental car in hopes of a free upgrade.
What other travel hacks do you use to save big money?
Talk about Money Saved.
Tawnya is an elementary special education teacher by day and co-blogger at Money Saved is Money Earned by night.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University. She has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and co-blogger Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. They teach people how to save money, make money, and understand money.