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The Budget-Friendly Vacation

Your guide to an affordable getaway

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The Budget-Friendly Vacation

At the end of 2022, hotel rates in the US were already up 60 percent and international airfare was expected to increase to all regions of the world, compared to last year, according to Hopper, a popular travel app. But this doesn’t mean you have to skip your vacay.

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Before hitting the ground

The first step to keeping travel costs down is understanding your budget and the expected costs of your destination, says Canadian-born Dotti Mazga, who’s spent many years travelling on a shoestring.

She recommends using an app to help you watch your spending, such as the easy-to-use Travel Spend money tracker.

There are other things you can do before hitting the road to ease the budgetary burden. Tim Leffel, travel writer and author of three books including The World’s Cheapest Destinations, has several tips for alive readers.

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Consider less expensive destinations

Choose a destination that’s off the beaten path. For instance, instead of Paris, head to Montreal or Quebec City. Replace a trip to Spain with Mexico City, Puebla, or Oaxaca, or trek a bit further to Antigua, Guatemala.

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Look at travel timing

Timing your ticket purchases can involve a huge difference in cost. For example, don’t travel during the holidays, but fly on the holiday itself, such as Thanksgiving Day, when both prices and crowds are usually lower.

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Maintain flexibility

“In general, the more variables you can leave open, the better travel prices you’re going to find,” says Leffel.

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Consider your group’s size

If you’re travelling with a larger group, it may be cheaper to road trip or find a bus or train deal and make that part of the adventure, says Leffel.

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Accommodation that doesn’t break the bank

Mazga suggests leveraging online travel platforms to your advantage. Find a platform that offers discounts, perks, and greater savings when you book with them consistently. If you’re travelling spontaneously, she recommends searching for last-minute deals on hotels.

“Often hotels will offload their unbooked rooms at rock-bottom prices,” says Mazga.

You can also find great deals by picking up the phone. Mazga recommends calling ahead if you plan to stay in one place for more than three days and asking if they’ll offer a discount. According to Mazga, this tip works especially well when you’re travelling with a group of four or more.

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Eating out on the cheap

When you do decide to dine out, select the small, local places that the locals—perhaps at your accommodations—suggest. “Not only does this offer a more cultural and authentic experience, but the prices are almost always cheaper!” says Mazga.

In addition, the local markets will almost always have a section devoted to ready-made food. This is a great option for finding a filling lunch, so that you can buy a smaller—and more affordable—dinner.

Mazga always travels with a “cooking kit” that includes a pocketknife, small bottles of both oil and vinegar, salt, and a collapsible resealable container. She picks up fresh produce from the market for creating salads on the go.

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Affordable activities

Mazga prefers to take advantage of free activities upon reaching her destination. Many of these are outdoor based, such as city walking tours. She also finds it worthwhile to look into free or discount days at museums and suggests finding a group to share costs on pricy tours.

Budget-friendly staycations

Rebecca Crowe, creator of the blog Wandering and Wine, offers quick tips for having a fantastic staycation that’s easy on the wallet.

  • Use companies such as FlixBus for inspiration about new places to visit: use their route map, select your hometown, and see every route that goes out. Ticket prices start at $4.99.
  • Take advantage of lunchtime deals at great places in your area. “Restaurants often have their main dishes on a smaller menu for lunch and offer them at a reduced rate: at two-for-one or set menu prices,” says Crowe.
  • Secure accommodations (such as a vacation rental, hostel room, or studio) that are equipped with a small fridge or full kitchen. This way, you don’t have to eat out for every meal.
  • See if you can snatch student or young person discounts on national parks, travel, hostels, or campgrounds. Crowe recommends buying a HI Canada (part of the Hostelling International network) pass for a year for substantial savings on hostel rooms.

Can caring for the environment and travel co-exist?

One in five travel industry professionals say sustainability will be their top investment priority next year. You can also respect the environment on your trip, starting with the following tips.

  • Look for accommodations that offer amenities such as electric car-charging stations or that use eco-friendly LED lighting.
  • Use transportation options with lower environmental impact, such as walking, biking, or taking public transportation.
  • Visit destinations known for being mindful of the environment, such as Iceland, New Zealand, and Samoa, or support green tour companies.

We’re on the move

According to an Expedia survey published in early 2023, 74 percent of Canadians are planning a leisure trip within the next 12 months.

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