If you're considering taking a trip outside the country, a little research and savvy budgeting can go a long way toward a memorable vacation that doesn't break the bank. From where (and when) you choose to travel to the type of accommodations you book, there are plenty of opportunities to make budget-conscious choices as you plan your foreign getaway.
Keep your destination options open
If you're not set on a particular vacation spot, look into slightly off-the-beaten-path locales that still offer the experience you're after. For example, if spending time in the sun tops your wish list, you might find better value in Puerto Rico or the northern shore of the Dominican Republic than in other Caribbean resort areas. For inspiration, check out Budget Traveler's list of relatively affordable vacation spots for 2015.
Also consider how much activities, tours, and entertainment in various locations will set you back. For instance, a destination where you'll want to visit many museums and cultural attractions could end up being pricier than a low-key vacation with a focus on rest and relaxation.
Be flexible when booking travel
Of course, how much it costs to get there may play into your destination decision as well. Lower oil prices haven't translated to lower airfares, but it's still possible to find good deals on international flights. Try these tactics:
- Research airport options. Compare rates at different airports if there's more than one near your destination. (Don't forget to factor in any additional ground transportation costs.)
- Consider off-peak travel. Timing your visit outside of your destination's prime travel season is a good way to secure a lower fare.
- Book early. According to a study by CheapAir.com, it's best to book international flights at least three months in advance, if not earlier, depending on the season. If you want to travel to Europe in the summer, for example, you may get the best deal by booking as soon as tickets go on sale (about 11 months in advance).
Look beyond the typical hotel room
Compare room rates on different travel search engines, as well as directly on hotel websites. If you're vacationing in a resort area, it may make sense to book an all-inclusive package that covers meals, beverages, and activities, especially if you're traveling as a family. Renting a house or condo through a site like VRBO may also be less expensive (and more comfortable) than a hotel room, especially since you can cook some of your own meals.
Consider travel insurance
It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but travel insurance could end up saving you money, depending on the nature of your trip and the risks you're likely to encounter. Various packages are available, covering everything from trip cancellation and baggage loss to medical care and emergency evacuations. Try using Insuremytrip.com to compare plans and prices, and check to see if certain risks are already covered by your health insurance plan or credit card.
Make a game plan for daily expenses
While you're traveling, consider exchanging only a small amount of cash and making most purchases with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. (Be sure to notify your credit card company in advance that you'll be traveling.) If you do exchange money, keep in mind that airport currency kiosks tend to be expensive. And don't forget to check your bank statements when you return from vacation to catch any mistakes or fraudulent charges.
Bring your adventure to life
Once you've planned and priced out your trip, decide how much you'll need to save on a monthly basis to reach your goal. You may be surprised to find that the reward of a pending vacation does wonders for your ability to save!