With the rising cost of living, everyone is trying to make their dollar stretch further and perhaps cut back on some of life's little luxuries. However, after being unable to travel for the last couple of years, it seems that's still one thing that we're not willing to sacrifice on any longer. So how can you enjoy the freedom of travel once more, without breaking the bank? From the cheapest flights and most cost-effective accommodation options to saving money on food, drink, transport and everything in between - we've put together our top 12 tips to save money on travel.
For a long time, the classic family road trip has been the more affordable way to holiday. However, with the increasing cost of fuel, in many cases it's just as affordable and even more convenient to fly. It also pays to check flights at all surrounding airports, including those close by home as well as where you're headed. For example, you might find a cheaper flight departing the Gold Coast rather than Brisbane. This can pay dividends for a short drive down the highway.
This is basically the golden rule when it comes to scoring a great deal on flights, accommodation or anything travel-related. Booking as far in advance as possible means you can secure the exact arrangements you want, often at exclusive and heavily discounted early bird rates. Flight schedules are typically released 9-11 months out and those who get in first will snap up the cheapest airfares. The closer it gets to your departure, the more likely it is you'll pay a premium.
For the majority of airlines servicing Australia, weekend flights are generally more expensive with Friday nights, Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings being the most expensive time to fly. You can score airfares that are up to four times cheaper by flying mid-week. Better yet, the second flight of the day tends to be cheaper than the first so you can save even more. Flying in just before the weekend is also a handy way to recover from jetlag or catch up on the washing before heading back to work.
The most obvious benefit to packing light is avoiding the extra cost of checked baggage, however there are also other incentives. It saves standing in a crowd at baggage claim and any potential dramas over lost baggage. Packing light also makes getting around easier which means you can take advantage of public transport options (another money saver) rather than shelling out for taxis or private transport. You're also less likely to waste money on pointless souvenirs that will only collect dust once you're home - photos are the perfect memento and take up no space.
It may not always be possible, but if you're able to be a little more flexible with your travel dates, you can avoid peak seasons and save a bucketload. Christmas and school holidays are the biggest culprits for price hikes. Luckily in Australia, school holidays are staggered between the states so if you're thinking of travelling domestically, consider lining up that sweet spot between the school holidays where you live and the school term still in session where you're going. Certain times of the year at your destination of choice can also drive prices up. Whether it's the perfect weather in Fiji or iconic events like Japan's cherry blossom season, travelling outside of these times can net significant savings. Not only will getting there and staying there be cheaper, you'll also avoid the big tourist crowds. Winning!
Consider harnessing your buying power with a group of friends or family and going in together on a villa, suite or multi-bedroom apartment. Although larger residences can seem more expensive, once you split the cost between all guests this can often work out much cheaper than each individual party booking multiple hotel rooms. These accommodation options not only offer more space, they also offer additional facilities including private pools, kitchens and laundry which can also help to save on expenses, particularly on longer trips. If there are enough of you, you might even be able to get group discounts on tours and activities which is another added benefit.
Although an enjoyable part of any holiday is slacking off and splurging on meals out, a really easy way to save money when on holiday is to opt for self-catering accommodation and eat in. You may be able to bring your own supplies with you or shop at a local supermarket, but not eating out at every meal will save you lots of money. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll be stuck in the kitchen every day, but some cereal or toast in the morning and some snacks on hand throughout the day can make a huge difference to your budget. It will also help to prevent you over-indulging at every meal which can lead to stomach upsets that can ruin your trip or result in costly doctors visits and medication.
When you do decide to enjoy a meal out, skip the restaurant at the hotel where possible. These dining venues are notoriously more expensive and generally don't offer an authentic representation of the local cuisine. To really experience the destination and save a few dollars at the same time, you need to immerse yourself in local delicacies. Shopping in foreign supermarkets is actually a really fun experience and you'll discover all kinds of weird and wonderful things and maybe even a new favourite at a fraction of the cost. In fact, some of your most memorable holiday meals are likely to be inexpensive picnics packed with only the best local produce and enjoyed at a picturesque local point of interest. A lot of the ingredients for western cuisine are not local and therefore need to be imported, driving prices up. Local dishes are generally only a few dollars and are a quintessential part of experiencing your destination to the full, so explore the local food scene and save.
Most accommodation rates include bed and breakfast, which could mean anything from a couple of sad looking danishes to a full-on smorgasbord. If the buffet breakfast is part of your meal plan then make the most of it by filling up for the day. It's already paid for and the more you eat now, the less you'll have to buy later. Better yet, take a piece of fruit or a muffin with you and keep it as a snack throughout the day. Consider having your main meal at lunch and taking advantage of the specials. Most cafes and restaurants offer hearty meals for less to attract customers during the less busy times of the day. By dinner time you won't be as hungry meaning you can opt for a lighter meal, saving money on what is typically the most expensive meal of the day.
One of the best ways to familiarise yourself with your surroundings and discover some hidden gems off the beaten track is to take the time to wander. Although it can be tempting to just grab a cab to get from A to B, these trips can quickly add up. Walking is a great way to see more of your destination and work off some of those buffet breakfasts however for slightly longer distances don't be afraid to take advantage of the local public transport network. This is the cheapest and easiest way of getting around. Not only is it more environmentally friendly and most cost effective, it beats wasting time being stuck in traffic. It's the perfect opportunity to get in some extra sightseeing and gain an insight into what life is really like in your holiday destination. Better yet, if you strike up a conversation with a local you'll likely learn some amazing travel tips the guide books don't tell you.
As great as it is to get out and about and explore your holiday destination, it's not always feasible to be doing paid tours every day - especially if you're travelling as a family where tickets for 4+ people can really start to add up. Many resorts offer an impressive range of free activities or can point you in the direction of a number of complimentary local options. Your friendly resort staff can explain the daily program which often includes everything from volleyball and tennis to kayaking, catamarans and hobie cats, windsurfing, sailing and even introductory scuba diving lessons. This is a great way to experience a fun new activity every day, without needing to spend a cent.
Tax refunds aren't just for the end of the financial year. A lot of overseas retailers charge an added tax at the point of sale, which can really bump up the price of an item. Although the ticketed price may seem pretty affordable, by the time you pay at the register, these taxes can really add up. Luckily, most countries provide VAT (Value Added Tax) refunds at the airport to persuade tourists to continue spending their money and supporting the local economy. Typically all you need to do is fill out a simple form to get your money back on these extra taxes. This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to save money, but one a lot of travellers tend to miss out on.