THE OPEN ROAD — Traveling sometimes feels like an overwhelming undertaking even if you're going solo, and trying to make travel plans that fit within a family's budget can make even the most seasoned travelers want to throw up their hands in frustration.
There's a world of resources available to budget-conscious travelers, though, so don't give up hope of taking that dream vacation just yet. Here are nine ways to save on your next trip.
Time it right
It's not always possible, but if you can, avoid flying on the first day after school lets out, the last day before school starts up again, and right around major holidays. Depending on where you're going, different times of year can be dramatically cheaper for travel, as well. For instance, it often costs less to fly to Las Vegas in July and August because of the heat and to colder climates in the winter because of the snow. Don't let the weather scare you away from savings: Air conditioners and heaters exist for a reason.
Be careful about baggage fees
A cheap ticket can end up being the more expensive option once you add the cost of getting everyone's bag to your destination as well. You can find a list of airline baggage fees here. Many airlines will charge you around $25 for your first bag per ticket (each way), but watch out for budget airlines, which may also charge you for a carry-on bag or personal item.
In the U.S., only two airlines have free checked baggage: Cape Air will let you check one bag for free and Southwest will let you check two.
Beware of resort fees
The price listed for a room may not be anywhere near what you end up paying for it, thanks to resort fees. Pay attention to price breakdowns to make sure you're paying what you expect, or skip the hotels altogether to cut an average of $24.93 a day per room.
Does it really matter if your kid has access to a hotel pool in Orlando or a giant castle in Las Vegas? Chances are, you're going to be so busy they won't even use those amenities, so skip the resort fees and stay at an Airbnb or even an extended-stay hotel.
Take advantage of technology
Tech companies that connect people with service providers can often (although not always) be cheaper to use than more traditional lodging and transportation — and the most popular apps are old enough and have large enough user bases that they're better-regulated now than ever before. Check out apps like Airbnb for lodging or Lyft and Uber for rides from the airport or around town in addition to traditional hotels or taxi services.
And calling a ride isn't all your phone is good for. Check out this popular Utah Instagrammer's tips for getting great deals on your flights.
Mix and match your transportation
If you're flying, beware of higher rental car costs at airports. It can be dramatically cheaper to take a Lyft or taxi from an airport to an alternate rental car location (or public transportation in places like New York or Washington, D.C.), so doing a few minutes of research before you reserve your car can save you big bucks.
Go grocery shopping
Restaurants can be a fun part of a vacation, but a quick grocery trip can save you money if you're staying somewhere with a fridge. You can even make a picnic of it on the beach or in a park like Balboa Park in San Diego or Central Park in New York City.
Hunt for discounts
You can find free entertainment anywhere if you try hard enough, but sometimes you can snag great deals on tickets to major shows and events just by knowing where to look. Groupon is great for deals, but sometimes the best ones can be found on smaller sites.
Many locals in major tourism-oriented cities will have advice on where to check for deep discounts, but Google is your friend if you strike out on sites that don't require you to have a local address. Here are some starting points for discounted tickets or free events listings in a few major U.S. cities:
Or you can take things one step further and scout for freebies. Big cities don't necessarily mean expensive cities, and while you'll probably end up paying more for lodging whether you stay at a hotel or Airbnb listing, you can often more than make up for the added cost by not spending a dime on entertainment for your entire trip.
A simple Google search can help you here, but city tourism sites and local news outlets often have a wealth of information when it comes to free events. Here are a few to get you started:
Don't be afraid to go off the beaten path
There's a reason tourist destinations draw crowds, but you can have a great vacation without spending the entire time at high-priced attractions. Everywhere you go is full of surprising, affordable and fun things to experience if you're willing to take the time to look around. To start, have a look at these six overlooked vacation spots in the Pacific Northwest, then get to planning your next trip.
Steph Grimes is a writer and editor based in Las Vegas. Follow her on Twitter: @stephgrimes