Self-care looks different for everyone. For some, it’s lighting a scented candle, putting on a face mask and soaking in the bathtub.. For others, it’s making time to see friends and sharing fun experiences. Still others find the best form of self-care is getting a complete change of scenery.
Indeed, travel is an increasingly popular way to unplug and destress. Going on a trip forces you to break up the monotony of everyday life, take in new surroundings, live in the moment and broaden your horizons to develop a fresh perspective.
But unlike long walks or quality conversations with friends, travel tends to cost money. And with rising inflation and high gas prices, taking a trip is getting more expensive.
That doesn’t mean a restorative vacation is totally off the table, however. Below, travel experts share their advice for embracing the self care of travel without breaking the bank.
Sign up for loyalty programs.
“One way to save money on your travel bookings is to join loyalty programs for the businesses you prefer to use,” said Katie McIntosh, the travel blogger behind The Katie Show.
Next time you book a flight or hotel room, make sure you have an account with the airline, hotel chain or third-party platform you’re using to make your reservation. That way you’ll earn points on your spending that you can cash in for discounted rates later on. You’ll also be notified of upcoming sales and other deals.
“For example, in the Genius loyalty program by Booking.com, you can receive bonus discounts on selected accommodation ― sometimes up to 15%, and some hotels also offer free room upgrades,” McIntosh said.
Be flexible on timing and location.
Flexibility is key when it comes to finding affordable travel options. Budgeting expert Andrea Woroch advised being open to a variety of times and locations for your next trip.
“Going midweek will offer a break on accommodations and airfare since these are slower days for travel,” she said. “You should also look for destinations offering sales or during off-peak windows to find sales. I’m also a fan of setting airfare sale alerts from your home airport using sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights to see what types of deals pop up and then plan a trip based on the destination offering a sale rather than trying to plan it the other way around.”
Look into your credit card point options.
“Start turning your everyday purchases into the points or miles needed to help fun your next getaway,” said Summer Hull, director of travel content at The Points Guy.
Many of us have credit cards but aren’t using the points we earn to our advantage. While trading in points for cash might seem appealing, this option often gives you a much worse per-point value than redeeming them for hotels or airfare.
“You don’t have to become an all-in points aficionado in order to get one rewards card, earn that bonus and use those points for your next vacation,” Hull said. “Once you’ve seen how that can save you $1,000 ― or more ― you’ll probably be interested in learning more and doing it again.”
Snag deals early.
“One trend we’ve seen emerge out of the pandemic is more last-minute trips,” said Casey Brogan, a consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor. “As there’s been so much uncertainty, travelers are waiting to book. However, if you’re looking to save money, now is a good time to begin planning.”
If you’re open to booking in advance, you can snap up good deals as you see them and track changing price patterns.
“Remember the rules of supply and demand, and outside factors like fuel cost increases or supply chain or labor issues,” Brogan said. “More and more destinations around the world have begun reopening and lifting mandates, which means hotels and flights will soon become much busier ― and may see prices start to surge! Take advantage of the deals and opportunities available now for trips in the summer and later this year.”
Fly to alternative airports.
Sometimes you have to pay premium prices to fly in and out of major airports when there are cheaper options with easy public transportation access just a bit further afield. This is especially true in Europe, but even if you’re flying to U.S. destinations like D.C. or Miami, you might find lower prices for nearby airports in Baltimore or Fort Lauderdale.
“Consider flying to alternative airports,” said Martin Jones, CEO of ParkSleepFly. “Major cities, such as London and New York, have multiple airports to choose from aside from the most popular. Next time you’re booking flights, look at traveling to and from the lesser popular airports as you’ll usually get a better deal.”
Book for shoulder season.
“If you’re looking to visit a popular tourist destination, try going off-season to find more availability and cheaper prices,” Brogan said.
Claire Summers, the travel blogger behind Claire’s Itchy Feet, also endorsed traveling to a destination when it’s not peak season. Specifically she recommended booking a trip during “shoulder season” ― the time just between the most and least common seasons for tourists.
“If you already know where you want to go, then find out the time in between high season (high prices) and low season (normally poor weather),” she advised. “This is normally the most budget-friendly time to visit when the weather is still good but prices are much lower.”
Don’t sleep on local travel.
“Many people think of glamorous, far-reaching destinations when they think of travel and these types of trips get expensive fast,” McIntosh said. “Remember, you don’t have to go far to have a memorable travel experience. Think of nearby cities you could visit during the next long weekend, find unique attractions or museums within driving distance from where you live, or look for unique events in your surrounding areas.”
Planning staycations, day trips and other closer journeys can help you travel more each year and bring down the cost significantly.
Rent out your place while you’re gone.
Stephanie Be, a travel blogger and founder of the travel website Buena, suggested finding creative ways to adjust your budget in order to cover trip expenses.
“Rent out your place as an Airbnb to make money while you travel,” she suggested.
In addition to listing your place on rental sites like Airbnb, you might also consider going the home exchange route à la “The Holiday.” Lodging is often one of the biggest travel expenses, so swapping homes through services like the aptly named HomeExchange is a great way to cut down on costs.
Cut costs with transportation.
“As gas prices are rising and there are now rental car shortages from traditional companies, I suggest looking into renting an electric car for your trip,” said travel blogger and TV host La Carmina. “For instance, I rented a Tesla from TeslaRents while in Miami, and it saved me hundreds on gasoline costs. There was an electric charge station right by my hotel, and I loved being able to test-drive an electric car during my trip.”
If rental cars ― electric or otherwise ― aren’t quite in your budget, choose a travel destination where you can walk or take public transit to most of the attractions you want to visit.
Book overnight trains and flights.
“One way to save extra money when you travel is by booking overnight trains to get between cities,” McIntosh said. “These are usually cheaper than a night in a hotel and many offer comfortable cabin options.”
As an added bonus, she noted, traveling from one destination to another overnight will help you maximize your daylight hours in each place you visit. If you’re flying, book the red-eye flight. It’s often the cheaper option.