Lately, it feels like almost every conversation starts with the same question: Where are you going this summer?
Everyone, it seems, is dying to travel again. The only problem? Everyone is dying to travel again.
In many places, COVID restrictions are easing. Meanwhile, travel between the U.S. and destinations like the European Union is opening back up. The effect, according to travel blogger Zachary Abel, is a “bottleneck” of vacationers — one unlike anything we have seen in recent years.
“I think we’re probably on the precipice of one of the largest travel booms ever,” Abel told In The Know.
“It’s no secret that there’s a lot of pent-up demand. And now that countries are opening, places are opening up. Hotels are opening up,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of demand, but not an equivalent amount of supply to meet that demand.”
It may sound like a high school economics lesson, but unfortunately, it’s the truth. In April, domestic flight costs increased by a jarring 10.2 percent, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, CNBC reported that international flights got 17 percent more expensive from early April to late May. Hotel prices and Airbnb costs are following suit.
Budget traveling during a boom like this isn’t impossible, it’s just challenging. That said, it doesn’t even have to be that challenging, as long as you’re willing to make some adjustments and plan in advance.
So, if you’re one of the many making vacation plans right now, here are five budget travel tips for summer 2021.
1. Learn to dodge crowds
As travel started to reopen, Selena Taylor had a revelation. Nothing, she realized, is going to be the same.
“I think the most bizarre thing has been re-learning how to think about travel,” she told In The Know.
Taylor, an Amsterdam-based photographer and travel blogger, acknowledged that many travelers probably had canceled trips from 2020 that they’d like to re-plan this year. Those trips, however, will never be exactly like what they would’ve been a year ago.
“The landscape feels so different in travel,” she added.
For Taylor, part of re-thinking vacation is getting creative of where you stay. The travel blogger told In The Know how she’s spent the last few months focusing on ways to travel more intentionally, more authentically and more locally.
In many cases, that also means saving money. For post-COVID travel, Taylor suggests trying to use local hotels instead of big chains or brand-new booking sites. She also recommends calling the hotels directly to book.
“I’ve found that they’re actually more appreciative and more willing to offer a kind of personal approach when I do arrive — and are more willing to accommodate cancellations because of COVID,” she said.
What’s more, Taylor suggests supporting local hotels outside of the major tourist hubs. She pointed out that, while crowds are swarming back to the most obvious vacation spots, there are still plenty of chances to stay enjoyably — and cheaply — on the outskirts.
Taylor suggests finding a locally owned hotel about an hour away from a major tourist hub. That way, you get the best of both worlds — and some peace and quiet. Or, you could use Nature House, a booking site that specializes in cottages and cabins off the beaten path.
2. Be (just a little!) patient
Of course, dodging crowds isn’t just about where you go. It’s also about when you go. As unbearable as it might seem to wait even longer for a vacation, it could save you a ton of cash. As Miksis noted, a little patience will go a long way this year.
“The question really becomes: Do you really have to visit Santorini or Paris during the busiest summer season we’ve likely seen in modern times?” he said. “If the answer to that is, ‘Well, it can wait,’ then you’re not gonna get ripped off.”
Taylor, who has been traveling and sharing her experiences full-time for around four years now, advises vacationers to swear off the summer if they plan on going somewhere popular, like Greece. Her suggestion? Aim for October — or, if you can handle the wait, maybe even next May.
“I can’t stress enough how much of a difference it makes to actually not be with the big crowds,” Taylor added.
3. Think critically about your time
Type-A travel planners already know that thinking ahead can make a big difference. This year, however, planning your activities in advance could make an even bigger difference.
Abel’s advice: Think about what matters most. Do you really need to rent a car? Do you really need a trendy hotel if you’ll be out and about all day? Is eating out important, or could you save money by cooking at your Airbnb? With a hotel, restaurant and rental car prices soaring, it’s worth asking yourself all of these questions.
“Thinking about how you are actually going to utilize your time could help you budget your money,” Abel said.
For travelers who don’t want to dodge hot spots or wait until the fall, these tips could go a long way. Picking a cheaper hotel or using public transport could end up saving you hundreds of dollars — you just have to plan ahead.
4. Be flexible
While planning your activities will probably help you save money, staying spontaneous could be just as beneficial. As Miksis points out, there are plenty of booking sites — for flights, accommodations and more — that will reward you for being flexible.
“You can plan well in advance, and that will save you money,” Miksis said. “But on the other hand, if you’re willing to assume a bit of risk, you’re gonna save money [too].”
One suggestion is using Skyscanner, the budget-friendly flight-finding service that allows users to search for trips on a “flexible” basis. Instead of finding tickets on a specific date, like a normal flight site, Skyscanner will search in a selected date range (a week, a month, etc.) and find you the best deals.
As Miksis notes, Airbnb has a similar feature: Just go to the homepage and click “I’m flexible,” and you can search for places based on the best price, independent of date.
5. When in doubt, just go
Abel has built a self-sustaining, full-time career off traveling. One of the reasons he’s been able to do that is his savviness when it comes to saving money. He studied finance in college. He’s a master of credit card points. He knows all the cost-saving tips.
That said, his ultimate advice has nothing to do with your wallet. To him, if you really want to go somewhere, don’t let money hold you back.
“When in doubt, just go — and you’re going to figure it out,” Abel told In The Know. “Just book the trip and go see someplace you’ve never seen before. You’re not gonna regret it.”
It’s great to save money by avoiding peak times, staying off the beaten path or even keeping your dates flexible, but Abel knows that’s not possible for everyone.
Some of us — many of us, probably — are feeling beyond cooped up after a year at home. We had to cancel flights, refund hotels or cancel Rosetta Stone subscriptions. Now, it finally feels possible to get back out there.
That’s why Abel doesn’t want people to hold back. There are countless ways to save money on vacation — even now — but, as he notes, the real point of travel is to have an unforgettable experience. So if you have a vacation in mind, go out and find a way to do it.
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