Growing up, my parents were keen on getting the family traveling to see as many places across the Western states (and beyond) they could afford – from national parks, to amazing cities, to monuments, coasts and caves. And they were also experts at saving money on travel…they had to be.

My parents didn’t have a lot of money so when you are a family of four (which later became five) that meant finding creative ways to trim around the edges to save money. What’s funny is that as kids we never thought twice about this. None of what we did seemed unusual. It was just traveling, and we loved it. And the great thing is, I had these methods on how to save money on travel ingrained in me. As an adult traveler out the door on my own, I picked up where mom and dad left off – even adding a few of my own tips and tricks. These money-saving travel tips are not only for families, but also for couples and individuals. And the best part is, they are easy.

Start saving money on travel now with these 7 tips:

Shopping for food and snacks – While we believe in supporting the small specialty grocery store in the center of town, this is not where you want to shop for your basic snacks and supplies when traveling. When you need to restock on the road, or acquire snacks for the hotel or your day at the park, for example, head to the big box store or even a dollar-type store and stock up on your needed basics – chips, cheese, milk, cereal, bread, pretzels, juice, etc. Local farmer’s markets are also a great source of fresh food, especially locally grown fruits and vegetables, at typically much lower prices. If you are in a different state or even a different country, many of the big box stores will also carry specialties of the area. So you can, for example, in Hawaii find fresh pineapples at an area big box, like a Costco or Sam’s Club, or a large chain grocery store. Sure, patronize the local shops for local produce and specialty items, but look to a larger store for stocking up on basics.

Saving money on travel by shopping at markets.

Dr. Whoo and Tony are saving money by shopping for cheese at a local street market. OK, OK, so they’ve chosen a fine specialty cheese….

Carrying along the food and goodies – So now that you have all this great stuff, where do you put it so it doesn’t spoil, especially if you are not somewhere that has a fridge or you are moving around in a car? One of the first stops for my dad when we traveled was a discount or grocery store or even a sporting goods store. There, he’d track down a large foam cooler for super cheap, then add free ice from the hotel. As kids, we’d enjoy our fave cereal and milk in the hotel room, we’d stop for picnics and forage sandwich makings out of the cooler, and we sometimes whipped up cold dinners too in the hotel room or other residence.

We were quite happy doing this – and as kids it seemed normal and kind of fun to “picnic” where we were staying. I can practically still taste that bologna sandwich on squishy white bread with iceberg lettuce, followed by filled wafer cookies (always those waffle Neapolitan type that came in strawberry, chocolate and vanilla). Not my choice today, but it was fun then!

Saving money on travel means perusing the coupon books – If you are in a tourist area, do not ignore the coupon books you pick up at the airport or in a hotel lobby or tourist office. Sometimes they are useless (a free dessert you didn’t want anyway), but frequently you’ll find 2-for-1 money-saving deals at a restaurant you may have gone to anyway, or a few bucks off a local attraction. My parents’ motto, albeit unspoken, was, “A penny saved a penny earned.”

Grab the local paper for offers, special events and money-saving tips – Locals need to eat out and also visit area attractions. You will often find specials like happy hours or early dinner specials in ads in the local paper. So pick it up along the way and shuffle through it to find out about great deals or even some special event that perhaps wasn’t in your tour book or on a website list.

Saving on beverages on cruises, at resorts or during package vacations – Here, the little things count, since you often can’t scrimp on meals and rooms. Bring powdered drink mixes for the kids (or yourself!) and mix into the water. (We didn’t say this, of COURSE, but for the adults a few of those little bottles of alcohol or wine can be quite nice to have around. Just discretely pour into the free soda. But we didn’t tell you to do this, of COURSE.)

If you are in a hotel or some room that has a coffee machine consider bringing your own ground coffee and filter or whatever kind of pods the machine takes. You can bring along your own tea makings too. You will likely get a much better cup of coffee or tea than most hotel grinds and will thus be far less tempted to nip out to the hotel lobby or across the street for a far more expensive cup from the local coffee house.

Saving money on water and staying hydrated – Aside from all the plastic that throw-away bottle after bottle dumps into the environment, the cost really adds up! Just say no. You can take a wide-mouth bottle if you want to use it for mixing in the powdered drinks you brought along, or you can pack along any number of foldable, collapsible bottles. We have often noted Vapur as one of our favorites (we reviewed it here), but there are many others. Just do a search online, drop into your favorite sports retailer, or click here to go to the Amazon.com page for collapsible water bottles (buying from Amazon supports HITravelTales.com as we are an affiliate and we appreciate it).

There is also a new kid on the block for those of you who prefer not to drink water out of a tap due to taste or possible impurities (or if you are traveling someplace with less-than-safe water): Try the Katadyn BeFree compact water filter and bottle system, which we reviewed here. There are of course other soft flasks like this, albeit at this point without a filter, but you can get a look here at others at Amazon.com.

Souvenir hunting – I stopped buying many trinkets and “stuff” when traveling a number of years ago. Just more to dust and clutter up the house. What I find I personally enjoy more than trinkets are local goodies like honey, jams, cookies, nuts, wine, candy, or other specialty items of an area. Yes, you can find cute, pretty jars and boxes of these things at the fancy souvenir store, but you can also go into a local grocery store and pick up much of the same stuff at a highly reduced rate. Yes, even at the discount store in many cases.

Saving money on travel by not buying hula girl trinkets.

Cute. Funny. But no, just NO!

And when buying gifts to bring back to friends and family, I’m still thinking edibles or otherwise consumable. Who doesn’t like a gift that is tasty and unique to the area you visited? You get share to the pleasure of being there too (well, almost).

Travel is about experiences, so start saving money on travel now so you have more of it to spend making memories.

Read more of our travel tips.

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Therese Iknoian

Traveler at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business (www.ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
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