travel costsIf you’re planning a vacation for this first time in years, you’re not the only one. As the economic recovery continues, more and more and more people are making travel plans. In 2014, there was a 12% increase in international travel and a 3% increase in domestic travel, and those numbers are expected to go up throughout 2015. The number of people traveling isn’t the only thing going up, though — flights, hotels and car rentals are all expected to be more expensive this year than they were in 2014.

So what do you do if you want to travel and stick to a tight budget? Are you going to be stuck using all your vacation days for a staycation?

Go ahead and start planning that trip — we’ve got twelve ways to help you save money wherever you’re going.

1. Travel During the Off Season

Everyone thinks of going to Europe in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter. But if you book your trips during the off season you can expect to save hundreds of dollars on airfare and hotels. It’s also a good idea to avoid big events and festivals — like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana or St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia.

Traveling in the off season means that not only will you find more reasonable prices, you also won’t spend your entire trip being jostled by crowds. Sure, you may not get to fulfill your dream of strolling around Paris in a sundress. But the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower doesn’t change, no matter what the temperature is. And you’ll be able to spend this summer hitting the islands!

2. Buy Your Meals Ahead of Time

Before you travel, check the website of your destination’s travel bureau. Oftentimes they will post coupons or vouchers for discounted meals at local restaurants. You can also buy vouchers on sites like LivingSocial and Groupon. Purchase a few ahead of time and not only will you save money, you won’t have to spend hours trying to decide where to eat.

3. Check Fares From Smaller Airlines

If you’re traveling internationally, your first instinct may be to look for flights from larger, more well-known airlines, like Delta or Lufthansa. But smaller airlines, like Icelandair or Ireland’s Aer Lingus, often offer much cheaper fares. Check them individually or use a site like Kayak to search dozens of airlines at once.

4. Avoid Hotels

Hotels are often the most expensive place to stay when traveling. So next time you’re planning a trip, skip the hotel entirely and opt to live like a local. Stay in a hostel or rent an apartment from AirBnB. If you love being outdoors, look for a local campground. If you’re planning to stay a while, become a housesitter or volunteer for a workstay. There are lots of options for inexpensive or free accommodation when traveling, and most of them will give you a more genuine feel of the place than a hotel ever could.

5. Grocery Shop and Make Your Own Meals

If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, put it to use by making some of your own meals. Visit a local market to pick up ingredients for breakfasts and lunches. Not only will you save a bundle of money on food costs, you’ll have the chance to chat with vendors and explore the local offerings.

6. Ask Locals Where They Eat – or Eat With Them

If you do want to eat out, avoid the obvious restaurants — they’re often meant for tourists and priced to match. Instead, ask locals for their favorite place to eat. They’ll be able to point you in the direction of better food at lower prices. Even better, get to know a resident over a meal. Sites like Eat with a Local and Invite for a Bite will let you learn more about your destination, make a few new friends, and save money on food all at the same time.

7. Google “[Destination] + Free”

Most cities have free events on a regular basis, from museum exhibits to concerts to walking tours. Find out what’s available by searching for the name of your city and “free” online. You’ll be amazed how many interesting things turn up. (As a bonus, this is great to do in your hometown too!)

8. Get a Map as Soon as You Arrive

No matter where you go, taking taxis everywhere gets expensive fast. Cut your daily costs by picking up a map of the city and navigating your own way, either on foot, by bike, or using public transportation. You’ll also see more of the people and places you’re visiting and keep that extra cash in your wallet.

9. Be Willing to TravelOvernight

No, traveling overnight is not for the faint of heart (or those with toddlers). But if you’re willing to take advantage of red-eye flights or sleeper trains, the prices can be up to 50% cheaper than traveling in the daytime. As an added bonus, you won’t have to give up one of your travel days just to get from point A to point B.

10. Have a Plan For Internet Access

Trying to find WiFi while you travel can get expensive, so look up spots that offer internet access online before you start your trip. If your accommodations offer free WiFi, you’re all set. If not, search online for nearby cafes or libraries that let you get online for free (or for the price of a cup of tea). You’ll be able to check your email and send photos back home without spending half your daily budget on 10 minutes of internet time.

11. Rent Your Home While You’re Gone

You can offset the cost of your trip by renting your room while you’re away. Post your digs on AirBnB (and have a friend ready to greet your renters) if you’re taking a short trip. If you’re planning to travel for several weeks or months, consider sub-letting or renting out your home while you’re gone.  (If you’re a renter yourself, make sure that subletting is allowed in your rental agreement, otherwise you may find yourself homeless when you get back.)

12. Find the Right Apps

If you don’t have free roaming, using your cell phone while you travel can add up to some serious cash. Save yourself the bill by downloading a few helpful apps that you can use offline or with WiFi instead of data. Sygic, for example, is a map program that will help you navigate your way around your destination using only GPS once it’s downloaded. If you want to keep in touch with friends back home, applications like WhatsApp offer free texting when you’re connected to a WiFi network. Be sure to download them before you go, then turn off your phone’s data service to avoid accidentally running up charges.

What tricks do you use to stick to a budget while you travel?