What is it about travel that is so fun?  Nancy and I love to travel.  I think it’s the power of new, immersive experiences.  Media and the digital world will never replace the experience of immersing yourself in somewhere new, seeing with your own eyes, and touching with your own hands a new place and culture.  That’s why travel will never go out of style.  It expands our world.

We’re thankful that our work can sometimes take us places at times that we wouldn’t necessarily go on our own.  In the last few years, we’ve been grateful to visit Austin, TX, Charleston, SC, Washington, D.C., the NC mountains (multiple times), Nashville TN, and a few other great spots for work, in addition to some other personal travel.

We’re not travel professionals, or even the best, but we have learned a number of things in our travels to help us keep the costs under control.  Maybe you’re traveling over the holidays, thinking about how to augment that work trip next year, or are in full-out planning for this year’s family vacation.

Maybe these tips can help you planning your next trip!

1) Start early.

Whether you are traveling across the country or across the globe, you’re going to get the best deals and find the best rates if you give yourself enough time to do plenty of research.  You’ll get to understand the high and low seasons, find the unofficial guides that are often more helpful than the official websites, and learn more about what to spend your money on and what to save on.  Even if you’re going to try to save money by buying something at the last minute, you’ll better understand the process of everything if you start early.

Those with the most time and patience win on getting deals.  Give yourself enough time to look at Kayak, Travelocity, Groupon; to compare flights over time; and to take a good look at lodging options.

2) Travel in low season.

Any travel destination has a high season and low season.  We traveled to the British Virgin Islands in the low, low season of September.  Though a couple of spots were closed that we didn’t expect, we had our choice of dock space, mooring balls, snorkeling spots, and better rates on everything.  In addition to lower costs, you won’t be fighting for your share of parking/lodging/ride spots/beach space/etc.

3) Master airbnb.

AirbnbIf you haven’t experienced the magic that is airbnb, you need to jump on it!  Airbnb is a place where anyone can list their rental home, residence, room, or even just a bed for rent.  It has a great search system, a sleek user interface, and an easy booking and approval process.  They encourage each person to verify their identities using publicly accessible information, so you know the person you’re renting from is who they say they are.  And they have a helpful dispute resolution center if you need help resolving an issue you had with your host or rental.

I’ve rented entire homes there twice now at unbelievable rates compared to getting hotel rooms for the same duration, once in the NC mountains, and once in Orlando, Florida.  We got unbelievable value for each rental, and had a great experience both times.

4) For international travel, use SkyScanner.

I helped my brother and sister-in-law book travel home from Johannesburg, South Africa, this fall, and was impressed with SkyScanner.  They also have a great interface, and I particularly like searching with flexible dates, like you see in the example search below from RDU International to Nassau, Bahamas.

SkyScanner

5) For short-notice stays, try Hotel Tonight.

I reviewed this app late last year after it helped us get a good hotel deal on our quick trip to Washington DC.  It’s a good one to have in your library in case you need a short-notice hotel room.

6) For stateside activities and meals, use Groupon.

You’re probably already familiar with Groupon, but you might not think about it when you’re out of your local area.  But Groupon is nationwide, and you can use it to find great deals on things to do and local meals when you’re visiting a new city.

There’s always more to do, but that’s a start!

What are some other great ways you’ve saved money when traveling?