This isn’t a waiting game – saving for retirement is also about the journey. So while we’re saving towards full retirement, Mr. Saturday and I enjoy cost-effective mini retirements along the way – in other words, cheap vacations!

Mr. Saturday’s post about sharing vacations with friends and family is perhaps the best way to reduce expenses on vacation. Vacationing with other people allows you to cut your biggest expenses by at least half, such as your lodging and local transportation. We’ve certainly taken advantage of that. We now have multiple groups of people we like to travel with. The trick is to choose your travel partners carefully and to plan for couples’ alone time such as dinners and other daily activities.

But, there are additional ways to save money on vacations.

There are many hotel, airline, car rental and other travel sites that reward you for frequent travel. Among my favorites is Hotels.com and Expedia.com. Hotels.com provides a free night after ten hotel nights (currently). While specific hotel brands like Marriott do offer great occasional promotions, the points awarded for each night’s stay just doesn’t seem to add up quickly enough. The benefit to a program like hotels.com is that it provides you with low rates across multiple hotel brands, so your rewards add up more quickly.

Airline jet wing cheap travel ocean coast

If you travel for your job, that’s even better. Ideally, you are reimbursed for travel expenses charged to your personal travel credit card so that you can get double the benefits. Although even if you have a credit card issued by your company, you can still rack up reward points for hotels, car rentals, and airlines.

Generally being frugal during vacation also makes a difference. Saving $20 here and there can really add up on a week-long vacation. Let me first say that I think it’s important to feel like you’re getting the full experience and not being deprived on vacation. After all, most of us work towards our time off and want to enjoy it to the fullest. However, I’ve found that there are small unnecessary expenses that will help you save over the long run, and these expenses won’t affect your happiness.

There are different levels of lodging, dining, and entertainment to consider based on your financial situation, but keep in mind that a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily equate to more fun or memorable moments.

Lodging Options to Save Money on Travel

Let’s first go over the variety of lodging options, from the most economical to the higher-end options:

  • Staying with friends and family
  • Couchsurfing
  • Backpacking and camping
  • Hostels
  • Motels
  • Private rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO
  • Hotels and resorts
Vacation Home on the coast of Monterey, CA

We found this beautiful place located on the coast in Monterey, CA for a great deal on Airbnb!

If you like to splurge on vacation and stay in hotels, consider staying in a cheaper hotel or a motel on the last night before your flight. The last night is often spent near the airport which means you’re not going to spend much time there anyway. Also, if you vacation with friends, a rental through Airbnb could be half the cost of a hotel. Plus, renting an entire home with a kitchen allows you to cook meals at home. There are a growing number of lodging options these days, so choose wisely.

Dining Options to Save Money on Travel

There are also many dining options to choose from:

  • Grocery stores
  • Food carts
  • Fast Food
  • Bakeries
  • Coffee Houses
  • Buffets
  • Fine Dining
  • Take-Out vs Dine-In

These aren’t necessarily in economical order because it really depends what you’re purchasing at each of these dining options. For example, you might get more food for your money by purchasing a sandwich from a fine dining restaurant than you would a steak item from a fast food joint.

Mr. Saturday and I love to eat delicious, healthy food, so this is where we could certainly splurge, yet there are many ways to save here as well. It seems more difficult to find healthy breakfast options at restaurants, so we prefer to buy bagels and fruit at either grocery stores or farmers markets.

Quebec City Farmers Market - fruit, ground cherries, plums

Local farmers markets are incredible for fresh, in-season produce.

For lunch and dinner, most restaurants provide such large dishes, that one meal is actually enough to feed two people. Plus, if you need a little something extra, there’s always dessert!

Healthy beet rueben sandwich & potato wedges & salad

Splitting delicious meals makes your travel money go farther!

Something else we do occasionally is order take-out versus dining in. I like to support the local waiters and waitresses, but this does help offset some expenses when we’re trading off for the food minus the experience. Another benefit to ordering take-out is that you can choose where to have your meal, whether it becomes a picnic in the park, a meal on the beach, or simply an elegant meal on your patio.

Entertainment Options to Save Money on Travel

Last but certainly not least is the entertainment options while traveling. There are unlimited types of entertainment, so here is a list of our favorites economical entertainment options:

  • Walking to the destination, or just around town
  • Having a picnic in a public park
  • Finding a good spot to read or hang up a hammock
  • Visit a museum
  • Go for a hike or a bike ride
  • People watch
  • Cook a meal in your rental home
  • Start up a conversation with a local
  • Go dancing
  • Listen to music

While visiting a museum might seem expensive, it can actually be quite economical because of the amount of time it will typically take you to visit the entire museum. If you divide out the expense by the total hours of entertainment it provides, it’s actually a great deal! Plus, many museums will allow you to pay via donation – so you can pay what you think your experience is worth.

Listen to music! That’s a great one that is either free or included in the cost of your other dining or entertainment options. Listen to street performers, listen to music in a restaurant while you’re eating a meal, or just stop and listen to the music of the day-to-day life of the city you’re visiting. Mr. Saturday is notorious for taking sound bytes everywhere we go.

Check this one out!

Notre-Dame Cathedral-Basilica Bells Ringing in Quebec City, Canada:

Save money with mini retirements & cheap vacationsDo you have any cost-saving travel tips you’d like to share?