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If your spirit of adventure is larger than your travel budget, these money-saving tips might just put your next vacation within reach.
1. Swap homes with other vacationers
If you prefer to mingle with the locals rather than other tourists, look into a home exchange vacation. One couple spent their eight-week honeymoon touring Europe without ever staying in a hotel; instead, they stayed in private homes while their European hosts stayed in their New York City apartment. Sound risky? Maybe?but tens of thousands of people have exchanged homes since the 1950s. For an annual membership fee (usually around $50), home exchange clubs help members arrange exchanges, as well as offering tips to make the exchange go smoothly. According to ExchangeHomes.com, a home exchange can cut travel costs by as much as half. More importantly, though, a home exchange vacation makes it possible for you to live like the locals, and perhaps make some life-long friends.
2. Rely on the hospitality of others
In a slight twist on the home exchange idea, look into joining a hospitality club that will hook you up with people willing to host you on your next vacation. The largest hospitality club has more than 23,000 members in 148 countries. Membership is usually free, although members are asked to provide hospitality to others (on a voluntary basis) in return sometime in the future. In addition to saving money, staying with others is a great way to meet locals who can give an insider's perspective on your destination.
3. Stay in a monastery or convent
Monasteries and convents have a long tradition of providing hospitality to travelers. Aside from being a lot more interesting (and affordable) than the local Holiday Inn, a monastery can be a great place to explore your spiritual landscape. Many monasteries and convents ask for a donation of $40 to $80 per night; others only ask for a free-will offering. In addition to simple accommodations, monasteries and convents often offer their guests simple meals as well as opportunities to participate in daily prayer and work. Reservations may be required in advance. You can research this vacation idea by looking up individual monasteries or convents online. Or get a guidebook such as "Europes Monastery and Convent Guesthouses: A Pilgrims Travel Guide" or "Sanctuaries: The Complete United States: A Guide to Lodgings in Monasteries, Abbeys, and Retreats."
4. Win a free vacation
Nothing in life is free, the old adage goes, but the vacations many companies are giving away as part of promotional sweepstakes and contests come close. True, the odds of winning a free vacation are remote, but if you’ve ever played the lottery, you may as well spend a few minutes searching the web for "vacation contest" and related terms. The only cost of entering will probably be the time it takes to fill out online entry forms. (Be forewarned, though, that providing your e-mail address virtually guarantees unsolicited e-mail in the future.)
5. Sleep under the stars
Hoping to vacation in Hawaii or the U.S. Virgin Islands? Rather than spending a fortune on hotels or resorts, why not slash the cost of your accommodations by camping on the beach? Both destinations have parks that offer beachside camping for about $20 per night. Camping is an affordable alternative at virtually any destination, in fact. And camping doesn't necessarily mean "roughing it." Modern camping equipment can keep you as warm and comfortable as if you were sleeping at home (decent sleeping bags and sleeping pads are a must), and many campgrounds offer conveniences such as showers and running water. Some even rent basic but comfortable cabins.
6. Travel in the off season
It may be obvious to seasoned travelers, but those with less experience may not be aware of how affordable it can be to vacation in the "off season"?basically, any time other than when most people travel to your destination. Certain destinations’ accommodation and airfare prices may be slashed by 30 percent or more during the off-season compared to the peak travel season.
7. Consider your airline alternatives
When booking airfare online, don't overlook discount and international airlines?some are not listed on the big travel portal websites, even though they might have a lower fare to your destination. Also be sure to compare rates for alternate airports within a reasonable traveling distance. You might live half an hour from a major airport, but the smaller airport a couple hours away might have substantially lower fares. Check for alternate airports near your destination, too. Finally, be flexible about your arrival and departure dates; the major travel portals all have options to search for the cheapest flights within a range of dates. Any one of these alternatives could potentially save you hundreds of dollars.