The Best Way Frugal Travelers Can Save Money (and Still Have a Great Trip)

October 16, 2015


For frugal individuals who love to travel, it can be difficult to travel regularly, stay on budget and still have a great trip. Luckily, there are certain ways budget travelers can enjoy the sights and keep some money in their pockets — and one of the best is to travel between seasons.

If you’ve ever wondered how you could have a great trip and not spend a ton of money, read on!

Travel Between Seasons

Traveling between peak seasons doesn’t mean going to extremes. You don’t need to traipse through the Costa Rican jungle during the rainy season, when the rain makes some travel impassable. Instead, look to travel after the high tourist season ends and before tourism grinds to a complete halt in areas that interest you.

Also known as the “shoulder seasons,” these are times of the year when tourism is down but climate and entertainment are still enjoyable.

In the United States, shoulder seasons are typically the spring and fall. The weather is still nice (no snow!) and the crowds are not as numerous (since kids are in school). During these times of the year, hotels often lower their rates, and concerts and local festivals are more accessible with fewer people attending them.

Around the world, shoulder seasons typically follow the same spring/fall pattern as they do in the United States. However, it pays to do some research ahead of time on your destination of choice — for example some places in the Caribbean are hit hard by hurricanes and other weather disturbances in early fall. 

You may also miss out on some entertainment and events that only take place in high tourist seasons if you travel in the “shoulder” months. If this is important to you, you may need to find other ways to reduce cost of travel so you can still make it to sights and attractions you prioritize.

Be Flexible and Proactive

As with most travel plans, it helps to be flexible when you’re trying to save the most money. If you’re planning a March trip to France, for instance, be flexible when choosing flights. You may get a better deal flying out late on a Friday than you would early Monday, so check different times and different airlines to get the best deal.

You’ll likely be able to choose from a variety of lodging if you travel during the shoulder season, but it pays to call ahead and see what type of deals hotels can offer. Many hotels lower their rates during slower seasons, and it doesn’t hurt to call and see if they can throw in an upgrade for the same price!

Hotels aren’t your only option when traveling on a budget. Many locals, either on VRBO or Airbnb, lower their rates in the shoulder seasons as well. Some owners remember to change their prices online, but others don’t, so email ahead of time and see if they’re willing to lower their prices to get you in the door. Most owners would prefer to rent their space at a discount than have it sit empty, not making them any money.

Things to Consider When Traveling During the Shoulder Season

When planning your shoulder season vacation, take care to not stray too far from “high season” dates. While you want to avoid massive crowds and the higher prices they bring, getting too into the “low season” to save money can backfire as well.

Phoenix, Arizona in July and August is very cheap — even for luxury bookings — but there’s a reason for that: the weather is so hot, it inhibits almost all outdoor activity.

Also keep in mind that some places may not have much of a shoulder season. Popular destinations like southern California, for instance, rarely see much of an off-season simply because the weather is nice almost year round. For Americans, London can be expensive all year long, due to an unfavorable exchange rate and consistent traffic from both tourists and locals.

Finally, consider what you want to get from your trip. If you want to visit Spain for Semana Santa (or Holy Week), you won’t be going in November. During the winter, popular destinations like the Grand Canyon are closed because of hazardous winter conditions, and by the time the Grand Canyon is open again, it’s tourist season. In these cases, you may have to accept the tourists and higher prices in order to see exactly what you want.

Traveling during the shoulder season can offer many benefits, especially when it comes to saving money. However, there are many other benefits associated with traveling during off-peak times, including more interaction with locals, smaller crowds, and less traffic. If possible, try to travel during shoulder season as much as you can to enjoy a great trip and save a bundle of money!

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