Cool Ideas

Clever Ways to Save on Travel and Vacations

by Stephanie Nelson

Although most people shop around for the best airfares and hotel rates when they plan their vacation, they generally do not think about smaller travel expenses, which can add up. However, with a few extra keystrokes and a little extra planning, you could save big on your next vacation on all kinds of expenses. Next time you plan a trip, consider these ways to save:

  • Visit the website of the visitor's and convention bureau of the city you are visiting. Look for special discounts and/or coupons available for attractions, restaurants and shopping. Sign up for their email newsletter, which is a great way to find out about last-minute hotel bargains. We did this for San Diego one year, and ended up saving an additional 30% off our hotel room rate by using a special offer emailed to me in the visitor's bureau newsletter.

  • Order the visitor's bureau free information kit that will probably include free coupons for local businesses, restaurants and attractions. My San Diego kit included a coupon for the San Diego zoo that saved my family $20! If you plan to visit several attractions in the same city, check to see if the visitor's bureau sells a multi-attraction pass, which could be much less expensive than buying individual passes for each attraction.

  • Visit the websites of the attractions or museums you plan to visit to find detailed information about special exhibits, hours, and costs. Call and ask if they have a specific day of the month that is "free admission" day. Ask if they have special discounts for groups like AAA, AARP, seniors, military personnel, students or any other association that applies to you or someone in your party. You can also go to the AAA website, if you are a member, and see if they have a specially negotiated rate for the attractions or museums you plan to visit.

  • If you plan to spend more than a day or two in one city, it may make sense to buy an Entertainment book for your trip. These coupon books are specific to each city, and include many "buy one, get one free" coupons for local restaurants, car rental coupons, a hotel discount program, and coupons for local attractions and museums. You can preview a city's book and its offers at before you buy a book, which range in price from $30 to $40 per book when they begin selling in August. However, over the course of the year the price of the books drop, so you may pay only $10 per book by the time your spring or summer vacation rolls around. Once you return home, you can use many of the book's coupons at national retail and car rental chains over the rest of the year.

  • To save on rental car rates, you can use a search engine like to find the lowest rates available with national companies, as well as smaller, regional car rental companies (which may be less expensive). Combine those low rates with coupons from the rental car companies' websites or from the Entertainment book.

  • You can find some free coupons for your destination city by going to coupon sites and entering a zip code for the city you plan to visit. You can print coupons for restaurants before you leave home! You can also go to a search engine and enter the words "local coupons" or "restaurant coupons" and the name of your destination city to find any local coupon websites that may provide more offers.

  • If you are parking your car at the airport, you can even save by printing free coupons at We used a coupon that saved $25 over the course of our week's vacation.

  • Ask the locals about special deals at local attractions. If there is a special deal available, they will know! One year my family went on a ski trip to Colorado, and I asked a waiter if he knew how to get lift tickets at a low price. He told me about a promotion a local coffee shop had, which gave you a "buy one ticket, get one free" coupon for every pound of gourmet coffee you bought, so we bought five pounds and saved over $200, even after factoring in the cost of the coffee. Our hosts who provided our free condo were pleased--they got a lot of great coffee!

Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABC News' Good Morning America. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at Copyright 2006® Stephanie Nelson