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Enjoy More Vacation With Less Money

Free park admission? A free skyline cruise? These 7 tricks for having an excellent adventure may top scoring an upgrade to first class.

The lazy days of summer may be winding down, but there’s still time to fit in a long weekend getaway or bucklet-list adventure. To help you get the most joy out of your next jaunt, here are seven budget travel-friendly tips.

1.   Get free or reduced national park admission. During the pandemic, it was a godsend for many of the city slickers among us to escape our urban surroundings and explore the great outdoors. So keep those nature girl vibes going and map out an itinerary that includes a visit to one or more of the 63 official national parks in the U.S. (In total the National Park Service (NPS) oversees 423 sites, including many that are far less visited than the big-name parks). A lifetime park pass ($80 for those over 62) gets you into all of them. Even better, nature lovers of any age can enjoy access to any national park for free on Aug. 25, which is the birthday of the NPS, and on Sept. 25, which is National Public Lands Day. Learn more at nps.gov.

2.   Book cheaper flights on these three days. Are you ready to fly the friendly skies again? Here’s an incentive: A study by the Airlines Reporting Corp. showed that Sunday was the best day to book flights if you want to get the lowest airfares. But Sunday may not be the only day to save on airfare. A separate study by Expedia showed flight discounts on Thursday and Friday bookings. Whenever you decide to jet set, however, be mindful that COVID-19 is on the rise among the unvaccinated, so make sure you pack face coverings, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer.

3.   Plan a dollar-wise departure. Insider tip: If you want to save some of your hard-earned coin, it might make sense to drive or take a taxi or a car-share to a hub. Airlines use hub airports to consolidate planes and cut costs. That means fares are cheaper and stopovers rare when you fly between hubs.

4.   Keep your eyes peeled for deals. Whether you’re the type of traveler who can pack and be ready to roll in a jiffy or someone who likes to plan trips well in advance, you can keep track of discounts on flight fares by subscribing to websites like Kayak, Skyscanner or Airfare Watchdog. These trip-savvy and time-saving sites will also notify you when destinations reopen to travelers and alert you to entry restrictions and quarantine requirements.

5.   Eat like a local. Oftentimes a hotel’s concierge will point you to pricey restaurants near your accommodations, and it’s a given that you may find more affordable and authentic dining options outside the tourist-trap zone. So do yourself a favor, sis, and chat up that local shopkeeper or do a little web browsing on where to find cheap eats and Black-owned restaurants.

6.   Find free “attractions.” Free is our favorite four-letter word. So why pay admission if you can explore similar sightseeing highlights free of cost? For instance, visitors to New York City might pay $90 for two adults to enjoy a romantic city lights cruise in New York Harbor after dusk. But if they wait until the evening commuter rush is over, they can enjoy a breezy 40-minute cruise past the illuminated Lady Liberty and the twinkling city skyline by boarding the Staten Island Ferry, disembarking and immediately reboarding for the round trip. The trip is entirely free and the service runs 24 hours a day! Before you pay to play, check online maps (for natural attractions such as beaches, hiking or waterfalls) or chat with a local to find an activity similar to your chosen one that's safely off the beaten path.

7.   Bottle up! That same bottle of water you can pick up for a dollar at a drugstore or street cart can run you $4 at the airport! But here’s a pennysaver tip: Tote your reusable water bottle, which you can get through a TSA checkpoint, as long as it's empty. Once you’re through security, simply fill it up at a water station and stay hydrated before you board and on your flight.

For more smart ideas that can save you thousands of dollars on food, shopping, utilities and more, check out “99 Great Ways to Save” on aarp.org.

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