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Getting old friends back together to share a vacation is a great way to catch up and build new memories.
However refreshing these vacations may be, they can also get costly. Airfare, lodging, dining out and all of the extras can add up to thousands of dollars.
With some simple tips — and a bit of research — you can trim costs from each part of the trip. Here’s how to plan a budget-friendly vacation with faraway friends.
Know your travel budget
First, get your financial house in order. That means drafting a travel budget. Know how much you can spend and hold yourself to that. This will keep you focused while planning.
Tinker with timing
Coordinating schedules and itineraries is tough. If you and your friends stay flexible, though, you can book a cheaper vacation and avoid crowds.
Travel in “shoulder” seasons: Spring break, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve may seem like no-brainer opportunities. But these busy travel seasons can cost you hundreds of dollars more for flights and lodging.
To avoid the crowds and cut costs, try traveling in what’s known as “shoulder season,” or off-peak season. A trip to Florida in May, for example, could be less expensive than traveling during the height of spring break season.
Make your own extended weekend: By taking off a Friday and a Monday, your group can get a four-day vacation.
Planning around federal holidays can be a way for your friends to find a time that works for them, says Erika Richter, communications director for the American Society of Travel Advisors. You might spend a little more than in the offseason, but it can make setting a date easier.
“These holidays can be an easy way to align everyone’s schedules,” Richter says. “Depending on the destination and the time of year, you might be right on par with the shoulder season.”
Find a middle ground — literally
For plans with friends scattered across the country, try meeting at an airline hub city. That almost guarantees you’ll be able to get there with only one flight. And you likely will be able to find affordable fares, given the volume of air traffic.
Try one of these hub cities:
Atlanta: A city rich with Southern culture, Atlanta offers a wide variety of attractions, including the King Center, the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Chicago: This vibrant city comes alive with street fairs during the summer. Chicago can be an affordable destination, since it has one of the busiest airports in the world and flights tend to be cheaper than when flying to a smaller city.
Denver: Great for a winter getaway, there are loads of ski resorts near Denver. For those more après-ski-inclined, the city has many breweries to explore.
“The most important thing to keep in mind when you're trying to save money on travel is that you should try to be flexible about your destination,” says travel writer Holly Johnson. “Keep your options open and compare prices in a few different destinations, and you'll have a much better shot at saving big.”
Online shopping makes trip planning more accessible and affordable, but it’s not always the best deal. Compare prices on assembling the trip yourself, using a travel advisor itinerary and package deals.
DIY: Google Flights, Hopper, Expedia — there is a seemingly endless number of companies vying to book you the cheapest travel experience. Use these to your advantage to track flight prices, compare hotels and organize day trips. If you have a travel rewards credit card, see if your points will cover some costs.
Travel advisors: The refreshed name of travel agents for the millennial era, travel advisors are another resource. An advisor will take your general itinerary and put together a quote for you, often for free. Since they have insider access to flight prices, hotel packages and more, they may be able to get you a deal. If you get the quote and it’s not a fit, go with your own plan.
Package deals: Some resorts have all-inclusive packages that include lodging, food and drink. Similarly, some airlines will bundle flights, hotels and car rentals. Price compare those against what you would spend on your own.
One simple way to reduce travel costs is by cutting the amount of travel in your group. Taking turns gathering in one another's home cities is one way to do this.
If you’re all on tight budgets, this can help minimize costs, especially if you split the costs of travel, like going 50/50 on airfare. Decrease costs further by crashing at one another’s places when you visit. That gives you more money to spend on experiences when you’re together.