The rising costs of driving and flying are bad news for any traveler, but when the going gets expensive, IgoUgo members get creative—and get out of town. To help you save cash and your vacation, here are seven ways to steal away for next to nothing.
The Home Exchange
“A home exchange is a savvy traveler’s way of seeing the world—at no cost,” says IgoUgo member digsvillelady. She swapped her Hoboken, New Jersey, home for a place in Montreal during JazzFest, scoring free accommodation at the peak of tourist season. Swaps can last any length of time, from a weekend to an entire summer, and can include the use of cars or boats. In this case, the Montreal house came with personal extras like “a comprehensive list of favorite places to eat and shop.” Swappers count incurring no costs, enjoying the comforts of a home, and immersing themselves like locals as highlights. If you’re not willing to farm out your house, you can always get the same advantages (plus excellent company) by bunking at a friend’s place on your next vacation; just be considerate enough to be on your best behavior.
The Volunteer Vacation
“Being a volunteer is a great way to see the nation's capital, or any city for that matter, at dirt cheap prices,” says IgoUgo member Trism of a month-long stay in D.C. to work as a camp counselor for the non-profit So Others Might Eat. Voluntourism opportunities are expanding—IgoUgo travelers have taught English to Tibetans in India, protected forests in Guatemala, taught in Peru, seeded organic farms in England (“met interesting people from around the world and lots of nice British farm animals”), and rebuilt after a hurricane on the Yucatan Peninsula—but Washington, D.C., is perhaps one of the best destinations for such a trip. Besides being relatively close by, it offers tons of free activities to explore in your spare time, including the Smithsonian Museums, the National Mall, and countless monuments. There are also free jazz concerts, free movies, and free gardens, all of which have entertained IgoUgo members—volunteers or not—on the cheap.
The Wine & Bike Weekend
Leave overpriced bottles and cork fees behind in the city while you sip your way through your local wine country for less. Many US wineries offer free tours and tastings, as IgoUgo members have discovered from California to Tennessee to Florida. For vistas with your vintages, bring or rent a bicycle and make the journey even more exciting than (and just as economical as) the destination. TrailExpert recommends New York’s Finger Lakes vineyards, where “nestled among the hills are great trails for bicycling.” Cycling wine aficionado jwinerstone enjoyed Santa Barbara’s roads on two wheels with the help of a guide—handy if you’d rather leave navigation to someone else. Just heed Emily May’s advice regarding Napa: “The wine route is fairly long, so don’t let this be the first time in 10 years that you’ve ridden.” She also notes that “the brochures have helpful hints, like whether tours cost money, wineries’ hours of operation, phone numbers, and whether you need to make an appointment for a tour.” Even if you do find yourself paying for a tasting or two, the price should be small—and credited to a bottle you purchase afterwards. And wine-growing regions are practically synonymous with bed-and-breakfasts, which are typically priced lower than hotels and are perfect places to rest your quads. Pick a weekend and get ready to guzzle wine rather than gas.
The Camping Throwback
Remember when vacation meant pulling into a national park or onto a beach, opening the station wagon’s hatch, and setting up camp? It still does, if you’re looking for natural beauty without spending a cent more than a pleasantly paltry park fee. So, woods or waves? If you’d like to take in the splendor of sequoias, jimransier recommends Kings Canyon National Park in California, where “the best thing about the campground complex is the lack of crowds, which also holds true for the entire national park. If you have ever visited a popular national park, such as Yosemite, you are constantly around a thousand people, even when visiting during the middle of the week.” And unlike Yosemite, most of Kings Canyon’s campgrounds are first-come, first-served, so no months-in-advance reservations are needed. If you’re more of a beach-camping bum, IgoUgo members enjoy quiet spots like “best-in-California” Jalama Beach; Big Sur’s “breathtaking” Kirk Creek Campground; Virginia’s Assateague Island; and New York’s Lake George, which even has private islands big enough for one tent.
The Nature-Next-Door Break
If you’re short on time as well as cash, getting back to nature doesn’t have to involve hours of driving and days off from work. Take a quick break from your urban or suburban surroundings by choosing a faux-remote campground and activity area nearby. For example, Kirby Cove and the Marin Headlands are just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco but, with beautiful biking and hiking trails, feel worlds away—except for the “spectacular” views of San Francisco’s skyline. Alternately, you could base a visit to a major city at a nearby campground: some of those closest to America’s biggest cities offer day trips into the urban jungle.
The Bright Light-on-Your-Wallet Trip
Ironically, the American city most often associated with glitz and greed is the very one where travelers find the most freebies. This is budget Vegas, baby: free live music fills the air; free trams navigate the Strip; free shows—from volcanic eruptions at the Mirage to pirates at Treasure Island to fountains at the Bellagio—delight kids and adults alike; and free drinks are finagled if you play a pittance at some casinos. And in addition to those very Vegas pleasures, you get a free trip around the world with stops at Venice’s canals, Luxor’s pyramids, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, and Caesar’s Rome—or at least at hotels that make convincing doubles. Plus, there’s the aptly named Fremont Street Experience—where nightly light show are, incidentally, free of charge. When it’s time to head in for the night, just beyond the Strip’s bright lights lie hostels (try USA Hostels Las Vegas) and campgrounds where you can stay for next to nothing. Not only will you be spending very little money on your Vegas vacation, but you won’t be losing any, either.
The Timeshare Tour
No matter where you want to go, you can save money if you share some time. Massachusetts’ Berkshires charmed two IgoUgo members who took free trips there on behalf of a timeshare company—one was so enamored with the mountains that he indeed bought a timeshare. For the other, all that was involved was attending a 90-minute presentation, and he had the rest of the weekend to himself. You can’t always get a free vacation, but attending a presentation can at least get you discounts on tours, shops, food, or event tickets, and most IgoUgo members say the time investment is worth the savings if you can score an invite—as long as you’ve practiced your firmest “no” or are prepared to buy a permanent vacation spot.