Updated Jan. 1, 2021: Vacations don’t come cheap, or else we’d be jetsetting all the time. There’s the cost of the travel itself, plus meals, souvenirs and all those hidden expenses that pop up. The price tag amps up even more if you have any disruptions — unless you’re saved by travel insurance.
Whether you’re planning a road trip, flying somewhere new or setting sail on a cruise, your wallet will thank you for any savings you can find. Here are some deals and freebies you can take advantage of while you’re out exploring new places.
This is one of the remaining freebies you can get on a flight. Each airline has their own offerings, from granola bars and chips to nuts and pretzels. You may even be able to get one of each, if you ask nicely.
2. Chocolate chip cookies
DoubleTree hotels offer guests a free warm chocolate chip cookie at check-in.
3. Meals for kids
Traveling solo can be expensive — but traveling with a family is even more so (obviously). You can negate some of those expenses by making smart travel decisions, like staying at a Holiday Inn, where kids always eat free, or visiting restaurants like Denny’s, Chick-fil-A or Applebees, which all offer kids-eat-free days and hours.
4. Continental breakfast
Although more hotels are starting to charge for this amenity, you can still find hotels with free breakfast.
In addition to free packets or pods of Joe in your room, many hotels provide free coffee and tea in the lobby.
6. A can of soda
Instead of just the cup, some flight attendants will give you the whole can if you ask.
Instead of paying for a new water bottle at the airport, bring an empty reusable bottle and fill it at a fountain or filling station. Some cruise lines provide complimentary water bottles to guests. For example, frequent Carnival cruisers (VIFP status of Red or higher) get a one liter bottle delivered directly to their stateroom.
Kimpton Hotels host a nightly happy hour where guests can enjoy a nice glass of local wine at the end of their day. Check to see if your hotel offers something like this.
9. Tasty local treats
Want to get a (literal) taste of wherever you’re visiting? Check out a farmers market and try out the locally grown or made items. In fact, we have a guide on the must visit farmers market in each state. Sure, you’ll have to spend some money to buy any fresh produce or bread, but there could be free samples involved.
Not sure which places are worth visiting at your destination? Confused by the public transportation? Ask your hotel concierge for free insider tips.
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11. Laundry bags
Consider this a freebie and a travel hack: Furnished in case you need dry-cleaning on site, the oft-free laundry bags in many rooms are a perfect thing to use to repack dirty clothes.
When you get in your hotel room, check the desk and you’re bound to find a hotel-branded pen. Now you can write a postcard to those who aren’t traveling with you. In fact...
At that same desk, you may find a hotel-branded postcard. Now all you need is a stamp, but that part doesn’t come free.
It won’t be your fancy, soft-bristle toothbrush with deep-cleaning action, but many hotels offer free toothbrushes if you forgot to pack your own.
Think the sample size you get at your six-month dental visits.
16. Bath & beauty products
Leave your TSA-friendly bottles at home, as most hotels provide sample size versions of shampoo, conditioner, soap and sometimes even mouthwash. There may even be vanity kits or shower caps waiting for you in your room, too.
Buying miniature bottles for all your toiletries can get pricey — here are some travel-saving hacks to mitigate the cost.
17. Hair dryers
Hair dryers are standard equipment in hotel rooms and cruise cabins, so save yourself the luggage space and use the free one in your room.
18. Robes & slippers
Most hotels won't let you take the robe home without incurring a fee, but it's free to use during your stay. Check with the front desk to see if the slippers are meant for you to keep.
Unexpected downpour? Many hotels provide umbrellas for you to use in case this happens. Check the closet in your room or with the front desk to get one.
Reading the morning paper over coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures, and at many hotels, you can have your pick of the day’s papers for free.
Prefer digital copies? They don’t have to be pricey. Check out this list of newspaper subscription deals.
21. Reading materials for the plane, beach, ship & beyond
Skip the expensive airport bookstores and borrow a library book ahead of your trip to read on the flight or in your lounger. More of a Kindle reader? Most library cards can get you free ebook and audiobook downloads, too. Amazon Prime members also get a free book every month.
Want more perks from Amazon? Check out these 39 Amazon freebies, discounts and deals.
Finish your books and need to download another? Free internet is an increasingly popular travel perk. Most airports let you log on free of charge as do many hotel chains, at least in the lobby. JetBlue, for example, offers free Wi-Fi to all passengers, while other carriers let their branded credit card holders skip the charge.
Need to check in back home? You can make voice calls, even international ones, for free as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi using apps like Skype or WhatsApp. As long as your phone is connected to the internet and you’re both using the same app, calls are free.
Some airlines offer free headphones for longer flights, which can be a lifesaver if you forgot yours. This usually varies by airline and, often, which section of the plane you’re on.
Most hotels now lend spare phone chargers to guests. You can’t take the device home, but you can avoid having to buy a new one to stay connected while away.
At more exclusive properties, you may be able to borrow electronics like iPads and GoPros at no extra cost. Check your hotels list of amenities to see what’s available.
Check community listings at your destination for any free outdoor movies at the park. Some airports, like Portland International Airport, show free movies for stranded passengers. Delta offers free in-flight flicks on newer planes, too.
This is a great perk while traveling, especially because a traditional theater experience doesn’t come cheap. Here’s why going to the movies is so expensive.
28. Big ticket items
You can get things like jewelry, candy or alcohol tax-free simply by visiting duty free shops at the airport or when you’re on international waters on a cruise.
29. Cruise ship swag
Take part in the fun activities onboard and you could win free stuff. On past cruises, I’ve scored everything from free (full size) bottles of champagne to ship-specific trophies, which make for a nice free souvenir.
30. Avoid unnecessary fees
This isn’t exactly a free item, but it is a savings. Check for hidden fees — think hotel, airline, cruise or resort fees — as these can make a significant difference in the total cost of your stay. Here’s what you need to know about resort fees and how to avoid them.
Sure you can use a map on your phone, but what if you're in a Wi-Fi free zone? Plus, a lot of tourist-friendly maps note where the must-see destinations in town are. While we're talking about things to do...
There are plenty of public (ahem, free) beaches to check out at just about any vacation destination, even in landlocked states. Refer to this guide of the must visit beaches in every state for ideas.
33. National Park admission
If your vacation coincides with one of the National Park Service’s four fee-free days each year, you can get into a participating national park gratis. In 2020, fee-free days include National Public Lands Day on September 26 and Veterans Day on November 11.
34. Museum admission
Many famous museums, like the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, often have free or pay what you wish days. Here are some museums that offer free admission.
35. Zoo admissions
Same goes for zoos, like the Bronx Zoo, which has free general admission on Wednesdays.
36. Fitness classes
All that new food is delicious, but it can take a toll on your health. Getting in a workout doesn’t have to cost anything. If you plan accordingly, some hotels (like Kimpton) offer complimentary fitness classes for their guests. If yours doesn't offer a class, most hotels and cruise ships offer free access to on-site or partnering gyms.
Apps like Google’s Field Trip, Roadtrippers and Rick Steves Audio Europe all offer audio tours that you can download for free, so you can get insider tips and history without paying for an expensive tour.
38. Seasonal deals
Check out these 50 free things you can get this spring.
39. Shopping discounts
Sometimes it pays to not be a local. Stores, like the Macy’s in Herald Square in New York City, give discounts to anyone with an out of town driver’s license.
40. Budgeting template
You don’t have to spend money on an app or other tool to help you budget for an upcoming vacation — just download this free vacation budgeting spreadsheet and personalize it to fit your trip.
It never hurts to ask for an upgrade, whether it's on a flight, cruise or at your hotel.
42. Frequent flyer miles
You can earn these miles when you fly, but if you could earn even more with a travel rewards credit card. These cards often multiply the points you earn per dollar spent on travel-related purchases, like flights, hotels and transportation. Before you know it, you'll be ready to book your next vacation with miles alone.
Here are more tips for getting the most out of your rewards points.
43. Free checked luggage
You’ve got a few options here — there are airlines, like Southwest, that don’t charge for bags. If you frequent a different airline, aiming for elite status can come with perks like free checked bags, or you can get an airline-branded credit card. Often times, cardholders score free checked bags, which, if you fly on a regular basis, could be worth any annual fees that come with the card.
44. Puppy snugs
Dozens of airports now make therapy dogs available to help passengers de-stress. Check your airport’s website for details.
45. Rental car insurance
You may not need to shell out cash for insurance if you rent a car. Check the fine print that comes with your credit card to see if this is one of the free perks you get for being a cardholder.
If you’re renting a car or driving to your destination, try to find a hotel that offers free parking. After all, who wants to blow their travel budget on a spot to leave their car?
47. Rides to & from your hotel
Not driving? You don’t necessarily have to pay for an Uber or Lyft. Many hotels — even ones that aren’t a hop, skip and a jump away — have shuttles to bring their guests to and from the airport. Luxury hotels sometimes offer a comped car service.
Not staying at a hotel with a shuttle service? Here are six ways you could save on your ride-share service.
48. Transportation around town
There are a lot of free public transportation options in bigger cities, especially when you travel abroad. Check online before you head to your destination (or ask the concierge when you’re there) to see if you can hop aboard a bus, light rail or other public transit at no cost.
49. Bike rentals
Rather get some exercise while you’re out exploring? Many hotels and resorts have their own bike-sharing programs so guests can take in local sites and scenery. Ask at check-in if you have access to free rent-a-wheels.
Stay with a friend or relative to save some travel costs. Don't know anyone where you're going? Consider house or pet sitting to cover your costs.