The thought of using your vacation days this summer to travel to the exotic destination of your dreams doesn't have to send you into shock. Believe it or not, there are some easy ways to head to your international destination of choice, and keep some of your hard-earned money in your savings account at the same time. We spoke with Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, for some of her best international travel tips and tricks.
Stick with her recommendations and you'll be jet setting in no time.
Book at least three months in advance.
Summer is, of course, high season for a lot of places when it comes to traveling abroad. As such, it's a good idea to think about booking your flights two to three months in advance. "Start by signing up for travel alerts from sites like Yapta, Kayak and individual airline sites," says Banas. "These allow you to add the date you want to travel and your departure and arrival cities, and then they send you alerts when the price fluctuates."
Just be careful when it comes to following flight prices—you'll definitely start to see prices shoot up sharply the closer it gets to your desired departure date.
Be as flexible as possible.
If you can be flexible with your vacation dates and destination, you'll be able to potentially save quite a bit of cash, especially if you pare your flexibility with the map function on Farecompare.com. "What I love about this map is that you can type in any departure city and it'll show you a world map of where the best prices are in current time," says Banas. "It's a nice way for people to pinpoint what countries are going to be cheaper from their departure point and to plan from there."
Think outside the box.
When it comes to travel, the "hot destination spots" can change year-to-year. As such, it doesn't hurt to do a little research before deciding where you'd like to go. "For example, right now destinations in Latin America tend to be cheaper than some European destinations," says Banas. "So places like Peru, Ecuador, or even Brazil—there are some really competitive rates in those areas right now."
If you would rather stick with the tried-and-true (aka: expensive) destinations, there are usually cheaper flights available if you're willing to fly into gateway cities, rather than straight to the destination. "So you could fly into Frankfurt versus flying directly into Paris, and then look for a cheaper flight option or low-cost train alternative to Paris from there," said Banas. "Also a lot of discounted carriers, like Icelandair, offer cheaper ways to get to popular destinations like London, but you'll have to make a stopover in a less-popular destination, first."
Stay at all-inclusives sparingly.
The idea of paying for food, drink, activities and lodging all in one go can seem like a great option, but think twice before booking an exotic, all-inclusive option. "There's only really value to these if you're going to use everything that comes with the package," says Banas. "So if you aren't going to take advantage of all the water sports, or eat all the meals or drink all the drinks, they might not actually be all that beneficial."
Instead of all-inclusives, Banas suggests packaging hotel and air, and sometimes car, together in one transaction, which usually will save you money. "For Europe, go-today.com is a good option, and pleasantholidays.com always has great deals for Hawaiian and Mexican vacations."
Book an apartment instead of a hotel.
While it's not a new concept, renting an apartment through sites like Airbnb and HomeAway can be a great value, especially if you'll be traveling in a big group or as a family. Booking an apartment also gives you the option of eating in, which can save a lot of money on international trips.
And speaking of eating in ….
Pick your restaurants carefully.
One of the best parts about traveling internationally is tasting the local cuisine. The trick here is to make the most of the money your spending on food when abroad, and making reservations online as much as possible to avoid any cell phone fees associated with using yours when you're roaming. "Word of mouth is always best when it comes to recommendations, but you can also shop around through Google or the Apple store for specific destinations or types of food recommendations," says Banas. "Chowhound is also pretty good, and I'll sometimes even use Twitter. I'm a vegetarian, and if I'm traveling to a destination where I wonder where I can find good veggie food, I'll put out a tweet with #vegetarian and get lots of great ideas through Twitter that way."
Purchase multi-destination passes.
You'll find these available in most destinations, but Europe is especially good when it comes to offering them. "Go to the official tourism site for the city you'll be visiting and search for attractions passes," said Banas. "Usually they have museums and dining discounts, and sometimes they even offer discounts on transportation."
With you money you'll save by using Banas tips you might even be able to take two fabulous trips this year. Better get that Passport ready …
Cheryl Lock is a personal finance writer at and former editor at LearnVest and Parents magazine. When she's not writing, she enjoys travel, which she blogs about at wearywanderer.wordpress.com.