Travel doesn't have to be expensive -- if you know how to play it right. Now that you've figured out how to save on your hotel and your flight, don't forget to continue saving once the vacation is underway. Transportation, food, lodging and activities: These are all expenses that take a huge chunk out of any travel budget. Sure, you could skimp on some and even skip the activities altogether, but that would probably leave you with a boring trip. Here are five tips to help you save cash on any vacation, without sacrificing comfort and fun.
1. Travel in the shoulder season
Traveling during the shoulder season -- that small window of time prior to or right after high season -- ensures low prices without the bad weather and depressing lull of the low season. During this brief period, lodging costs drop as much as 50 percent and hotels offer package deals that include meals and even some activities to fill up rooms no longer occupied by high-season visitors. Though shoulder season can vary drastically by destination, you can almost always expect price cuts after the holidays in January.
2. Search for alternative lodging
Depending on trip length, accommodations can cost more than an airline ticket. This is especially true if you're traveling with a family and need more than one room. Combat high lodging costs by renting a place through a home sharing site like Airbnb. The site features a sizeable database of unique accommodations around the world, ensuring something for every price range. And for the cost of a single hotel room, you can often book a two-bedroom apartment to accommodate a party of four or more. If you find the idea of staying in a stranger's home uncomfortable, there are plenty of bed-and-breakfasts and inns that can be booked through Airbnb as well. Another bonus? Many houses or apartments come equipped with a kitchen, allowing you to prepare, and thus save, on meal costs.
3. Reconsider the rental car
Unless you're one of those people who never leaves your hotel room or resort, you're probably going to rack up a hefty transportation tab. But if you ditch the rental car, you'll find there are several ways to cut costs and make transportation more convenient. Uber -- a smartphone app for requesting taxis -- operates in 45 countries. Sometimes, Uber's rates are even lower than cabs, which is an important advantage if you're traveling to a city renowned for taxi scams. Plus, the company makes it easy to earn free rides. If you're visiting a large city with a decent public transportation system, picking up a weekly pass might be the least expensive option (more on that later).
4. Take advantage of free tours
Whether it's paying extra for sightseeing tours or the use of sports equipment at a resort, local activities can make any trip more enjoyable. On your next trip to Europe or the Middle East, skip the packed tour buses and opt for a free walking tour instead. Just don't forget to tip your tour guide for his or her time -- it no longer makes it "free" but it's still significantly cheaper than a traditional tour.
If you're more of a museum buff, you may want to consider purchasing a city pass, which can yield significant savings. Major cities around the world offer these passes, which are created mostly for tourists (and they can usually be purchased on the city's tourism board website). They generally cover one to five days and include museum admission as well as discounts on local attractions and activities. Many of them also include public transit passes (like the Paris Visite travel card). But multi-day city passes can get pricey. Pick up a one- to three-day pass, get your sightseeing out of the way, and spend the rest of your trip exploring on your own.
Viator -- a tour and activities booking site -- offers another cost-effective way to save on activities. The site offers a referral system whereby members can earn $10 for each friend they refer who books an activity. This can translate into huge savings for those with a large network of friends and family willing to use the site for bookings. The site's prices are pretty competitive, though it's always a good idea to shop around and ensure you're not overpaying.
5. Seek cheap eats
Eating on a budget doesn't have to be unpleasant. One surefire way to enjoy a cheap and hearty meal is to hit up an ethnic restaurant. No matter where you are in Europe, a doner kebab (similar to a gyro) is a great option for a quick, delicious and frugal bite. And for generous portions and low prices, street food is your best bet. Keep your eye out for food trucks and carts in the touristy or financial districts of town, where vendors usually congregate.
For those looking for a more upscale dining experience, local culinary schools with student-run restaurants can provide a gourmet menu at a fraction of the price. The famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and the Culinary Institute of America (found in New York, California and Texas) are examples of renowned cooking schools where you can eat well for significantly less.
About the author: Ariana Arghandewal is a travel writer who enjoys helping others navigate the world of travel hacking though her blog, Pointchaser. You can follow Ariana on Twitter or connect with her on Google+.