20 Resolutions for Smarter, Cheaper Travel in the New Year

2016 TRAVEL RESOLUTIONS

When it comes to travel, New Year's resolutions often take the form of general vows to travel more or pledges to finally take that trip to (fill in the blank). This year, make resolutions aimed at reducing the stress and expense of travel and get more out of a trip in 2016, whether plans include an exotic vacation or a getaway closer to home. Here are 20 ideas for traveling smarter and more cheaply.

TRAVEL BY CAR

Air travel comes with high costs, both monetary and environmental, not to mention high stress. Instead, consider hopping in the car for your next trip, whether it's a weekend visit to a national park or a getaway to a bed and breakfast. The average price of gas recently dipped below $2 for the first time since 2009, according to AAA.

BE FLEXIBLE

If you don't have to arrive or depart on a certain day at a certain time and are open to different accommodation options, you may reap the reward of lower prices. Airfare search engines such as Kayak and Google Flights allow flexible date searches. Sites such as Travelzoo and Airfarewatchdog are good sources for last-minute travel deals. Sign up for alerts and be prepared to pounce.

LEARN THE LANGUAGE

These days, online courses and apps can help travelers learn a language for free. Commit at least a few phrases to memory before traveling abroad to engender goodwill among locals and help you get more out of the trip. More capable linguists have an advantage when haggling.

DON'T PROCRASTINATE ON ACCOMMODATION

As soon as you know where you're going, book a hotel -- as the arrival date approaches, rates are likely to go up. Reservations usually (but not always) can be canceled within 24 or 48 hours of the arrival date without penalty, so no harm in booking early and continuing to search for a better deal.

STOP CHECKING LUGGAGE

Avoid airline baggage fees by packing only carry-on luggage in 2016. Tips include wearing bulky clothing on the plane and bringing as large a "personal item" as the airline will allow. If you're brave enough to stand out in the security line, try a "luggage jacket," a wearable suitcase that lets passengers stash extra items on their person.
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DON'T FORGET THE NECESSITIES

A hotel can supply toiletries such as a toothbrush, but travelers staying with friends or renting an Airbnb may be out of luck. Other easy-to-forget necessities such as a phone charger are much more expensive to replace than deodorant. Frequent flyers can stay organized by stocking a case of travel essentials that's always ready to go.

PRE-PLAN PARKING

Don't wait until the last minute to figure out where to park before a big trip that begins at an airport, train station, or port. Look into all the options for long-term parking well in advance to avoid paying high fees at the first open spot you come across.

SIGN UP FOR AIRLINE REWARDS PROGRAMS

Frequent flyer programs aren't just for frequent flyers. It's free to sign up when you book a flight; miles and points on many airlines don't expire; and travelers can steadily add to their totals in myriad ways besides flying. Start working toward an upgrade or free flight on every airline you fly.

GET A CREDIT CARD THAT AWARDS MILES

Some credit cards give sign-up bonuses in the form of miles to new cardholders who spend a certain amount of money within the first few months. Many U.S.-based airlines offer these types of cards, and many general rewards cards have incentives for travelers.

USE UP VACATION DAYS

Busy professionals are liable to leave vacation days on the table at the end of the year instead of devoting them to a memorable trip. Paid time off is a valuable part of an employee's compensation -- don't let it go to waste.

BE A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD

It's easy to forget about attractions close to home. Instead of burdening your 2016 budget with long-haul travel, seek out must-see destinations in your own state.
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TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A WAREHOUSE CLUB MEMBERSHIP

Being a member at Costco or Sam's Club comes with travel benefits. Before booking through conventional channels, ask about deals available through warehouse clubs, such as no fee for a second driver on a rental car.

DON'T STRESS ABOUT TRAVEL WITH KIDS

Although it can be stressful, there are lots of ways to make traveling with kids a little easier. Try to plan the journey during nap or bedtime, so they will be asleep for at least part of the trip. And don't ever, ever forget a pacifier (or whatever your family calls it).

BE PREPARED FOR CONTINGENCIES

Speaking of kids, never underestimate the benefit of packing extra diapers, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and clean clothes in a carry-on. Stash a few plastic baggies for soiled clothes and garbage. Family medications also belong in the carry-on, not in checked luggage.

ALWAYS BOOK FLIGHTS ONLINE

Did you know that booking with an airline representative over the phone can cost up to $25? Airlines generally charge a fee for assistance, so reserve talk time for help questions only. Budget airlines such as Frontier and Spirit charge lower baggage fees for passengers who pay during online booking.

BE OPEN TO VACATION RENTALS

Even if you're a fan of tried-and-true hotels, sites such as Airbnb and Homeaway are worth a shot. You may find unexpected deals that are cheaper and more comfortable than the basic hotel room. Self-catering also saves money.

STOP PAYING FEES

Travelers often get hit with fees of a few dollars each time they withdraw cash from a foreign ATM and up to 4 percent for paying with a credit card abroad. Switch to a bank with no ATM fees and a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
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GET MORE OUT OF BUSINESS TRIPS

If work takes you to a desirable destination, take advantage of the free flight and spend some time as a tourist. Even if you can't afford to stay any extra days, try to carve out a few hours for sightseeing.

PACK AHEAD OF TIME AND PLAN OUTFITS

We've all been there -- it's the night before an early flight, and you fill a suitcase without much thought. Then you realize you packed five pairs of jeans but not one outfit for an evening out, and you have to spend money and time shopping for something appropriate. Resolve to set everything out in advance and strategically choose clothing you can mix and match.

LEARN TO USE A CAMERA

Even if it's just a smartphone camera, seek out tips and tutorials to help you take better photos and videos. Images of a trip are perhaps the cheapest souvenirs -- and, for many people, the most valuable.