Going on vacation with friends doesn’t have to be expensive

Getting old friends together to share a vacation is a great way to make up for lost time and make new memories.

As refreshing as this vacation is, it can get expensive too. Airline tickets, accommodation, restaurant meals and all the extras can add up to thousands of dollars.

With a few simple tips – and a little research – you can cut costs on every part of the trip.

First, get your finances in order. It means establishing a travel budget. Know how much you can spend and stick to it. This will allow you to stay focused while planning.

After that, here’s how to plan a budget vacation with distant friends.

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Tinker with timing

The coordination of timetables and routes is difficult. If you and your friends are flexible, you can book a cheaper vacation and avoid the crowds.

Travel during shoulder seasons: Spring break, Thanksgiving, and New Years Eve may seem like obvious opportunities. But those busy travel seasons can cost you hundreds of dollars more for flights and accommodation.

To avoid crowds and keep costs down, try traveling during what is called “shoulder season” or off-season. A trip to Florida in May, for example, might be cheaper than traveling during the height of the spring break season.

Make your own extended weekend: by taking off on a Friday and Monday, your group can get a four-day vacation.

Planning a federal vacation can be a way for your friends to find a time that works for them, says Erika Richter, director of communications for the American Society of Travel Advisors. You can spend a little more than in the off-season, but it can make it easier to book a date.

“These vacations can be an easy way to align everyone’s schedules,” says Richter. “Depending on the destination and the time of year, you might be tied for shoulder season.”

Find a happy medium – literally

For projects with friends scattered across the country, try meeting in an airline hub city. This almost guarantees that you will be able to get there with just one flight. And you will probably be able to find affordable rates, given the volume of air traffic.

Try one of these hub cities:

Atlanta: A culturally rich city of the South, Atlanta offers a wide variety of attractions, including the King Center, the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Chicago: This bustling city comes alive with street fairs during the summer. Chicago can be an affordable destination because it has one of the busiest airports in the world and flights tend to be cheaper than to a smaller city.

Denver: Great for a winter getaway, there are many ski resorts near Denver. For après-ski enthusiasts, the city has many breweries to discover.

“The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to save money on travel is that you should try to be flexible about your destination,” says Holly Johnson, travel journalist. “Keep your options open and compare prices in a few different destinations, and you’ll have a much better chance of saving big. “

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Compare the prices

Shopping online makes travel planning more accessible and affordable, but it’s not always the best deal. Compare prices by assembling the trip yourself, using a travel advisor itinerary and packages.

DIY: Google Flights, Hopper, Expedia – there is a seemingly endless number of companies vying to book the cheapest travel experience for you. Use them to your advantage to track flight prices, compare hotels and organize day trips. If you have a travel rewards credit card, check to see if your points will cover any charges.

Travel advisers: The renewed name of travel agents for the millennial era, travel counselors are another resource. An advisor will take your general itinerary and prepare a quote for you, often free of charge. Since they have privileged access to flight prices, hotel packages and more, they may be able to make you an offer. If you get the quote and it’s not right for you, go with your own plan.

Packages: Some resorts offer all-inclusive packages that include accommodation, food and beverages. Likewise, some airlines will bundle flights, hotels and car rentals. Compare the prices to what you would spend on your own.

In turn

A simple way to reduce travel costs is to reduce the number of trips your group has. Taking turns meeting in each other’s home towns is one way to do this.

If you’re all on tight budgets, it can help keep costs down, especially if you’re splitting travel costs, like a 50/50 plane ticket. Further reduce costs by crashing into each other’s homes during your visit. It gives you more money to spend on experiences when you are together.

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Sean Pyles is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @seanpyles.

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