Boxing Day Bargains: How to Book Cheaper Activities on Your Next Trip

Walking tours are a great -- and often free -- way to learn about a city.
Walking tours are a great — and often free — way to learn about a city. (Photo credit: Javier Garcia via Unsplash.)

By Ariana Arghandewal

Sightseeing tours in London, cooking classes in Istanbul, snorkeling tours in Maui … activities are an essential yet costly part of any trip. They can eat up a large chunk of your travel budget, but skipping them altogether can make your trip way less fun.

Don’t despair. We haven’t let you down yet, and we never will. Here are five ways to preserve your post-holiday travel budget while enjoying unique experiences in cities around the world.

  1. Free tours. Nothing beats free, and there are plenty of free, guided walking tours in cities around the world to help stretch your travel budget. Okay, free might be a bit misleading. While there is no cost involved for the tour itself, tipping your tour guide is highly recommended. And chances are A) you’d be tipping your guide anyway, even on a paid tour, and B) the tip you give the “free” tour guide will be significantly cheaper than the cost of a paid tour. 
  1. Viator. Viator is an activities-booking site that lets members earn cash for activities by referring friends to the site. Each successful referral (they must sign up and book a tour through the site) earns the referrer $10 in Viator credit. This can add up to quite a bit of savings if you get the word out about your referral code among friends and family.
  1. Use city passes. City passes can be money-savers – but not all city passes are created equal, and you have to use them the right way. Many times they include museum admission as well as transportation passes. City passes are normally sold in two-day, four-day, and six-day increments. The best way to maximize the passes is to buy ones spanning fewer days and use them early in your trip, get the majority of sightseeing done in that time, and learn your way around, so you can navigate by yourself for the remainder of your stay. For example, a two-day Paris City Pass should give you enough time to see the major museums, while keeping down expenses for these activities.
  1. Check with the local tourism bureau. Many discounts can be found on tourism-board websites, where businesses are eager to reach their target audience. On the California tourism website, travelers can find 20 percent discounts on Choice Hotel bookings (i.e., Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, etc.). When you purchase a 24-hour hop-on, hop-off bus ticket through the London tourism site, you get an extra 24 hours free of charge. Also, many of these bureaus have coupon or discount books free for the asking – the only catch being that you have to ask. These bureaus have a vested interest in you having a good time at their destination, and are there to help you do it. Use them.
  2. Ask for discounts. Sometimes tour operators offer discounts for direct bookings, since it means they don’t have to pay a third-party commission to acquire business. They are far more open to discounts if you approach them directly. During a 2012 trip to Maui, activities operators told me repeatedly that booking directly through them would result in discounts. After a parasailing trip booked through a third party, the operator handed me a card offering a 15 percent discount on future bookings. While this discount was offered to me after the parasailing trip, I could have saved 15 percent simply by asking for it before booking with a third party.

These are just a few ways to book cheaper activities on your next trip. Do you have any tips of your own? Feel free to add them to the comment section.

Ariana Arghandewal is the creator of http://www.pointchaser.com, a fun and informative look at travel deals across the internet and around the world.