Don’t be afraid to ask those locals where they like to eat. You may find a wonderful, one-of-a-kind café that doesn’t show up at any guide book. Check the paper or shop window posters to see if a church or local group is having a fish fry, spaghetti supper, or similar event. You could make new friends and eat yummy food for one low price.

If you long to dine on a fancier fare or just have to try that expensive five-star restaurant, try them at lunch. You’ll enjoy the same delicious cuisine at lower prices. Or eat at the bar; you often pay less there, plus you can chat with the bartender and sometimes the people around you (Do exercise caution if you’re alone—a single at a bar can be a magnet for unsavory types and I want you to stay safe).

Sight-Seeing on a Shoestring

When it comes to making the most of your sight-seeing dollar, research is your best friend. 

Check out the city or area’s Visitor and Convention Center Bureau’s Web site. Not only will they have information on what to do, they often have coupons.

If you’re driving to a U.S. location, stop at the state’s welcome center for information and coupons. They also tend to have clean restrooms and room to stretch your legs.

If you have enough lead time, sign up for Groupons or similar programs in the city you’ll be visiting. You may be able to score deals on food or activities. 

Find out if the place you want to see offers free days (many museums do).

Many attractions offer discounts to members of the military, AAA members, and so on. It can’t hurt to ask.

If you’re a museum or zoo buff, see if the one in your vacation spot has a reciprocal agreement with the one you’re a member of back home. You may get in free or at a discount.

A multi-attraction pass can be a great deal IF you’re actually going to use it at enough places to make it worthwhile.

Visit the local library. Not only can they be fascinating in themselves (have you seen the one in Seattle?) I’ve found librarians to be smart, friendly, often-underpaid people who know what’s worth seeing in their area and how to see it on the cheap. 

If you have additional cost-saving ideas to share, please pass them along. Meanwhile, are you ready to head out? Fantastic. Pack your snacks and your spirit of adventure and let’s go! 

Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends. She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life. Read Susan's blog at

Publication date: August 2, 2012