Most of us enjoy traveling but not spending so much money on it would probably make that a more realistic and enjoyable goal. As I've always said, "you don’t have to be rich to travel". Keeping an open mind and a little bit of effort are two critical components of the "budget formula". This being the case here are a couple of tips on three very important topics; Airfare, Lodging & Traveling.
How to save on Airfare
Through my travels I've learned to do tons of research prior to a flight, usually with the goal of saving the most money. Sometimes my impulsivity takes over and I book a flash sale not knowing much about the destination. There's beauty everywhere! That being said, here are a few of my tips.
- Don't overlook budget carriers. Airlines like Spirit, WOW Air, AirAsia, Tiger Air, Ryan Air and Southwest can be helpful for shorter budget trips. These airlines don't usually pop up in search engines so checking their website to compare/purchase fares is the best way to go. There are many more budget carriers and depending where you are traveling, a good tip is to research local airlines when intending to visit multiple locations during one trip.
- Be flexible with your time. At times most of us would only look to fly on weekends or come back on a Sunday etc. Airlines know this and price these flights accordingly. Being flexible with your departure/arrival date can save you a significant amount. For example, flying out on a Tuesday or Wednesday vs a Friday etc. Taking advantage of long holiday weekends is another way to extend your time away while taking minimal time off work. Look to fly during "dead weeks". This also includes better rates on lodging. Dead weeks are low traffic weeks for airlines such as the first two weeks in Dec, January until MLK day, and February, with the exception of school vacation week, Presidents Day and Valentine's Day.
- We are already used to the typical Kayak, Priceline, Orbitz etc. Though these sites are fine they don’t always provide the best deals or alert you when one pops up. I tend to use;
- www.Google.com/flights - This site is amazing and helps you track flights that you want to watch prior to purchasing. It also provides a map with different prices for different locations so if you have no destination in mind and want to let the numbers choose this is the site to use.
- www.theflightdeal.com and www.travelpirates.com- Both great sites to browse different destinations and current deals.
- Skyscanner, Hopper, Airfare Watchdog are all phone apps, both for IOS and Androids, that help track flights and let you know when you should book. They predict whether the flight will drop or rise in price. My personal favorite is Hopper.
- A unique option that's gaining more popularity is the air fare layaway option. Sites like www.flightlayaway.com www.airfordable.com are great sources for this. Certain airlines, such as AirTran, JetBlue, USAirways and Continental also offer a "Bill Me Later" option. You are required to make total payment within 90 days. American Airlines has the FlyNow Payment Plan that you can also look into by visiting www.aa.com
- Another option to think about is volunteering/teaching/interning as a travel option. Ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world as any of those? Check out www.volunteerforever.com The site helps you find an opportunity and fund it at the same time. www.Studyabroad.com is another great site to do this with as well.
- Keep in mind that when you open up yourself to anywhere vs. a set list of places you'll be able to travel more freely. I have a general idea of places I'd like to visit but because my goal is to see the world in no particular order, I will go anywhere a good deal takes me. Be open!!
How to save on Lodging
This can go so many different ways due to individual styles of traveling. Some of us like luxury travel, others are the opposite and don’t mind roughing it but most of us are somewhere in the middle. I personally love staying with local residents and getting first hand tips about the area I'm visiting. I also enjoy making friends and connections everywhere, you never know if and when you'll need them! Here are a few of my favorite options for lodging.
- www.couchsurfing.com www.roomorama.com These sites have the option of staying with local residents and provide a safe network while traveling. They can range from low to higher rates depending on your requests.
- www.homeaway.com www.vrbo.com www.airbnb.com These are great sites for booking properties/apartment rentals. I used HomeAway for my birthday trip to Dominican Republic and it was seamless. I recommend it for large parties if intending to stay in the same location. Airbnb is my "go-to" for almost every other trip I take with a smaller crowd, though it can also be used for larger properties and solo travel.
- https://www.innclusive.com/ This site mimics the same concept as Airbnb but more specifically created for minorities whom have felt Airbnb, or any other company with that purpose, has not been inclusive in the sense where they've experienced discrimination due to their race/skin color when trying to book. This is an attempt to address the #Airbnbwhileblack concerns that have been consistently voiced by this community.
- If hotels are more your thing then check out www.trivago.com It's not great for finding budget rates but it does do a great job at finding 4/5 star hotels for better rates. www.groupon.com is also pretty amazing when it comes to hotel deals. Make sure to read the fine print and call the hotel PRIOR to purchasing any groupon deal as they may not have your needed availability. This goes for any hotel booking in general. I recommend always calling the hotel you are trying to book with to ask for any rate deals or specials. I would also recommend inquiring about the location of the room. For example, if noise bothers you, ask for a room located in a more quiet area of the hotel or if you'd rather be by the terrace or the pool etc. This is much easier through a phone call than an email chat.
- For those traveling to Cuba I would recommend www.airbnb.com or www.casaparticular.com
- Glamping is a very unique form of lodging. Think of it as luxury camping. Check it out at www.glamping.com and you'll see that not only is it an adventure but cost effective as well.
How to save DURING your trip
So you've booked your airfare & lodging, the next challenge is minimizing your expenses during your trip. This again speaks a bit into your travel style. If you're fairly new to traveling then you'll probably feel more comfortable staying in the touristy areas. If you're an adventurer then exploring will be all the more exciting for you. This being said here is a couple tips for both styles.
- Keep shopping to a minimum! I know it's hard because we want different memorabilia, souvenirs etc. When I first started traveling I would go crazy trying to bring my closest friends and family something from where I had visited. Eventually I couldn’t keep up, it became expensive and I would find myself dragging more weight through out the trip. What I've chosen to do now is buy post cards with postage and send them to my family while I'm traveling. Depending how far I am I might get back before the postcard arrives but it's the thought that counts right? My father loves receiving foreign mail, we've made it a thing. If you are going to shop, shop strategically (opting for local stores/markets/business) and with a purpose.
- Take public transportation. I'm not against renting a car, it obviously provides convenience and flexibility but if you can do without it, then do without it. When I traveled to Europe I've chosen to take the train/bus everywhere. I've also rented a bike & taken Uber. Yes, there will be areas in the world where a car is needed for example, Iceland, the Caribbean, South/Central America and many more. In those cases, I suggest either Uber or researching LOCAL rental car companies. More often than not they have better rates than the rental car giants like Hertz, National etc. If you have member status in any of these big companies then tapping into that would also help with rates. Keep in mind that renting a car when planning to cross country borders could prove to be problematic. Check with rental agency first, some agencies don't allow it.
- Eat where the locals eat! When asking around for tips and suggestions don’t ask where should you go eat, ask instead, where do they eat? Sites like www.eatwithalocal.com www.eatwith.com can be super helpful and very adventurous as these sites provide the opportunity to attend dinners with local hosts. When I traveled to Ibiza, a place known to be expensive, we connected with our Airbnb host and she recommended places that she frequents and even invited us to the bar where she worked. We followed her recommendations and got to see a different side of Ibiza while saving a ton on delicious paella and free drinks from her. Don't underestimate these connections!
- Avoid costly tours. How you ask? Well this depends on a lot of different things like language, your tolerance for figuring out maps/directions in a foreign country, amount of time you have on your visit etc. Like rental cars, tours are very convenient and in some places possibly necessary but if you can avoid them, well, avoid them. I've gotten pretty crafty at making a list of different things I want to see when visiting a specific location and looking up local guided tours that target what I want to see. I look at their itineraries and try to mimic them on my own. For example, in Iceland there is a Golden Triangle tour available, myself and the friends I went with rented a cheap car and between the four of us mapped it out and took ourselves. We had more flexibility, saw the same sights the tour offered and had a crazy adventure doing so. The knowledge that usually comes with a tour guide was for me to research and read about while experiencing it all for myself at the same time. This is a tip and certainly something to think about when strapped for cash and unsure how to go about seeing different things in a large city. Guided tours usually do a very good job at summarizing the "most important sights" in their city if you find yourself in a place where you're not very familiar with the surrounding area.
- Last but not least, use travel credit cards as much as possible. As a personal rule I don’t use anything else other than my Capital One Venture card when traveling. I take cash out prior to my visit and look for different places with a low exchange rate. If I absolutely have to take cash out I will go above and beyond looking for an actual bank ATM, this goes for international and domestic travel. This, however, is mostly highlighted in third world countries where it's important to be prepared cash wise prior to travel. How do travel credit cards save you money? Travel credit cards are invaluable in the sense that they offer protection, no foreign exchange fees, membership perks and miles that you can exchange for air fare, car rentals and/or lodging. A good way to easily rack up miles on your travel credit card is using them for monthly bills you're already paying. I use mine to pay my car note, my cell phone, my insurance and all other monthly bills and then I pay the credit card the same amount I was already planning to spend, except now I have all those miles. Smart right? This takes self-control and healthy financial habits. If you know you won't pay off the balance and let it accumulate then this may not be a good option.
And that my friends is my spiel on "budget travel". I hope these tips have served as a starting point to realizing that traveling doesn’t have to cost so much money. As previously mentioned, with a bit of effort and research you're bound to find a great deal. Good Luck!!