One of the common misconceptions is that you need to have lots of money to travel. Every time I book a trip, I’ll get questioned about how I am affording it, or my personal favorite: “Must be nice to have it like that.”
HA! Do I really? Well, let me be the first to tell you that no, I do not have it ‘like that’. I do not have a lot of discretionary income, but yes, I still travel...sometimes with my son.
You don’t need to have a huge bank account to travel. You just need to do the right research, and think outside of the box.
Below are nine ways in which you can travel for less, while making others think that you have it ‘like that’:
1. Sign up for loyalty and frequent flyer programs.
If you are not signed up for hotel loyalty programs or frequent flyer programs, do so now! These programs will allow you to accumulate points that can later be used to pay for your flights or hotel nights. Some programs will accumulate points if you use a particular credit card or debit card for purchases.
Also be on the lookout for points sales (sometimes it is cheaper to buy or use points instead of paying cash), or promotions or offers that will get you bonus points, such as taking surveys, making certain purchases during a particular time frame, etc. The first flight I took with my son to Puerto Rico cost me $200 total. His ticket was free, because on top of the fare sale that they had, I also had enough points to cover his flight.
2. Use your full-time job to your advantage.
If you have a job where you travel or book hotel rooms often, be sure to connect your loyalty/frequent flyer number to that flight or event so that you can get the points associated with it. Just be sure to check your company policy around this, as some companies will not allow you to personally benefit from company travel or events.
Example: I once booked an event on behalf of my company that earned me 75,000 Marriott points. A smaller Marriott hotel can be booked at 10,000-15,000 per night, while a fancier one can be booked at 40,000-60,000 a night. You already see where I’m going with this.
3. Do your research.
There are two apps that I swear by when doing my research prior to booking a trip: Hopper and Skiplagged. Hopper will allow you to see the least expensive days to travel to a certain destination as well as the least expensive airlines (with the exception of Southwest). It will tell you whether to wait to book the flight (because prices may drop), or will tell you to “Book now” if it is a good price.
You can also save searches and have your phone alert you when prices rise or fall. Skiplagged will not only show you the trends of flight prices over a given timeframe in the future, but it will also reveal hidden fares that can save you hundreds. What’s a hidden fare, you ask? It’s better to use a recent real-life example:
A friend priced a flight from DC to Aruba (with a stop in Florida). The flight cost her around $650.
Using Skiplagged, she found a hidden fare on the return flight. The return flight left Aruba, had a stop in Florida, and had another stop in DC before continuing on to Canada. This flight cost $450.
By choosing this flight and purposely "missing" the leg of the flight that went to Canada, she saved $200!
Now, I should add that to do so, you can NOT check bags, because those bags will end up in the final destination. You must also try your best to board earlier in the case of full flights where even carry-ons must be checked.
There is talk about how the airlines will catch on if you frequently miss flights and how you will eventually be “blacklisted”. I personally don’t believe this, but to play it safe, I wouldn’t use this strategy on a single airline TOO often.
4. Look at nearby dates.
Instead of looking at ONE departure date and ONE return date, when you research your flight or hotel costs, click on the option that says that you are flexible with dates. By doing so, you may see that departing a day earlier or later will save you “X” amount of money on the flight and/or hotel as opposed to going on the dates that you had originally chosen. Departing in the middle of the week as opposed to the weekend will almost always save you money.
5. Consider hotel alternatives.
Staying in a hotel is usually the easiest way to go because there is more availability, more flexibility, more amenities, and you daily housekeeping. However, because of these perks, hotels are also the most expensive way to go.
My entire 7-night stay in a downtown Cancún Airbnb apartment once cost less than one night would have cost me in one of the hotels in the hotel zone. And this wasn’t a tiny apartment-- it was a very large two-bedroom, one bath apartment with AC, kitchen, a laundry room and large balcony.
In a recent girls trip to Aruba, we had a HUGE 4-bedroom, 2.5 bath home with a backyard and pool for three nights for only $400.
6. Cook your own meals.
One of the biggest advantages of staying in an Airbnb is having access to a kitchen where you can cook, refrigerate items, and/or microwave items. If you stay in a hotel, you may be able to find rooms that offer these items. If not, you can usually request from the front desk to have a small mini-fridge and/or microwave be placed in your room before arrival (if available).
You will save tons of money if you choose to cook some of your own meals as opposed to eating out every day. During our one week stay in Cancún, I bought nearly a week’s worth of groceries for roughly $125 USD (including wine). This MAY have covered a day worth of restaurants if we had chosen to eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you do decide to treat yourself and eat out, don’t be afraid to take your leftovers back to your room to warm up for another meal.
7. Avoid staying and eating in the tourist areas.
I know, this is the complete opposite of what we always thought we should do when we travel, but unless you want to spend lots of money on overpriced accommodations, meals, and souvenirs, it is totally worth it to “live like a local” instead of going to the places designed for tourists.
In some places, tourism is what brings in the money, and trust me, you will be treated accordingly. There are also other benefits to “living like a local” such as cultural immersion, better meals and drinks, and an overall better experience, but we’ll save that for another blog post.
8. Use public transportation.
Taking a taxi can be expensive, especially around the tourist areas. Research the availability of public transportation around where you are staying and opt to use buses, trains, and/or colectivos instead. It will save you several dollars over the course of the day, as most will cost you literally pocket change per trip.
If using public transportation isn’t your thing, check if Uber is available where you are going. It is however very important to note that Uber isn’t as welcomed in some places as others and often lead to disputes between drivers with taxi drivers. This can sometimes put you in a very awkward if not downright dangerous situation.
On a recent girls trip, we had police officers approach us and personally escort us to the gas station where our driver was picking us up (and playing like a regular guy getting his gas) because of the history of passengers and Uber drivers being harassed by the local taxi drivers. Not cool.
9. Consider all-inclusive tours and activities over renting a car.
Instead of renting a car, if I’m going to a new place, I will often use Viator to search for tours and activities that will include transportation, pickup/dropoff, and meals and drinks. This not only saves me money on car rental fees, gas, and my meals for the day, but will also allow me to make the most of my time by safely visiting one or more places of interest.
Once you get used to doing the above, it eventually becomes natural. You become a pro at budget travel and start to find additional ways to cut money, not just on that trip, but also in other areas of your life. At that point, you really do have it ‘like that’, because most of your money is still in your pocket. The only problem? You’ll find yourself wanting to travel even more.
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