Traveling on a Budget: How to do more for less!
Written by: Taylor Coffman
Traveling on a Budget: how to do more for less!
I asked my friend Taylor, who blogs over at Tay-Coff to Adventure!, if she would write-up an article for all of us interested in traveling, but are not really sure how to do it on a budget. Just in time for holiday travels, Taylor packs this blog post full of tips and tricks from a seasoned traveler, like herself. Grab a notepad and pen, you are going to want to take notes during this post!
Some argue money is best spent on experiences rather than things. When it comes to traveling, those memories truly are priceless. I admittedly travel a lot and it can be expensive, but there are ways to stretch a dollar to help you see the world without seeing your bank balance disappear. Here are some of my favorite ways to curb expenses:
Look at shoulder seasons. These are the times of year between typical travel times like the thick of Summer. You’ll find less crowds and less expensive accommodations.
Fly midweek and consider booking your flight ON a holiday for cheaper prices. I’ve sacrificed Thanksgiving dinner for a cheap flight to Europe and didn’t regret it at all.
If you want to go to commonly expensive destinations, travel to those pricey places on weekdays when hotels are much cheaper. When everyone goes right, go left. Supply and demand will suddenly work in your favor. The same hotel on a Tuesday will be less expensive than on a Saturday.
Some places are more affordable by nature, if you know you don’t have a big travel budget- consider this. For example, Big Sur has only a couple hotels, so you’ll pay A LOT for a very standard room.
Additionally, staying a little outside the destination MIGHT seem cheaper but be sure to balance the worth of your time and transportation- sometimes paying more to stay nearer to sights will keep car rental or taxi prices in check. Your time also has a value- sometimes a $20 short taxi ride is worth it over the 90-minute $3.00 train ride with your luggage.
Airbnb’s are a great alternative. They can be price wise comparable to a hotel, but you often get a kitchen. So instead of paying for every meal, you can buy local ingredients and eat at the rental to save money on meals.
Hotels.com sites are really handy over time. The more you travel, you can get points for future travel- so it makes sense to book with them instead of the hotel directly if the option is available. You’ll find yourself with free nights on them.
Look for accommodations that include breakfast and other perks. Just another way to help stretch that dollar.
Camp! I love camping- for $30 tops you have a great place to stay. Perfect for places where nature is the prime draw.
When it comes to how you get to places like Europe, budget airlines like Wow and Norwegian are great options for the thrifty traveler. You may not get a meal, but airplane food isn’t good anyways. I suggest packing a lunch, refilling a water bottle in the airport, downloading a Netflix app and loading it up with TV episodes and movies, bring phone charger, a book, an eye-mask, then sit back and enjoy the ride. I can vouch for these two airlines. But there are many others, just look up the reviews before you book.
Use apps like Hopper, or other tracking websites, to find the best moment to buy flights. It’s hard to trust them, but they are good gauges on whether to buy or not. I almost lost faith a flight to Mexico was going to get cheaper and the alert kept suggesting holding tight and sure enough- the flight DID go down considerably. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s pretty right on much of the time. Usually the best prices for a flight are about three months out. Buying early does NOT mean better prices.
Are the flights to your dream European destination too pricey? Find a cheaper flight to a European city nearby! Flights within Europe are MUCH cheaper, so spend a couple days in Paris, for example, before heading to your final dream destination.
Strategize when you rent your car and always factor in parking (WHICH CAN BE IMPOSSIBLE and EXPENSIVE especially in cities). Also know where you’re going. On a recent trip to Italy having a car in the Northern region was essential, but we dropped it off outside Venice because the rest of the trip involved towns you can’t even drive into. Do your homework (know also when you need an international driver’s license). Also, some countries have steep rental taxes, so read the fine print. You might end up paying double what you expect (ahem, Mexico!).
Train passes are not always the way to go. Sometimes you just don’t need the expense of Eurorail pass for a short couple of weeks in one country. But in other countries, it’s a great deal. Size up your trip and destinations then compare costs.
Let’s talk credit cards. First, ALWAYS check to make sure they don’t have international fees. MANY do. I have one card that doesn’t, and I use it exclusively when I travel. It’s doesn’t even have an annual fee. If you plan to travel, chose a credit card that can travel with you. Also, many cards with fees practically pay for themselves with the travel credits as long as you ACTUALLY use them like Chase Sapphire. Take a look at introductory deals like free companion tickets for flights like on Southwest Visa or Alaska Air’s card. Many of these cards get you access to lounges with free food and drinks so you can travel like rock stars.
OH money- I don’t convert money at the airport. The exchange rate is rarely good. I hit an ATM at the airport to help get me started (don’t forget to alert your bank you’re traveling). Then I get more cash as needed at the ATM or Bancomat machines and use my no-international-fee credit card. If you have leftover cash, it IS best to try to spend it before coming home because you will likely lose some value. So, buy yourself a nice snack for the plane.
Speaking of money- beware of making cash change in local currencies- easy to get taken advantage of and given the wrong change.
Eating: I like to schedule a few nice meals. The kind I know hurt the pocket book but make a lifetime of memories. But between those, I try authentic foods, often street foods or farmers markets. Small places where the food is affordable and delicious and not a tourist trap. Also consider eating at fine dining places for lunch, where the menu is cheaper and then doing a lighter dinner.
Buy tickets to attractions ahead of time- while it doesn’t always save you money, it definitely saves you time. And again, that has an immense value on an expensive trip. Instead of waiting all day to get into that famous cathedral, you can go into the express line and see more things!
Let’s talk smart phones- First get a data plan for traveling, or you risk some very terrible fees. I don’t like to be on my phone much besides taking pictures. Beware of hackers on Wi-Fi, but you can quickly download your directions via google maps and then go on airplane mode. I like to load up my maps on Wi-Fi and then I have it offline most of the day. But do get a plan because sometimes you need to research something on the fly or make emergency phone calls.
Skip the expensive tour guide groups and excursions- instead do your own research (AHEM, READ TRAVEL BLOGS) or ask questions of the concierge hotel staff. Some tours can be great though- spring for audio or lead tours in specific historical places (or read the plaques and try to listen to tour guides that inevitably walk by). Do a bar tour with a recommended local where you’ll have a more intimate experience. While tour groups can be great, with just a little research you can curate your own experience at less expense. I do a ton a research before traveling and it makes for a much better trip. I know ahead of time where I’d like to visit, so I don’t waste valuable trip hours doing that work with little to no internet.
Did I mention read travel blogs? I may be preaching to the converted, but there are tons of great ideas for things to see and do in blogs that are often outside the beaten path. Rick Steves is great too for avoiding tourist traps in Europe. Or at least telling you what mobbed tourist attraction IS worth the crowds, lines, general torment- I’m talking about YOU, Sistine Chapel.
Are you planning a long adventure and you’re worried about rent back home? Consider subletting your place to someone trusted- so you can have someone stay and help carry the burden of the rent while you’re gone.
Traveling costs money. There is no way around it. However, I feel the cost of NOT traveling is far higher. The experiences, memories, and friendships you make while seeing the world are life’s gems. You’ll pay in regret if you don’t hit the road and follow that sense of adventure. Don’t let cost stop you. We have a lot of preconceived notions about how expensive traveling is- but do your research. That trip you’ve been dreaming of may be more doable than you think.
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