Tips on how not to break the bank when traveling
As a 20-something with NYC rent and a ton of student loans, I'm often asked how I can afford to travel and how I save money on travel. Don't misunderstand; I'm not someone that jets off every other week to some far off location. I still only get the typical two weeks of vacation per year. So when I do get the chance to travel, I try to make the most of it. Whether it's a weekend or a week-long trip, I apply the same methods to save money. Read on for my tips!
Save on Flights
1. Be Flexible
If you're itching to travel and know your dates (or don't!), look at Kayak Explore. It's my go-to for checking flights to anywhere when I don't have a specific destination in mind. I was able to book a round trip ticket to Malaga, Spain for less than $450. This was well below the round trip fare to either Madrid or Barcelona. Getting to these cities from Malaga is really easy, so keep other airports in mind when looking to book. You also want to be flexible with which airline you fly. There are a lot of great airlines that fly for very cheap to Europe that are still on the same level as Southwest. You may have to plan on bringing your own food and water, but it saves you hundreds!
Related reading: 25 Cheapest Travel Destinations for Budget Travel
2. Use Points & Miles
I've been really fortunate to have a dad that has traveled constantly for work for the last 30+ years. Because of this, he's accumulated tons and tons of miles plus status (this saves on bag fees, extra legroom seats, etc.), which I've been able to use here and there. Recently though, airlines have changed the way you can gain miles. It's no longer based on how many physical miles you travel, but on how much money you're spending on each ticket. That's why it's amazing to have a credit card that can also earn you points. Each have their own earnings programs, but for an example, my United Chase Explorer (I pretty much grew up traveling United exclusively) card lets me gain 3x the points on dining at select restaurants. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is another card option that won't tie you to just one airline, and also offers travel perks. The two great thing about these cards (and certain debit cards) are that they don't charge foreign transaction fees and offer travel insurance. This is huge!
Something that I've noticed when booking reward miles is that you should compare roundtrip and one-way fares as well as being logged in and being logged out. I've had different reward miles show up at the same search time. Also, not every airline's rewards redemption is created equal. I've personally had many issues with booking award miles on American Airlines. They are always more expensive than United, as an example, and there are almost never any nonstop flights. This was the case in searching for the different tiers of rewards redemptions for tickets from NYC to Tokyo.
BONUS: Embrace Bleisure Travel
Bleisure travel, mixing business with leisure travel, isn't a new idea, but it's been taking off in the travel industry as a new target market. Recently, I planned my trip to LA around a work trip in Houston I had. I was able to use miles on the way out then my company gave me my return back to NYC with a stop in Houston. Also, if you're flying frequently for work, use your status! You'll save on upgrades and baggage this way.
3. Use Incognito Windows
Always use Incognito Windows or clear your cookies! Airlines and other booking sites will increase their prices by using your cookies to see that you're air fare searching on other sites.
4. Book On Less Popular Travel Days & Times
You can save so much just by booking your trip on less popular days like Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays. The most expensive days tend to be Fridays and Sundays. Although these are great rules to follow, it's always best to compare all your options. Red eye flights and flights around lunch and dinner are much less desirable, so you'll see an increase in savings here. If your trip isn't flexible, try using these rules for at least one leg of your trip.
5. Sign Up for Alerts
When you're starting out in your air fare search, it can definitely be overwhelming. How many places do you look and when should you book? I like using the app Hopper, which will let me know immediately if I should hold off on booking or book NOW. It'll also tell me how much I'll save if I wait and vice versa. You can set up alerts for when you should book. I don't rely solely on this app though since it doesn't include every airline. Other sites you can set up alerts are:
Save on Where to Stay
6. With Friends & Family
This is huge. The #1 way to save on any accommodation is to simply stay with people you know. You might think it's mooching, but it never hurts to ask. You can offer ways to make up for your visit by buying groceries or helping out around the house!
Prices of hostels will depend on the country you're visiting. For example, European hostels are extremely cheap and abundant, but hostels in Japan are more expensive with limited options outside of major cities like Tokyo. I use Hostelworld to pick out my hostels, which has all the info you need to book a safe and pleasant hostel fit for your needs.
Related reading: A First Time Hostel Guide
Couchsurfing is a free way to stay around the world and meet awesome people who are willing to show you around and open up about their culture. There are ways to see hosts who are actually verified on the site too. If you don't want to stay with someone, you can just meet up with them instead for a local's guide to whereever you're traveling to!
9. Apartment Rentals
I love renting an apartment. I typically use Airbnb (receive $40 off your first booking). HomeAway is an alternative choice for whole home rentals. They're both great for any group size. You'll definitely be able to find what you're looking for with one of these sites!
10. Home Exchange Programs
Ever wondered what it's like to visit a city like a local does, but also want to pay it forward? With HomeExchange and similar companies, you'll be able to add your own home to its listings and then search and inquire about other homes in the places you'll be visiting. Patience is a must here since date, locations, and vibes all need to match before an exchange can take place!
Save on Your Trip
11. Find Simple Discounts and Free Days
How many of you have kept your student ID card? *Raises hand* This card is a gold mine. You can get student admission to many, many places in different cities like pricy museum tickets! I've only ever had ONE museum inspect my student ID card, and I had to fork over the full price of admission, but always play dumb! You never know if it'll work or not. Not feeling ballsy enough or don't have your ID card anymore? Almost all museums offer free admission on certain days and times. You just have to decide if you want to visit when everyone else is too.
12. Use Public Transportation, Bike or Walk
I try to limit my taxi and Uber/Lyft rides as much as possible, especially in NYC where rides are automatically pricier with certain taxes (When I go to Philly, I ball out on the Ubers/Lyfts because they are THAT much cheaper). If there is great public transportation like the bus or subway, use it! You end up saving so much and can be quicker (on the subway). One of my favorite ways, however, is to explore a new city by walking or biking. You really get a sense of the city better and you can find cute coffee shops and other places you wouldn't normally spot.
13. Make One Meal a Day a Sit-Down Meal
When you're trying to save money on travel, a good rule to give yourself is to only have one sit-down meal a day. Ask yourself this, do you really need a 3 course meal for every meal? I don't think so. If you're staying in an Airbnb or something similar, you'll have access to a kitchen where you can stock up on groceries. A lot of times, since you're in vacation-mode, you'll want to overindulge, but this is a great way to cut back on both spending and unnecessary calories!
14. Don't Exchange Your Money
I know I might get some that disagree with me on this one, but I've learned the hard way that exchanging the majority of your money isn't the best way to go. To be on the safe side, you should exchange enough cash to get you from the airport to your hotel or wherever you are going. After that, use either your credit or debit card. This ensures you get the best possible exchange rate.
Depending on your card, you won't have any foreign transaction fees too. You'll want to notify your bank or credit card company that you'll be out of the country. Whatever you do, don't exchange your money at the airport! They are the worst in terms of exchange rates since they know everyone is desperate for cash. You should also look up if your destination takes USD as well. This happened to me when I was in Costa Rica.
15. Do What the Locals Do
This is by far one of my favorite pieces of advice. If you want a truly authentic experience in a different place, do what the locals do! You'll learn so much more about the destination and culture if you decide to do this rather than only see and do the touristy things. There are a lot of sites that, for a small fee, you can hire locals to show you around. If you don't want to pay, many resources are available if you dig hard enough! I personally love using Foursquare.