Traveling on A Budget

By the end of this calendar year, I will have flown over 52 times. I am currently planning a destination wedding next year. Plus, I will be in Europe this time next week. Yes it is exhausting at times, but I have learned to cut corners on costs by simple techniques that I would love to share. Why the inspiration to do this? Many occasions my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and fellow bloggers/blog readers ask: how do you travel so much?!  I admit that it gets crazy expensive at times so I am compelled to share some free tips I learned along to help you save some serious cash. Some of what I’ve learned can save a little or a lot depending on how aggressive you are about being frugal. If you have anything extra to add, drop it in the comments. If you like what you read, also drop that in the comments so I can keep posts coming that you enjoy!

So let’s just in to the good stuff!

Flights


Kayak. I swear by Kayak so much that I should probably be getting endorsements from them at this point! This or any flight search engine can help you compare prices easily. Kayak being on my phone makes it super easy to plug in different dates, check at a glance, track, as well as explore different destinations depending on A) how long I want to travel and B) my budget. Google flights also has accurate pricing from my experience if you want to search both and compare. TIP: Flying Tuesdays or Thursdays can be more affordable than Monday or Fridays.  Sometimes, the earliest and latest flights of the day tend to be the cheaper segments compared to the 10 am or 2 pm flights that are most coveted. (I think I flew all summer on Tuesday/Thursday combinations from San Francisco to Dallas for about $61 non-stop on the 7 am and 11pm flights!)

Click here to check out Kayak’s Explore Option

Know where you want to go and have exact dates? – TIP: Track your flight for those dates at least 8 weeks prior then sign up for emails that notify you of price drops. Still too pricey? Try flying out of a different airport (usually adds a layover).

TIP: Search incognito on your browser so airlines and online booking agencies can’t see your searches and hike up the prices the more you search the flight. Disable site cookies!

My most recent experience: Dallas, TX to Rome, Italy was $1100 with one stop, but I got creative and said, “New York would have flights to Europe as much if not more often, so let’s try that.” BOOM. JFK in New York to Rome with 1 stop in Milan for a layover was only $399. Non-stop round trip flight from Dallas to get to NYC was only an $114. So those combined saved half the cost! Also noted, San Francisco to Madrid, Spain non-stop is about the same pricing ($390-$400ish). I speculate this is because it is non-peak season and right as summer has ended. Tip: Add flight insurance when booking separate tickets or flying to a non-home airport. I will also caution you to be at the airport 3 hours before your international departure like they recommend to reduce risk of missing the flight or dealing with a delay.

What else? Checking late Tuesday nights is an old tip, whether it is accurate or just by luck, that has worked on some occasions for me. I can search a flight on a Friday around noon then 3 AM the following Wednesday the price has dropped anywhere from $10 to $90.

TIP: Travel with one bag on a basic economy flight segment.

Once booked: Ask! Ask for seat upgrades while at the desk and don’t bring more than the allowed bags if you can help it. I saved the most traveling this year by only traveling with my camera and laptop in a backpack on almost all of my flights. I know this isn’t always an option, but it does have a perk of being quicker and avoiding lost luggage. So my tip, leave the suitcase of shoes at home and save $$!

Want first class upgrade for free? Bring it to the customer service attendant if you have had a delay or bad experience previously with their airline and politely ask if they can give you a free upgrade to first class or a larger seat to make up. Alaska has done this for me to make up for my poor experience with a Virgin flight (they are now combined airlines). Spirit has also upgraded me to the big front seat twice just by asking for free. United has always given me my preferred window seat every single time. I’m not getting paid to mention names, but these are just three airlines that have given me free upgrades simply by asking.

Food


One of my favorite activities with my travels is experiencing the culture and what cuisine they have to offer. I absolutely love to try different cultures food as a part of the travel experience: who doesn’t though?!  Changes I’ve made to be more budget friendly:

First simple TIP: Save by sharing a lunch if you’re with a friend or significant other. It eliminates the cost of 1-3 meals per day. When me and Josh, my fiance, do this we both admit we feel better and lighter.

NEXT: Get a hotel with breakfast included. Not all hotels include breakfast anymore. Poor planning in LA last week cost me $20 for coffee, juice and an omelette which is absurd.

Happy Hour: Alcohol and appetizers are usually half price or discounted which is pretty common knowledge. So beat the crowd, get there early, and save a little!

Hotels and Nightly Accommodations


Of course, I have to suggest using Kayak for your hotel accommodations.

TIP:  Search the trend, set up price alerts to be emailed, and then select your filters based on what you want/need. I always select AC, Wifi, and free breakfast as those are my personal must haves. I learned the hard way that a lot of European and Asian countries do not have AC like I am accustomed to in the Southern US so I take that into consideration. 

So first: Stay in areas during off peak seasons. Don’t know when that is? Google is your friend here.

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To the left, you see staying in South Lake Tahoe during this time of year is about $70 per night for hotel lodging.

During peak summer time, you’ll pay triple to 5 times that rate! I went in June and September when the weather was still nice but rates were significantly lower.

Another thing: Use search sites like Kayak or Google, then check directly with the hotel reservation line to see the difference.

AirBnB: I created an account with AirBnB and have used it at least a dozen times. Sometimes sharing an apartment with a verified host or getting an entire place can beat hotel prices. I save an average of $100 a night or more when I do decide to use sites like AirBnB or VRBO.

Hostels: I have never stayed in one, but friends have and said they saved on average half the price a hotel would cost. The housing is shared and typically co-ed (not always though). This isn’t my particular style, but it can be a way to meet other travelers and save serious cash. I would advise researching ways to being safe in hostels if it is your first time doing so as well as finding ways to secure/lock your belongings and travelingwith another person your first time. It can be safe and several other people from all cultures do it when on a budget.

Transportation


I was so intimidated of using the train systems after getting lost alone in New York the first time I had ever used a mass transit system. It was also the first time I did it alone. So, me being me, it took me a while to get comfortable taking the train anywhere else. However, since then I have become a fan of this and on average it has saved me about 50% compared to a long uber or taxi ride.

TIP: using the train is usually always cheaper unless you can walk there. However, my advice is to download the city transit maps that allow you to plug in your destination that will tell you which train and stops to take. This makes it so easy and saves you time! Afraid your cell phone reception will fail you? It probably will on subways so take screenshots of your stops.

Ride share apps: Uber and Lyft (see apps I use below in one of my Travel Folders)

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For those that don’t know, Uber and Lyft are ride share applications you can download that have drivers who pick you up and drop you off based on the address you enter. Your card is on file and charged. You never hand the driver money, and they don’t have your credit card information. It’s very easy! I did this for 4 months in the Bay Area and paid less than $10 total per day to go to work which was cheaper than my car note and insurance combined.

Why so cheap for me? Some cities have uber pool express and shared lines that allow you to save even more by sharing the ride with other people. It definitely took longer passenger sharing, but my car I had my car 1500 miles away so it worked.

Last tip: Parking a car for a long holiday/vacation? Use long term airport parking so you don’t pay pricey garage fees. (It would cost more than the average house mortgage to park in a garage in San Francisco for 30 days.) No, I am not kidding you. Do not ever do short term parking at an airport!! You can save by googling long term parking and only pay about $6-15 depending on your airport.

In a wrap:

  1. For flights, Kayak and Google Flights lets you play with dates and search price trends– get signed up for price drop alerts!
  2. Check directly with airlines and hotels after looking at search engines.
  3. Do Basic Economy on flights if you travel light and don’t care about seat selection. (I usually get my window seat and sneak a second bag on for free most times…shh!)
  4. Change airports you fly out of or select “nearby airports” when searching.
  5. Get free breakfast when you can, and share a lunch with your travel buddy!
  6. Get to restaurants early to take advantage of happy hour and skip the 5 course meals.
  7. Try housing alternatives like AirBnb or asking hotels for discounts: AAA is a good one if you are a member.
  8. Take the train or Uber instead of using a taxi cab.
  9. Using ride share apps? Plug in your address in both to see which is cheaper. Then cross compare with the train/subway systems.
  10. For activities, take a scenic hike (we always do this and leave with some of the best pictures). It’s usually free or a small park fee.
  11. Have a friend abroad or living in a new city? Ask to visit. Take them out to dinner! Return the favor when applicable.
  12. Bonus: Get a rewards card like Chase Sapphire if you can be responsible with charges and use their rewards site to book free hotels, flights, and car rentals.

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