About seven years ago I realized I could buy a plane ticket from Manchester to Virginia for less than $150. I was shocked. Up until then, I thought traveling was always super expensive and took years to plan and save for. $150, round trip?! I could be a world traveler in no time!
The world had all of a sudden completely opened up. When I was growing up I was lucky to do quite a bit of traveling with my family. My Mom and Grandmother would always go to the beach every summer for a week, and we were constantly finding shows to go to like Riverdance and Disney On Ice. And on my Dad’s side, we went to the beach every year as well – the whole gang of us piling into a car and driving to Maine and then down to Oak Island North Carolina year after year. But I had never planned my own trip until I decided to check off some destinations on my bucket list on the West Coast.
I was planning on going to graduate school at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon and organized a trip for my Mom, Gram, and Aunt to come check it out with me. I planned the entire thing – flights, hotels, transportation, where to go and what to do. It turned out to be a really great trip, and one of the last I’d ever have with my Mom.
A little while after she passed, I asked my Gram if she’d want to visit Seattle, the Redwoods, and Vegas. Of course, she was up for it because well, I have to get my adventurous soul from someone! This trip consisted of multiple flights, cities, and places to stay – overall it worked out wonderfully and I learned a lot on how to travel cheap!
Since then I have been lucky enough to continue learning more about traveling on a budget and hear a lot of people say, “I’m living vicariously through you!” And they ask, “How do you guys travel so much?” Here are some tips on what helps us make it happen:
Taking the time to plan out what you want to do and where you want to go while you’re visiting a new place is very helpful. We usually leave some time for spontaneous adventures but knowing how long it’ll take to get somewhere, where a place is in relation to where we are staying, and considering transportation options ahead of time are definitely money savers. By the time we go on a trip, I have looked at all the above along with how much it will cost to do extra things like go to a museum or theme park, and tentatively wrote down what we’re going to try to do on each day.
Make traveling a priority:
Every few months I get the itch to travel somewhere. It’s diminishing a little as I get older but sometimes it can be overwhelming and I find myself looking up flights to wherever pops into my head! Fact is, I love to travel and it’s a big part of my life. I was going to get a job at a company that had very little earned time and it was really difficult to take time off. No thanks! The company I work for gives awesome earned time and before getting hired I made sure it was okay with my boss that I take a few weeks off a year to travel. I know I’m going to want to go somewhere so I plan ahead and make it a priority to make it happen.
Make some sacrifices when it comes to money in everyday life:
This tip goes along with the above one. Sometimes this gets a little tricky because if you have trips constantly planned in advance, it seems like you’re always saving money for the trip and not enjoying everyday things. For example, I try to not spend as much money on going out to eat, going to the movies, buying random things I don’t need, and adding to my already extensive book collection (haha), and I make it a priority to save that money for the trips. My boyfriend and I have talked about how sometimes this can feel limiting during everyday life but to be honest, I’ve never regretted a trip! And we still find ways to go out and enjoy ourselves – when we get a bonus or use a gift card, etc.
Accept that some things are just going to be expensive and start saving:
Depending on where you will be going, some things on your trip will just be expensive. I would suggest continuing to do research on cheaper ways to move around the area you’re going to and cheaper lodging. One thing that tends to be a big added expense is a rental car but if you can get away with cheaper transportation, do it! My Gram and I went to Philadelphia a few years ago and we could not find a cheaper place to stay and just had to pay for the hotel that was available, so in turn, we tried to do everything else as cheap as possible.
Travel during offseasons/mid-week:
It’s amazing how much pricing changes depending on the day you’re looking at. Take the above example in Philadelphia. One night the hotel room was $400 and the next it was $180. Try to have flexible dates so you can save hundreds of dollars by traveling offseason or during the week. If you can’t travel Monday-Wednesday but can get Thursday and Friday off, go for it – your pricing for lodging and rental cars and possibly flights will be cheaper just by having one extra day during the week. Every little bit counts!
Research flights ahead of time:
I honestly have no idea what day and time is the best to buy a flight, and how far in advance you should buy a flight to get the best price. To me it seems all so random I’ve never been able to figure it out. I try to research the typical price for a flight and keep an eye on if the price changes. When I went to Hawaii this past year, I waited a little too long to buy my flights and ended up paying an extra $100+ which could have been a whole extra night for lodging. I also check out different airports to see what might be cheaper. Sometimes flying to a different airport and getting a rental car/shuttle to your destination can be cheaper – but prepared to do the research to see if it financially makes sense!
Use public transport and shuttles:
This is a HUGE thing that has helped us on our trips. Instead of getting a rental car the entire time are there other ways we can get from point A to point B? My boyfriend recently found a bus trip from Vegas to Los Angeles for under $30! It may take a little extra time and effort to figure out public transportation but it can be an affordable way to get around vs. getting a rental car.
If you have to get a rental car, be okay with downgrading:
Having a fancy rental car is not essential. Granted, when I went to Hawaii I got the typical Jeep for adventure however it was not much more expensive than a smaller car (for some reason rental cars in Hawaii were super cheap). But a place where the rental car is expensive, if you can, try to downgrade to a smaller, more basic car.
Check out cheaper hotels and other options like camping:
This is one of the most helpful tips I could suggest. This is a big reason we have been able to travel so much – we don’t go after the most expensive, high-end hotel and are okay staying in cheaper hotels and camping. We went on a cross-country road trip a few years ago and stayed at relatively basic hotels but the best times we had were when we were camping. KOA Campgrounds are all over the States and are affordable for tent sites. At the end of our trip, we had a little extra money so we splurged on a night at the Bellagio hotel (what an awesome room!) but for the rest of our stay in Vegas, we moved to a cheaper room.
Make your focus on the experience instead of traveling in luxury:
This goes along with some of the other tips. To travel on a budget you’ll need to accept you won’t be necessarily sipping cocktails on the beach at a five-star resort for a week. But you can still plan a comfortable and exciting trip that’s affordable and won’t break the bank or set you back when you get home.
Last but not least… we don’t have kids:
This obviously isn’t a “tip,” (haha) but more of a disclaimer. Kids require a lot of time, sacrifices, and money. I’ve seen people who have kids travel just as much as when they didn’t have kids, but I have no idea how they made that work since I don’t have kids! It’s not impossible to travel on a budget when you have little ones, so if traveling is something you miss or want to start doing with them, try out some of the above tips – I’m sure they would also benefit families 🙂