You’ve asked and now I’m answering… these are the things I’ve learned and do to get us the most bang for our travel buck.
1 – Travel in the off season and be flexible on your dates. We got a great deal on our last trip to Mexico because we went in January. We were there with mostly older people, snowbirds, and very few families. This is because most people are broke after the holidays and the kids school schedule is back in swing so the resorts are basically giving the rooms away for 1/4 of what they would be in the summer. Take advantage and do your research. For example, Costa Rica is cheap in November but high season starts in December. Santorini was basically our own private island in late November costing us only $68/night for a cave house with a hot tub and patio overlooking the ocean but all the businesses leave and shut down in December which would leave you without much for food or entertainment. Don’t go to tourist locations at high times or you will pay top dollar. It’s also the busiest times and over run with people which is something else we try to avoid. Any time you can book your airfare on a Wednesday, do it! Fights are cheapest on Wednesdays. Tuesdays are a close 2nd. Thursdays through Mondays cost more with weekends being the most expensive.
2 – Plan ahead. Can not stress this enough. We plan most of our trips 1 year in advance according to the airline. For example, American airlines will book up to 1 year out but South West airlines will usually only book 6 months out with exceptions around holidays. We get the best prices and are able to make our plans and arrangements by booking so early. It also gives us plenty of time to research the other things I’ve already mentioned like off seasons, weather conditions during off season, average prices per night, and sights/things to do and safety of area.
3 – Be flexible where you travel. This builds-off of number 2. We never have just 1 place in mind of where we want to go. We usually have about 10 places in mind and will end up settling on a place based on research and how much of a deal we can get. We really enjoy finding new places and seeing the world together so vacation for us is about all different kinds of experiences and places. Maybe a beach, maybe a mountain. Possibly a city or we might end up in a quaint village. They all have their pros and cons but when traveling on a budget, we are all about seeing how far our dollar can go and that requires flexibility on your part. You won’t be in Ibiza during the summer but you could have it to yourself in February. On the other hand, if you want the beach during beach weather, try less popular places like Portugal. Fabulous beaches without the price tag and you can take a train to Spain for $25 US dollars.
4 – Learn to use the public transportation. This is not something that comes naturally to me so thank God for my husband being so willing to take the lead in this area. Most places we’ve been have Uber or a low cost driving service of some sort but many places have public transportation which is usually super cheap. For example, using Uber and taxi’s in Athens, Greece would have easily cost up up to $100/day. We found the subway station instead and traveled everywhere our hearts could dream of (and all of the tourist stops) for $4 US dollars each per day, unlimited rides. Look, I get as a woman this can be seriously scary. It was for me anyway so here’s my advice; get yourself google translate, ask people who work there and are in uniform for help, leave your purse and fancy jewelry at home and keep money & valuables out of site, carry a tactical pen (in case ish gets real), and walk with some confidence. Go live your life and explore. If you get lost, uber back!
5 – Learn which holidays are more expensive and which holidays are less expensive. Guess who doesn’t care about Thanksgiving??? Everywhere except America. We get some of our best international deals during this week. However domestically, it’s one of the most expensive times to travel. Christmas is always expensive, everywhere with the exception being travelling on Christmas day itself. People want to travel the day before or after Christmas but most airfares will drop drastically on the actual holiday if you’re willing to travel on it. Summer time is usually expensive unless you go to an off season location. Basically if you’re slave to your kids school calendar for vacation times, I can’t help you much. Spring break weeks will always be 1/3 to 1/2 more costly then just the last week of February or 1st week of April. Other holidays like Marthin Luther King day don’t matter in Mexico. So if you get this day off already, it’s an easy way to make a long weekend a holiday or extend that weekend into a Wednesday and fly back on the cheap.
6 – Take the long layover and learn where the airlines fly direct. Anywhere the airline flies directly (no layovers) from your local airport will usually be cheaper. So for us leaving from DFW, we can get direct flights to Puerto Vallarta all day long, it’s only 2 1/2 hours away and the credit card points go far (I’ll get to that). Internationally we can fly direct to London, Tokyo, Liberia, Sydney, or Hong Kong as well as many others. Check out flyfrom.com to see your local airports direct flights. If the direct flight is not an option or for some reason more expensive, take advantage of the layovers. This is something I just recently started integrating into our travel. When I got our round trip flights to Iceland for only $170 total (not each) this was in large part because we were willing to have a 24 hour layovers in London on the way there and the way back. They offered other layover options but I picked that one and would happily do it again because it was enough time to get some sleep, a nice shower, not feel totally jet lagged and we got to explore a “bonus location” for free. We’d never been to London and now we can cross authentic fish and chips as well as a visit to Windsor castle off our bucket list. Make the most out of a cheap flight with a long layover in a “bonus” place. As a side note, this layover only worked because we do carry on luggage only. If we had checked bags, our luggage would have been stuck in airport limbo until we got to our final destination. So, my personal advice is to travel light and take less stuff. It makes getting around a breeze and I promise you don’t need half that crap anyway. More experiences, less stuff.
7 – Go where the economy is worse. Look, I’m not trying to be politically correct so if you’re offended by my opinion and statements, well honestly I don’t care… America is the greatest country in the entire world and the more you travel, the more you’ll know that! If you want to travel cheap, go to safe places where the dollar goes farther. In Mexico we got a 1 hour couples massage for $60 and paid a $20 tip just by walking out of the hotel and across the street. They were so thankful and kind and told us to come back everyday we were there. In Greece our penthouse over looking the Acropolis was only $72/night with a hot tub on the balcony. You get great service also because tourism brings them money so you’re helping them financially and their economy. A private full day tour of 8 hours with our own driver all over Santorini cost us $80. The more socialist leaning countries will be more expensive like Denmark or Sweden. In London I kicked myself for not realizing the conversion rate and paying $37 for a crappy stuffed Christmas decoration which would have only cost $5 in the states. Iceland was stupid expensive, like $45 for a T-shirt and $32 for a bar of soap expensive. Portugal was inexpensive by European standards and South America is always a win. Again, do your own research and know conversion rates as well as food and entertainment and transportation prices.
8 – We don’t travel “well”. What I mean by this is that we don’t fly 1st class and stay at the four seasons. I like to say we don’t do 5 stars but we like to keep it between 2.5-4 stars. To be honest, I’d ride in a luggage compartment for a free flight. Right now I’m young enough and just trying to make the memories and experiene new things so if we can take 4-5 moderately priced trips per year vs 1 really nice or expensive trip per year, we choose more trips. That will probably change over time and it doesn’t mean we travel badly.
9 – Credit Card Points – The Game! We didn’t write the book on this, but we definitely subscribe to it at a low level. At the core there are 3 major credit cards that provide points sign up bonuses. Each of those credit cards have an amount of time that has to pass after the credit has been closed before you qualify for a sign up bonus again. There are people that dive much deeper down this rabbit hole, there are reddit groups dedicated to squeezing every travel dollar they can out of credit card companies. One of our favorite sites for these techniques is www.thepointsguy.com. If you’d like to help us out and get 15,000 extra bonus points for yourself use the link below!
Earn 80,000 bonus points with Chase Sapphire Preferred. Plus, earn $50 statement credit towards grocery store purchases. I can be rewarded, learn more.