This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
For all that I love to save money, one of my least frugal habits is that I really like to travel. Like a lot. In the last five years I have gone to Costa Rica, the UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Spain and Cuba. Oh and I drove through Austria and Belgium. How on earth did I do all that considering I’ve been a broke college student?
Well, mostly I took advantage of opportunities when they presented themself and I did crazy things like sleep in an airport in London or stay in a hammock hostel (Yes, instead of beds, there were hundreds of hammocks on the beach) in Costa Rica. I rarely ate in restaurants and instead chose to eat picnic style in a park or on the beach. I took the bus or metro instead of a cab and I walked more often than not. Basically, I worked my butt off to make sure I could save money while traveling. It was so worth it.
Yesterday I found out that I have an opportunity to go to the Cayman Islands in December through my school. I’ll be taking two classes there and so it’s added to my tuition. Basically, if I just left it like that, I’d be set to go. However, my fiance and I decided that we really wanted him to go too. For all of those crazy trips I mentioned above, poor Jesse stayed at home with the dog and cats. He’s never even been out of the country! Plus, we have not taken a vacation together in at least three years. So we’re throwing caution to the wind and going for it! (After all, balance is a part of my name right? Can’t be balanced if all I do is hoard my pennies!)
Unfortunately, our finances are not anywhere near the point where we can spring for an airplane ticket and have Jesse take 10 days off from work without feeling the pinch. But we are determined to make it work so we will. After all, I’ve been down this road before and I already know many of the tips and tricks!
Top Tips On How Save Money While Traveling
Compare, Compare, Compare
Right now, I’m thinking specifically about plane tickets but this also applies to pretty much everything involved with traveling. The very worst thing you can do is only look at one site or only talk to one company. Heck, I once cut a price in half in about 3 seconds by merely mentioning that I was planning on talking to a company’s competitor before I made a decision. Boom. Half off.
Specifically to plane tickets; I look at numerous websites to gain an idea of available flight prices but I also look at slightly inconveniently airports as well. Where I live right now has an airport about 35 minutes away. I looked at their prices and then looked at flights out of airports within driving distance. I found that a flight out of an airport about 4 hours away, costs 1/5th of the price. 1/5!! True, four hours away is hardly convenient but even the driving time is mitigated by the fact that because it’s a direct flight, our travel time will only be an hour longer than if we flew out of the closer airport and had a layover. An extra two hours (there and back) is well worth the thousand plus dollars it is saving us. Think outside the box and compare, compare and compare.
Bonus Tip – Swagbucks currently has Expedia and other travel sites on their Shop To Earn options. Once you have compared prices, why not see if you can save even more by earning cash back? If you pay with a credit card that offers cash back, you can even double the savings!
If you have a rigid timetable for when you will be traveling, where you will stay, and what you will see, you will spend more. Sometimes that is worth it but sometimes it is not. If you have the luxury of being a little flexible, you can save big.
The easiest way to save is to travel during the offseason and this off-time depends on where you are going. If you are going to Disneyland, the cheapest hotels and best deals can be found during the school year. It also has the perk of being when the crowds are the lowest! If you are traveling to a tropical location like the Bahamas, everyone wants to go there to get away from the snow and ice back home. If you simply plan your trip in order to avoid this tourist rush, you can save on everything from plane tickets, to hotels, to food and more.
Another way to save while planning your trip is to be flexible with your travel dates. Even a day or two in either direction can make a flight or hotel stay significantly cheaper. Flying in on a Thursday is usually cheaper than a plane ticket on a Saturday. Similarly, hotel prices are usually more expensive on the weekend compared to the prices during the week. Use this to your advantage and plan your trip wisely.
I didn’t really want to sleep in the Heathrow airport all by myself. Nope. That was definitely not on my list of top things to do in London. However, I had a 5am flight and the Tube couldn’t get me there any earlier than 6am. When I priced out a taxi, it was going to be almost a hundred dollars! Forget that! So instead, I started researching the Heathrow airport and found that if I had a ticket, I could take the last tube to airport, sleep a few hours and be ready to go the next morning. By being a little uncomfortable for about 4 hours, I saved the hundred dollars from the cab fare AND didn’t have to pay for a hostel or hotel room that last night. I would have had to leave that hostel before 3 am anyway! Pah. So not worth it.
Cute Story: Jesse was a little concerned about me sleeping in the airport so he had me Skype him before I took a nap. This sweet man stayed on the line while I slept so he could keep an eye on things. I guess the theory was that if something happened, he could yell real loud? I’m not a 100% sure but it made him feel better and I knew he’d wake me up if someone tried to steal my bag. 😛
Other sacrifices might not be as extreme as sleeping in an airport but may save you just as much. If your ideal hotel is right on the beach, can you move two blocks down and walk to the beach? If you really want to try a famous restaurant, why not eat there for lunch instead of dinner! Making sacrifices doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want, it just means you may make adjustments from your idea of an ideal vacation instead of not traveling at all.
Research Before You Go
The first time I left the country, I had never been anywhere with a metro/subway/tube system before. I’d say my entire knowledge of subways was gleaned from old Law & Order episodes and the like. Not very helpful on teaching me how they work!
That first trip, I wandered out of the airport and saw people left and right taking very expensive taxi’s to their hotel. Luckily, I had done my research beforehand and knew how to find the nearest metro station, knew where and how to get a ticket and had used google maps to figure out which line to take and where to get off. When I say that you can find anything on the internet, I really mean you can find anything. There were literally multiple tutorials on how to take the metro in that city and even one video specific to that airport. I knew exactly how get where I wanted to go and I’d say it ended up saving me hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
By researching beforehand, you aren’t limiting yourself to the expected, expensive touristy things but instead, can travel and explore like a local. Try to get around like the people who live in that city, eat what they eat and stay where they stay. You’ll have a more interesting trip AND you’ll save a ton!
Although there are times to make sacrifices, there are also things that you will regret skipping! No one wants that! If you are in Paris and want to go to the Louvre, go to the Louvre! The trick is to know what it is you’ll regret missing out on and what you won’t.
If you make a list of things not to miss out on before you go, it’ll be easier to avoid getting talked into expensive things while you’re high on the excitement of traveling. (This travel high makes smart people stupid. Beware.) Also, by figuring out what you absolutely need to do, you can plan around those things by budgeting for it, figuring out if there are any deals or promotions beforehand, and pre-planning how to make sure you get to do it while saving as much is possible.
I like to look at numerous websites like tripadvisor, viator and more just to make sure that I’m aware of all the choices a particular location offers. This helps me from getting there and going omg, I can swim with the dolphins here??? I gotta do that” and blowing my budget. Plus, planning and deciding what you’ll do on a trip is FUN! Almost as much fun as being there.
Bring Your Own
Almost everything costs more when you are traveling and it drives me crazy! This is tripled when you are traveling to a place that has a large number of tourists. One way I save money is to buy everything that I will probably need while I am still at home. Weeks before I leave, I make a list of all the day-to-day things I tend to need while traveling, like sunblock, stomach medicine, and even bandaids. Then I try to match many of those items with coupons or sales to get them as cheaply as possible. This way, I know I won’t get hit with sky high tourist prices and I can usually get them 30 to 50% off our normal day to day prices. If the coupon gods are with me, sometimes I even get the items for free! Nothing better than free right?
Another way I save while traveling is to bring lots of snacks and even alcohol with me from home. By bringing a few boxes of granola bars, nuts and other easily transported snacks, I can avoid the “omg I am so hungry I would eat anything” impulse buys that tends to hit me when I’ve gone too long without eating. And that prevents me from stopping at the first restaurant I see, no matter the price or quality. Yes, I have learned this the hard way.
As I prepare for my trip in December, I have started to up my game at Swagbucks in order to earn a little extra in gift cards. I will use these Walmart or Amazon giftcards to buy some of the things I want to bring with me. I only spend a few minutes a day on it so it won’t earn me enough to pay for my trip. However, it does give me just a little more wiggle room in my budget.
As to alcohol, I’ve found that many countries allow you to bring in a certain quantity of alcohol for personal use. In general, I only do this when I know that the country I am going to has a higher price on alcohol than I can get from home. At some point, I am going to want a couple drinks and this way I don’t have to pay hand over fist for the privilege!
I’ve already researched this policy with the Cayman Islands. I decided that I am probably going to bring a bottle of wine with us. The average price of drinks are much higher than what we pay in my area and even if we replace one evening with a romantic night in, we’ll save big. Heck, I’ll probably use the BevRAGE app and get cash back on a bottle of wine in my paypal by the time our flight lifts off. Sweet!
When I went to Cuba, the opposite was true. I brought back bottles of rum like it was the last time I was going to find any! (To make it clear, I was on a legally authorized trip. I had a specific amount I was allowed to export home. I did max that amount but did not go over!) It wouldn’t have made sense to bring a bottle of wine into Cuba but I would not have known that if I hadn’t looked into it first.
Traveling can be a pipe dream for some people because it can appear to be outrageously expensive. Luckily, if you plan ahead, it’s totally possible to save money while traveling! As I prepare for this trip, I’ll be brainstorming more and more ways to save money. I’ll keep y’all updated of any tricks I find!
Keep in Touch:
Follow me on Facebook to see every time I write something new!