Travel on the Cheap
We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
Travel. Everyone wants to do it, but not everyone does. Most common culprit that holds us all back is the cost. I think it’s human nature to want to explore the world around us. To see the modern wonders this earth has to offer. But when your bank account says “whoa there, hold on princess. All those travel dreams require monies, which last time I checked, you don’t have in excess”, your wanderlust is smushed. Sad day. But wait! All is not lost, I promise. You CAN travel, you just have to be smart about it.
We are not a rich family. We live comfortably, but we are not rolling in cash. Yet I cannot count how many times I have hear the phrase “Wow you guys must make good money” while talking about our travels. Our wedding was in Australia. Family vacation at Lake Tahoe. Weekend escape to Napa Valley. And a trip to Italy this year. I admit, it sounds expensive. But you would be surprised how we managed to save costs. Keep in mind, I am NOT an expert by any means. And if you have other tips and tricks that you know, I would LOVE to learn more, so feel free to comment and email to let me know what I missed. But with that, here are Stacie’s Money Saving Travel Tips.
Easily one of the most expensive parts of travel is getting there. Whether that is the gas in your vehicle, or the flights. Good news is there are things you can do to save on both.
- Get an app that helps sort by the cheapest prices. There are about a billion out there. I like Waze.
- Plan your fill ups and try to avoid filling up in remote locations with only one gas station. They have the monopoly there, and the prices will reflect that. Also avoid major tourist towns.
- Service your car before you go to ensure optimal gas mileage.
- Buying early is better. 6 months or more if possible.
- Search often! Daily at least, if not a few times a day. Not only will this help you not miss deals, it will also educate you on the regular price of the tickets you are searching, so you can more easily recognize a bargain. If you don’t have time for that (who does?) then sign up for a service to mail you deals. I use Scott’s Cheap Flights and I love it.
- Be flexible with travel dates if you can. Obviously sometimes work is limiting, but if you can be flexible, you will be able to get the best deals. Traveling during the “off season” will also add up to MAJOR savings, although some touristy places might be closed for the season, so do your research what will be open, and weigh that “loss” against the savings.
Food for thought
(Ha. I’m clever. Ish. Whatever, I was amused) Food is one of those tricky things when it comes to travel, because no matter what, you have to eat. And if you are going somewhere new, it’s easy to want to buy ALL THE FOOD to try. Trust me. I get it. But there are little things you can do to save.
- Stock up on snacks for the road at a grocery store before you go (If flying, make sure you watch TSA guidelines). You will avoid marked up gas station or airport food. I also recommend investing in a good reusable water bottle that will last the whole trip (Bonus tip for moms: Buy different colors for each kid for quick identifying)
- Eat two meals a day at your hotel. I know you want to explore culture and relax, but it will save a ton. Run to a local grocery store when you get to your location (Or pack a tote with non perishables if driving) and get basics. We usually buy peanut butter and jelly, and a loaf of bread for lunches, and then a pack of croissants and fruit for breakfast. Then dinner we eat out. It may not be as glamorous, but a huge savings. (Bonus tip: Depending on where you are, sometimes you can get the same exact meal for lunch, at a cheaper price point, than you could for dinner. So save the sandwiches for dinner, and eat out for lunch instead)
- When you do eat out, avoid heavy tourist areas. You can get the same type of food, often even better, by moving a few blocks away from the tourist centers, and finding a little mom and pop, hole in the wall place, and get it cheaper than the restaurants in the heavy tourist areas. Also make sure you do your research and know the customs of the area. Are tips required/expected? Is a cover charge common? By reading ahead, you can save yourself from little pitfalls that will add up.
Where to lay your head
AKA where are you going to stay. Your hotel is going to easily be the second most expensive part of your travels. But there are things you can do to cut those costs down. Before you go diving in to your accommodations search, keep an open mind. While we all would love to have the ocean facing view with a huge bathroom and beautiful king size bed, if you are wanting to save costs, it’s not practical. And let’s be honest, you are probably going to spend more time outside of the hotel sight-seeing, than in it. So pick your priorities. I am not saying you can’t have a nice room, but you just have to keep your expectations in check. You can have a gorgeous dreamy room, or you can save some cash. You don’t USUALLY get both.
- Shop around. Use websites like Kayak and Booking.com to compare rates. As with your flights, room rates are lower on weekdays, higher on weekends, so if possible plan accordingly.
- Another option is to do AirBNB or Hometogo where you can actually rent a home or room in a home and the cost savings are HUGE. Plus, it usually give you a full on kitchen so that you can make even more food at home. I also think it gives you a more authentic experience of the place you are at. Hotels are nice, but if you want the real feel of where you are, can’t get it much better than staying at the home of a local. It’s also ideal if you are traveling as a family, because rather than getting multiple hotel rooms to fit everyone, you can get one house, usually for the price of a single hotel room, if not cheaper, depending on the location.
- A bit less conventional, but super cost saving, Hostels. I admit, they aren’t the best for some people. If you are traveling with your family, not really an option. But if you are adventuring with a spouse, or friend, and don’t mind sharing your space with other people, you can rent a bed on the cheap. Just make sure you are careful and safe with your belongings.
Seeing the sights
The best part of traveling is seeing new sights. But this can add up fast, from the cost of entry, to the travel getting there (taxis, or gas and parking). Number one thing I can recommend is… research. Have I mentioned that enough?
- Pick a few things in the area that you would like to do, then search for deals. Groupon often has discount tickets to different things, as well as larger tourist cities often have packages you can buy ahead to save on a la carte entry. Also make sure you prioritize. Don’t feel obligated to see things you don’t have interest in. See what you WANT to see.
- If possible, walk to your sight seeing. You will save on transportation there, and get some exercise in (especially important if you have been loading up on new foods lol). Bonus, you may stumble upon some hidden gems in the less traveled areas (downtown Brisbane is AMAZING to walk through and just look at everything)
- If walking isn’t an option, don’t be afraid of public transit. We learned this the hard way in Australia when I insisted on taking taxi to a wildlife refuge that ended up costing us around $50. We took the bus back… $14 total. My bad. So learn from my mistakes. Take the public transit. If you are unsure, ask the bus driver, or a local for help. Most people are willing to point you in the right direction.
Bringing back memories
And by that, I mean souvenirs.
- Don’t buy something for everyone and their dog. Seriously. Grandma will forgive you if you don’t bring her a rinky-dink knick knack to clutter her shelves. If you really want to get something for everyone, do something small, like coins or seashells. Or postcards. Postcards are fantastic.
- When buying stuff for yourself, really evaluate what you are buying and if you will ever use it back home. If the answer is “no”, then don’t buy it. And rather than buy a bunch of small things, buy 1 or two large things, like local art. You will probably end up spending less overall, and have something that you can truly use and appreciate for years to come.
Might seem like a no brainer here, but you have to save for travel. This is the hardest part, but still doable. Once you have a ballpark figure of what your accommodations and travel will cost, add $20-50 per person/per day that you will be there for food. That will give you the total you need for the trip. With this total, divide it by how many months or weeks until your trip. I like weeks cause it makes it even less daunting of an amount, but months works too. With the number you get, set this amount aside each month. If this seems impossible, look at where you are spending you money now and see what you can pare down to save funds. If you are still paying for cable, usually you can get the same content with streaming. If you get your nails done every few weeks, consider doing them yourself. If traveling is your priority, you can make it happen.
Bonus Tip: If you are good with credit cards (meaning you don’t overspend, and can pay it off every month) get a credit card with hotel points or sky miles and do all your spending on this card. It will rack up the points for you and save a ton. Our entire flight to Australia and our first week there were all covered by sky miles and hotel points. Just don’t go crazy and spend more than you can pay off every month, otherwise it defeats the purpose.
I hope this helps your travel dreams come true, and if you have any tips that have worked for you, share them in the comments!