I’ve discovered a wonderful hobby.
My new favorite thing to do is go on Expedia.com and plan out my dream vacations. How much would it cost to stay in Paris for 3 weeks? How many stops does a flight to Croatia have? Which hostels in Germany offer free breakfast?
It’s such a fascinating way to glimpse into the life of travel, and the more I do it, the more I realize that my travel dreams aren’t so unattainable.
We tend to have this preconceived notion that travel is terribly expensive. We are told time and time again that we have to spend beaucoup bucks to have a nice vacation. The more money you spend, the better time you have.
I don’t buy it (no pun intended).
There are so many ways to budget your travel expenses.
First and foremost, saving your money before your trip! The change in the bottom of your wallet, the money you use on your daily Starbucks, it all adds up! I’ve decided to dedicate a savings account solely to travel, and I plan to add any and all extra money to it that I possibly can. Saving before your trip is obviously a necessity, but let’s talk about how to save money on your trip.
The most unavoidable expense when it comes to travel? Flights. Flying can be very expensive, but there are ways to save. I’ve taken to using only travel rewards credit cards. I use them for bills, shopping, day to day expenses, meals out, etc. If I’m not earning miles, the purchase isn’t happening.
At this point I have 3 travel rewards credit cards. The Capital One Venture Card, The BofA Travel Rewards card, and the American Express Blue Sky card. The best thing about opening these cards is the sign up bonus. Don’t settle for anything less than 20,000 points when signing up. Some even offer up to 40,000 points when you open a new card. These bonuses are the best way to rack your points up quickly, and use them on travel as soon as possible! My American Express card saved me $200 on my flight to Arizona last month!
If you consistently fly with a certain airline, look into a credit card for that specific company. I’ve heard good things about the Alaskan Airlines credit card. I tend to book the cheapest flights I can find, regardless of the carrier, so my credit cards are very flexible. I can use my rewards on flights, hotels, rental cars, and basically any travel expense. This has become my favorite way to save money on flights.
You can also look into the option of flying red eyes if your flight will be a long one. If you can fall asleep on a plane, take a red eye! They’re cheaper, and you don’t lose a day traveling. Also, make sure you use sites like Kayak, Travelocity, Expedia, etc. to compare flight prices from different airlines. If possible, only fly/book flights on weekdays. It’s more expensive on Friday-Sunday, not to mention the airports are way busier. If your travel dates are flexible, you’re more likely to get a cheaper flight. Try moving your departure ahead or back a day. I’ve saved close to $100 on a flight just by coming home a day later!
The 2nd highest expense when traveling is most likely your room and board. Unless you have a friend or family member to stay with in your location of choice, you’re likely going to spend a chunk of money on your home away from home. My biggest tip here is don’t be picky. If you’re traveling to some beautiful location, you should be spending most of your time outside anyway. Don’t talk yourself into thinking you need a 5 star resort to have a 5 star vacation.
Travel isn’t about sitting in a gorgeous hotel room, it’s about exploring a gorgeous new destination. It’s about meeting new people, eating new foods, and in general discovering a new culture! If there’s a couch in Germany you can sleep on, sleep on it! If you can pitch a tent at a beautiful campsite in Australia, pitch it! Stay at a hostel in Europe! And if you’re really feeling fancy, book a budget hotel. If my room is the size of a box and contains a bed and a toilet, that’s good enough for me!
Okay, onto my favorite subject; food! I’ll be the first one to tell you to try new foods when you’re traveling. Try what the locals love! But take another tip from the locals as well; grocery shop! Cooking your own meals from time to time will save you a ton of money. Stop by the store and pick up ready made sandwiches, bars, fruit, cereals, etc. When I went to New York City, I packed granola bars in my checked bag. Combine that with the fruit I took from the hotel gym, and I never paid for a breakfast during our 10 day stay.
The last big hit to your wallet can be activities. This is where I’m happy to splurge just a bit. These experiences are the point of travel. If you’ve always dreamed of going skydiving, parasailing, or zip lining, just do it! You’re on vacation! Take that hot air balloon ride! See the Grand Canyon from a helicopter. These are the memories that make life worthwhile. These are the things that you will get home and regret missing out on. If it’s in your budget, and it will make for a wonderful memory, then do it!
But of course, there is a way to save money on activities as well. Many destinations offer discount cards that cover many of the most popular activities and tourist hotspots. NYC offers The New York Pass, which gets you into more than 80 popular attractions, and can save you more than $300. Australia’s Multi City Attractions Pass gives you the option of choosing your attractions, and paying a lump sum ahead of time that saves you a percentage. The London Pass gets you into 60+ attractions and allows you to skip lines, and so on and so forth. Before you arrive at your destination, be sure to research your options! There is likely a way to save a bit on your activities.
With all of that said, remember that the only thing really holding you back from traveling is you. We all like to use the lack of money as our excuse, but if you want to travel, make it a priority. Make your coffee at home, invite your friends over instead of going out, cancel your cable and watch your shows online, and save every single penny. Pick up extra hours at work, put aside your tax return, and your bonuses. Sell the things you don’t need anymore. If you really put your mind to it, before you know it you will have saved enough money for your dream trip. And you know what to do then; just go!