Do you see dollar signs when you think of vacation? Yeah, we all do. For most of us, travel isn't free. When someone says their dream vacation is “summering in the South of France” I see that emoji of the stack of bills with wings, flying far, far away from me. If travel is pricey though, why are all these people doing it, like, all the time? How are there people literally living years on vacation? How are your friends taking 2 trips a year abroad? And from Arkansas, no less? I’ve compiled a list of ways to save you money on trips and make travel more affordable. You can make travel as cheap or as expensive as you want. Here’s how to make it cheap:
Save on flights: This one is obvious. Signing up for my cheap flight alerts will go a long in saving you some cash on flights from our airports. The best rule of thumb to saving on flights from Arkansas or Memphis is to be flexible with either your destination or your dates. If you have always wanted to go to Italy, you absolutely can! But it might not be in July. Being flexible on either of these parameters (or both, that’s even better!) will help you be able to jump on a deal when you see one. Make a list of destinations you are most interested in and general dates that work with your career schedule and wait for that deal to come. In the meal time, start tip #3 so you are fully ready when the deal comes your way.
Save on hotels: My view on hotels is this: they are meant to keep you safe and rested for 8-9 hours a night while you enjoy your amazing travel experience out in the world for the remaining hours of the day. Hotels are for sleeping and showering. I leave the hotel as soon as I can every day, so frills and extra luxuries go wasted on me. You can go full hostel if you want and you will save a lot of cash that way. Am I a terrible person for not wanting to do hostels?? Maybe, but I just don't. Since I travel with my husband, we are splitting the bill between 2 people. If you view it that way, a $30 per person hostel bed equals a $60 hotel budget. If I were traveling alone, I would probably be more into the hostel life. Instead, I look for small hotels that are family run and book them on Booking.com or directly on the hotel website if they have one. These usually come with no frills (like literally none) but if they are in the location you want and the price is good, it's worth it. I also look for apartment rentals on booking sites, they tend to have similar low prices but are usually larger and in a quieter, residential part of town. The only downside to the apartments is there is usually no 24 hour desk or reception area so you have to be prepared to help yourself if you need anything and meet at a specific time to check in and out. AirBnB is another great way to find unique accommodations on a budget. One note on cheap hotels - if you are like me, you want a private bathroom. Be sure to check that what you are booking comes with one because some budget hotels abroad have a shared bath between 2-3 rooms.
Make saving for travel a habit: If you can, have part of your paycheck auto draft to a special checking account just for travel. This will get you saving without having to do literally anything. Out of sight, out of mind. Many banks offer free checking accounts and some even have rewards. If you can find a debit card that has no foreign transaction fees, you could even take this card on your trips and use it to pay for larger expenses! I know this is one of the hardest parts - the saving. If you can save up $1,200 per person for a trip, you can get a pretty nice vacation for that price tag. Calculate a trip to Europe as $500-600 for your ticket, then $100 per day per person. That $100 includes your hotel expense.
Choose cheaper destinations: Some destinations are just cheaper than others. This shouldn’t discourage you from going to those dream destinations that may be more expensive. This is just to say that you can save even more money if you are interested in a destination that is cheaper. You may not even know that your dream destination is cheap! The exchange rate of your home currency to the destinations can make a real difference. For example, you can get a luxury hotel room in Southeast Asia for $60 a night. The same hotel in a city like Paris or London would be $250 a night or more. Some destinations that are budget friendly are: Southeast Asia, Portugal and parts of Spain, South America including Bolivia and Belize, Morocco, Germany (compared to the rest of Europe), Mexico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Albania, Jordan, Czech Republic and of course there are others!
Some of the most expensive cities or destinations to visit are: New York City, Oslo, Paris, Zurich, Singapore, Iceland, the Maldives, Dubai, Australia, and London. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t visit these destinations (you have to visit Paris, guys) it’s just to say that you will need to plan your budget accordingly and be more prepared and cognizant of costs beforehand. You may stay in a luxury hotel in Vietnam and a budget hotel in Amsterdam. With a little planning, you can get to even the most expensive destinations for a reasonable price too.
Travel on the shoulder season, not the off-season: You have heard this a million times I'm sure - "Travel on the off season!" Every region and country has their own popular season and then their "off" season. But for smaller towns or destinations, the off season can mean poor weather and worse, closed attractions or even empty towns. Some shops that rely solely on tourist temporarily close for parts of the year when no one visits. To avoid this, choose the shoulder season. This is the sweet spot in between the peak travel season and the off season where you will get all the benefits of the peak season without the disappointments of the off season. During shoulder season, flights are cheaper and hotels have lower prices. Plus the lines for attractions and sites are way down and everything tends to be less crowded. Just to note, places like Paris, London, Rome, Copenhagen, and other big cities don't really have a true off-season. These destinations are popular enough that attractions will be open year round, meaning if you just avoid the peak season (usually summer), you are good to go. In fact, big European cities can be quite dreamy in the winter.
Take advantage of free activities: My favorite free activity in a city is a free walking tour. Most big cities have them. I've taken one in Rome, Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. They are a great way to get oriented with a city on your first day. While these are truly free - it is nice to tip the tour guide at the end of the tour. I tip five euros per person. Another great free activity is to lunch/lounge in a park. Every major city has at least one amazing park that often gets overlooked in lieu of a museum or other major site. Sitting in the park in front of the Eiffel Tower or Retiro Park in Madrid can be a nice way to relax and take a break from the bustle while also enjoying a major site. Don't forget to get some snacks to enjoy! Most museums have free admission days or times. For example, the Prado in Madrid offers free admission everyday 2 hours before they close. London has several museums that are always free and never charge admission. It's worth a quick Google search to read lists bloggers have made about free things to do at your destination.
7. Consider train travel or regional budget airlines: You know how you always see cheap tickets to Brussels or Amsterdam? That's because they are major European hubs. They are connected to so many other major cities by train. It's worth looking into train travel, especially in Europe, if you are interested in seeing more than one place, or you are interested in a rural region. For example: say you wanted to visit the eastern Alsace region of France (just a random example, this totally isn't my dream or anything....) but tickets to Strasbourg are rarely below $600. Look at ticket prices to nearby major cities. In this case, Zurich is in another country (Switzerland) but is just a 2.5 hour train ride from the Alsace region's largest city, Strausborg. That means you could buy the cheaper flights to Zurich and save a few hundred dollars on flights and visit Zurich for a day or two before heading to your final destination, in this case Strasbourg. You can then take small 30 minutes to all the nearby rural towns. You can always use Google Maps to do a quick search between cities to see how long or complicated of a train ride you are looking at before purchasing your airfare.
Another option is regional budget airlines. Companies like RyanAir, EasyJet, and AsiaAir all have short, inexpensive flights between cities. This is a great option for areas that do not have the extensive train network that most of Europe has. An example: I bought an open jaw ticket from LIT to Lisbon that departed one week later from Marrakesh and flew back to LIT. There are no trains between Lisbon and Marrakesh. So before I booked this awesome deal, I did a quick Google Flights search. I found that Tap Air has a one way nonstop flight between these two cities for around $60 per person. This kind of planning can help you see two cities instead of one!
It's worth noting that the best time to save money on a trip is BEFORE you go. Saving on your flights and your accommodations will be much easier and make a bigger impact on your wallet then trying to budget while actually on vacation. Once you are on your trip, you will want to buy the souvenir, drink the wine, have the nice dinner, and go on the canal cruise. You wont be counting every dollar, and you shouldn't! You are traveling! Enjoy it!