There are some people who enjoy flying first-class to luxurious vacations at upscale resorts…and then there are the rest of us who want to travel without breaking the bank. There are a myriad of ways to save money on air travel, lodging, transportation, food, and entertainment while traveling. Here are some of my top tips.
How To Get Cheap Flights
When To Book
- Airlines post the most deals on Tuesdays so it can be a good day to book but you should check prices every day when you are getting ready to book
- For domestic flights, book 1-2 months ahead of time but not much earlier than that to get the best price. Begin checking flight prices about 2.5 months before your trip and book once you see them go down.
- For international flights, book about 6 months ahead of time to get the best price. Begin checking flight prices about 7-8 months before your trip and book once you see them go down.
Where To Book
- Comparison sites like Expedia are convenient for checking prices across airlines, but keep in mind that some airlines (including Southwest) are not on it
- Before booking on a non-airline site, check the price on that airline’s website. Discount airlines like Spirit and Frontier always give you a $5-$10 discount for booking through them and other airlines sometimes do as well.
- Booking two one-way tickets is usually the same price as booking round trip
- Discount airlines like Frontier and Spirit and now even United and American offer basic economy options which do not allow you to select a seat and charge you extra for bringing a carry-on that doesn’t fit under your seat.
- You won’t notice too much of a difference between discount and traditional airlines in terms of reliability and comfort. Frontier has significantly smaller tray tables, but otherwise the cabins are not dramatically different.
- Factor in the extra cost of the carry-on if you book discount OR simply pack a large backpack that fits under the seat to save that money
How To Get Cheap Lodging
- An international community of progressive, adventurous people who host travelers and stay with fellow Couchsurfers while traveling themselves
- Some Couchsurfers host only, some travel only, and lots do both – it’s up to your preference
- Most hosts are willing to host solo travelers or couples; you can choose whether to stay with a host of a certain gender or age
- Accommodations vary from a simple couch to a full room with beds
- FREE and meant as a way to experience the local culture and share some of your culture with your host (shouldn’t just be used as a way to get a free room)
- To join Couchsurfing, make an account on their website. Get some personal references from friends who have accounts and then you can begin requesting to stay with hosts when you travel
- There are hostels in most cities and they’re usually the cheapest accommodations in town
- You’ll usually have a twin bed in a room shared with 3-9 other people
- You can often choose to have a co-ed, male-only, or female-only room
- Hostel common areas are often quite social and offer the chance for you to meet fellow travelers
- Use a booking service like Expedia to search for the cheapest hotel in town
- If you don’t require anything fancy, most hotels are quite functional and good enough for a night’s rest even if the price seems too good to be true
- Read online reviews of the property to make sure it seems up to par. Don’t expect 4 or 5 star ratings for a cheap hotel but look out for comments about safety, bed bugs, and anything else that worries you
- Factor in the location and any transportation costs associated with getting to and from there from where you’re going
How To Save Money on Food
- Research where you’re going ahead of time! I often search for “best cheap eats” in the place I’m going and compile a list. If you end up walking around a touristy area looking for a place to eat, chances are it’ll be quite expensive. On this site, I have a list of the best affordable restaurants on each city’s webpage.
- Come prepared with snacks! I always travel with a bag of pretzels from the dollar store and this insanely cheap snack usually tides me over between meals and keeps me from having to spend more than I have to on food. If you have enough snacks, you can even skip breakfast or lunch and just snack instead.
- Dine at fast casual places – it’s usually easy to find some that are popular, delicious, and locally-owned
How to Save on International Travel
- Get a credit card with no international fees and a sign-on bonus like the Bank of America Travel Rewards Card. Pay with credit card as much as possible to collect points – just be sure to inform the bank ahead of time that you’ll be traveling. Avoid using credit or debit cards that do have international fees – it will cost you!
- Convert your money upon arrival but not at the airport which will usually cost you extra (convert only a small amount at the airport for taxi, etc. if you need to). Research ahead of time which banks offer the best exchange rates. Be sure not to exchange too much money as you’ll lose a percentage of it exchanging it back to U.S. dollars.
- Don’t forget to haggle! Many places like boutique shops and markets that in the U.S. wouldn’t dream of letting you negotiate the price are open to your offers abroad. Start low, be persistent, and pretend to start walking away until you get the price you want.
Miscellaneous Dollar-Saving Travel Tips
- Plan ahead! Know where you’ll be able to use public transportation to save money on taxis. If you’re planning use public transportation, ascertain ahead of time whether it’ll be cheaper to buy individual tickets or a day pass. If you’re going to several cities in Europe, figure out whether individual rail tickets or a Eurail pass is cheaper.
- Cut back on souvenir spending – don’t become a hoarder! You’ll remember your amazing trip whether or not you bring back that pretty glass bowl.
- Avoid expensive tours – it is 100% possible just about everywhere you go to have an amazing experience without shelling hundreds of dollars over to a tour company. Research the sights to see in a city on your own ahead of time and do a self-guided walking tour instead of a bus tour. If you see an excursion advertised that looks fun, search the internet for a cheaper way to do that activity.