If I had a dime for every time I heard someone comment about how expensive traveling is, I could probably singlehandedly fund my travels for the rest of my life. There’s this false notion that traveling has to cost a lot of money. But if you know what you’re doing, you can travel for cheap. Part of the problem is that a lot of people just don’t know where to start when they want to travel on a budget. As 2018 begins, many people are making resolutions to travel more this year and to “seize the day”. I thought it may be helpful if I put together an article on my best tricks to save money while traveling.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that traveling is as expensive as you make it. I can drop A LOT of money while traveling if I’m not careful, but if I conscientiously stick to a rigid budget then I can go a long way on a little money.
How to Find Cheap Flights
Cheap flights exist. They may sound like an enigma but trust me, they are out there and are easy to find if you know what you’re doing. My biggest tip is for you to be flexible with your dates and locations. If you HAVE to go somewhere during a certain time, then you can’t get around that (i.e. for a meeting or something). But if you’re just looking to travel for fun, then play around with the dates. You can save hundreds of dollars by leaving on a red eye flight on Sunday than a noon flight on a Monday.
Don’t be afraid to also play around with the locations. You may want to fly to San Francisco but it’s $100 cheaper to fly into San Jose, which is fairly close. By flying into San Jose, you can check out another city before traveling to San Francisco, your original destination. When I lived in Germany, it was going to cost me €200 one way from Barcelona to Frankfurt and then I would train to Heidelberg. Instead, I flew for around €60 from Barcelona to Stuttgart and took a train home to Heidelberg. Heidelberg was between the two cities so I saved over €100 just by flying into a different airport. BE FLEXIBLE! Besides, any travel is travel and it beats sitting around the house doing nothing.
But Marisa, how will I know if I’m getting a good deal?
Search often. If I know I’m searching for a specific flight, I will start looking for it as far in advance as possible. By knowing a general price range you can determine if you’ve found a great deal or if you should wait for it to drop.
These are some of the best websites to find cheap flights but it’s not a completely exhaustive list. I’ve always had the best luck with them and many will help look for good deals for you!
Skyscanner is probably my favorite site to use to find cheap flights. You can type in your departure airport and choose the “everywhere” option to find flights to anywhere! There is also a “map” feature that is especially helpful to get you in the general area of your destination. Or if you don’t have a destination it can help you find one.
If you can’t spend hours on the computer searching for the cheapest fares, Skyscanner has a “price alert” tool. It will notify you when the price has changed on a certain flight. That way you can know if you should buy or wait out a surge. In addition to the “price alert” tool, Skyscanner has recently launched this handy little widget below that will show you the best time to book flights for certain locations. As a Skyscanner contributor, I’m able to give you this tool right here on my website. Skyscanner is still working on expanding its list of cities but this is extremely helpful for informing travelers when they should book!
Sometimes, airlines screw up. They may accidentally release a flight at an AMAZING deal (i.e. LAX -> Rome for $100 round trip). Travel Pirates sends you an alert for these “error fares” so that you can book the incredible deal. Airlines will frequently honor the “error fares” and Travel Pirates ensures that you are the first to find out about them.
In addition to error fares, Travel Pirates also alerts you to flash sales and incredible deals. Thanks to them, I was able to get roundtrip flights from LAX to BCN for only $300 each. Travel Pirates also has deals for all-inclusive resorts, hotels, and excursions. Sign up for their Facebook Messenger service so that you never miss another deal!
Don’t sleep on Google Flights – it may be Google but it yields some of the best and most consistent results. Users can choose a destination based just on the region, which is extremely helpful in order to travel for cheap. You may want to get to London but can find that it’s cheaper to fly into Copenhagen and then fly to London than to fly directly. Google Flights makes that a lot easier because you can say that your destination is simply “Europe”.
I’m an affiliate for Skyscanner so I begrudgingly recommend Kayak. But they have some incredible search options too. Kayak has the ability to search for trip packages and cruises as well. It gives you advice on whether or not to buy or to watch for the prices to drop. My dad swears by Kayak and I’ve found it to be helpful, so play around with the site to try and find the best deals so you can get out and get traveling!
Since the whole point of this article is how to travel for cheap, I must point out that Kayak has an unparalleled “budget” feature. You can enter your budget for the trip and the website will generate a list of places that you can travel to for that budget.
Momondo is another extremely popular travel search engine. I personally haven’t booked anything through Momondo but I have used it to compare prices across sites. The website offers a low fare comparison so that you can see how cheap a certain day is compared to the days around it.
How to Travel for Cheap
One of the easiest ways to get consistently cheap flights is to fly budget airlines. Have you ever heard of Spirit, Frontier, or Europe’s notorious Ryanair? They have reputations for a reason: they aren’t five-star airlines, but they get you where you’re going for cheap. Budget airlines don’t have the same rules as your traditional Delta, Lufthansa, Emirates, or British Airways. You aren’t going to be getting free checked bags or free alcohol, but they will get you from point A to point B. When it comes to travel, isn’t that all that matters?
There are SO MANY people who want to travel for cheap and airlines are beginning to realize that. As a result, some airlines are beginning to offer dirt cheap fares that go ‘across the pond’. WOW airlines is a great budget airline that flies from the west coast of the U.S. to Europe. The only catch is that it has a layover in Reykjavik. The layover can be extended up to 3 days which means that you can basically get a free vacation in Iceland! Norwegian Air is another great budget airline that can fly from the west coast to Europe. They offer direct flights and if you REALLY want to feel like royalty, you can upgrade to 1st class for cheaper than you can fly economy on other airlines. Level is a new airline operated by Iberia that has cheap flights to Spain. I flew with them for the first time last summer and their planes and service were the best of the airlines I’ve used!
How to Use Travel Credit Cards
If you have a credit card, you may as well get free travel from it. There are lots of travel credit cards that can give you cash back or even free travel miles. A very popular one is the Chase Sapphire Card. It can give you lots of rewards for your regular purchases!
Sometimes credit cards will give you incentives for signing up for their credit card. I did that with Delta and by spending only $1,000 with it, I could get 60,000 free miles for use on all Skyteam Alliance flights. That includes KLM and Alitalia, which are great options for traveling to and from Europe!
Don’t go into debt to travel, however. Everyone wants to quit their job to travel and never have to worry about money, but if you don’t have any money to begin with, don’t screw yourself over just to travel. Work smarter, not harder.
How to Find Cheap Accommodation
Gone are the days of staying in expensive hotels around the world. We’d all love to stay in the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton but we can’t all afford it. There are many ways to save on accommodations and they’re all becoming increasingly popular.
No, there is no surfing on couches. But it can include sleeping on one! Couchsurfing is an accommodation website that allows people to stay in other’s homes for free. The only thing is that in order to stay at someone’s house, you must offer up your own for someone. I wrote an extremely detailed article on it here. Couchsurfing is very safe and you don’t have to invite anyone into your home that you don’t want to. I’ve met some incredible people thanks to Couchsurfing and highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to travel for cheap. It’s safe and you can make connections that you wouldn’t be able to if you stayed in a hotel.
If you have never seen the movie Hostel – don’t. It’s a great thriller but does not accurately represent what a hostel is like. Hostels are actually a great way to cut costs when traveling. Instead of shelling out $100+ for a hotel room, you can spend $20 for a hostel bed. Plus, you meet people you otherwise wouldn’t! Hostels can have anywhere from 1-14 beds (typically) and can be in dorm style or private rooms. I’ve stayed in a private room and loved it, even though I had to share a bathroom with other guests. I’ve also stayed in a dorm with 12 beds. That was in Barcelona and let me tell you, it was wild. Don’t expect to get a lot of sleep in a large hostel room, but staying in one will help you travel for cheap. You can sleep later, so get out and travel!
AirBNB is the newest and hottest way to travel in style. In case you live under a rock and haven’t heard of it, AirBNB is an accommodation website that allows people to rent out their personal properties to travelers. You can rent a bed, a room, or an entire residence for a (typically) reasonable price. I absolutely love using AirBNB because it makes you feel like a true local. Which is because you’re literally living where the locals live. Not all AirBNBs are created equal. Some are just typical apartment flats, wereas others can be an Airstream overlooking the cliffs of Malibu or on a houseboat on an Amsterdam canal! You have so many options with Airbnb and it is great for travel in groups. With AirBNB, you can rent the entire residence. The more people you can cram into that place, the cheaper the cost becomes. It’s a great hack to travel for cheap when you can cut the cost.
How to Find Cheap Food
Shop local! Going to sit-down restaurants can be extremely expensive in some places. In Italy, for example, you can be charged extra just for sitting down at a restaurant! In order to avoid that, be open to shopping at supermarkets, just like the locals.
Street food is another great way to get cheap food. For some reason, I know a lot of people who are afraid to eat street food. After 21 years of life, I have still never become sick from eating street food, so you’re probably okay.
How to Travel for Cheap
There really is no one-method-fits-all answer for this. Each and every person has different traveling techniques. Some people might choose to sample all the local beer and wine as they travel. Others may not drink at all so that’s not an expense everyone will have.
Another way that I cut my expenses while traveling is to not purchase a souvenir at every place I go. Every time I go somewhere, several people at home insist that I get them a souvenir. Sorry, but I haven’t talked to you in 6 months and you want me to spend my money and use my luggage space for you? Nah. I do collect some souvenirs but I try to greatly limit my spending. Instead of purchasing 20 keychains, I’ll save up and purchase something I really want, like a matryoshka doll from Russia.
My final tip for you is to budget, Budget, BUDGET! Travel does NOT have to be expensive. If you plan things out ahead of time you can maintain a budget and not break the bank. It may seem daunting at first, but as soon as the travel bug hits you, you’ll never want to do anything else!
Traveling doesn’t HAVE to mean that you venture to the far corners of the earth. The first place to start is in your own backyard. The picture above is from a sunrise hike I did at Point Dume in Malibu. The views were amazing and it only cost me a few dollars in gas. Don’t fall prey to the common misconception that travel has to be expensive. I can guarantee that it’s possible for you to find a way to travel for cheap!