Updated: Apr 10, 2019
So, obviously, my husband and I love to travel. Are we wealthy? NO. California is beautiful, but it ain't cheap! So we have figured out some ways to travel, regardless of our economic state. One HUGE thing that has helped us travel more is we decided we would rather build memories with each other than to buy gifts that we will forget about within a year. So anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas... We keep things really minimal.. like $10 at the dollar store. With the money saved, we book a trip! Our family has caught on and will often give us money towards our trips in lieu of expensive gifts.
Below are 10 things we've learned over time to help us stretch every dollar we've put aside for travel!
10. Use Skyscanner.com
There are a lot of great travel sites out there, but we LOVE Skyscanner.com. We've been using it for years because they always have the cheapest prices listed. I am especially a fan of the fact that you can plug in "anywhere" as your destination and "cheapest month" for the time and you can scroll down the list and see wherever looks good and find the cheapest time to go. Sometimes I'll just sit on my phone and plan fictional vacations, but sometimes I end up planning a trip that is too good to pass up and end up booking it! haha! I also love that they give you a price calendar so that you can see the price for the different days you fly... I'll get more into that later.
9. Fly from Major airports
So I am originally from Utah and they have a nice international airport...But it's just not as big of an airport as say Las Vegas or LAX. Rates are typically quite a bit cheaper from major airports. So when we lived in Utah, it was cheaper for us to drive (or Fly) to LA and leave out of LAX than to fly out of SLC. We flew a discount airline called Allegiant Air to LA and then from there flew to Copenhagen and saved quite a bit of money. Even when we lived in San Diego, we still would drive up to LA for our international flights.
8. Be flexible with your dates
Now, this is huge, so listen up. The dates you fly will make the biggest impact on how much you spend on travel. Look at the calendar up above. If I left on January 13th and came back January 27th, it would cost $293. But If I left on January 5th, and came back on the 12th, it would cost $1147. This, of course, is just an example, but you get the point. I try to book my trips around the dates that are cheapest to fly. The prices vary significantly from day to day. So be sure to check out the rate calendar to find the best days to travel.
7. Look for surrounding airports
In the US, Flights from Utah to California are usually around $200 RT. But in Europe flights from Paris to Milan are only $40 RT. So when we fly to Europe, we find the cheapest flight into Europe. That might be Copenhagen, Stockholm, Barcelona, etc... (I find that the Scandinavian countries are often the cheapest.) Once you are IN Europe, book a discount airline to your actual destination. (more on discount airlines below) Doing this can save you hundreds of dollars than if you were to just book your flight directly to your destination. It also gives you a chance to see an extra place on your trip! Also, this might shock people... Round trip flights are not always the best deal! This is because sometimes flights TO an airport are cheap, but the flights back are really expensive. So play around with what country you fly into and where you depart from.
6. Fly discount airlines
It's a love-hate thing with discount airlines... I love the prices. Hate everything else. As I mentioned above, you can get ridiculously cheap airfare, (like $13 one way flights from Milan to Austria) by flying a discount airline. But there are a few catches.
First catch, they say "Paris" "Stockholm" "London" but in reality, the airport is about 1-2 hours away from the city. We booked a flight saying it was going from Stockholm to Milan and made sure to wake up early to catch a train into town. But, once we got to the train station we double checked the airport code and found out that the airport we were supposed to be going to was 2 hours (Driving) away and there was no possible way for us to get there in time. We ended up just booking a flight from the nearby airport that had a layover in Brussels. It ended up being a fun adventure, but having to chill in an airport for 12 hours is not what anyone ever wants... especially not someone who is 27 weeks pregnant. So ALWAYS check the airport code and see how far away you will be from the city and how much a shuttle will cost to get you where you want to be.
Second catch, they will cancel and delay flights like no one's business. Just assume the flight will be delayed and don't book another connecting flight right after it. Book it for like the day after. Luckily there are all sorts of laws in place to keep you from being completely screwed over. If they delay your flight for 2-3 hours they have to feed you. Our flight in Barcelona was delayed and they gave us meal vouchers for food inside the airport. If your flight is delayed more than 3 hours, you could be compensated up to €600. (more info can be found here) We had our flight canceled in Switzerland and they made sure to feed us dinner and breakfast and put us up in a 4-star hotel and put us on the first flight the next morning. So although it was a pain, we still were treated pretty well.
Third catch, they charge you for everything. Many discount airlines will charge you for a carry-on, selecting your seat and don't provide any food or drinks. So you either have to order food on the plane or pack some in your luggage. We made the mistake of only packing trail mix with peanuts and of course someone had a peanut allergy on the plane. So eventually we were so hungry we ordered some mediocre airline food.
If you are willing to deal with the things above, then discount airlines are the way to go!
5. Pack light
As mentioned above, many discount airlines charge you even for a carry-on. So over time, we have learned to pack extremely light. You are allowed one "personal Item" that can fit under the seat in front of you. So we found this awesome 15" roller bag at Costco for $30 that fits perfectly, but still holds a lot of stuff. I've seen it at Costco off and on, but it can be found on Amazon here too. Not quite as cheap, but in my opinion, still worth every penny. If I roll my clothes, I can easily fit enough for a week. (Rolling is definitely the best way to pack your clothes!) This bag has withstood the test of time and many trips. I recommend it to all my friends.
4. Stay at an airbnb
So we basically always stay at Airbnbs and we LOVE it! They are usually a lot cheaper than hotels, they typically have a kitchen, and they are so unique! Every host goes through a lot of work to make sure that their place is perfect and I feel like bad experiences are rare. Some hosts even go above and beyond, like our host in Puglia, Italy brought over fresh, homemade pizza! Her place is the cute little trullo in the photo above. I also love that you get a feel for the culture and atmosphere of the area when you stay at an Airbnb as opposed to a hotel. Hotels are great, don't get me wrong, but they all kind of look the same. We've saved thousands by staying at Airbnbs instead of hotels and gained new friends and experiences.
3. Buy groceries
I mentioned one of the perks of an Airbnb is that they have a kitchen. By buying groceries and cooking at home, you will save so much money vs. eating out every meal. When we were in San Remo, Italy for the day, we grabbed some food at a local market and ate our lunch on the steps of a church. (admire me in my big and pregnant stage in the photo above, haha!) Then, when you get home, take advantage of that kitchen at your Airbnb. Of course, you should definitely eat out just to taste the local cuisine, but maybe not every meal if you are on a budget.
2. Avoid ATM, Exchange and Foreign transaction fees
So these are some of those hidden expenses that you seldom take into consideration when budgeting, but those little fees start to add up. Check with your credit card to see if it charges foreign transaction fees. Most travel cards don't but a lot of other cards do. We use the chase sapphire card because it doesn't have any foreign transaction fees. Now some places in Europe don't accept credit cards. We ran into this a lot in Italy. So some people like to pull out a bunch of cash upon arrival to use throughout their trip. The thought of walking around with a bunch of money though Naples is pretty frightening haha. So I advise against that. What we do is we actually got an account with Charles Schwab Bank. They reimburse you for any of your ATM fees. This definitely helped us not feel the need to pull out a lot of money at a time to save on fees. Because of this, we didn't have a lot of cash left over and was able to avoid exchange fees!
1. Use credit card points
You know what makes flying easier when you are 33.5 weeks pregnant? Flying first class and only having to pay the taxes. If you forked out the money for a transatlantic first class flight, you could pay something like $7000. Yikes! That's more than what our whole trip would cost. Instead, I paid about $300 because I used credit card points. Find a good travel card, again, we use the chase sapphire preferred and put most of your purchases on your card. (Be sure to pay it off at the end of the month.) You will be amazed at how quickly those points add up. I know with Southwest airlines, if you hit a certain number of points in a year, you get a companion pass. So when you fly you get to bring a friend for free! Points can also be used for other things besides flights. We've used our points to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on a golden gate bridge cruise and a bus tour in Iceland.
So there you have it! Those are pretty much all the ways we are able to travel on the cheap! What are your travel hacks? Let me know and comment below!
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