Budget Travel Hacks
UPDATE: We published this article in 2014 back when this blog was still in diapers. While we still believe in most of the information it was time for a facelift. We’ve had all kinds of success and failure in the last 4 years. Let me share our budget travel wins so you can skip the losses.
Use Several Different Search Sites
We like to run our flights and hotel accommodations through at least three different sites to make sure we’re getting the best deal possible. It takes about 10 extra minutes of your time but you never know what you can find. Our favorite sites for airfare deals are Kayak, CheapOAir, and Skyscanner. Recently we’ve snagged some good stuff on Skiplagged. The routes are at times a little awkward but the prices are great if you’re flexible.
Erase your Search History
Use Coupon Sites
Websites like Groupon and LivingSocial offer tons of low-cost vacation packages. Be careful though. Make sure you read the fine print and know exactly what is included in your deal. My Sister lives in Ft. Lauderdale so we are always convincing them to use Cruise Critic and Last Minute Cruises. In our experience Cruise Critic is best for an extended trip and Last Minute Cruises is the go-to for a quick getaway.
Waiting till the last minute to book is never a good idea. There seems to be some urban myth that if you wait till the last minute flights will suddenly become cheaper in an effort to sell the rest of the seats. This is not true. Due to rising costs of fuel, most flights are overbooked in order to prevent this from happening. Some sites like Expedia offer “Last Minute Offers” but these are really just tickets at normal booking prices being compared to the inflated prices, don’t be fooled. More times than I’d like to admit we do all the checking on prices and then don’t book the same day. Inevitably, by the time we get back to it, the price has gone up. We know what to expect yet it’s frustrating every single time. My Dad on the other had booked his ticket to Peru 5 months early and got an incredible deal. It’s worth it, my life’s just not that together.
If you’re a low maintenance traveler you can use this awesome website to crash on a local’s coach. You get the added bonus of meeting so potentially cool new folks to show you around. We’re a bit leery of Couch Surfing, because of the LGBT stuff but do know so people who constantly have incredible experiences with it.
Work away is perfect for those with more time than money. Volunteer your time to work for a local in the country of your choice. They give you somewhere to stay and pay for your food and you work for 5 hours a day. It’s a great opportunity to see another country like a local and ensure you won’t starve. Check out their website and search through thousands of ads from all over the world. You can search for specific opportunities and use keywords to search for LGBT friendly hosts. We had a period of time where Meg was sure we should spend a couple months as avocado farmers. I can’t help but feel like I dodged a bullet on that one. Work Away has TONS of employment options that don’t include picking produce.
Accommodations with a Kitchen
If the more traditional accommodations are more your thing you can always save a bit by eating at your hotel or hostel. I’m a big believer in eating the food is part of experiencing a new place. However, eating out every meal for the whole vacation adds up quickly. We opt for a room with at least a mini fridge whenever possible. Stopping at the local grocery store or market to grab some basics saves more than you think. I’m admittedly a little odd but I actually really enjoy browsing the aisles of the grocery store to see what the locals are eating. We often pick up some tea and breakfast items.
Don’t Check Luggage
Know what is included in the ticket you purchase. Most airlines charge you for checked luggage. Some of them charge as much as $50 per bag. Many airlines allow you to carry on a carry on and one personal item. You would be shocked with how much stuff you can fit in the right carry on bag. Meg carries a 44L Cabin Zero backpack and I have Tortuga Outbreaker that I am obsessed with. A good rolling carry on is also a good option. We just prefer the packs.
Speaking of bags, if you do decide to check one, make sure it’s underweight. Some airlines charge you as much as $70 for baggage overage. Spend a couple bucks on a luggage scale and weight it before you get there to save yourself a headache.
Use Public Transportation
When possible get around like the locals do. Not only are you getting around in the most authentic way it is often the cheapest option. When Meg and I first met I was terrified to take the Amtrack from Harrisburg to New York City, completely convinced I’d somehow get lost. After, 5 years together she’s taught me how to read train maps and find bus routes. To anyone a little nervous like I was it’s easier than you think just don’t psych yourself up ahead of time.
Travel in the Off Season
Most destinations have a peak travel season and an offseason. More times than not this is based on weather. You would be surprised how much you can save without sacrificing the quality of your trip by booking offseason. When it’s the offseason not only are you fighting fewer crowds, the hotels and tour operators are also more likely to discount rates.
Download the App
Many travel-centric businesses have extremely useful Apps. Some even offer discounts on your first in-app purchases. The Skyscanner App, in particular, is awesome. You can plug in your airport of departure and your travel time and it’ll show you the cheapest flight destinations available. The Expedia App was great in Thailand when we had spotty WiFi service. It set an automatic reminder in our phones for when our check in and check out times were at our various hotels. The TraveLibro app lets you read reviews and recommendations ahead of time so you can spend your money the best way possible.
Get an Account with an Airline
Sign up for the frequent flier program. Consider the credit cards. Fly with the airline whenever possible, the miles do add up. Also, get on their mailing list. Everyone hates junk email… until it’s useful. Sign up for the mailing list and you’ll get priority access to the flight sales. Once the seats are gone, they’re gone. If you’re on the list you get first dibs.