6 Things I do to travel cheap
I often get asked how I manage to travel as much as I do. The long answer includes all the things I don't spend money on such as going out or new socks; but the short answer breaks down into 6 things I stick to, to keep my costs when buying tickets and travelling as low as possible.
1. Be flexible on dates
I realise this might be easier said than done for most; maybe you only have certain days vacation, the kids are off that month only etc etc. But I have found that sometimes a difference of 3 days can make hundreds of dollars of difference in air fare. As with everything in life, be flexible on the picture and expectations. Maybe you spend one day less at your destination than you wanted or maybe you take the early morning flight instead of the afternoon. By staying open minded as to what your schedule will be, you can save yourself a good bit of money. In regards to the whole only buy flight tickets on Tuesday and 1 month or more in advance, I haven't quite made my mind up about that. I have gotten some incredible flight deals 2 weeks before leaving as well as 8 months in advance.
2. Be flexible on destination
I have a list of my top 5 or so places I'd like to go to next. And believe it or not, whatever is cheapest wins. Obviously a flight to Europe will always be more than a flight to the next state over, but by continuously keeping an eye on the routes and checking every time I plan a trip, I know when I have found a steal for that flight to Europe and I feel good about buying that ticket (my last return trip to the UK was roughly $500 and I was pretty pleased with that). By once again staying flexible you're able to take advantage of whatever sales might be going on, going where most aren't headed but checking places off that travel list in the process.
3. Be flexible on route
Are you noticing a trend yet? FLEXIBILITY is key! And here I mean two things: departure airport and layovers. My home base airport is TPA (Tampa) and although growing, it isn't exactly an international hub with lots of options and low fares to chose from. So I've learned to think outside of the box - am I willing to drive 2-3 hours to nearby airports and save $200-$300 on a flight? D**n right I am. I used to be one of those people that wanted a direct flight no matter what - it's easier, less travel involved, and also generally more expensive. Now I am perfectly happy to have a layover in Stockholm, Dallas, or Beijing. And with stop-over tourism becoming a thing, some airlines will allow you to spend a few days at your lay-over exploring before getting the connecting flight to your final destination. A wonderful way to see a new city. After all, it's about the journey - so learn to enjoy the process of getting there as much as finally being there.
4. Know what matters for accommodation
Searching for a great hotel can be a minefield. But I know exactly how I narrow it down and pick the best price accommodation while not sacrificing the things I need to be comfortable. I mainly use booking.com and hostelworld.com to find cheap accommodations. TIP: sometimes hostels are on both sites except on hostelworld they require a deposit but booking.com they don't. Another reason I use booking.com is that hotels come with free cancellation/amendments which works perfectly for being flexible with my flights. And then I read reviews. I read reviews on both sites looking for cleanliness and location. If several people rate both of these high and the price is right - we have a winner! (If there is a close tie, a breakfast included option wins) Those are the things that matter most to me when I am abroad. Obviously your preferences might be different, but if you know what those are you'll have an easier time narrowing it down and won't simply go with the very cheapest option which may save money but make you incredibly uncomfortable in the basement 'suite' and hitchhiking rides from the locals just to get somewhere near town.
5. Budget your activities in advance
I pick a lot of my destination based on some sort of outdoor activity or sights to see. I make sure to research the cost of these before hand and calculate that into the flights and hotel costs. The flight may be cheap and all, but if the activity will cost me a couple of hundred dollars, that needs to be added into the 'where do I go' calculation. If that then means another option becomes cheaper, this particular one might have to wait. See, flexibility is key again. Also, researching costs ahead of time helps you find the most budget friendly providers (with good reviews obviously) and you know what you're getting into once you're there.
6. Skip a meal
This sounds terrible and I certainly don't condone not eating. I love eating. Food is one of my favourite reasons to travel! But, I do watch my spending abroad and will do a lot of cooking at 'home' if possible, grab a banana and extra toast from the included breakfast, or call a bag of potato chips lunch. That means I generally aim to eat only one meal a day out. Street food is also a great option. Definitely try to avoid anything that looks fancy and touristy (especially inside of hotels/resorts) and if needs must, split a dinner with your travel partner/buddy (which I have certainly done). I guarantee you though, I have never gone hungry! I turn into too much of a curmudgeon if I did.
Hopefully some of these tips have helped shed some light on small but powerful ways you can get the most bang for your buck when planning a trip. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or share any tricks you might have up your sleeve.