Don’t let excuses hold back your travel dreams. Though many Kaleidoscopic Wandering readers are familiar with the travel industry, many others are not. As part of the Why People Don’t Travel series, I’m taking a hard look at five different things that keep people from traveling. In this series, I hope to provide solutions and additional resources for people who would like to travel more.
Today’s travel concern: “I don’t have the money to travel.”
Perhaps you’d like to cuddle with your honey in a romantic destination such as Paris. Or maybe you’d finally like to take your family to the happiest place on Earth to spend a week with Mickey Mouse and the rest of the Disney gang. Or this could be the perfect year to cash in your banked weeks of vacation for a trip through Asia.
At some point in time, we all need a vacation or yearn for a few weeks of unrestrained travel. The problem, of course, is that—regardless of where you want to go or for how long—it’s going to cost money. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get away for a weekend with your significant other or mix and mingle with the seven dwarfs.
In fact, travel can be affordable.
There are two ways to do this:
- Make a conscious effort to save money so that you can travel.
- Find discounts and more affordable travel options to make travel less expensive.
You might not be able to pack up and leave tomorrow, but if you make travel a priority today, then you’ll be ticking off some of those places on your bucket list before too long. Here are some things you can do to make more frequent travel more affordable in your life:
- Avoid air travel. Airline tickets can bump up the bill very quickly, especially if you have a large family. Meanwhile, the price of gas has stayed relatively steady and affordable. If you want to travel but don’t want to spend your hard-earned money paying for baggage fees and airline taxes, take a road trip. You might be surprised what you find between the large cities where flights land.
- Use coupons. Get in touch with the tourism bureau for your intended destination before you arrive or stop by the office once you arrive for a browse through the brochures and complimentary magazines, many of which have coupons and discounts for accommodations, dining and activities.
- Cook your own food. If you stay in a hostel, condo or long-term hotel, you will probably have access to a kitchen. Use it to your advantage by cooking several meals in your accommodations rather than eating out. Shopping at the local grocery store or market is also a fantastic way to experience the local culture. Bread, wine and cheese for a picnic lunch, anyone?
- Travel in the off season. Places are more crowded when they’re bathed in good weather. National Parks are packed in the summertime and the Caribbean is a mecca in winter. Many people have no choice but to travel when the kids have a break from school, but if you can finagle your travel schedule so you travel even one week into the fringe season, you can save a lot of money. Generally, travel in February, March, September and October are good bets for at least semi-decent weather and cheaper prices. London may be covered in snow in the winter and some of the museum hours may be shortened, but you won’t have to wait in line or fight for your spot in the crowd.
- Do the math. Don’t just jump at the opportunity to get the fourth night free on a four-night stay when it’s actually in your interest to go with a deal offering 30% off each night’s stay. Every company wants your business and they all have some way to lure you through the door. But you don’t have to passively accept discounts without doing your research to see if you could actually get a better deal somewhere else just by doing some simple computations.
- Fly on off days. Everyone wants to travel on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Save hundreds of dollars by booking your airline travel and accommodations for the middle of the week.
- Meet locals. Some of the most meaningful travel experiences can be the least expensive. Hang out in the local cafe. Start a conversation with someone waiting for the bus. Ask someone local what she recommends you see and do. Not only do the people who live somewhere know the secrets for the best and least expensive eateries and attractions, but they may also be willing to show you around town. If you’re really lucky, you may be invited over for dinner … cheap and a true cultural experience!
- Use public transportation or walk. Another great way to experience the place you are visiting cheaply is to ditch the rental car. Get to know a place by walking or hopping on a bus, subway, bike or rickshaw.
- Bundle up. Fees and costs, that is. In most cases—though not always—if you know you want to book multiple components of a trip, it may be cheaper to book everything (flight, rental car, hotel) together. If you know you’ll be taking the train to multiple countries in Europe, for example, get a Eurail pass. I would advise pricing out everything individually before buying in bulk to ensure you’re actually getting a good deal, but if you know you want everything that is being bundled, this has the potential to be a great money saver.
- Bring your own snacks. Avoid shoveling out the big bucks for a bag of peanuts on the plane. Pack your own snacks and save a few bucks.
- Use Skype. Avoid paying roaming charges. Instead, stay in touch with your loved ones using Skype, a free online video phone that can be accessed using an iPhone application or via any computer where this program is installed.
- Ask. Hotels want you to sleep. Restaurants want you to eat. Activities vendors want you to play. Ask for discounts wherever you go. Perhaps the hotel can throw in a complimentary breakfast or you can get free access for children if the adults in the party pay to do something. The worse that can happen is you’ll be told no.
- Pack light. Avoid paying extra baggage fees by packing light and carrying everything on your flight. Packing light when you take a road trip is also a good idea because excessive weight can put more pressure on your car’s tires, forcing you to use more gasoline.
- Find free WiFi. Many hotels charge an outrageous fee for using WiFi while many cafes and coffee shops offer it for free. Search around for the best deal before logging in online.
- Flash a student ID. Many places offer a discount for students, so don’t forget to pack your student ID if you’re still in school.
- Get free food. Look for restaurants that offer Kids Eat Free deals and take advantage of complimentary breakfasts offered by hotels. I’ve been known to make sandwiches for lunch and grab a few extra pieces of fruit at complimentary breakfast buffets, which has saved me a lot of money on food.
- Visit free or severely discounted attractions. Beaches and parks are often free to visit. So are many markets, street festivals and local museums. Look beyond the big tourist attractions for cheaper alternatives. Many museums and larger attractions also offer “off” days or times that have less expensive entry fees.
- Travel on the borders. Think about the popular destinations you’d like to visit. Now consider traveling to their next door neighbors. Just because there is a line drawn on a map doesn’t mean there is a drastic change in culture, climate or geography—though there might be a drastic change in price. Considering Costa Rica? Try Honduras. Interested in Fiji? Book a flight to Micronesia instead. Visit Cambodia instead of Thailand.
- Extend your stay. If you’ve been sent somewhere for a business trip or conference, tack on a few extra days of personal time to check out the sites and take advantage of the pre-paid plane tickets.
- Blend in. If you make an attempt to speak the language and dress like the locals, you are less likely to be called out as a tourist and thus less likely to be overcharged.
- Sign up for miles. Use a credit card that earns you miles every time you shop anywhere and always sign up for the free mileage programs offered by the airlines. There are so many conglomerations in the flight industry now that partnerships between the airlines can get you just about anywhere in the world, regardless of where you flew or what airline you flew on to earn your miles.
- Sleep cheap. Hostels aren’t just for 20-something party goers anymore. If you don’t mind sharing a room with strangers and walking down the hall to the bathroom, this is one of the least expensive lodging options you’ll find. Couchsurfing, another relatively new fad, allows you to crash in someone’s home for the night, often for the low price of doing the dishes or being conversational over a meal. And many bed and breakfasts, motels and hotels run specials as well. Actively seek out discounts and make contact before you go to ask about or negotiate discounted stays. You might also want to consider signing up for a home swap, especially if you live in a place that many consider desirable for vacation stays.
- Be flexible. If you don’t mind where or when you go, there are a number of vendors that offer last-minute flight and vacation package deals. I receive emails from Travelzoo, TripAdvisor and Kayak every week that show the best flight, accommodation and package specials for the week and though I disregard most of the deals, some have encouraged me to research further. On a similar note, if you’re willing to be bumped from your flights, you can earn cash and flight miles for the inconvenience, which you can use for future travel.
Are you ready to pack your bags?
If you’re committed to doing some work so that you can afford future travels, there are numerous sites around the web that can offer discounted hotel stays, flights, cruises and car rentals. Always read the fine print before handing over your credit card, and read reviews about discounted services from those who have used them. Below are links to a few websites that are lauded by the travel writing and blogging community. I’ve offered my opinion on the ones that I have personally used.
- HostelWorld and HostelBookers – Peruse ratings and book lodgings at either of these sites. Both sites also offer free travel guides and other information about your desired destination.
- Airfare Watchdog – This site allows you to receive alerts when there are discounted flights available to and from selected cities. You can also sign up to receive a list of airfare prices to all cities in the United States and Canada. The one big downfall of this site is that searching for and receiving updates on cheap international flights is difficult.
- HomeExchange – Though there is a membership fee associated with this site, if you take advantage of a home swap and split the cost of the membership fee with everyone staying in the house, this can turn out to be a very cost-efficient way to pay for lodging when you travel.
- Kayak Buzz – Search for the lowest fares around the world using this site. Minimal search criteria required. I love this site for its flexibility in simply looking for the cheapest tickets to just about anywhere. If you aren’t set on a specific place or time to travel, definitely check this site out.
- Destination Coupons – There are countless websites offering coupons, and this is just one example covering some of the most popular destinations around the world. To find discounts where you’re going, Google your destination name and “discounts” or “coupons.”
- Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum – I intentionally sent this link to the “Travel on a Shoestring” conversation on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree but there are several conversations taking place on this forum about best travel practices, especially as they relate to budget travel.
- Hotwire – Compare prices on hotels, flights, cruise and car rentals, and bundle up different components to create a discounted vacation package. This site also offers last-minute getaway deals and allows you to compare its prices with others found across the web.
How do you make travel affordable? Please share your money-saving suggestions and any resources you recommend in the comments area below.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
- Why People Don’t Travel, Part 1: Fear of Going Solo
- Why People Don’t Travel, Part 3: Kids
- Why People Don’t Travel, Part 4: Time
- Why People Don’t Travel, Part 5: My Partner Doesn’t Want to Travel