Thursday, March 29, 2018

Easy Ways to Save Big Money on Travel

I follow many amazing travel bloggers. Some of them travel for most of the year. They work on the road or have saved enough cash to fund endless explorations. Sounds amazing, right?

The reality for me (and probably you) is that full-time travel is not in the cards right now. I have bills and financial obligations to my family. Nevertheless, I will not put my travel goals on hold by vowing to travel someday. I am old enough to know that someday does not always come. Last year, I decided to make travel a priority and committed to travel as often as possible.

So what’s a woman with a basket full of travel dreams and a lean budget to do? In this post, I share tips on how to make travel affordable. I use these strategies to travel more often and visit destinations that I thought were out of reach financially.

Research before booking

Saving money on travel begins before booking your trip. Do not purchase a plane ticket, reserve a hotel room, or pay a deposit until you do some research. A thorough investigation of your destination is the key to getting the most bang for your travel bucks.

What questions should you answer before booking a trip?

  • When is the high and low season?
  • How much will necessities like lodging and food cost?
  • What is the best way to travel to and around the area?
  • What are the must-see attractions and how much do they cost? 
  • If required, how much will a visa cost to enter the country?
The goal of pre-booking research is to determine where to go and when is the best time to visit. For example, most destinations have a high season and low season. It is less expensive to visit during low season when there are many deals on transportation, hotels, and activities.

Look for deals and sales

Never pay full price for anything travel related. Travel companies constantly offer sales. Many websites and apps can help you find these deals. Set airfare price alerts with Google Flights, Hitlist, and Hopper. Regularly visit travel deal websites like Secret Flying, Airfare Spot, Travelzoo, The Flight Deal, Travel Pirates, and Scott’s Cheap Flights. It takes patience to uncover a deal you like, but the money you save will make the wait worth it.

Are you thinking, Linda, I don’t have time to check these websites every day? No worries. They all have a presence on major social media platforms. Follow and like these companies and the deals will pop up in your feed.

Travel where your money will take you

Choose destinations where your money will go the furthest. Employing this money-saving strategy requires some flexibility. Instead of planning a trip to a specific destination, do some pre-booking research to determine which destinations are on sale at the time you want to travel.

For example, don’t say, “I want to go to London in May.” Ask,“where can I go in May for $400 (or whatever your budget).” Now visit travel deal websites and find destinations on sale in May.

If your heart is set on traveling to London in May, this strategy won’t work, and you’ll pay whatever it costs. However, if you are flexible and not committed to any one destination, this budget maximizing strategy will save you money. I recommend keeping a list of 10-15 places that you want to visit. Chances are that one of the destinations will be on sale when you are ready to travel.

Visit family and friends

I almost always accept invitations to visit and stay with family and friends. Typically, lodging eats up the biggest chunk of a travel budget. The opportunity for free room and board is too good to pass up. I visited Uganda a few years ago because my sister was living there. There is no way I could have afforded that trip on my own. Just remember you may have to return the favor someday. I got you, sis!

Shorten the trip

A quick getaway makes expensive destinations more affordable. A two-day getaway is less expensive than a week-long trip. You may sacrifice some sightseeing time, but I think it is better to go and see less than not go at all. Remember the goal is to travel. Not spending your entire travel budget for the year on one trip will mean you can travel more often.

Okay, you found the perfect budget destination and booked the trip. How can you maximize your travel dollars once you arrive? Keep reading.

Look for free or almost free activities

Most destinations have free festivals and events throughout the year. Here is how you can find out about them:

  • Ask the hotel staff and locals what is happening in town. They may tell you about free or inexpensive events not advertised to tourists. 
  • Investigate local websites or event magazines like Time Out to see what is happening during your visit. 
  • Look for coupon books at your hotel. They are filled with discounts on restaurants and attractions in the area. 

Sign-up for a free tour

The first thing I do when touching down in a new place is reserve a free or inexpensive walking tour. Seeing the area through the eyes of a local guide helps me get my bearings and prioritize what to see and do. Free Tours By Foot offers walking tours led by local guides in several cities around the globe. I booked tours with them in Boston, Chicago, and London. Despite being free they were well-organized, informative, and fun.

There may be other options at your destination.Contact the local chamber of commerce or tourism board. They should be able to provide a list of tour companies in the area.

Take advantage of free or discount days at major attractions

I don’t like paying entry fees for museums. I live in Washington, DC where most of the museums are free so I’m spoiled. Fortunately, many museums and attractions waive or reduce their entrance fees on select days during the month. In addition, many attractions offer discounts to seniors, military, teachers, and police officers every day. Also, check out the benefits for professional organizations that you belong to before leaving home. You may be entitled to discounts just by being a member.

A CityPASS can also help you save money on entry fees. It provides discounted admissions to multiple attractions for a single price. However, understand what attractions are included and make sure they are places that you want to visit before buying.

Ride public transportation

Saving money on a rental car, parking, and tolls equals more cash in your pocket. However, trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B in a new place can be daunting. Luckily, most public transportation systems have informative websites and apps. Utilize them to familiarize yourself with the system and plan your trips around the area before leaving home.

Plan a free day

Not every day of the trip has to be crammed with expensive visits to tourist traps and souvenir shops. Traveling is about finding unique and unexpected experiences. Leave free time in your itinerary to leisurely stroll through neighborhoods, shop in local stores, or sleep late. Free days are typically filled with unexpected, happy surprises and low expenses. Leaving one day open to explore or relax in your hotel will recharge your battery and save money.

Choose your splurges

We often travel with the expectation of visiting a famous site. Who is going to miss the Eiffel Tower on their first visit to Paris? Don’t deny yourself these lifetime experiences, even if they come with a hefty price tag. However, be strategic and think about if these splurges have real meaning to you or if you’re going because everyone else does it.

Here is one last tip that will help you save for travel and you can do it now.

Open a travel savings account

It doesn’t matter how affordable the trip is if you don’t have money to book it. The number one reason people don’t travel is lack of money. Eliminate this obstacle by putting money into a travel savings account each month. This account should only be used for travel-related expenses.

Where can you find money to fund future travel?
  • Commit to saving a percentage of bonuses, side hustle earnings, and tax refunds. 
  • Cut down on spending. There are many personal finance articles and blogs with suggestions on how to save more by adjusting spending habits.
  • Get a second job or turn a hobby into a small business.
  • Sell clothes and household items that you no longer use.
Travel does not have to be expensive. Use the tips and strategies in this post to save money on your next trip, travel more often, and live your best travel life now!

How do you save money and budget for travel? In the comments share your tips, hacks, and best advice for making travel more affordable.

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