I will quickly be one to say “travel can be affordable with planning” but obviously, it still cost some money to get to you dream locations. Having a viable plan to set money set aside is critical to taking the first steps toward your vacation. Our method to ensure we are able to see the world began by setting up a separate bank account that takes a little bit of money automatically, twice a month from our main accounts. I also chose to have this travel savings account with an online service that takes 3 days to access our money, but I prefer this since I cannot easily access the money for some impulse purchase. The online account also earns a higher interest rate than any local bank in our area. These little amounts add up and become your travel fund. We keep it small, each of us put in $125 a month but we do it with $50 out of one paycheck and $75 out of the second. These amounts are easy for us not to miss since most people drop that on dinner alone. We will also add a bit more here and there with any bonuses, commissions or for others, maybe you tax return (not us, we are in sales, haven’t seen a return in years).
I get asked all the time (especially at work) what I use to find the deals we do. In most cases, I normally try to bundle hotel and flight when I can and shop around. I have two main sites I use for bundling – TripMasters and Expedia. TripMasters.com is super easy to navigate and you can customize your trip completely. If I’m not doing a multicity destination I will also check Expedia (they used to offer multicity destinations but with all of my sleuthing I cannot seem to find the option for hotels anymore only flights). I usually start with TripMasters and customize it how I want and then once I know flight details and hotel, I will plug that information into Expedia. Most of the time they are within dollars of each other, but when we went to Nice, France on the French Riviera there was about a $700 difference. I like TripMasters too because I can make payments which eases the burden of spending all our money at the time of booking. Expedia does not offer this (even though their FAQ’s claim they do but I have called and was told it is no longer offered) BUT Expedia does earn you points for money off of future trips.
I’ve just recently started trying a few different angles, such as searching the airport website where I’m flying into and seeing what discount airlines operate there. This allows me to cross reference to major hubs near us (within 3-hours driving) and see if there are any good deals. I especially like this idea for Europe, since all I really need is to get into the continent, once there I have the option of either picking up some cheap fare for Intra-European flight or jump on the rail for next to nothing. You won’t find these budget airlines advertised on Expedia or any other discount website. Sometimes I will expand my search all the way up to New York, granted I don’t live anywhere near JFK or LaGuardia but I do have friends in New Jersey that would allow me to drive up and spend the night (it’s only a 6-hour drive) and fly out the next day therefore saving a ton of money. I also have Googled “discount European airlines” just to see what is available in the EU that also flies out of the US. These are going to be similar to our Allegiant or Spirit airlines, where the fares are cheap but you have to pay for every other service with them. Oh well, if you ask me, I will forgo sitting by my husband and have everything crammed in a carry on if it means I get somewhere at such an affordable rate.
The other item I feel obligated to mention is that flights in general have been dropping like crazy. You just have to know where to look. I literally just took 45 seconds and went to United’s website and picked a random week in August, flying from Washington DC to Paris, and came up with $821 for the cheapest option. Now for some that might seem cheap compared to the $1,500 to $2,000 that they think it costs to fly to Europe. Another blog I follow religiously is The Flight Deal* and their daily emails showing cheap flights (and sometimes hotels). Using these emails, you can almost always consistently find flights from the US to Europe for $300-$500. That’s how I found our flights from DC to Paris for a week this past December for around $450 and our flights to Morocco coming up for around the same price. I can barely fly within the US for those prices.
Once I sort out the flight logistics, I put my husband on hotel duty. He researches and Trip Advisors the crap out of the area like he’s writing a thesis. He finds which hotels are in good areas and well-reviewed (they don’t need to be luxury, we aren’t traveling abroad to hang out in the hotel). He also looks to see if they are in the mix of things, and if not, are they near a Metro stop which would permit very affordable travel throughout the city. From there I cross reference prices on the hotel’s website with Expedia, Priceline, etc. Oddly enough, booking directly with the hotel is often the best deal and they seem to treat you better as a guest than when I would come in with some sort of discount site voucher. Even though I prefer to use the hotel site, I’m not against showing up with my stack of vouchers if it means I have saved money.
The hotel topic leads me to a few other money saving tips – breakfast – eat it and eat a lot of it. We ALWAYS stay in a hotel with breakfast available (complimentary or nominal fee). When you are out and about all day doing the normal touristy stuff, food can get very expensive so we try to eat as much as we can at breakfast (carb load lol) to sustain us until late afternoon/early evening. At that point, we grab a light snack either that we purchased at a grocery store or from a street vendor to tide us over until dinner. This way we really only buy one meal per day. I mentioned grocery shopping, don’t mistake what I meant by that. We definitely don’t do a normally weekly haul but if our hotel has a mini fridge and we will be there for more than a day or 2, we will hit up the local convenience store or grocery store for water, other drinks and snacks. The mark up on these items when you are out is crazy so it’s far better to just buy them for yourself up front.
Another way to possibly save money is to prepay any and all items that you can – breakfast, rail tickets, entry passes, Metro cards, city bus tours, whatever possible. Often times when you buy online early, you get a discounted rate PLUS you will be able to avoid the ticket lines when you get there. It’s a win/win. Although some of the above items may not offer an early bird discount, prepaying can make the price tag easier to handle, and eases the burden come vacation time. If you paid for your vacation 3-6 months before you go or over the course of 3-6 months, it can make the purchase less daunting and you avoid a large credit card bill when you return home.
You will still need to be mindful of what you spend while you are on your trip. In addition to watching our food costs, we also limit our souvenirs. I do not need a shot-glass, keychain, T-shirt, baseball cap, or some other trinket from every place I have ever been nor will we buy things for every random person that asks. We try to buy one cool thing that is representative of the locale such as our Murano glass vase from Venice, crystal champagne flutes from Prague, hand carved tiki from Bora Bora, and an engraved plaque with our names and the Great Wall image from atop the Great Wall in China. Yes, we do have a decent collection but I’m not trying to figure out where to sort and display oodles of tchotchkes. I have purchased clothing and accessories too on occasion, but I try to buy items I can wear anytime vs a t-shirt that says “I Heart Barcelona” across it. I may very well love Barcelona but I can’t wear that everywhere, plus I find it rather cool when I get a compliment and I can say “thanks, I got this in Barcelona.” Keep in mind, if you are going to shop and will be using a credit card, make sure it is one with zero foreign transaction fees and that they are notified of your travels before you leave. If you are trying to save on costs, that’s one that can really add up. Cards are handy but make sure you always bring enough local currency to accommodate smaller vendors that may not be card capable.
I’m sure this isn’t a complete list by any means, as I have said before, there are people who travel way more than us for way less. I have not mastered this art yet but so far this is what we are doing. It can be very intimidating to try to do this all at once. I know I will continue to research and read and try to things in order to keep traveling. This is definitely something that I cannot give up now that I have had a taste of it.
*All mentions of other bloggers, websites or businesses are based solely on my experiences and are not paid sponsorships in any way.
About the Author:
So who is Life In-Between you wonder? Growing up I always wanted to be a journalist, travelling the world and experiencing all manner of things that breathe life into this little blue planet of ours. Sadly, a different path than those I dreamed seemed to step in the way, as the real world tends to do. Now I find myself older, married and working 40+ hours a week like most of us. My husband and I have good jobs that provide us a relatively comfortable life but we are by no means wealthy. We embraced our love for travel when we met and it has become our overwhelming passion ever since. I chose the name for this blog to represent the life that falls in-between those 40 hours of work, the life that truly allows us to live! I realize that there is an abundance of bloggers out there that travel and blog full-time. That life is a luxury many of us may never experience so our blog is for those of us stuck in the real world yearning for those precious few weeks of escape each year!