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Over the next few weeks, you will probably notice some rebranding around the blog. I have a new domain name that I am working on getting connected to the blog and launching in a few weeks. I will be changing the theme of the blog toward travel. Over the past few years, my stories have changed from “how I got the shot” to where I went and what I saw. Along with that, I am going to be posting more travel tips mixed in with trip reports. Some of them will be generic travel tips like this and others will be destination guides. Thanks for joining me on this journey!
One of the questions I get asked the most is how do we afford to travel so much. While we splurge occasionally (Alaksa cruise, anyone?) we really are budget-minded travelers and we look to get the most bang for our buck! Here are some tricks we use to maximize our travel dollars!
- Set a budget: Not the most exciting travel tip, but it really is important. Each January we look at our expected annual income and expenses and figure out how much we have for travel for the year. This allows us to set a budget for each trip, big or small, and figure out where we can go that year. For each trip, we pin down travel expenses (airfare, parking, rental car, lodging, food, tours, souvenirs, etc.) in advance so there are no unexpected bills at the end.
- Be flexible with your dates or destination: The best deals can be found if you are open to when you travel AND to where, but obviously that doesn’t work for everyone. As a teacher, I am limited to the busiest times of the year to travel, but I still manage to find deals by being open to the destination. Or, say we have a place we need to be for a cruise or something like that, you can sometimes find better prices if you look at neighboring airports. For example, for our cruise out of New Orleans, we found that it was actually much cheaper to rent a car in New Orleans and fly out of Baton Rouge. Or on a recent trip, we drove four hours and flew out of Chicago instead of Detroit which saved us several hundred dollars per person on the flights.
- Be patient and know when to buy: So, you decided where you’re going. Now is the time to start looking for airfare, but it might not be the best time to book. Experts say prices are best 1-3 months in advance for domestic travel and 3-6 months in advance for international travel. If you buy too early you could be spending too much. Both Hopper and Google Flights will tell you if the prices you are seeing are good deals or not and if you should buy now or wait.
- Be open to various accommodations: You can save a lot of money by renting a home/apartment with a kitchen instead of staying in a hotel and eating three meals a day out. Rental homes can also be more cost-effective for families who would need multiple rooms. If you choose to stay in a hotel, look for one that offers free breakfast, or better yet free drinks.
- Factor in Fees: That $99 flight may not be as good of a deal as you thought when you have to pay for every little extra. Are there fees for checking a bag? Carrying on a bag? What is the weight limit for a checked bag (it is often lower on low-cost carriers)? Are you going to want to pick your seat? Are snacks/drinks included? All of these fees add up and sometimes the more expensive flight ends up being more economical. When it comes to rental homes, don’t be fooled by the low per-night cost. Remember to check the fees and taxes.
- Skip the rental car: There are many destinations that are easy to get around on foot and by public transportation. Not only is there a fee for a rental car, but parking can also cost extra. In the event you want to take a day trip, you can find plenty of day trips with transportation on Viator or rent a car for the day with Turo.
- Research cheap or free things to do in your destination: Pinterest is great for this kind of research and so are old-fashioned paper guidebooks. You can save even more money buy checking out guidebooks from your local library. I recommend looking for guidebooks published in 2021 or newer because a lot has changed due to the pandemic.
- Look into Memberships: Oftentimes, you can get free admission to museums around the world if you become a member of your local museum (make sure you purchase a membership that includes reciprocal admission. It’s not usually included in the cheapest membership option). The North American Reciprocal Museums Program lists their participating museums. If you enjoy botanical gardens, many gardens also offer a reciprocal membership. The American Horiticultural Society has a list of participating gardens. If Nature Centers are your thing, there is also a group of reciprocal Nature Centers. If you’re visiting two or more National Parks on a trip, purchase the America the Beautiful National Park pass at your first park (passes are good for one year from when they are purchased so I don’t recommend buying them in advance). If you are a veteran/Gold Star Family, National Park volunteer, have a permanent disability or have a 4th grader, you are eligible for a free park pass.
- Plan meals strategically: Eat a big breakfast so you don’t need to get a full lunch. Split meals. Bring snacks from home. Search Trip Advisor for restaurants with a single $. You can find really good places that a lot of tourists don’t visit that are also easy on the wallet. If you’re visiting parks, many have grills that allow you to cook even if you’re not staying at a place with a kitchen. These tend to be busy at lunchtime but empty around dinner.
- Be open to different brands/chains: If you only stay at Holiday Inn, you can be missing out on better prices at other brands. I use Booking.com for my hotel research and bookings and I get upgrades and discounts across all brands, including independent hotels.
- Pack light: We’ve become masters of packing a personal item for a long weekend. Look for a bag that fits just within the baggage specifications without going over (I have a new backpack I love that works as a personal item on Spirit and Frontier) and you may not need to pay extra for a short trip. There are people who are able to do that for longer trips, but I haven’t mastered that, yet. If you need a little more room, check out wearable luggage clothing like ScotteVest.
- Camp: Do you have camping gear or know someone who would lend your their camping gear? You can find campsites as low as $15/night. Camping can be the cheapest way to travel, especially if you enjoy the outdoors.
- Take a cruise: Cruising can be a very extravagant vacation but it can also be a way to see the world on a budget. When you think about the fact that cruise fare includes lodging, dining, entertainment, and transportation, it can really be a very good value. In general, $100/per person per night or less is a good value for a cruise. If you’re able to cruise last minute, after final payment (about 90 days in advance) cruise prices tend to drop to fill unsold cabins. I usually need more notice than that for traveling, so I like to look farther out. I browse a cruise search site for dates that we are available and bookmark ones that look interesting or like a good deal. Then, I revisit those saved cruises until they seem like a price I would want to pay. I recently found a 7-night Pacific Coastal cruise for $400 per person (which works out to $57 per person per night) for an oceanview cabin over spring break. If the price goes down after you book, you are usually able to get it repriced until the final payment. After final payment, the policy varies by cruise line, but you may be able to get onboard credit for the difference or upgrade to a higher category cabin.
Thanks for stopping by! Do you have any money-saving travel tips? Let me know in the comments! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.