Travel is one of those things that most people want to do, but unless you have a ton of cash lying around somewhere and loads of free time, it can seem impractical or just simply not possible. For most of my life, I was one of those people who window shopped for dream vacations on the internet while I jealously scrolled through photos of people I knew backpacking through Europe, soaking up the sun on the beach, or exploring big cities. I’m a very Type-A person by nature, so the initial upfront costs of traveling (i.e. plane tickets), not to mention the “irresponsibility” of missing work or school, was enough to make me break out into a cold sweat. However, as I got older, I found myself yearning to explore new places and create new experiences for myself; so much so that it began to feel like I was being suffocated by staying in one place and never taking time off from my normal work and school schedule. I knew there had to be some way that people like me (at the time a broke graduate student and now a broke teacher) could afford to travel – I just had to find out how. So, I began researching travel blogs for the best tips and money saving tricks. The following list has become my swear to guide for incorporating travel as a regular, affordable aspect of my life.
Rule 1: Make Travel a Financial Priority
Creating a budget is definitely the biggest change I introduced to my life in order to make travel a more frequent and affordable reality. I started working in retail my senior year of high school and continued to work at White House Black Market and then later Loft through college, which encouraged me to develop a healthy spending habit when it came to clothes and shoes. When I sat down and calculated how much I was spending on those two things, alone, each month, I realized my credit card payments nearly equalled the cost of a plane ticket. Likewise, I cut back on things like going out for dinner or drinks, opting instead to cook at home (a hobby I’ve come to really enjoy) or invite my friends over for a girls’ night, which normally consists of nicer bottles of wine than we would purchase at a bar.
Similarly, when Alan and I got engaged, we opened up a joint savings account and have been putting money in it each month for the wedding. Whenever either of us gets paid, we immediately put money into it, which ensures that we don’t accidentally spend that money later or really miss it when we’re making our monthly budgets. After the wedding, we plan to continue to put money into the account and just repurpose it for travel funds. This way, big purchases like plane tickets or hotels won’t hit quite as hard and we’ll be able to make those purchases as soon as we come across any good deals.
Rule 2: Find a Good Rewards Credit Card
With so many different rewards credit cards out there, it’s hard not to find one that doesn’t work for you. My personal favorites are the Capital One Venture card and the Chase Sapphire card. Although both include an annual fee, they each make it easy to earn miles, which can essentially eliminate the cost of a plane ticket. (If the annual fee is a dealbreaker for you, check out the Capital One Venture One card.) To maximize my points, I use my card to pay bills and any monthly memberships I have and then immediately pay off the balance.
Rule 3: Be Smart/Flexible about Travel Dates
When it comes to traveling cheaply, timing is everything. From what I’ve read (and my own personal experience) the best day to buy plane tickets is usually Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, as this is when prices are lowest since airlines normally release their weekly sales Monday evening. Also, when scheduling your vacation, try to visit your destination during non-peak months. Not only can this save you as much as 50% on hotel accommodations and travel costs, it will help to ensure that you won’t be surrounded by a sea of tourists.
Knowing how far in advance to purchase plane tickets is also important. For domestic flights, it’s normally best to purchase your ticket 3 months to 30 days in advance. If you’re looking at flying internationally, purchasing your ticket 4 to 5 months in advance will normally yield the best price. (For example, while window shopping for summer flights back in February, I found round trip tickets to France for only $500 – a steal compared the average price of around $800 – $1000.)
Rule 4: Take Advantage of Travel Apps
I can’t stress this one enough. There are so many wonderful apps out there that make traveling super easy and more affordable. My current favorites are Hitlist, Airbnb, Turo, and Hopper. Each app takes all the heavy lifting out of planning trips and helps you to enjoy your destination in a more affordable fashion. (For an upcoming trip to Boston in October, Alan and I were able to save a few hundred dollars by booking our accommodations through Airbnb as opposed to staying in a hotel. With the extra savings, we’re now able to work in a day trip to Salem and check out their Halloween festivities.)
If traveling domestically or internationally just isn’t feasible for you right now, don’t hesitate to take advantage of exploring what’s around you, as well. Some of my best afternoons have been spent acting as a tourist in my hometown. Happy travels!