Here's How I Afford To Travel Well And Often Without Spending A Fortune
*Sees flight deal, books vacation*
I'm Hannah, and traveling is my absolute favorite thing. I find that I can only function at work when I have a trip to look forward to, and I take advantage of all my long weekends and days off.
While I wish I could travel all the time without a care in the world, the reality is that traveling can be
expensive. And as a Manhattan-based writer, I have limited funds to use on my adventures. But I've figured out a handful of tricks that allow me to travel well on a budget. Here are a few money-saving tips that work for me:
Travel during the shoulder season.
The shoulder season refers to the month-or-so right before and after peak season when the weather is still nice but crowds have died down, and honestly, it's my absolute favorite time to travel. Last year my husband and I booked a trip to France and Spain in early October. We managed to book cheap flights and off-season hotel rates, but the weather was 75° and sunny every single day. If we'd booked the same trip in July or August, we would have had to spend three times as much.
Take advantage of credit card rewards points.
Different credit cards offer various rewards depending on what you spend money on, so apply for a card that works best for your spending habits. Chase Sapphire, Wells Fargo Propel, and American Express Gold are three great cards for racking up travel rewards. Once you find a card that works for you, use it
all the time. All those dollars you spend on take-out meals, groceries, and Ubers adds up, and you'll accumulate points. In a month I'll be flying premium economy from NYC to Tokyo and back from Hong Kong for just $200...thanks to my American Express points.
Don't just settle for Airbnb.
Look for early bird hotel deals.
Be flexible with your travel dates.
If you have the option, you can save a lot of money by avoiding travel on holidays and even weekends. Like most people, I like to take advantage of three-day weekends and days off from work, but instead of flying on a holiday I'll try to tack one more day onto my trip so that flights are cheaper. For example, if I'm traveling over Labor Day, I'll fly home Tuesday instead of Monday. It's just one day, but the price difference can be really significant.
Rent a car, and try doing so through an app.
Whenever I know I'm going to be exploring outside a city, I usually rent a car because it gives me a lot of flexibility. In the past I've always used companies like Hertz or Enterprise, but on a recent trip to California I tried
Turo, a car sharing app. I was able to rent a nice and sleek BMW convertible for less money than I usually spend renting a very basic sedan at Enterprise. Oh, and if you do opt for an Enterprise-like rental, don't blindly pay for their insurance. I spent over $500 in Iceland because Sixt car rental convinced me I needed extra coverage, but I later discovered that it was a total waste of money. I was already completely protected by my credit card company.
Research free activities in each city you're visiting.
Picnic, picnic, picnic.
Take out foreign currency from legitimate ATMs.
Tongpatong / Getty Images
With few exceptions, it's usually better to take money out of an ATM than it is to exchange one currency for the other. Different currency exchanges and kiosks charge different exchange rates or they may take a hefty fee. If you need to exchange currency, at least do it at your own bank and
never at the airport.
Pay attention to airline rules and know what you're signing up for.
All airlines have different rules and regulations about what an economy or basic economy ticket gets you. I flew United Airlines on a recent trip to Los Angeles, and I foolishly booked a basic economy ticket. Only when I got to the airport did I realize I'd have to pay about $40 each way just to check my carry-on. I would have been better off just spending the extra money for a regular economy ticket. All airlines have different policies, so do your homework before you commit.
Ask locals for their recommendations.
I always read guide books and blogs for restaurant recommendations abroad, but I find the best and most affordable finds come from talking to locals. Talk to whoever you can, from your Airbnb host to your bartenders. They'll lead you away from the tourist traps and show you the hidden gems most guide books won't know about. The first night I spent in Nice, France, I took the advice of a popular travel website and found myself at an overpriced bistro with very mediocre food. After dinner, a bartender told me about his favorite place in town: A tiny olive oil shop and restaurant called
Oliviera. I took his advice, and the following night I had the best meal of the trip, and it was a bargain. This is just one example of a recurring trend whenever I travel. Locals always know best.
Start a savings system that works for you.
Traveling is one of my biggest priorities, so each paycheck I try putting two hundred dollars aside that will go into my travel fund. Over time, that piggy bank adds up. I never feel bad about using that hard earned money to travel because that's exactly what I've been saving it for. I have friends who swear by
Qapital, an app that lets you set your own savings rules and goals. For example, for every coffee you buy at Starbucks, the app will put a dollar into your "travel fund." Figure out a system that works for you, and start putting cash away little by little for that trip you've been dying to take.
Plan out your travel itinerary ahead of time.
I admit that I'm a type A person. When I travel, I like doing some things spontaneously, but I also like to have some sort of an itinerary so I know I'll have time to do all the things I want to do. I don't need a schedule for every hour of the day, but I also find that plotting out a travel itinerary ahead of time allows me to budget responsibly. If I know I have a nice dinner reservation one night, I'll make to cut back on other expenses that day so I can stay on track financially. Having a plan also allows me to rely on public transportation: If I know where I'm going, I can decipher how to best take the subway or bus from destination to destination without getting stuck in expensive Ubers or cabs.
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