30.3.14

How to Travel for Cheap - Anywhere!




One of the biggest misconceptions about traveling is that it has to be expensive. When people hear about all the travel I do, two things tend to occur: they either assume that my parents are paying for everything (spoiled), or that I'm spending all my money willy-nilly (irresponsible). And while neither, or both, could be true, my response to these claims is that I've just learned to travel on a budget. I have spent hours upon hours studying the art of travel - because I love it! As a result, I can budget multiple trips into my year without spending an arm and a leg. And I want to teach you how to, too!


GETTING FROM POINT A TO POINT B

Use the Right Flight Search Engine. You know all those commercials you see for traveling search engines? Those like Travelocity, Kayak, Orbitz, etc.? Yes, try to avoid those. You see, although you can sometimes find a good deal on those sites, they can increase the prices on their flights because they know inexperienced travelers will pay money for them, thinking they've found a bargain. They also only look through the big airlines for flights - like United and British Airways. The only two sites I use for finding flights are skyscanner.net and airfarewatchdog.com. These search engines look for flights in EVERY air carrier, including small budget airlines that major search engines won't even bother looking at (like Ryan air in the UK and AirTran in the US). I've found some incredible flights on here, like roundtrip airfare from Seattle to Washington DC for only $262. On your next trip, try searching these two sites in addition to your regular commercial brand search engine, and see what you come up with.

Sacrifice Comfort Where You Can. Although  having a direct flight in first class would be a dream, sometimes you have to sacrifice comfort for budget. I understand that not everyone is able or willing to sacrifice as much as others, but if you really want to travel cheap, you'll have to give up some creature comforts. Find flights with multiple layovers, as these tend to be cheaper than single layovers or direct flights. You should also only purchase economy class tickets, which may seem like a given, but is something many people overlook. I got a great deal on a flight from Cairo, Egypt to Seattle, Washington by having extended layovers in Munich and Toronto. While this brought my total travel time up to around 48 hours, it saved loads of money. Additionally, you should never buy food in an airplane or airport. Unless you're truly starving or you're about to pass out, I can guarantee the $13 you pay for 6oz. of salad won't be worth it in the end. Same goes for in-flight deals on movies/tv and blankets/pillows.

Book Flights Using Hidden Cities. I learned about this trick relatively recently, and have become a big fan of it since. Hidden cities are when you book a flight where your final destination is actually a layover stop. For example, Phil and I are planning a two-week backpacking trip through Eastern Europe next December. We are flying into Munich and flying out of Instanbul. Here is our dilemma: It is cheaper to fly roundtrip to/from Instanbul than it is to get two one-way tickets to Munich and Instanbul - but obviously only one of those gets us to the proper destinations. Here's the catch: the roundtrip Instanbul tickets both have a layover in Munich. Result? We pay over $200 less by purchasing roundtrip tickets to Instanbul, and on our first layover in Munich, we simply get off and leave the airport. The only possible problem here is that some airlines will cancel your tickets for the return flight if you don't make it to the final destination, so check with your airline prior to testing this trick out.

Invest in an Air-Miles Credit Card. I would say that 50% of the flights I purchase are done so using frequent flier or credit card miles. Every time you purchase a flight, you should log the frequent flier miles you earn in that airline's user database. Although you may not get a ton for every flight, they build up over time and can save you lots of money in the long-run. Additionally, you should consider signing up for an air-miles credit card. These are credit cards that give to 1-mile or 2-miles per dollar spent, often with major sign-up bonuses. I spent several weeks researching possible credit cards (and I suggest you do the same) in order to decide which one to sign up for. I chose a credit card that gives me 2-miles per dollar on travel and food purchases, and 1-mile per dollar on every other purchase, with a 20,000 miles bonus for signing up. I make all my purchases - for everything - via my credit card and pay it off immediately. This way, I get thousands of miles for free, essentially. When looking for my card, I used these resources:
-Nomadic Matt: Picking a Travel Credit Card
-Bankrate: Review of Travel Credit Cards with Rewards
-Nerdwallet: Travel Miles Credit Cards

Bonus: my credit card has a travel blog site, where you can write 50-word stories about your travel and earn 200 miles for each. I write 1 to 2 stories per day, meaning that I earn 200-400 miles every day for writing for 5-minutes. Score!

Search and Buy Flights at the Right Time. There is definitely an art to buying flights. Here is what you need to know:
1) Search for flights on Tuesday afternoons
2) Buy flights that leave on Wednesdays
Most air carriers advertise their deals on flights on Tuesday afternoons - the slowest buying period of the week. Plus, Wednesday is the least-flown day of the week, so carriers will make flights cheaper on this day to draw in customers. Always avoid flights that leave on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, as these will my hundreds of dollars more expensive than the exact same flight that leaves on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. You should also look for flights that leave at odd hours. Few people prefer a flight that leaves at 3:00am or 10:00pm, so you will save big money by flying these times.

Never Check Luggage. For me, cramming a month's worth of clothing and sundries into a carry-on is a way for me to spite airlines that I feel some sort of anger towards for their absurd luggage fees; I find a sick pleasure in it. Although there are a few air carriers that offer free check luggage, the majority do not, and will charge you $25-$150 per suitcase you check. Although $25 may seem easy to sacrifice for luggage and ease in an airport, that's $25 you can't spend on a snorkeling trip or tickets to a museum at your final destination. I guarantee that you will not use everything you bring in a massive suitcase if you're traveling for 2-weeks or less. I went on a month-long trip using two carry-on bags, and I still managed to bring multiple outfits, a large DSLR camera, my laptop, makeup, toiletries, books, and leave room for souvenirs on the way back. Trust me - cut your wardrobe in half, bring clothing items you can mix and match, and get creative with your packing, and you'll never need to check luggage again.

PS - you're going to need to get aggressive to be successful at carry-on packing. I mean, you need to fight for that overhead bin space! Make it work!

KEEPING YOUR TRIP CHEAP

Stay at Hostels and Motels. Although spending $10 a night to share a room with 6 other people isn't ideal for everyone, it is the best way to save money while you travel. I think the most I've paid for a night at a hotel - anywhere - has been $70. The goal of traveling is to get out and explore new cities, not to stay in a hotel (well, that's the goal for me). As a result, my priorities for a location to stay are: find a place in a safe or efficient location, make sure it has a clean bed, and make it under $50. As a bonus, some of the most hilarious and adventurous travel stories come from staying someplace off the beaten path, or someplace a little dirty or weird. Now I can tell people about how I slept on a bench outside the airport in Paris, or how we rented a room at a 'hostel' that ended up being someones bedroom in their apartment. Good times. Regardless, you can easily find cheap or free accommodation under $10 a night, or for a bit more privacy, in the $30-$50 a night range.

For more information on finding cheap accommodation, read my article here.

Budget Your Food. Although the likelihood of going on vacation and cooking is slim to none for most people, you don't have to rely on restaurants for your food. My top tips for cheap food while traveling are:
1) Don't eat at restaurants in the tourist sections.
2) Go to locals for authentic food.
3) Don't be afraid of grocery stores.
When Phil and I travel, we often stop by a grocery store at the beginning of our trip and buy a loaf of bread with peanut butter and jelly, and a box of plastic utensils. We have now created a means of feeding ourselves while spending less than $5 for 10 or so meals. Now, I get it. You're on vacation, and you don't want to survive off of old bread and peanut butter. What you spend on food ultimately comes down to how much you're willing to sacrifice for the sake of adventure. In terms of restaurants though - you should always move away from tourist hotspots before finding food. In Italy, for example, we found pizza that was twice as good and half the price half-a-mile outside of downtown Florence, instead of eating right next to the Duomo. People like easy food (myself included) and that extra 10 minutes of walking isn't always the most fun. The thing is though - the best food, that the locals eat, will rarely be near a major tourist destination. Ask the locals for their favorite restaurants, or just wander on the outskirts of town until you find a place that looks interesting.

Also - street food isn't boring and doesn't have to be scary. I think one of my favorite meals in Belize was at a hole-in-the-wall 'deli' that served us rice and beans with roasted plantains. That's as simple as it gets, but it was so so so good. If you're afraid of food poisoning, just eat vegetarian. It's much less likely that you'll get botulism from roasted vegetables than you will from a local meat.

Take Local Transportation. Taking the local bus or train is definitely the cheapest and most fun way to travel in the city. Phil and I went across the entire country of Belize on a bus for $5, instead of paying $150 to fly across the country on a charter plane. Granted it took us 8-hours instead of 1, but we got a taste of the local culture and saved loads of money. The other option you should consider, although not for the faint of heart, is to travel with the locals. I mean, befriend a local, hop in their car, and head on your way. I realize this isn't always safe or reasonable, but more than once I've met an incredibly kind stranger with truly good intentions, who took care of our travel needs while we were with them. Consider hiring a local as your tour guide/taxi driver, as you'll end up making a new friend and seeing things you might not see on a tour bus.

Related: avoid tour buses. These are rarely cheap and remove the entire cultural aspect of a trip. You'll spend $200 to travel around the country, but you'll miss out on so many amazing unplanned adventures you could take if you hopped on the local bus instead. Trust me - as long as you're not waving around money wearing a complete Dolce and Gabana ensemble with your diamond ring-laden fingers, you won't get robbed just for traveling local. People are kind and want to help you out - so let them!

Learn to Barter. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it is expected that most prices are not set and should be bartered. If you're new to the art of bargaining, it can seem strange and uncomfortable to ask to pay less money for something. However, culturally this is the way you settle a price in most of these areas, so the first price you're given is set intentionally high. You can barter the prices for taxis, souvenirs, and sometimes food - and you should! It can be fun to barter, and the locals will enjoy the banter with you (if you're being respectful). This is my general rule for bartering: take the original price, and offer them 25% of that. You'll probably end up settling for a price around 50% of the original, but you may get something less or more. Also, if you learn a few words in the local language and use them to barter, you'll probably get an even cheaper price. People respect tourists who make an active attempt to identify with the culture through language, and will often reward your work with cheaper prices.

For more information on learning the art of bartering, read my article here.

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So there you have it! These are my tried-and-true methods for traveling on the cheap, anywhere in the world. Have more questions about other ways to save? Place them in the comments and I'll happily supply answers for you - maybe even in a follow-up post. So get out there and travel already!

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4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Taylor, that was a great blog! I'll add a savings that we discovered on our trip to Europe. Olli shopped via internet before the trip and learned that leasing a French-made mini-van, rather than renting, would save us 50%. As long as we were not from the European Union and our stay in Europe was at least 17 days, Our 5-member (all adults) family leased a brand new Pugeot for a month as we camped our way to Finland. There was no catching taxis or waiting at train stations, but freedom to drive the countryside, visit cities at will, carrying our own camping gear, and visiting from the ground up. We shopped grocery stores and ate those vitels. What a memorable month that was!

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    1. Fantastic! I've never heard that tip before, and will definitely add it to my list :)

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  2. This is awesome! Thank you! Also, always search for tickets in an incognito window. Many sites log IP addresses and hike up the price every time you return to the page.

    What is the credit card with the travel blog? That is such a great option!

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    1. That's really good to know! Another new tip for me. Also - I have the Barclaycard Platinum. The Gold is better (40,000 sign up miles) but you obviously have to have lots of credit built up in order to get it. I highly reccomend Barclaycard - it's been so easy to use, and the travel blog has been a great help in gaining miles!

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