Traveling is something we all say we want to do but we feel we can't because of financial strain. A lot of times we tell ourselves that travel is too expensive and we overestimate how much it would cost to take a vacation. But that is simply not true! Travel is something that you have to intentionally plan and make priority in your life. There are lots of ways to have a dream vacation without breaking the bank. Creating strategies that help you put away money and maintain your current lifestyle is the best way to help incorporate travel into a regular routine.
Over the last few years of travel, I've learned some helpful ways that anyone can use to save money or be more mindful of finances while traveling. Implementing just one of these can make a big difference in how you can travel and be financially responsible.
1. Create a Budget
Travel can be super addictive! You go on one amazing trip and then start planning the next one before you have even made it home. Case in point, that's how I ended up taking 6 international trips in 2018 and visiting a total of 7 countries. However, I wouldn't have been able to reach all my destinations without some planning. The biggest help I had was making a budget for each trip. One thing I learned quickly was there is no single correct way to create a budget and each trip had its own unique requirements. However, there are a few general guidelines you can apply to fit your budgeting style:
Plan out your vacation as far in advance as possible.
This simply means plan out all your known vacation plans into the next year. This way you can see how things are going to pan out over the course of the year. For instance, what months are heavy with international travel or domestic, where you might need to save more money or if you have too many trips planned at the same time. Even if you are only taking one trip that year, get it in the books as soon as possible and plan ahead.
Set small amounts of money aside in a travel fund throughout the year.
It is always a good idea to have an emergency fund because things can happen that are unexpected when traveling abroad. Saving small amounts over a longer time is easier than paying in one lump sum at the time of travel.
Research current currency rates for your international trips.
There is nothing worse than exchanging too much money and not being able to get that same amount back in your own currency. You also want to know what fees you will be charged when exchanging money at the airport compared to withdrawing money out of the ATM.
Research your estimated cost per day.
One of the biggest ways to stay on budget is to research what it would cost you per day for every day activities like eating, taking a taxi, or go on an excursion. This will help you narrow down on how much money to bring for daily things as well as how much you may need for an emergency or extra activities.
Lastly, create a budget for souvenirs.
Sounds ridiculous, I know, but we all can fall into the trap of buying too many amazing rugs from Morocco or cigars from Cuba. Go with a plan in mind of the things you absolutely want and what you are willing to pay for them.
Travel can get really expensive fast! It is always best to have some sort of budget in mind. Every destination, however, does not require the same amount of budgeting. Some places are cheaper to travel in than others. Remember, every person does not have the same budgeting style, so find what a general fit is for you and then modify as necessary.
2. Chase the Deal, Not the Destination
This was actually the first thing that I learned when I started traveling. I had a lot of places that I wanted to go but I was trying to figure out how to economically get to them all. The way my bank account is set up, I could travel but not too far! I read a lot of articles and followed a few of my favorite travel influencers to see what their secret was and how they seemed to travel nonstop. One tip, trick, or hack that was a common theme was: chase the deal and not the destination. It is a counterintuitive approach to how people normally plan travel, but it works. So, why does this work?
Well, flight deals occur all the time, every day in fact. You will find that deals to certain locations are pretty common, from flight deals to hacker sales, there is usually something every single day. The one caveat to that is the deal may not be for the exact location you are looking to travel to at that particular time. Instead, they will be to other locations, during specific time periods, and only lasts for a short amount of time. So, instead of deciding on a location, decide on a time period or set of dates you would like to travel, and go for the deals to whatever location is cheapest at that time. Taking advantage of an opportunity like this will keep costs down in your overall budget. Don't be afraid to be flexible; you will get to all your bucket list locations in due time will money well spent.
3. Use Budget Air Travel
Budget air travel is your best friend when booking domestic trips or short international flights. The worst feeling is purchasing a flight and realizing you overpaid. So what is a budget airline or what is commonly referred to as a low-cost carrier? A low-cost carrier or budget airline is an airline that does not provide most of the traditional services in the fare, resulting in lower fares and fewer comforts. To make up for revenue lost in decreased ticket prices, the airline may charge for extras such as food, priority boarding, seat allocating, and baggage.
Beware of the trap of flying one of the major carriers. Like any other traveler, I like the comforts of some larger airlines. But if my flight will be less than three hours long, I choose a budget airline. Especially when traveling internationally, budget airliners can help save you money and help you move around a lot easier. There are some noticeable differences when flying budget but in the long run, when trying not to break the bank while traveling, your pockets will thank you.
4. Use Vacation Days to Your Benefit
One asset that people do not maximize commonly is their vacation time. You can do this by utilizing time off around company holidays or conferences. According to a recent article on CNBC.com, "52 percent of Americans didn't even use all of their vacation days in 2017." Your vacation time can be one of your biggest assets in trying to save money traveling. The best way to use your vacation time is to understand what type of vacation benefits your company offers. Before we go further, if you are in negotiations for a new position, you can negotiate for more vacation days as well as higher pay. Traditionally, most companies offer paid time off or PTO. This policy can be found in some employee handbooks detailing the bank of hours in which the employer pools sick days, vacation days, and personal days that allow employees to use as needed.
To use PTO effectively, it requires strategy. You should understand how many days you accrue per year, how fast you accrue those day and how you can take those days. Two ways to strategize your days are:
- Add days around company holidays.
- Add days around an existing business trip.
Your vacation days are a benefit to you provided by your company. They can be used to extend days on vacation that are of no cost to you. It is almost like getting extra free days that do not come out of your pocket. Whether it is getting days paid for on the company dime at a conference, or using holiday days to extend vacation time without it coming out of your PTO bank, use this benefit to fit your travel needs.
5. Get Creative When Looking for Lodging
One of my favorite to-do list items while planning a trip is looking for unique places to stay. I like to have a full on experience when I travel so I try my best to have every detail be as authentic to the culture as possible. An example, when I traveled to Paris, I wanted to stay in a flat that was overlooking the Eiffel Tower, with large French doors, wrought iron railings, balconies, floor to ceiling windows, hardwood floors… you get the picture. So, I investigated as many websites as possible to find places that fit this criteria but were in my budget.
Depending on the trip, domestic or international, I may get more adventurous than normal. Most of the time for domestic trips, I stay with family or friends for the obvious reasons of saving money. If I decide to rent a place, I have a few sites that I check:
I like Airbnb because you can get a unique personalized experience by staying in someone's home. I love how creative the hosts are starting to get with their properties. Also, you can haggle on price just by simply emailing with the hosts.
Priceline is my go-to when I cannot find a hotel property in my price range. I love the bidding feature which allows you to bid up to 60% off per night. I have saved tons of money on 3 to 5 star hotels.
This one is probably my favorite when looking for hotels. Simply because I can book as many as I want and most of the time I get free cancellations. This helps me to reserve a room at a great price in the present time. If that price drops, Hotels allows me to cancel my current reservation and rebook with new cheaper pricing.
This one is normally my last option but I still use it. This site has all of the benefits of hotels.com with the additional feature to track pricing. I normally use it in conjunction with all the other sites just to cross reference the prices.
Develop your list of websites that you know and trust to find lodging while traveling for cheap. Make sure to sign up for rewards benefits so that you can get the maximum out of each site. Some sites offer 10% off coupons, "stay 4 nights get 1 free", or other incentives like free breakfast or $50 off spa treatment. When looking on Airbnb, the best properties I have found were by searching through the superhosts section. I can say for sure that I got my money's worth with these properties and hosts.
There are lots of creative ways to travel within anyone's budget. The main idea is to make it a priority. Taking a trip on the fly will cost you in the long run. But if you plan appropriately, you can take the vacation you want without worrying about overspending. No destination is too exotic or expensive with the right planning. Everywhere is accessible if you renew your mindset to a new way of thinking about travel and your finances. So, go out there and see the world…within your budget!
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