You asked what was some of the best tips for budget travel, so I’m putting together my go-to tricks and tips to save on travel. There are so many practical ways to save here and there (it all adds up!) when planning out your travel plans.
When Travis and I plan out a trip, we are always trying to figure out a few ways to cut back on spending. It has definitely required some legwork ahead of time and being proactive. So I wanted to share a few of those tips here, in one concise list as you plan out 2020 trips.
If you’re looking for a travel planning series, start here on part 1 that is all about travel inspiration and then take you through all the stages of travel planning.
20 Ways to Save On Travel in 2020
Tip 1: Plan ahead.
This has always been my number one travel tip. If you know where you’re headed, book the flights far in advance. We tend to book almost 6 months in advance for international flights. This week, we scored roundtrip tickets to Rome for $550 in May (7 months ahead). Google Flights priced those flights as normally being around $1400. For me, being proactive has saved hundreds of dollars, most particularly in the flight category.
Tip 2: Use a search engine to find the cheapest flights.
Whether it’s Google or Kayak, you can choose the option to look for flights “anywhere” based on your departing airport. If you have a long list of places you do want to visit (like I do!), you may see an upcoming flight that is much cheaper than usual. It’s a great option as you’re planning ahead and are flexible for destinations.
Tip 3: Utilize those credit card points.
I can’t recommend credit card points for travel enough. We’ve taken over 12 roundtrip international flights in four years on points alone. When you see a credit card opportunity where they give you points to sign up, that is when to do it. A lot of credit cards offer an opportunity to transfer points to airlines and book flights using points.
Tip 4: Travel in the low season.
If you can travel just before or just after the busiest season of the year (for instance May or late September in Europe), there is a lot of money to be saved. You’ll find the most savings to be on hotels and flights. One example: I love going to Palm Springs and staying at the Korakia Pensione. Peak season rates often push $500. Well in the summer, when it is slower and yes hotter, we stay for $175 a night.
Tip 5: Sign up for “deal” airline flight notifications.
Have you heard of Scott’s Cheap Flights? I signed up a year or so ago and I get emails whenever there are flight deals. It’s a great way to see what’s out there and let someone else do the research (huge fan of this!)
Tip 6: Consider which airport you fly into and out of.
If you’re bound for a longer trip in say Europe or Asia with multiple destinations, I typically will search for flights out of multiple cities. In my travel agent days, we called this an “open jaw” ticket which means you fly into one airport and out of another. In Europe, this is typically a great way to save money as you don’t have to return to your arrival city.
Tip 7: A la carte your flights for domestic travel.
If you’re planning a trip here in the US, it’s worth checking out one-way flights on several airlines. I’ve found that often times Southwest one-way flights are cheaper than say a roundtrip on Alaska. I’ll often book two separate one-way flights when traveling here in the US.
Tip 8: Know when to book an Airbnb vs. a hotel.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that Airbnb is traditionally cheaper. One case I’ll make for this is if you’re coming into a city and only need a one night stay. An Airbnb will tack on fees and a cleaning fee and often it equates to a higher charge than say a budget hotel. The other thing I consider is if you need to check in early or drop off your suitcase (you can’t always do this at an Airbnb). If you have to and you’re at an Airbnb, you’ll most likely have to pay to store your luggage if you’re wanting to get out and explore. I’ll calculate these two factors before choosing to stay at a budget hotel or a cheap Airbnb.
Tip 9: Speaking of Airbnb, if you’re not on there, use this link to sign up and receive for $55 off your first booking.
Boom, $55 in your pocket on a stay!
Tip 10: Find hotel deals on Hotel Tonight, even ahead of time.
Lately, I’ve been using Hotel Tonight to find the best hotel prices (this isn’t sponsored btw!). I found that though the app is marketed as a last-minute hotel deal, you can actually find great prices a month or so in advance.
Tip 11: For longer stays, consider accommodations with a kitchen.
One way Travis and I will cut down on spending is getting a spot that we can cook in. We’ve done this a few times and it has saved us a ton of money on eating out. We also find that getting to go shop in the local market is a really fun experience as well.
Tip 12: Explore what’s near you.
Recognizing that hopping on a flight isn’t always doable or affordable, one of the best ways to travel is to be a weekend warrior. There are seasons where this is all we do — hop in the car, book a super cheap hotel, and get out on the weekend. It means no PTO days used, cheaper than two flights, and often discovering some incredible locations.
Tip 13: Consider where your currency is strong.
This is something worth considering before booking a budgeted trip. Let me tell you the mistake we made going to Switzerland when their dollar was much, much higher than ours. We ate sandwiches for two weeks from the COOP. I’ll always have a look at this when planning out some trips to destinations.
Tip 14: Fewer locations, slower travel.
Maybe you don’t have to go to Europe and do it all. By staying longer in one location, you can cut down on airport transfers, trains, and added cleaning fees (if you’re in an Airbnb). We are huge fans of slow travel and something we’ve been focusing on for this year. It’s meant that we don’t rush through a city, we can take our time, and we get out of that FOMO mindset which often leads up a lot of money spent.
Tip 15: City cards for museum cut down on sight-seeing costs.
I used to write these off as the “just for tourists” museum passes. Truth is, we end up going to most of the museums and sights anyways. In Berlin and Ljubljana, I used their sight-seeing city passes and saved quite a bit of money instead of paying individually for each sight. Almost every major city has one of these attraction cards!
Tip 16: Book a hotel that includes breakfast, or doesn’t.
You’ll find that often times breakfast is included with a hotel room and this is an awesome steal — definitely take it.
Then on some sites for hotel bookings, you’ll find two rates — one with breakfast and one without. The rate for breakfast is often around $15 more per person. We have found that we don’t normally spend $15 on breakfast each — a croissant and quick espresso will do ($6). I’ll always have a look at this to be sure if it’s really worth the breakfast add on.
Tip 17: Price-matching on Booking.com is money back in your pocket.
I’ve been a long-time user of Booking.com and tend to opt with this third party site over others. They have this feature that is essentially a price matcher. So before 24 hours of your stay, if you see the hotel you booked for cheaper, they will refund the remaining amount.
Tip 18: Consider what you can do for free.
There is a lot to do that is free. Take a walk through a park, swim in the river or lakes, post up at the beach, go for a hike. Not everything has to be a paid experience when you’re on the road.
Tip 19: Travel somewhere that doesn’t require a car.
We consider this every time we go somewhere — do we have to rent a car? One quick way to cut down on a cost in 2020 is to go to places that have great public transportation and do not require a car to get around. Though I love road trips, a budget weekend trip for me is one without a car.
Tip 20: If you do book a car, use a credit card that includes car insurance.
Did you know some major travel credit cards include car insurance on your car rental if you use it to pay for it? (always check ahead of time). We opted out of car insurance on cars (often times $30+ a day more) when renting cars in Europe just by using our credit card to pay for the rental.