One of my passions is travel. I absolutely love it. I've had the opportunity to travel all over the world and love how each time I travel, I learn something new about myself and the world around me.
One of the best things I believe anyone can do is travel. Travel allows you to get out of your own world, experience new cities and cultures, and when you return home, hopefully you appreciate it more than before.
Most people don’t travel because they are held back by one thing…
I get it. It does take money to travel. There are also other barriers like taking time off work, figuring out where to go, and then actually following through with everything!
Traveling on a budget isn’t the easiest thing to do but it can be done if you take the time to do it right.
7. Skip the car rental. Renting a car always sounds good but if you want to travel cheap, this mistake alone might put you over your budget. This is often the last expense you think about when planning a trip. Our recommendation is to visit cities that have decent public transport.
When we visited Seattle last year, we took public transit the entire time and experienced the city in a completely different way. Doing this makes you feel like a local and that a big draw for us when we travel. Instead of renting a car, get a week-long rail pass and travel like a local.
6. Don’t eat your budget. Eating food is one of the biggest expenses you have on a trip. Unfortunately, it is also one of the best things about traveling somewhere new. We recommend cooking about 70%-80% of your meals yourself. This saves a good chunk of money but it still allows you to go eat at that world-famous burger joint or breakfast café your Airbnb host tells you about...
5. Experience the local scene. To fully take advantage of step 6, you need to stay in a place with a kitchen. The best place to do that is to take advantage of the sharing economy. The sharing economy bypasses the traditional travel economy by opening local options for accommodations. Airbnb is one of the best ways to save on your trip cost in our opinion.
Priceonomics put together a fascinating article about how much you save on staying in an Airbnb room vs a hotel. On average, you can save up to 50% more just by taking advantage of options like Airbnb.
Not to mention, when you stay with a host, they'll often tell you the best places to go eat and visit. Just be sure and read the reviews of wherever you decide to stay to assure you know what to expect when you arrive. Skip the hotel and go straight for booking your Airbnb.
4. Watch for last minute deals. It’s a good idea to sign up for all your favorite airline last minute “deal” emails. This only takes a few minutes but can save you big bucks if you are flexible with your dates.
I once took a trip to the Great Sand Dune National Park in Colorado for $50 bucks because of a deal Southwest offered through email. The key is to sign up for all airline deal emails and also keep an eye on other popular travel sites.
A few to watch for good deals are: Hipmunk, Travel Zoo, and RouteHappy. Hipmonk and RouteHappy are mainly airline ticket platforms that track the lowest rates and the highest level of travel happiness. They've got the model down, so we recommend checking them out.
3. Stay flexible. It isn’t any surprise that traveling on holidays is much more expensive. Try to avoid popular travel dates. We live in Oklahoma City, so flights typically are a couple hundred dollars more for us to fly to, say, Chicago because there are less direct flights. We often bypass the higher fare by driving to a larger airport with more options, like Dallas Fort Worth. This saves us a few hundred dollars and is usually worth it.
The same principle goes for booking your flight. On average, booking your flight 7 weeks in advance gets you the best deal. This is contrary to the last-minute deals tip but if you know you want to go somewhere specific, be sure to book early to save some money.
If you travel to a large hub airport like we do, park at a nearby hotel to save on the crazy expensive parking fees, your car will likely be safe and it’s not illegal. Most airport hotels have big parking lots and shuttles that take you to and from the airport, this tip alone can save you some big bucks. While I have not done this, we have friends that do it and 100% recommend it!
2. Think like a ninja. Ninjas always take advantage of every opportunity they can to attack. If you want to travel cheap, it’s your job to save as much money as you can without feeling bad about it. Tuesday, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the cheapest days to fly domestically. Research has shown that the best time to book a flight domestically is usually Tuesday around 3 p.m. EST.
Many airlines have weekly sales on Monday or early Tuesday and by mid-afternoon, competing airlines have matched the lowest prices, so they don’t end up on page 30 of a shopper’s search query. So shop on Tuesday and you will have plenty of deals to choose from.
If you need to take a trip tomorrow and save maximum money on a flight, the best way you can do this is use tools like FareCompare to compare all the deals you find. FareCompare also has a feature called Getaway Maps, that tells you the cheapest place to travel to based on your set date and location.
SkyScanner has a similar feature that lets you choose “everywhere” so you can look at multiple destinations from your chosen departure point, so you can spot the cheapest deal in an instant for your trip.
Lastly, the cheapest flights are (no surprise) when no one wants to fly, around lunch, red-eye flights, and overnight so try and find those if you can.
1. Fly for free. Only one thing can be better than following the tips above. That's flying for free. Flying for free is possible but you have to know how to do it. Think about how cool this is for a minute, usually 80% of your trip cost is your airfare, right? What if you could eliminate that?
The best way to do this is to find a airlines rewards card or travel credit card that offers a big signup bonus. We have the Delta Airlines reward card, Southwest Airline Rewards card, and our favorite, the Chase Sapphire Reserve chard.
Before you tell me that credit cards are bad, I want to share my firm opinion… Credit cards are not bad, people have bad spending habits. Your number one goal before getting any kind of credit card or loan should be to understand yourself, your values, and your spending habits. If you can’t keep yourself from spending $1,000 a month on new clothes with your travel credit card, don’t get one.
Your number one goal before getting a credit card or loan should be to understand yourself, your values, and your spending habits.
On the other hand, if you are responsible with your spending, you make a plan to reach the spending threshold to get your points for the card, and pay it off every month, then credit cards can be a great way to build your credit + pay for a trip for free.
We paid for over $800 worth of airline flights for our upcoming trip to Banff, Canada using our points that we earned on the Delta card.
My point is: if you can be responsible, credit card rewards are a great way to travel cheap.
Zack is one of the co-founders of FreeUp and is in charge of setting the strategy for the blog and managing the day-to-day operations. When he isn’t plotting new ways to create awesome blog content, he likes to geek out about global affairs, ride motorcycles and can probably be found hiking somewhere during his days off.