Now that I have a two year old son, the cost of traveling has increased significantly – extra meals, extra plain tickets, extra everything.
Traveling on a budget has become a necessity for us and so I decided to put together my list of tips for maximizing your travel budget.
Tips for Vacation Rentals and Lodging
I personally haven’t stayed in a hostel yet, but I’ve only heard and read good things. Just like any hotel or AirBnB, you should make sure you read the reviews; and if they don’t have any, it’s probably not worth staying there.
In addition to the savings when you book, most hostels offer some sort of free food option and there are some that will even offer the ability to work to discount your stay even further. When your goal is to travel to amazing places on a budget, hostels can be a great option.
AirBnB and HomeAway
These are two of the best places to search for unique places to stay when you are traveling on a budget. HomeAway and AirBnB both allow you to search by unique features like hot tub availability, washer/dryer access, or even activities like horseback riding.
Most importantly you can search by price and both sites are growing rapidly with new places to stay each year. You can even find unique places like this Off-grid Adobe Dome in Terlingua, Texas.
HomeExchange.com is a membership site where you swap homes with someone else in another location. This is a good way to be able to extend your stay somewhere as well as making sure your home is kept safe and the small chores are taken care of.
According to their site, they have over 400,000 potential homes in 187 countries. The membership is fairly low considering it’s for an entire year.
The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organization is very unique travel opportunity where they will help connect you with a local organic farmer.
You will have the opportunity to live alongside a family and help them with their daily chores on the farm. It’s a fun way to learn about organic food, help a local farmer, and you will leave with a great story to tell.
Try a House Sitting Service
Most house sitting requires you to do a little bit of work like taking care of a pet, watering plants, cleaning, or maybe even mowing the lawn. Usually the tasks are small so they won’t take up much of your time.
Remember to always do your due diligence and read reviews ahead of time to make sure it’s a good opportunity for you.
Set Up Hotel Reward Points
We love our hotel rewards points. Since we often travel for work, we setup personal reward accounts which allows us to stack up points to get free hotel rooms or at least decrease the cost.
Choice Hotels Rewards and Hilton Honors Loyalty Program are currently two of our favorites. They not only add up quickly but they both partner with credit card companies so you can transfer points at a higher rate.
Remember to double check your rewards often as they typically have an expiration date.
Travel with a Group
The cost of lodging often eats up a large portion of the travel budget; but if you choose to travel with a group, you will often find significantly cheaper rates.
For example, we searched for an AirBnB in Wimberley, TX for two people and then compared it to homes that can hold four or more people.
The places for only two were between $50 to $122 per person per day and places that could hold four or more were $21.8 to $57.5 per person per day. That’s pretty significant savings especially if it’s multiple days.
Tips for Discount Flights
Skyscanner Search Everywhere Feature
One of my favorite features to use when I’m traveling on a budget, is Skyscanner’s search everywhere tool. You can enter your local airport in the From field and then click into the To field to select the Everywhere option. From there you have the option of selecting the exact dates you want to fly or you can select the cheapest month.
Bring Snack on the Plane
If you have a long flight and the airline isn’t offering anything free, you can always bring your own food. Since I have a 2 year old, I have to come prepared with all the potential options; so we typically bring string cheese, pretzels, gold fish, and apple slices.
Remember when you have them in your carry-on bag, try to keep them in a zip lock bag separate from other items so that they are easily viewed on the x-ray machine at security. Also, if you need some pre-packaged ideas, check out Smarter Travels 10 Tasty Snacks You can Bring on an Airplane.
Finally if you want your fellow passengers to like you, try not to bring any stinky food.
Plan to Fly Out on a Tuesday
Airlines typically release their travel promotions on Tuesdays. According to CheapAir.com’s 2019 Airfare Study, “Tuesday is the cheapest day of the week to fly, nearly $85 cheaper on average than the most expensive day of the week to travel, Sunday.”
To provide some additional proof, we recently traveled to Colorado at the beginning of March. We flew out of Austin on a Tuesday and our flight was more than $20 cheaper per person compared to other days in the week.
Even though the Tuesday travel rule often holds true, you should still check the day before and after your preferred date as there is always a chance it could be cheaper.
Sign Up for Flight Deal Websites
One of the easiest places to find a discounted vacation is through The Flight Deal website. When you first go to their site, it doesn’t look like much; but they have an amazing email list.
Every day they send out the hottest deals they’ve found on the internet for flights. The location can be from anywhere so it might be a few days before you see a flight out of your location.
They also offer a more real time subscription for select locations. It’s a small fee per year but it’s easily worth the money.
Use Apps like Hopper for Price Alerts
Hopper is one of the best apps for tracking flights on your phone. Simply enter your destination after download the app and you will be given a calendar view of all the upcoming months. The days are color coded to give you an idea if it’s a good day to travel or not.
If you aren’t ready to complete your purchase, you are given the option to “Watch This Trip.” Hopper will alert you if it thinks the price will potentially get better or not. They recently added a new feature where you can even pay a small fee to Freeze the price for five days while you decide.
It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Tips for Reward Points and Cash Back Opportunities
Credit Card Reward Points
A lot of people are often nervous about using a credit card, but they are a great way to force yourself to budget for a vacation. We use our cards for every purchase possible like groceries, eating out, entertainment, and even bills.
We then pay it off multiple times per month. You can do it less to avoid paying interest but it helps doing it often so it becomes a habit.
One of our favorite travel rewards cards is the Chase Sapphire Rewards Card. It offers 2x points on travel and dining as well as one point for every other dollar spent. If you are a new customer, there is even a significant sign up bonus.
Airline Reward Points
If you have a favorite airline, don’t forget to sign up for their rewards points. Most are free to setup and earn and every program has its own complexities.
Our personal favorite is Southwest Airlines mainly because of the experience in the flight, the cost, and then the value of the rewards. For a great comparison of all the best options, check out Wallet Hubs Best Frequent Flyer Program
Reward Points Balance Transfers
If you are actively taking advantage of all the different reward points mentioned above, then you can often transfer rewards points to get the amount you need to cover the cost of your vacation. Several programs will even double the value of the points that are transferred.
Rakuten Cash Back
This travel budget tip is useful year round. Rakuten is a company that provides cash back on hundreds of participating retailers. All you need to do to start saving is sign in and find the store you want to shop at.
To make it even easier, they have a Chrome plugin that will alert you when a site offers cashback.
Tips for Food, Shopping, and Entertainment
Find Free or Cheap Entertainment
Often when people vacation, they tend to let loose and not think about how many times they have swiped their credit card. It’s ok to do every once in a while (wtihin reason); but if you are wanting to maximize your travel budget, then you may need to try some of the free or cheaper forms of entertainment like museums, parks, or hiking.
When we visited Fort Collins, Colorado, we rented bikes to get around. It helped us get where we wanted to go and was a lot of fun.
If you Go Bar Hopping… Consider Pre-Gaming
I do like to hangout at the occasional bar, but I tend to be more of a happy our type person. If you want to go out in the evenings to a club, bar, or restaurant, you aren’t going to find a lot of discounted drink specials.
So consider having one or two ahead of time to save yourself some money; but remember to always drink responsibly.
Avoid the Restaurants and Hit Up the Local Grocery Store –
This isn’t my favorite tip by any means because I love to try new food; but if the goal is to see a new place on a budget, then you can’t beat going to the local grocery store.
If you do want to try a local restaurant, you can always use DoorDash and get the delivery fee removed if you have the Chase Saphire Credit Card. If you are in a city, this will at least save you the Lyft ride.
Limit your Souvenirs
This travel budget tip is pretty self explanatory but it’s a tough one to follow. That’s why we always stick to one small thing if we are trying to save money on a vacation.
We always try to pick up a magnet that best represents the area to put on our fridge. If you decide to go this route, I challenge you to find these treasurers outside of the airport so you get something unique.
General Budget Travel Tips
Book in advance for travel deals
This is probably the toughest part of planning a vacation for my family. We often realize we are desperate for a vacation so we tend to book something only a few weeks in advance. Thanks to some of the tools we describe in detail below we’ve managed to find some decent deals before they were gone.
If you book far enough in advance, it gives you time to select the right dates to maximize your travel budget. You can utilize sites like Kayak to set alerts for price drops or even apps on your phone like Hopper to see a color coded view of the month to determine what day you should fly out. You can set price alerts in the app as well.
Senior, Student, and Veteran Discounts – ISIC Card
These types of discounts are often overlooked mainly because they are not actively advertised. For example, my father-in-law is a veteran and almost every restaurant we go to has some sort of discount. They are often small; but when you are eating out your entire vacation, it can add up quickly.
A great opportunity for students is the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). The ISIC association is a non-profit that provides a way for students to easily identify themselves but to also provide them a variety of different discounts like food, transportation, books, and many other things.
It’s a great way to encourage students to travel and learn about other cultures.
Does your work allow you to Travel?
There are lots of jobs these days where you are required to travel for work and most employers are comfortable if you extend your stay to for extra vacation time. You can expense your flight as well as the days you work; and then pay for the days that you are on vacation which really helps your travel budget.
My wife and I have done this more than once as she often travels for work. However, if you are going to do this, make sure to always check with your manager to make sure it doesn’t violate any company policies.
Create a Travel Savings Account
Planning is key to a good travel budget. That’s why it’s always a good idea to create a separate line item in your budget for travel or establish a separate bank account all together.
If you put the money aside each month, you are increasing the likelihood that you will take the time to plan a vacation as well.
WhatsApp for Phone Calls
WhatsApp is very popular across the world and is a great tool for when you travel. It’s common for a your mobile carrier to charge some sort of international fee; so if you can access an internet connection, then you can make your calls for free.
Travel During the Off Season
Depending on when you want to travel, it’s most likely the off season for tourism somewhere. Hotels, resorts, and popular tourist destinations will often run some sort of discount during that time.
For example, I got married in late November. We scheduled a trip a few days after Thanksgiving to go to a resort in Mexico. Not only did we get a discounted price; but we also had a much easier time getting around the resort since there were so few people.
We even got to use one of the beach cabanas even though they are typically reserved in advance.
Purchasing travel insurance may not initially feel like a way to save money; but if anything happens like your flight being cancelled, losing your bag, or even a medical issue, then you might incur other expenses. If you are interested in travel insurance, make sure to review what all is covered and use a service like TravelInsurance.com to get multiple quotes.