Whether you're traveling for a week or a year, here are five tips you need to know to travel cheaper and help you save some serious cash.
When I was first digging into how to travel the world on a budget, I was doing so from the comfort of my work cubicle. That's because I ultimately ended up planning my travels for more than a year. At the time, I was still working my full-time job in television news, bolstering my career and saving money. I was also in a contract, which meant I couldn't go anywhere anytime soon. To help quell my thirst for travel, I planned a few micro-trips, some typical vacations during my work year, to scratch my travel itch.
The problem with short vacations is that they can be much more expensive per day than long-term travel. Airfare is typically a bulk of your cost, and that's the same whether you're going for a week or a year. Plus, you're much more likely to pack your short trip with adventures and costly activities than if you're long-term budget traveling.
So I wanted to go on vacations while still saving money to travel, and it was really important for these vacations not to drain my budget.
To keep my costs as low as possible, I learned some key travel hacks that helped me save money on short-term vacations, which I also use during my long-term travels. So whether you're planning a short trip or a long journey, make sure you keep these tips in mind, to help you save some serious cash.
#1 Take advantage of travel credit cards
Anything that involves a line of credit makes me apprehensive. I didn't even have my first credit card until my early 20s. But then I discovered The Points Guy. He's the ultimate guru when it comes to all things involving credit card points and miles.
Why should you take advantage of travel credit cards? If you are at all using credit or debit cards, you could instead be using a credit card that allows you to collect airline points. The trick (which The Points Guy explains really well) is to open a credit card with an excellent signing bonus (like 60,000 miles or more).
I personally use very little credit every month. But even so, after I first settled on my first travel credit card, I was able to buy round trip tickets to Costa Rica for only the taxes, which was about $15 USD. The moral of the story is that you don't need to spend a ton of money on credit cards to take advantage of travel cards. Just put your normal purchases on it, even put your bills on it, and pay it off immediately. At the end of the day, you get points and miles without spending any extra money.
I currently use the Delta Skymiles Gold Card and the United Explorer MileagePlus cards. If you want to sign up with my referral, we both get some additional miles. But check out this most recent article on travel cards on The Points Guy's website, to make the choice that's best for you.
#2 You don't have to be a backpacker to stay in a hostel
In 2018, when I was still biding my time to travel long-term, I was planning a trip to Kauai, Hawaii for a week with my partner at the time. The airfare from the west coast of the United States was great. What wasn't great were the prices for accommodation. Airbnb listings on the islands were going to be more costly that the flights, and hotels were out of the question for my budget-saving self.
So I started looking at hostels. Because I was traveling with a romantic partner, I obviously didn't want a dorm bed. But the thing I discovered is that most hostels have private room accommodations. I ended up finding an adorable private room for a great price at a hostel, and that's where we stayed for the week.
You might think that hostels are only for budget solo-travelers and dorm beds. If you're traveling by yourself, they can of course be great for you. But you don't have to be a backpacker to stay at a hostel, and they often have pretty sweet deals on private rooms, especially in more costly places. These can be great options for couples, and I've even seen entire families stay in private accommodations at hostels.
The best part? You have the opportunity to meet other travelers from all over the world. So if you're looking to socialize, make friends, and tag along on unexpected adventures, this can be a great option.
#3 Stay in a place with a kitchen
No matter where you end up staying, make sure you stay in a place with a kitchen. Even if you're a serious foodie like me and you want to enjoy the cuisine of your locale, you should still be eating some of your meals at "home" to keep your costs as low as possible. Expensive poolside brunch may make for a nice social media post, but you could have spent 1/5 of the cost by making eggs at home.
My trick, even if I want to enjoy expensive meals? I try to eat only one meal out per day, and mix up how lavish those meals are. Part of the fun of traveling is enjoying beautiful meals, so don't deprive yourself if that's where you derive a lot of your joy. But make smart food choices. Eat a fancy dinner out one night, and a moderate lunch out the next day. If you have a kitchen, you can make yourself some of your meals, and splurge on the ones that really matter.
#4 Don't check a bag (unless it's free with your flight)
If you're going away on a week-long vacation, you can absolutely fit all of your items in a carry-on bag. Most airlines have pretty liberal carry-on policies, when it comes down to it. You get a "personal item," which can be a backpack, as well as one piece of "carry-on" luggage, which can be a duffle bag or small suitcase.
If you're buying budget airline seats, they may not come with luggage included, so adding on that cost both ways can definitely make a dent in your budget.
Of course, it may be a different story if you're a family with lots of little ones. If that's the case, checking one bag for the family may save you a big headache and be well worth it. And if you get free checked bags with your flight, by all means take advantage of it.
I used to be a severe over-packer. I've brought 50lb suitcases on 10-day trips before. Now, I'm the exact opposite. It took some self-control and a bit of practice. My tip? After you put aside the things you're bringing, work to cut that pile by 1/3, or ideally 1/2.
#5 Choose carefully
This is very general because it applies to everything. A lot of times, when we're on vacation, we want to spend money liberally and enjoy the finer things. But it's very possible for you to fully enjoy your trip and travel cheaper if you choose carefully.
What do I mean by that? Instead of taking a cab everywhere, choose to explore the city by foot, by bus, or (my favorite) see if you can rent a bicycle or a scooter. Instead of signing up for all of the expensive water sports, pick one and then rent a snorkel and mask for the other days. And of course, choose nature every time. Nature is usually free, unless it's something like a national park, and in that case, your money is going to upkeep and restoration, which I think are worthy causes.
You might be hardwired to choose spendy. You're on a vacation after all. But if you're more careful with your decisions, you could potentially save hundreds of dollars on a week-long trip. And just think- that may even be the cost of airfare for your next trip.
My coworkers at my television station were always asking how I was managing to go on all of these trips. I was seriously on planes every few weeks at one point. While saving money. If you implement these hacks, you can get there too.
Pssst. Want to read more tips specifically about traveling long-term for cheaper? Read this article I wrote about the basics of how to travel the world on a budget.