More often than any other question, I am asked how I afford to travel as much as I do. I’m not rich, and as of last year, I have a mortgage to pay as well! But the trick is, I budget for travel – I specifically set aside money from my monthly paycheck in a travel fund to dip into. I’ve learned many tips and tricks over the years for how to save money and how to “hack” affordable travel. Here is a roundup of all my best tips:
1. Book your accommodations either early or last minute. The earlier it is, the better deal you’ll get from the hotel directly, but if you’re brave enough to wait until the last minute, you can easily score a discount on an unsold room the hotel is desperate to fill. I love using HotelTonight for this very purpose! (Use code BMAHAN3 for an additional 20% off your first booking!)
2. Book a flight 4-12 weeks out. Contrary to what many “experts” may claim, there is no best day of the week or time of day to book flights. You will, however, always save money on midweek and midday flights (not when you book, when the flight takes place), as well as on off-peak dates for your destination, so be flexible with your travel days if you can. And it does tend to be best to book 4-12 weeks beforehand: trends show that prices dip and fluctuate starting around 12 weeks out, but sooner than 4 weeks out, they tend to rise until the departure date. On that note…
3. Use comparison websites such as Kayak or Expedia, which can be a great way to find the best deals on flights and accommodations and save money. Be sure to compare prices across multiple websites to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
4. Set up flight alerts before you book. There are lots of great programs and apps out there that track and monitor airfare, and will even provide smart recommendations about when you should book based on historical data that indicates if the price will rise or drop. Try Google Flights, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and Hopper.
5. Consider a package deal. Vacation package deals that include flights, accommodations, and activities can be a great way to save money, especially if you have a Costco membership. Just be sure to compare prices to ensure you’re getting a good deal.
6. Consider alternative accommodations like vacation rentals (AirBnB, VRBO, HomeAway, etc.) and hostels. Yes, hostels!
7. Look for deals and discounts to save money. Sign up for newsletters from airlines and hotels to stay informed about promotions and sales.
8. Pack lightly, and carry on your luggage if you can. With so many airlines charging for checked bags these days, you can save money on unnecessary baggage fees.
Related: How to Pack in A Carry-On for Any Trip
9. Use public transportation. Renting a car can be expensive between the rental fee, insurance, and parking fees, and rideshares are getting more and more pricey these days. If you’re traveling somewhere with a reliable public transportation system, don’t be afraid to use it – it will save you a ton of money AND stress! Bonus: many cities are compact enough to get around by walking or biking, too!
10. Avoid tourist traps. Tourist attractions are usually expensive, so consider skipping them in favor of free or low-cost activities. Use Groupon to find great local adventures and experiences off the beaten path and save money.
11. Look for visitor deals from your destination’s tourism board; many cities offer saver cards for attractions and transportation. A simple Google search for “[City] visitor discounts” should bring up a wealth of resources.
12. Eat local. Instead of dining at tourist traps, try eating at local restaurants and markets. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also get a taste of the local culture. Farmer’s markets are my favorite places to pick up fresh food for lunch, and I try to stay in a hostel or AirBnB with a kitchen for longer stays so I can cook my own breakfasts and dinners.
13. Bring your own snacks and water. Buying snacks and beverages at airports and on planes can be expensive. Consider packing your own snacks, such as trail mix or granola bars, to save money. Also, bring your reusable water bottle! As long as it’s empty before you go through security, you can bring it on a plane. Most airports have refilling stations behind security where you can immediately fill up before you fly, and then you can refill at restaurants and refill stations during your trip. Some countries, particularly in Europe, have super clean tap water that’s safe to drink, so you can fill up from the taps on the go.
14. Use credit card rewards! There is a huge world of credit card points potential, including the ability to transfer points to airlines and hotels or even “erase” travel-related purchases. Just be sure to pay off your balance in full each month to avoid accruing interest, which could easily offset the benefits you reap from the points.
Related: A Guide to My Favorite Travel Cards