When I first met people who were booking wild trips that included jetting off to Morocco or Paris for the summer, I thought for sure they either married rich or were on their way to white collar prison for tax evasion.
Then, I did what any curious traveler would do, and I started asking questions. What I found is that even broke-ass Betties like myself can afford to travel if we put our creative and adventurous minds to work.
Flights are by far the biggest financial obstacle to navigate for any vacation (unless you’re my friend Laurie who won’t get on a plane unless satin sheets are involved). But, for the rest of us, the price of airline tickets are 1/3 or more of our travel budget. A roundtrip ticket to Europe or Asia can cost anywhere between $1100-$1800.
A few years back, I stealthily invested in an American Express card. At the time they were offering unbelievably high enrollment bonuses, which bought myself, my mom and my sister round trip flights to London, for free! After that, I learned that having a card with a good airline alliance helps too, especially if you travel for work. So, I opened a Southwest Airlines Visa and am on my way to my first free domestic trip! (Cali here I come, baby!)
Here’s the kicker: you need to do your own research first. Don’t believe every card will work for you. Instead, check out sides like NerdWallet that breaks down the pros and cons of each card or FlyerTalk to hear crazy stories from people who earn up to 1 million points per year.
Believe it or not, you can actually find an inexpensive place to stay without sharing a hostel with 3 Norwegian exchange students who have a “clothing optional” approach to cohabitation.
As a woman in her 30’s now (phew), I just refuse to compromise my comfort to save a buck. So, I’ve learned the key is to find places that are off-the-beaten-path. AirBnb is a great resource for private rooms with the quality touch of a B&B at an affordable price. Believe it or not, Hostelworld has some private rooming options (sans weird Norwegians) at some amazing prices to boot. If that doesn’t work, check out Booking.com. Avoid the city centers as much as you can, and always do your research before booking.
I still remember when my mom got off the plane to meet me in London, she looked like Christoper Columbus who just ‘sailed the ocean blue.’ She joked that she ought to span the continent to make it worth her while. But there is a lot of truth in that statement.
Spending 14 days in Spain, I saw Seville, Madrid and Barcelona without having to step on a plane. I also got to stop in Amsterdam and experience the ‘high life’ without buying an extra ticket. 4 European cities on one roundtrip ticket — that’s the way to do it. If you do have to book a plane ticket, RyanAir is Europe’s equivalent to the local bus in the sky, with tickets as low as $50. But pack light — they make their money back on baggage fees for sure.
You know what’s funny? Americans are some of the most savvy people in the world when it comes to paying our bills on time or saving for college. But when you take away that little white price tag, all of a sudden we don’t know what to do and turn into “Daddy Warbucks.” Money anyone? Here you go! Dollar for you, and you! While I’m not saying you need to be a scrooge, do realize that most international street vendors think all Americans have bankrolls like Beyonce. So, if that’s not you, learn to negotiate.
My good friend from India taught me this skill well. It’s like a dance. Or dating. The vendor quotes his price. You try to drop it. He quotes a new price and you drop again. Until you’re both happy. Never take the first price that’s offered. Ask locals. Once you know how much it really costs, bring out that price so the vendor knows you know. Lastly, be willing to walk away. It’s playing hard to get, travel style. And it’s the only way to bring back those Pashmina scarves or porcelain dishes to your friends without blowing all your cash at one market.
Oh, but don’t be a jerk. Vendors have their families to support too. The point is for both parties to leave feeling satisfied, not ripped off.
This one’s a toughie because as much as I tell you to pack light, there are going to be some people who think they absolutely need 10 pairs of shorts and 4 shades of sandals for their 4-day trip to the Bahamas.
But traveling light is the 2nd best way (after plane tickets) to shave your travel costs. Check out this awesome video that shows how one man packed a month’s worth of clothes into one carry-on.