They say that travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer for a reason—every new experience I have in a new culture makes me a more open, enlightened, and understanding person, enriching my life in so many ways. Unfortunately, being richer in mind doesn’t translate to more money in your pocket. Travel can be super expensive and finding affordable travel can be time consuming. Although I’m much more financially comfortable now, there was a time that I was just out of college making less than $35,000 a year and living in New York City (translation: 😢 💸 💸 💸). Knowing I wanted to travel and being the determined type, I set out to figure out how to make travel more affordable. I’m sharing my favorite tips, tools, and sites that I’ve used over the years. Enjoy, and happy travels!
Affordable Travel: When to Go
When to book your trip is a huge factor in how much you’re going to pay for a flight or hotel. For flights, all of the research out there says the best time to book is between 89-151 days before your departure date, so make sure you begin looking during that time frame. Sites like Kayak will also tell you if you should book now or wait based on historical rates and availability.
Planning your trip during a less popular travel time will also significantly help in getting discounts. Make sure to avoid national holidays/holiday weekends and any time kids are on school vacation to get the best deals. Typically, early May and all of September are the cheapest months to travel anywhere, but also consider traveling off season. For example, trips to Mexico and the Caribbean are significantly cheaper in the summer, and trips to Europe are much more affordable in the late fall and winter months (excluding Christmas and New Year’s).
Affordable Travel: Where to Go
Choosing your locations wisely will also help you save on travel. When you consider how popular countries like Italy, France, and Germany are for tourism, you can see why travel there is at a premium. However, if you consider some similar countries that are less popular among tourists, such as almost all of the countries in Eastern Europe, you can save a lot of money.
Additionally, think about the country’s currency versus your own. Everything in the United Kingdom, for example, is going to be very expensive in comparison to the American dollar, but countries in Asia, Africa, and South America are significantly more affordable. Google has a great currency converter (just Google “currency converter”), which will help you figure out if you’re going to get gouged in the exchange rate.
Affordable Travel Rewards Programs
Almost all loyalty and frequent user programs are free to join, and you get amazing benefits from using them on a regular basis. Most only need to be used once every few years for you to remain an active member.
For hotels and airlines, I recommend signing up for them for any stay or flight you take. I often find that you’re treated better when they know you’re on their loyalty list even if you don’t have many points. Make sure you get on their email list as well. I once got a $29 flight from Philadelphia to Fort Myers, FL on Frontier Airlines just because I saw they were doing a 24-hour sale via email.
Credit cards with rewards programs are also really beneficial for saving on travel. I have two that are specifically for travel rewards:
The first is Chase Sapphire, which is great if you dine out a lot because you get double points on dining. I was able to get a free flight within the first month of having this card.
The second is BankAmericard Travel Rewards Visa, which gives you one point for every dollar you spend and has no foreign transaction fees. This is HUGE if you’re trying to save money while traveling (most banks charge 3%, which adds up quickly). I love the user interface for cashing in your rewards. They allow you to go into your credit card statement and essentially delete anything related to travel (up to your points/dollar balance). This includes Uber rides, public transit passes, gas, etc. in addition to hotels, flights, and more. The good news is your current credit card or bank likely has a travel rewards program, so make sure to ask about switching.
Affordable Travel Deal Sites
Utilizing deal sites was one of the easiest ways for me to initially start traveling. I still use all of the ones that I’m recommending below today:
CheapCaribbean.com – This is a great site for vacations in, you guessed it, the Caribbean! I used this site three times to book trips to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Panama, and all of those trips were amazing. Just put in your departure city and browse through the destinations to find the best deal. You can also sort by adults-only, all-inclusive, distance from the city, etc.
Travelzoo – One of my favorite sites to browse for vacation deals on a regular basis, Travelzoo really has it all. You can you search by continent and time of year. Plus, they offer deals within the cities nearby to you including restaurants, shows, etc. if you want to plan a little staycation.
Expedia Last Minute Deals – I booked an amazing trip to Puerto Rico for New Year’s Eve only three weeks before using Expedia Last Minute Deals. This site has great options if you feel that wanderlust itch and need to scratch it asap.
Finding Affordable Travel on Social Media
Facebook and Twitter are the best places to be in the know about flight and vacation deals. For the sites I listed above, like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, and you’ll learn about all kinds of deals in your feed. Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin Atlantic are also great about publishing sales and limited time deals.
What are your favorite tips for making travel more affordable? Please comment below or send me an email!