Idk about y’all, but this year’s Essence Fest footage on my tl gave me serious FOMO—just enough to plan a trip, call the girls and get ‘em gassed up for 2020.
Whether it’s several hours or several time zones away, I LOVE to travel. During my 20s, I’ve traveled more frequently than I ever have before, and since I’m pretty much booked for travel through next spring, it’s time for me to tackle the rest of next year.
Before you ask: No, I’m not getting “flewed out”, and HELL NO, I’m not rich, like AT ALL lol; with some strategic planning and spending, anyone can travel comfortably within their means and have an amazing time (PTO sold separately).
While I’m helping myself, I wanna help y’all, too! So, here are my top 10 travel tips to ball on a budget:
Plan ahead/ book early
I CANNOT say this enough: the earlier you plan and book your travel, the less stressful it is. Spontaneous trips can be exciting, but let’s be real: they’re a luxury for those with time and money to spare.
My ideal “sweet spot” for planning is 6-12 months prior to the desired trip time–this window gives everyone involved time to adequately prepare. Many airlines only post their flight availability up to 9 months out, and often provide calendars for flexible date selection, comparing rates day to day. Google Flights and Kayak tend to be helpful with flexibility, and also apps like Hopper.
There’s many variables to determine what works where, but experts suggest that Tuesday is the best day to purchase flights, at least 6-12 weeks (on average) before your travel date. Tuesdays or Wednesdays are usually the cheapest days to travel. (It also helps to use a private/incognito browser when searching and purchasing.) Book wisely 🙂
Travel during the off season
One of the benefits of early planning is the ability to be flexible with dates. All destinations have a ‘peak season’, which refers to the best time to visit/ a popular time for tourists. The peak season usually correlates with school holidays, i.e. the only time many families can take vacation. With this in mind, many airlines and hotels will start TAXINGGG for bookings.
If your goal is to save money, then try to plan around these dates. Obviously, this may not be effective if you’re traveling for a specific event, but try this wherever you can.
Just as prices rise during peak season, airlines and hotels will lower their rates during the off season to attract more customers. By traveling right before or after peak season, you can save A LOT of money.
Look for package deals
In an effort to get more rooms and flights booked, airlines and hotels often provide travelers with package deals at cheaper rates. There’s a laundry list of sites to find these packages: Expedia, Groupon, Orbitz, or even the airlines themselves, to name a few.
Exercise caution with this tip— be sure to verify how much of a deal the package really is, read reviews and check ratings of the hotels/airlines included, and make sure you are comfortable with the terms written in fine print.
Join a rewards program
If you plan to travel a lot, then joining a rewards program may be a good idea. Airline loyalty points, travel credit card and hotel rewards, the concepts are all fundamentally the same: the more (and sometimes farther) you use them, the more they give you.
Leverage your rewards programs to do things like fly first class for next to nothing, or even get a free flight or stay while you’re on the go. There’s TONS of programs to choose from, so do your research and pick one(s) that are best for you/your needs. (For example, I chose a Southwest Airlines rewards program because I’m an overpacker, and they’re one of the few left who still allow 2 free bags.)
Mix & Match airports
So you wanna fly to London from New York, right? *checks JFK flights* Well damn, that’s expensive.
Now, you’re kinda annoyed you have to blow a bag just for a flight, but quick question(s): Did you check flights leaving LaGuardia? Newark? Other Jersey or even Philly airports? Did you know that it’s cheaper to fly into Iceland, and take a train to London? (TOTALLY HYPOTHETICAL, btw, idk if this is true lol)
Point is, exhaust ALL of your options if you want to cut travel costs. International travel can seem daunting at first, but with extra research, it’s more doable than you think. Check all surrounding airports for departure and arrival flights, as well as alternate methods of transportation like buses, trains, or even boats to get you where you wanna be.
Set up a personal payment plan
Let’s say you’re taking a trip next summer with some friends, which’ll cost you $2500 total (flights + stay + other miscellaneous shit). $2500 can be alot to pay at once, but when broken down into smaller payments, it becomes more feasible. No need to break out the excel spreadsheet (or do it, if that’s your thing), just simplify the numbers.
Payment deadlines are more crucial with groups, and let’s say you have ~6 months to pay. You can break it down as follows:
$2500 / 6 months= ~$417/month
$417 / 4 weeks= ~$104/week
$104 / 7 days= ~$14.88/day
If you put aside $15 a day for 6 months, you can pay for the trip. FIFTEEN DOLLARS. The numbers don’t lie. With this type of planning and budgeting, you could travel to basically anywhere your heart desires!
(While you’re there)
Tell people why you’re traveling
You know how you go to restaurants sometimes, and pretend it’s your birthday to get free dessert? (…just me? K.) This works kinda the same way.
Are you honeymooning? Bachelor/bachelorette trip? Birthday? Family reunion? TELL EVERYONE! If you tell the right people (a hotel/resort staff member, a connected local, etc.), then you may get access to special deals, or even free things! Who doesn’t love FREE?!
Check out the public transportation
Always check the methods of public transportation when you travel, and how safe, sensible and accessible they are for you.
Check free hotel shuttles, trollies, metros, or buses that you can ride around town. For example, the local bus was our choice of transportation when staying in Cancun. Instead of overpaying for a taxi everywhere, we saved a bunch of money by paying $1 to ride the bus, which came every 10-20 minutes in both directions. That’s pretty unbeatable, if you ask me…
Eat expensively at lunch, not dinner
Idk about y’all, but fine dining is def one of my vices—I’m good for at least one steak-lobster-a la carte type meal while on vacation.
Many restaurants usually offer lunch specials that are less expensive than the dinner portion, so if you must dine fancily, I’d suggest doing it at lunch/brunch time if you care about saving money. For other meals, utilize your hotel/hostel/resort’s free options (if available), or find out some tasty cheap food options from locals or street vendors.
Prioritize your activities
Pick what thing(s) matter most to you to cross of your vacation ‘to do’ list. For example, my boyfriend LOVES yachts, so he’ll do some research and find a [cost efficient] way onto one for every trip near a body of water; that’s his priority activity to spend money on, if possible.
Whether it’s yachting, extreme sports, clubbing, or spa days, prioritize your ‘thing’ that HAS to happen to make your trip feel complete, and budget accordingly. Splurging on one or two of your favorite things to do makes more sense than wasting money on a bunch of random (and possibly mediocre) activities.
So, there you have it! I hope this made you feel better about seeing the world on ANY budget. Use these tips to optimize your vacation time without breaking the bank.