In my years of travel, I’ve been able to score some amazing deals. Deals so good I’ve had to mention it every time I talked about the trip. “Hey guys, I just went to Chicago and it was amazing! I only spent $75 on my flight!” (I actually do this often, like when I buy a shirt on sale and people compliment me on it. “Thanks, I got it on sale for $10!” I don’t know why I do this.)
Anyways, the secret to all of these good travel deals, and how to afford travel overall, is that there’s not just ONE way to do it. There’s a lot of different options and you have to play around with a few each time. (Unless you only book spontaneous flights right when a specific deal comes out but that’s too crazy for my lifestyle.) So next time, take a little bit of extra time booking your travel and you too will be able to brag about your low-cost trip.
Before I start, I want to give you the best piece of advice on how to afford to travel: Be flexible.
With your dates. With destinations. With length of stay.
If you can travel at low season, you will save a considerable amount of money. Moving your vacation one or two months is a serious cost cutter. There are plenty of beaches that are still amazing in October or even November and you’ll enjoy them with far less people than in June or July!
Look for cities or countries that are less expensive to travel to. There are amazing hidden gem destinations all over the world that won’t break the bank.
With all that being said, I know that with kids sometimes you are forced to travel with the family during high season. That’s where my tips come into play! You can still save money, you just need to put some work into it.
So here they are—my best tips on how to afford travel:
How to Afford Travel: FLIGHTS
- The best time to look is about 6 weeks before you want to travel. Start your sleuthing around that timeframe and do not book on the spot.
- Sign up for travel search engine notifications that email you when a great deal pops up. (The best ones are Scott’s Cheap Flights, Airfare Watchdog, or secretflying). Check out my best travel resources here.
- Download the Hopper app—it scans travel sites for the best flight deals to where you want to go. Plug in your travel details and it’ll give you notifications every time the price goes up or down.
- Use flight search engines like Kayak, Google Flights, or Skyscanner to search for flights. Their flexible calendars will give you the cheapest date choices for all airlines and they can check nearby airports too. You can also explore and see where you can travel to based on parameters you set.
- Check airlines low fare calendars for the cheapest days to travel. You can also follow your favorite airlines on social media as many of them advertise their sales on their social accounts.
- Check multiple booking sites for a few days in a row until you find the best price
- If you have a travel rewards credit card, book using your points (but still look for the cheaper dates, airlines, and airports so you’re not using too many points when you don’t have to).
- If you are a member of an airline loyalty program, use your airline miles to book your flights. (But again, check for cheaper dates, times, and airports so you don’t use too many miles).
- Wait until the middle of the week to book, usually airlines raise their prices during the weekend.
How to Afford Travel: LODGING
- Check travel deal websites (like TravelZoo) for hotel deals at your destination
- Use Trip Advisor for the best advice and reviews on hotels, plus user pictures. The site also displays the prices from many booking sites for comparison.
- If you’re a Costco Member, check out their vacation package specials on their website
- Use lodging search engines like hotelscombined.com or booking.com to look for the best deals.
- Call a hotel directly and ask if they will price match a rate you found on another site or if there’s a better rate than what’s advertised online.
- If you don’t mind not choosing your hotel, try Priceline‘s Express Deals. They’ll give you the star level and location (with their filters it’s easy to get an idea of what the options are) and offer you a much cheaper rate if THEY choose the hotel. You find out the hotel after you book and it’s non-refundable.
- Check the official tourism sites of the destination you want to visit. Many feature sections offering discounts on lodging, dining, or activities.
- Get a hotel away from the action. You can stay one or two blocks away for much less a night.
- For multiple families traveling together, rent a house or condo rather than multiple hotel rooms. Bonus is having a kitchen.
- If renting a house, ask the host if there is a better rate (or if you’re booking last minute) if they have any last-minute specials.
- If you have more points left, use your travel credit card to book.
How to Save on TRANSPORTATION
If you don’t plan to drive much:
- Skip the rental car and try ride sharing apps like Uber or Lyft instead of taxis.
- Rent bikes (the best way to get around in my opinion! Especially as a family activity.)
- Walk. Many cities are completely walkable and the best part is that it’s free. (Getting as much free as you can is the ultimate advice on how to afford travel!)
- Check to see if your hotel has a shuttle service (like airport transfers or rides to the beach or popular areas).
- Try public transportation like trains or buses. There are apps that guide you in getting to your destination using public transit—read about them in my list of travel resources here.
If you do need a car:
- Check if your hotel or airline has a car rental bundle
- Go for the basic car— you just need to get the family from point A to point B
- Use rentalcars.com or discovercars.com to get prices from many different car rental agencies
- Rent as early as you can; the closer it is to the date, the higher the prices get.
- Check if your credit card offers car insurance when traveling so you don’t have to purchase it from the rental agency
How to Save Money on FOOD
- Try to book a hotel that offers free breakfast
- If you have a kitchen, go grocery shopping and cook meals. Or buy ready-made meals like salads, wraps, and sandwiches. (Some hotels have communal grill areas, check if yours does.)
- Bring snacks and your own water bottles with you during the day.
- Look out for food trucks or small local restaurants away from the big tourist areas.
- Eat big lunches and happy hours. Research restaurants that have the best deals before you get there.
- Ask a local or two where they eat out. They’ll know the best places.
- If you’re traveling to somewhere expensive (like Hawaii) throw in some dry foods and snacks in your luggage to cut the costs of groceries. Oatmeal, protein bars, coffee. (Seriously Hawaii groceries are SO expensive, and this is coming from someone who lives in California.)
- Bring your own alcohol to enjoy after the kids bedtime versus buying high priced drinks at a restaurant.
How to Save on ACTIVITIES
- Check out the activities in the area you’re traveling to—call the locations and see if they have any deals or specials on certain days.
- Look for a City Pass for the destination(s) you’re traveling to. You can save up to 50% on tickets!
- Book a Hop On / Hop Off tour. I love these tours. It’s a great way to see the whole city, they’re usually pretty inexpensive, and your ticket is valid for at least 24 hours. Plus, kids love sitting on the top level. (I’ve also met great people on these tours!)
- Check Groupon or other deal sites for activities in the city you’re traveling to.
- Buy beach gear and toys at a local convenience store rather than on the beach
- Prepare for your activities beforehand- for example, if a snorkeling cruise requires certain sun protection buy it at home rather than buying it from the cruise operator.
- Check if your hotel offers deals or discounts on activities when booking.
Best Money Saving Hacks for Travel
- Create a travel savings or checking account. Set money aside every month to go into that account.
- If you can responsibly use a credit card, use a travel rewards credit card.
- Sign up for hotel rewards program. You can get discounts AND extra perks.
- Use a money savings app that automatically deposits money into a travel savings account.
- Ask for travel related gift cards as gifts.
With a little planning and motivation, you could save a ton of money when traveling!