The most common question I get asked amongst peers is “How can you afford to travel so much?” The secret is: win the lottery. Ok so that was a lie. What if I told you that you can travel on almost any budget? Crazy, right? Too often when people would like to travel they just book a trip through some website without research or seek out a travel agent – not me.
Here are my secrets to cheap travel ( I will do sperate posts about each place we have or will stay in – just giving a brief overview for traveling tips on this post):
- Be flexible on travel dates. I know a lot of people can’t because of kids/school/etc.. but that is what has helped me the most. Traveling in “off season” has never been a disaster for me – knock on wood. Discounted prices, less crowds and more bang for your buck.
- I don’t have one set website I use to purchase travel with but if I am doing a package (air and hotel) with another person, I almost always use Travelocity. The caveat to this is finding better deals elsewhere.
- My go to airline for domestic travel this year has been Frontier Airlines. They are a low cost carrier and charge for carry-on luggage and checked bags. A prime example of how amazing this airline is: I live in Washington D.C and just a few days ago I purchased a 1 way ticket to Las Vegas for $55! That’s incredible – only one time have I found a cheaper ticket and it was round trip from here to Las Vegas during the week of Halloween a few years back, and I paid I think $98 round trip.
- Try a train or bus if it is cheaper. In June when we had to get to New York to go on our honeymoon cruise to Bermuda, flights were about $300 each and the train was about the same. I paid $105 round trip total for both of us on Megabus. We didn’t mind it at all. About 4 hours of chatting with strangers and reading. Not bad.
- Book an all-inclusive resort. Sometimes they get a bad name because a lot of them serve the same food each night in the restaurants, but each one I have been to I loved. Bonus of an all-inclusive is that food and alcohol is already included AND most activities (usually non-motorized water sports, spa and golf cost extra). The key to this is trying all the restaurants. Dress up a night or two and relax the other nights, heck – get room service! It’s nice to be waited on when you are on vacation. All inclusive resorts can be found mostly in the Caribbean and Mexico. Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Aruba, etc. Mexico has them all over: Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Cabo san Lucas, etc. These are the cheapest routes to go. The best time to get the best deals in these places is generally April-June and then again when school goes back, about September-mid December. Excluding holidays of course. The most expensive time of year is the week of Christmas and the week of New Years. The busiest time of the year is when they have the best weather January-March/April (which also coincides with spring break). Avoid it at all costs. Keep in mind that heat is hotter and there could be a hurricane during the off seaons. We have traveled in August and September to 2 different places in Mexico and never had a single issue. Last year in September we went to the Royal Playa del Carmen for 5 nights (see photos below). With air and hotel for 2 people all-inclusive, it was under $1000. They delivered us full bottles of liquor, upgraded us to a room that had a swim-out from the patio (the swim-up bar was a short distance away), and the views were incredible! We would definitely go back.
- Cruises. The best tips I can give you for cruising is to try and do it the first 2-3 weeks following New Years. That is the lowest fares you will find, and I wouldn’t plan to book way in advance because they will still try and sell them to you at a high price. Everyone is broke after the holidays – so we like to capitalize on that. Example: This past January we went on one of Norwegians newer ships, The Epic (see photos below), and my husband booked us an inside room for 2 people and it was about $630 total for both of us out of Miami. So $315 each for a 7 night cruise with unlimited food and stops in 3 ports. Not bad. At the time he booked the cruise he could have opted to book a balcony but the base price was over $1,000 each. So 2 days before we left I upgraded us to a balcony and it was $300 total. To our surprise when we got on the ship not only did we have a balcony but we had a SPA SUITE! This room would have cost us over $3,000 if we had booked it outright. Second tip: no matter what category you book your room in, always book the guaranteed version of that category (ex: guaranteed inside, guaranteed balcony, and so forth). The reason for this is because sometimes ships over sell rooms in certain categories and you will always get a better room if it is oversold. One time my friend and I went on a cruise with Carnival and booked an inside room and when we got on the ship we had a Suite. Third tip: if you find a cruise you want to go on, check other websites to see if they are having deals with that cruise line and/or dates. For example: we always look for deals with free on board credit, free tours, free upgraded dining or rooms, etc. It’s a nice bonus if you are already going to go on that cruise. All in all, I find the food really good on cruises and there is always so many options. If you want to see more than one place and not worry about food costs, cruising is the way to go. Side note about cruising: Carnival tends to be the cheapest, then Norwegian/Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, etc. There are a lot of cruise lines local and abroad. The bonus about local cruises is that if they start and end in a U.S port you don’t need a passport! Repeat, you don’t need a passport!! They changed the law awhile back on the requirements – but you will need a government issued I.D and an official birth certificate. Not needing a passport could save you $100 each.
- Utilize discount websites like Groupon, Living Social, Travelzoo, Capitol Deal, etc. If you already have booked a trip somewhere, keep an eye out on these sites for discount food, activities, etc. I went to Vegas in 2013 for a week in May with a friend. I knew about the trip for about 2 months so I kept an eye on things. I ended up getting us front row tickets to see Carrot Top, front row seats to see Cirque du Soleil Mystere, tickets to see an illusionist Jan Rouven, tickets to go to the top of the Stratosphere, and tickets to the Palms dinner Buffet with crab . All of this for $78 each. We had things to do each night! We also bought a Groupon for $25 each for this place in the Luxor called Tacos and Tequila that got us each two 44 ounce margaritas. So you can imagine how great that day was.
- Lodging – all the discount websites I mentioned above always have hotels on sale. If you really want to do it cheap you can couch surf, use http://www.airbnb.com, stay in a hostel, camp, etc. Be careful when booking extremely discounted rooms, sometimes in the fine print it will say that once you arrive there will be a daily resort fee of some high cost. That will ultimately drive your cost up higher than you had planned. Also note that a lot of big cities have hotels that will charge a deposit per night on a major credit card. If you are using a debit card, plan to not get that money back until well after you are home (3-7 days after check-out).
- Food. This can be one of the most expensive and under budgeted items when traveling. Trust me, I learned my lesson when I went to London and the Pound was so strong to the dollar. It’s easy to say “we will eat cheap.” You have to be prepared for the unexpected, especially when there is a lot of you traveling together. Try to book hotels that offer a free breakfast of some sort. Not having to pay for the cheapest meal of the day can save you a bundle, especially over several days and mouths. I have found on my own adventures that a lot of the cheaper hotels offer breakfast for free. Try and get snacks from a local grocery store when you get where you are going so you don’t have to pay to eat out every single meal and snack. This will save you a lot in the long run.
- Car vs. taxi: Things are forever changing. Right now I prefer to use Uber where available. If you don’t already, you should. It’s about 2-3 times less than a taxi and they don’t charge for an add-on like people and luggage. However, there have been times when I have been in cities like Las Vegas and rented a car for $9 a day. Parking is pretty much free everywhere in Las Vegas AND if I have a car I can do whatever I want all day! Travelzoo is good for cheap car rentals (get on their email list).
I hope this covers questions about how to travel cheaper. I have done all kinds of traveling from over the top to budget, and honestly, I feel like we have an amazing time no matter how we do it. So don’t feel like a budget vacation won’t be fun, because it will be amazing. Just do the research, utilize all the websites out there and go have a blast!