Most people often become resolute that travel is what they would love more of in their lives. The human race is a longing and curious creation. We are filled with emotions and chemicals that often change and react off of altering our surroundings as much as possible. A view of a snow covered mountain that you've never seen before or putting your toes in the ocean for the first time ever can trigger euphoric elation that is addictive to the soul. You long for it, that moment when the world takes your breath away. But how do you get there? The search for the money tree species has still been unsuccessful so how does one afford to get to see the wonders that travel delivers? I will tell you the most hidden in plain site option first: home. People often dream so long of being a world traveler, they forget to look in their own backyard. Research your city (or nearest city) for an inexpensive way to explore. Pinterest.com is a never ending supply of travel ideas. Chances are, your own home is there with several, if not hundreds of articles full of information on affordable and free things to do nearby. Already explored your backyard? Great. Let's move on...
Planes, Trains and Automobiles...
There has become an art to searching flights. Just the other day, I needed to get to Atlanta for my son's doctors appointment in March. I checked flights just for the heck of it (on a Tuesday) and a one way flight was only $99! There was even a Delta Amex credit card application on the site that offered a $200 statement credit! We will not check bags, and only bring an overnight carry on, but what a deal! So check flights often due to the fact that the prices can vary from day to day. Another form of this art is called the "hidden city" trick. This is where you book a flight to a certain destination that you do NOT want to visit but that has a layover or connection in the city you DO want to visit. Once you arrive at the connection, just skip the last flight. This will save you tons but, again, you must check often. Remember with this trick, you MUST bring only a carry on, otherwise your checked bag will head to your final destination and your belongings will be gone! Skiplagged.com is a cool flight searcher that I am getting to know. Try it out.
All Aboard! Most people think trains are super affordable. This is a myth. Train tickets can cost just as much as plane tickets and triple the length of travel time. Bummer. However, Wanderu.com is a site that lists flights, trains and bus travel prices and times. If you can find a cheap train ticket that travels overnight, you are golden! Sleep while you travel and wake up in a new and exciting city. If your destination choice is not far from your home, train tickets can be a great choice if you are not wanting to drive. For approximately $30, you can take a train from Savannah Georgia to Charleston South Carolina and just walk the city for the day.
Road Trip! Don't knock long drives. If your destination is far but drivable, consider breaking your trip up and staying at different Airbnb's along the way. Always look for "super hosts" on Airbnb.com and check fees before booking completely. It may add to the cost, but you would be surprised at how cheap a good Airbnb can be along your route and you even get to experience another adventure along the way.
Travel Before or After Peaks
Peaks are major holidays, spring breaks and summers. Hotels, flights, and even some attractions increase their prices during these peaks. But prices can drop dramatically after or before these peaks; September, April to May, and middle of January to name a few lower-priced travel dates. Flexibility with your dates are key to cheap travel. Some websites even allow a "flexible dates" option that you can select to show lower prices for dates a little before or after your original selection.
Now, Where Did I Put That Gift Card?
So we've all received a gift card at least once in our lives, I'm sure. I even know some people who put them in their wallet and forget about them (I'm looking directly at my sister in law and my mom). Get a small jar or money bag and put it in a safe place, maybe your closet? Anytime you receive a gift card that is related to food, a theme park or a grocery store, stow it in your safe place. Then when you start planning your trip, whip those babies out. This can save you loads on eating out. If your trip includes cold weather or swim suits or even camping and you are short on supplies, gift cards to grocery stores can help in this area of travel. We have a pretty long and eventful trip coming up and I have a stack of gift cards already accumulated from Christmas. Also, birthdays near your travel date can be great to use cash you may receive to put towards your trip. You can also visit your local Sam's Club and purchase gift cards that are discounted! This is a great way to save on theme park tickets. Buy your discounted gift cards and then go home and order your tickets online, instant savings. You can also purchase restaurant gift cards off of groupon.com One of our trips coming up includes passing by a major touristy kid-fun restaurant. Groupon had a $60 gift card for $40 to that very place! Of course you can adjust these expectations for any budget but you get the idea. (Be sure to read the fine print!)
Speaking of Groupon...
Search Groupon often. They list dozens and even hundreds of all inclusive resorts all over the world. Make a budget and start stowing away a little at a time. Once you find the right deal, book it! Some of these even include airfare. Bundling is saving so you can't lose. I will add, when it comes to Groupon, once I have made a purchase, I print everything; receipts, confirmation, every detail and have it with me. They now have an AP that you can put on your phone that keeps all of this info at your fingertips but I'm old school. If technology fails me or there is any question about my purchase, I like to have all of my documents front and center. And if your Groupon deal does NOT include flight, check google often. They list all competitors' pricing including expedia.
Pay attention to credit card opportunities. Spend responsibly, of course, but keeping your travels to one specific card that offers great incentives is key. Some cards also offer statement credit so if your trip total cost is within the card application's requirements, you get some of that money back! But remember to always have a plan to pay back your debt in full. Hotel rewards are huge as well. My cousin only stays at Hiltons. Along with the rewards that they offer, she sometimes gets her hotel stays for next to nothing. This method may take a little investment. Some of your stays may not be the cheapest hotel choice in the area but the rewards will add up. This is probably better for the often traveler that loves a certain hotel chain. I, however, always look for either the best deal or the most unique stay, so just keep this in mind when trying to build up your hotel rewards. Hotels.com sometimes offer one free night once you have built up 10 nights booked through their website. Follow this link for more info: https://www.hotels.com/hotel-rewards-pillar/hotelscomrewards.html?intlid=HOME+%3A%3A+header_main_section Again, this takes time but a little less of an investment since they offer budget hotels on a wide scale.
Hotels With Breakfast
We ALWAYS try to find hotels that offer breakfast. This usually includes fruit as well, like apples and bananas. That's one meal that you can check off of your spending list. You can also take some of your fruit to go for a free snack later in the day! Read the hotels with breakfast reviews first. You'll find that the breakfast may or may not be worth the savings at certain hotels.
Travel With Friends!
This is for so many reasons. First and foremost, its fun! Second, you can split lodging costs in half. Once you split the costs, you AND your friends have saved so much money. This also saves on gas when riding together. If your group is large enough, hotels, cruises, and attractions even offer group rates so be sure to call ahead and see if your crew meets the requirements for some pretty nice discounts.
Got Time For A Second Job?
HA! You may be thinking, absolutely not, but hear me out... If you live near an airport and you have a flexible primary job with longer shifts and less days (ex: Three 12hour shifts a week) then consider a second job at your local airport. Most offer free flights to their employees (depending on the position). Free flights plus an extra income? Sign me up! However, some airlines are not ideal to work for. I've heard some people say that the perks are not worth the headache. But I've also heard of people who love it! So you have to decide for yourself. Before kids, I wish this would have been something that I had looked into.
I'm sure this is the most obvious but checked bags can add expenses to your trip when flying or even cruising. I have researched (extensively) great "weekend bags". I still have a few to review so I can't link them just yet but do your research. Read the reviews. If the bag is within the requirements for being a carry on approved piece of luggage AND you can pack it tight with all of the essentials, then you must invest in this. Garrett and I have rented a car before and left our hotel in the city to venture out and stay another place just for a night. Having a bag for this reason alone prevents us from having to lug around a huge suitcase. Watch "light packing hacks" on youtube.com for more tips on how to make a small bag go a long way. I love this video full of great info and light packing hacks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PcrLWkxZSk
Airbnb With A Kitchen And Make A Grocery Run.
This is something we only do while camping in a camper or staying in a place with a kitchen for more than a weekend. But so many Airbnb's and vacation rentals include a full kitchen. So make a menu for the days that you will be traveling and then stop into your vacation home's local grocer and stock up. Cooking can bring a $15 a person meal down to $2-$5 a person meal! Depending on the size of your car and the length of your drive, you can also pack a cooler with what you already have in your freezer and pantry.
Check Your Travel Destination's Event Calendar
Sometimes when we travel, we don't even realize all of the free things to do because we don't know about them and then we get sucked into the big, over powering tourist traps that end up draining our pockets. Try to Google, for example, "events in Savannah" and find a list of shows, movies in the park, or even concerts that are absolutely free. Eventbrite.com can help with this when it comes to purchasing tickets to some events but purchasing these ahead of time can save you money as well. Facebook.com is also an excellent source of finding out what events are going on near your location that may not be obvious to you when you're actually on your vacation. Tourist traps can be fun too, don't get me wrong, my kids LOVE them, but be sure to budget for them.
Last But Not Least:
CAMP! Go camping. Invest in a great tent, air mattress and box fan and you're practically glamping. Seriously, if luxury is not a necessity and your "maintenance meter" stays pretty low, then camping can make just about any destination SUPER cheap, and sometimes even free! And some camping destinations just so happen to be located in some pretty amazing state parks that offer views of God's most beautiful works of art. So don't knock it until you've tried it. Sometimes there is even a fun city nearby for great nightlife, restaurants, and shopping that you can drive to. Cheap Disney travel hack: Camping at Fort Wilderness Resort can be as low as $80 a night and you're even staying in a park resort and enjoying all of the perks of such. Just be sure to book far in advance due to this being a very popular and affordable option. Check pinterest.com for "comfort camping essentials" to find ways to make camping more glamorous than it sounds.
Well that's it! Our biggest money saving tips! Hope these save you as much money as they have saved us over time. Always remember the number one way to save money will always be to SAVE AHEAD and to PLAN AHEAD. Adventure is out there and available to anyone and everyone so don't miss out! Cheers!
The Adventurous Alfords