There’s no doubt travel can be expensive, but it doesn’t always have to be. Some people believe that in order to have a good time they have to spend a lot of money, and for some this is true, but for many it isn’t. In many cases a champagne experience can be had on a beer budget. Here are 5 ways to save big money on travel and perhaps make a few dreams come true.
1) Shop carefully for transportation and accommodation – This is a no brainer, but what’s the best way to go about this? To start, unless you are a frequent business traveler, ignore any loyalty to one airline. American airline loyalty programs in particular are generally becoming a major ripoff as they have diluted the value of miles. Shop several meta sites for flights and hotels beyond just kayak. We find that momondo and skyscanner usually pull up better deals. Matrix- ita software is an excellent website for finding the cheapest flights over the course of any given month to pretty much anywhere in the world. You can’t book through the Matrix, but they will point you in the right direction where you can. It’s also very important when traveling within the USA to check the websites of Southwest and Virgin America as they do not list their prices anywhere outside their websites (and Southwest allows you to check two bags for free, most other American carriers charge $25 each way for even the first checked bag). Particularly for long distance international flights, it’s worth ringing a travel agent to see if they have any deals as they get bulk discounts on some routes.
Be flexible with accommodation choices too. In many European destinations hotels or hostels might not be the best value. You should look at short term apartment rentals through companies like Airbnb. The disadvantage with Airbnb is you will typically get a bedroom in an apartment where the owners are currently living in as well. With sites like only-apartments you will get your own private apartment and get to feel more like a local who lives in the city they’re in. And in many cities you can get a quality apartment for cheaper than a lower quality hotel room! There is also couchsurfing where you could stay for free, but you should be willing to reciprocate to someone else in the future if you use couchsurfing. Don’t be a free loader! And it can also be very time consuming and difficult to find a host and many hosts (including us when we hosted people on couchsurfing in the past) like to spend a little time getting to know the people staying in their apartment ,which can be distracting for sight seeing, though sometimes this means you will get shown around a little from a locals perspective. Some couchsurfing hosts will be highly offended if you just want to do your own thing 100% of the time. Couchsurfing and even Airbnb is definitely not for everyone.
2) Don’t be too picky on where you go – Bucket lists are great, but there is so much beauty in this world that all of us are unaware of in some form. After 5 and 1/2 years living in Europe and having traveled to many countries on the continent, Bell and I are still discovering many amazing places we’d previously never heard of before researching or even arriving in a new destination. If you want to save money, have a few places in mind for your vacation at a given time. See what the cheapest plane tickets are (again, forget loyalty programs unless you have already earned that “free” trip!), how much hotels, hostels or an apartment will cost and how much it costs to actually have a good time in that country. Travel agents have package deals so you don’t have to do the leg work, but they’re not always the best deal and often times have very rigid schedules, which doesn’t work well for some. If you’re flexible you can get more bang for your buck planning your own adventure somewhere.
3) Travel slower- We see many people who have limited vacation time and want to see all the highlights of Europe so they fly around the continent in 2 weeks, spending a couple days in places like London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Dublin, Prague, Berlin, Munich, etc. I did a similar trip to this in college as I traveled off peak from Florida and got a very cheap plane ticket. It can be great to constantly be popping into new places but it can also get tiring, expensive and you don’t get a proper feel for the destinations you visit. The more you move around, the more it costs you as trains in Europe can be pricey and even discount flights can add up, especially with baggage fees. Pick fewer places, savor the moments, and save cash in the process.
4) Weather permitting, have a few picnics – You don’t have to be in France to have an awesome picnic (though that helps!). Many countries have wonderful artisan markets (or at least a good grocery store) to pick up great nibbles and find a picturesque spot to enjoy some tasty treats. You should by all means budget in a few nice meals out if possible, but if you’re eating out at restaurants several times every day you might be surprised at how quickly money will escape from your wallet. And you will almost certainly have a better meal on a picnic than you will at any restaurant that advertises a “tourist menu!”
5) Drink less frequently in pubs – In many European countries there are no open container alcohol laws or the laws are rarely enforced in certain areas. In places like Amsterdam it’s no problem to grab a bottle of wine or some beers, find a great spot on the canal and lap up the ambiance. You’ll see plenty of people in small boats drinking beer and wine as well. In Dublin there are open container laws, with the fine being around 50 euro ($65 US). While we’ve never seen anybody get fined for this, we don’t advise doing it, especially not in the major city parks like St. Stephen’s Green. But on a nice day on the Grand Canal loads of people bring beers outside and the police do not enforce this law. As a general rule, watch the locals- if lots of regular looking people are drinking outside in a certain area, you’re most likely grand. Alcohol prices on average are about 4 times higher in pubs compared to normal grocery stores. For the big drinkers out there, this savings adds up fast!
Please feel free to share additional tips with everyone in the comments section.
24 thoughts on “5 Ways to Save Big Money on Travel”
I agree as I have travelled it so much better to spend longer and enjoy what each new destination has to offer. I also find it so nice to share the experience of travel.
Absolutely, because at the end of the day all of us will just scratch the surface of what there is to see on this planet. The more you see and experience, the more you realize how much more there is out there. So there shouldn’t be too much hurry in rushing around. Stop and savor where you are for a bit. In so many cities and countrysides there are many awesome free or cheap things to do!
Momondo is truly great for finding cheap flights, especially around Europe. I also recommend it, and great tips btw!
Thanks for reading and commenting, Zori! Yeah Momondo is pretty good for flights, but we’ve found that they haven’t been so good for finding the best hotel deal. As an additional tip for accommodation, because all booking sites don’t have all accommodation options in a city or town listed, it can be worth checking Tripadvisor to see what is available that isn’t listed on a hotel booking site and contacting them directly (very small hotels).
Great tips! I and my wife try to eat supermarket food while traveling (mostly fruit and other healthy foods too) as much as possible. Not only because it is cheaper, but also because we like it!
Thanks for the comment Tuscan! Great point that artisan or super market food is healthier. If you are eating out too much (and drinking too much alcohol!) you might not be getting enough nutrients, which can make you more susceptible to getting sick on your trip, and putting a real damper on your fun.
I love a good picnic! Some of my top travel memories involving food were picnics. Sitting at a picnic bench at a park or along the river – you’re almost always guaranteed the best views.
And I also love Momondo, but I find they’re difficult to use for multi-segment flights. At least the online app was the last time I checked.
I’m definitely not brand loyal (though, I’m starting to be more hotel brand loyal since my husband travels for work and we get the points). I usually chase a good deal over a good location, and I’ve rarely (if ever?) been disappointed. Great tips!
Thanks for the great comment Ann! I’ve come to love picnics. Growing up in Florida I didn’t do too many typical picnics before Bell and I got married, haha. But I truly love them now. Yes the food and views can be so awesome. You can choose so many different settings to enjoy your choice of food and company. Or just chill with a sandwich on your own somewhere and get swept up in contemplation.
Great point about Momondo. We looked at multi-segment flights through them beginning of this year when we were looking to book from Dublin to Australia via stopovers in Asia. Momondo didn’t pull up the greatest options. We ultimately just booked via the Emirates website and stopped in Dubai for a few days on the way and Singapore a few days on the way back.
Frequent travel for work can be awesome for racking up points! Unless you work in the university sector, where they are generally stricter with budgets and affording you the brand loyalty 🙂
I completely agree about traveling slower. And I love skyscanner! I stopped being loyal to one airline after all the merges and all the miles I’ve racked up barely count for any legit itinerary, it’s ridiculous! I always make a budget for how much I spend on souvenirs too, those make your cash disappear pretttty fast!
Hey Samantha! Gah, yeah the mergers have been atrocious for American consumers. The USA seriously needs some added legislation to protect American consumers like we have in Europe…and that’s a great tip about having a souvenir budget. I used to collect shot glasses and now we collect magnets, and we usually keep it at that because otherwise as you said, the money can fly from your wallet fast!
Looking to save a bit of money when visiting London? It’s important to note that Oyster fares are considerably cheaper than paper ticket fares on London Underground.
I recommend you pick up an Oyster Card at the Underground station at Heathrow or the DLR station at London City Airport. If you fly into Gatwick, Stanstead or Luton airports (the stations for these airports are outside of the Oyster network) then pick up an Oyster card at the first tube station you go through. If you’re only going to be in London for a few days (ie: less than 7 days) then add on sufficient money that covers you for the number of zones you’re likely to commute in (for most tourists zone 1 & 2 are sufficient) for each day you’re in London plus about £5 extra for the extra trip from & to the airport.
If you’re in London for 7 or more days then go for a 7-Day zones 1 & 2 Travelcard and some cash to cover any ‘out-of zone travel’.
Oyster has daily price capping so if you make lots of pay as you go journeys in one day, you won’t pay more than the price of an equivalent Day Travelcard.
This is great advice! The fares are also cheaper in Melbourne and the Netherlands, but you have to pay for the card, which means that unless you plan to use it a lot, it isn’t worth it. In London are the Oyster cards free and then you just top them up? London can be such a great deal if you are traveling on a budget, so many wonderful museums to see for free! It’s just the accommodation that gets you there.
Thanks for some fresh perspectives. They’ll nudge me out of my travel-planning ruts. I need a 2-day stopover point returning from Paris to Albuquerque, like Washington, DC. Have any of your readers found great east-coast gems for this purpose?
Thanks for commenting Basia, and we’re really glad you enjoyed the post. DC would make for a great stopover on the east coast of the US- All those wonderful free museums like the Smithsonian offset some of the costs of accommodation. And there is so much free entertainment just walking around New York City and enjoying some incredible and cheap pizza slices, street food, Chinatown, Central Park, etc. Cheers!
BestTravelCoupon.com is a good alternative to ITAsoftware. This site/app uses different search tools and often pulls up lower rates on flights. Also very good on hotel rates.
Hi Travel Pete, thanks so much for sharing that with all of us. It can be hard to keep up nowadays with all the new sites popping up, using different kinds of search methods and having different deals with partners. We’ll check this one out. Cheers!
We take a small travel kettle everywhere, while I duck out to the bakery for a baguette and croissants the kettle is boiled for tea or coffee, the baguette then accompanies the thermos for the lunch picnic
Hi John, that is a great idea! We love checking out the local bakery! You really never know what you might find there as a great treat and it’s never that expensive 🙂
Perhaps consider this site : http://citycentreretreat.com/
They charge landlords less commission so are prices competitive with the big boys.
Hi James, thanks for sharing this short stay holiday link. We’ll look into it. Cheers!
Great tips guys. I’ve been flying frequently, almost every month since May 2000 and I can say that it is not just the US based carriers who keep changing the terms of their frequent flyer schemes. It is a constant maintenance to keep on top of the rules of whichever scheme you are in. However with various travel hacking opportunities there are some opportunities to benefit.
I agree with your suggestion of getting an apartment rather than a hotel. I do this a lot, particularly on business trips to Australia. You have a lot more freedom and can eat in or out at your leisure whilst keep control of costs. I find it more comfortable too since the apartment is more spacious than a hotel room.
Thanks for the comment Guy! When we’ve gone back to visit Australia it’s been mostly confined to the Melbourne area so we always stay with family and friends, given Bell is Aussie and I lived in Melbourne a year too. So Bell and I have yet to do a holiday apartment rental in Australia. We’d certainly be interested to find out who some of the players in that industry are down under and check them out next time. Cheers! 🙂
Awesome tips as always 🙂 I save on food when travelling, were not very picky on food, we do the occasional picnics too or a run down the nearest shop for a quick sandwich. it sounds bad but sometimes, to us, food (or going on proper slow meals) gets in the way of having fun when travelling haha! I also pick airfares when its low season. we almost never travel December-January as it is always peak on both airfares and hotel rates.
Thanks, Jean! Bell and I aren’t so picky with food but we’re pretty huge into the experience of local food. We of course like to do exciting things (and we know what you mean) but we don’t do quite as many adventurous outdoor activities that you guys do. You guys do amazing stuff and it’s so well documented on your blog 🙂 Often we’re more city strollers, and then we do day trips from a city. But every time we have the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing break in the mountains or beach we thoroughly enjoy the change of pace from city living…You guys have the opposite busy season (aside from Christmas/New Year’s). January is cheap for flights in Europe, though there are less flights. But yeah different ball game in Australia!