If I were to ask a random group of people about what prevents them from traveling, do you know what the overwhelming response would be?
Not lack of time or interest.
Not because they have small kids or pets at home.
It’s because of money.
Yet they often tell me how much they wish they too could take off for a week or more to [enter your favorite destination here]. What they don’t understand is that they can.
Traveling – whether for a weekend, a week, or a year – does not have to be a luxury affair. With proper planning and budgeting, you can make that dream vacation or career break a reality.
So where should you begin?
Here are eight great tips to get started.
Make Travel a Priority – The reason I travel so often is because I want to more than I want to do other things. That means I’m more willing to put money aside for this purpose. Until you’re willing to make travel a priority, it won’t be.
That’s a fact.
Set Realistic Budget Expectations – Once you’ve decided you are willing to make that long weekend in the big city a priority, it’s time to get real about what it might cost you. This will help you keep your budget in line as you start to plan your trip. Lodging and food are the two biggest travel costs (aside from airfare) that you’ll incur. They are also the two biggest variables that you can control.
Something else to consider is the cost of your destination. Some cities in the U.S. are more expensive than others; SE Asia is typically less expensive than W. Europe. I work with budget travelers, luxury travelers, and everyone in between. Having a realistic budget for your category of travel ensures that you are able to travel comfortably and stretch your dollar as YOU see fit!
Make Your Credit Cards Work for You – Don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT advocating that you open a credit card and charge your vacation to it without the means to pay it off without incurring thousands in interest charges. I AM advocating that if your current credit card isn’t earning you any miles or exchangeable points – dump it.
If you don’t have one already, I recommend opening a credit card with any of the major airlines that you fly frequently (United, AA, Delta). Upon opening a new account, you can typically earn 30,000-50,000 miles after you spend ~$1000 in purchases that you would have made anyway. That’s a free roundtrip in the U.S. or to Europe! An added benefit of most of these cards also include no foreign transaction fees and some premium benefits (free checked bag) on the affiliated airline. Those are other savings that can quickly add up!
Trim Unnecessary Expenses – So you want to take that trip of a lifetime to Machu Picchu. You’ve set your budget and you just opened airline-affiliated credit card. Now what? Unless you have an unlimited amount of disposable income (which I don’t), it’s time to start cutting back on costs temporarily.
It might mean reducing the number of nights you eat/go out with friends, negotiating lower rates for your cable and/or cell phone bills, switching to public transportation where possible, putting off your shopping spree, and curbing your Starbucks addiction. It may seem overwhelming, but it’s only temporary and isn’t that trip worth it?
Be Flexible – Americans, especially, have so little vacation time so it’s important to make it count. That being said, one of the best ways to keep travel affordable is to be flexible to the extent you can. If you know you don’t want to spend more then $800 on airfare, then keeping your dates open allows you to monitor deals and airfare specials to book when it’s convenient for you.
Alternatively, if you travel during the off-season you will often find lower rates and fewer crowds. The weather may not be the warmest or the driest, but it can be the most affordable.
Book Alternate Accommodations – If a hotel room at $120/night is not part of your budget, then book something else. Hostels are a great alternative to the traditional hotel stay, as are apartment rentals, guesthouses, and bed & breakfasts. Make sure to vet things properly through reputable sources such as Curious Tourist or other online rating sites, like Tripadvisor. Some travel experts recommend couch surfing – because it’s free – and because it provides an opportunity to really integrate as a local. This is not ideal for everyone, but it is a viable option for those who are looking to travel on the cheap and meet new people along the way.
Eat Like a Local – Locals don’t dine at 5* hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants. Locals eat in cozy, neighborhood locales and so should you. Not only will it likely be the best meal of your life, but you’ll feel more like part of your surroundings and less like a tourist. I’m also a BIG fan of street food. Not only is it really good, but I’ve found I’m less prone to get sick watching my meal cooked in front of me in New Delhi, India than eating in some of the nicest hotels where I’ll never know if they washed the vegetables or not.
(In full disclosure I like to splurge on at least one “fancy meal” during any trip.)
Join Frequent Flyer/Point Programs – This is the 2nd most effective way to reduce travel costs. If you travel any airline at least twice a year, join their frequent flyer program. If you travel for work, sign up for every airline or hotel loyalty program (unless otherwise prohibited) so that you can accrue miles/points with each trip.
I fly at least 50,000 miles each year for my day job. I haven’t paid for an international flight in years.
Travel, unlike other hobbies or interests, doesn’t require any pre-requisites, specialized skills, or your life savings. With these tips, you can look forward to a fun, relaxing, and affordable vacation.