I’m a total travel whore. When I worked for cruise ships, long after the glamour of the life had faded, I stuck with the company because each new contract had places I hadn’t seen. I put up with a lot of unpleasantness to continue to be shipped off to exotic new places.
After five years of sea life and one year of living abroad in England, I hopped on a train and rode the rails around America, getting to know my own country better. Then I tried to stay in one place, if anywhere could tie me down, it would be New York City, right? But it turns out I’m permanently restless and quickly left that job to hop in a van and travel the USA again – hunting roadside attractions and national parks on my days off.
All that time wandering the world has led to friends everywhere – schoolmates in the UK, crewmates in the Philippines, theater technicians in South Africa… Thanks to all this experience, I’ve learned a lot about how to keep costs down when traveling by apply these rules whenever I go on vacation myself (or when I head off to go visit one of them):
- Book early.
I’m not gonna lie, there are some fabulous last minute deals for flexible travelers, but for most folks, if you’re set on the time and place you want to go, the best financial option is to lock that down early on. Book your flights and hotels months in advance. According to The Huffington Post, 54 days before your flight is usually the best time to book for domestic flights. The same survey they refer to there found that tickets cost, on average, $200 more, if booked in the last 7 days before the flight and $75 more if booked between 7 and 13 days before the flight. You can check hotel deals at sites like Traveloka if you’re headed somewhere in Southeast Asia.
- Check out bundled deals.
Planning what to do when you get to your destination can be nearly as stressful as it can be fun. There are big tour companies like Viator that organize tours around the world, but they can be pretty expensive (I know, I just took a $620 one) – and it’s not that they’re not worth it, but they can certainly be prohibitive if you’re on a tight budget. Big cities often have amazing things called City Passes, a quick internet search can let you know if your destination has one. If you want to hit up the tourist highlights of the city, these passes can usually get you some great deals. Additionally, they give a narrowed down list of things to try to see. Whenever I get a City Pass, I make sure it has my “must see” stops on it, then I look at how much time I still have to fill, check out the maps they almost always provide to see what else is in the vicinity of the things I was already going to see and build my plans off of them. It help keeps the task from being overwhelming and I’ve seen some really cool and unexpected things because of each one I’ve bought.
- Always Google “Free CITY.”
It’s always worth spending a few minutes searching the internet for free things to do in the city you’ll be in. I recently saw a really cool fire lighting ceremony and hula show at Waikiki Beach because I knew if we happened to be there at 6 PM, they do it every day and we should hang around and wait to see it. It cost us nothing and was really neat. Every city has some hidden charms that someone, somewhere has blogged about!
- Check for loyalty cards.
Make sure you have every free frequent flier and hotel chain card you can find. Very few of the miles and points expire, so you’re essentially just throwing away money by not using them. Even if you don’t plan on flying anywhere soon, you can exchange your frequent flier points for free magazines and other goodies (it’s how I’ve gotten Kiplinger’s for free for years).
- Pack right.
It sounds silly and obvious, but making sure you pack the right items is crucial to not getting nickeled and dimed on your trip. If you’re hitting up the beach, leave enough room for an extra tube of sunscreen in that suitcase. It’s so much cheaper to pick up at your local drugstore that in a beach city where they know the tourists will pay 3X the normal amount to not burn. My cousin recently returned from Thailand and had us all laughing at he recounted how incredibly cheap everything is there except sunscreen, a bottle of which cost him nearly $30 that he was happy to fork over rather than burn to a crisp (though well done, Thai entrepreneurs). Even simple things like forgetting toothpaste can be a pain to remedy in some hours – you may have to pay for a taxi to get you to a store or pay the hotel convenience store mark up.