I am often asked how I can afford to travel so frequently. I’m not independently wealthy by any means. I do live quite frugally and I am very good at budgeting, although sometimes when I travel I do suffer from budget amnesia.
When I start my trip planning I prepare a pre-travel budget and estimate the cost of the trip. When I return home I compare the budget versus my actual spending because I’m a numbers kind of person and like to keep track of these things. It also helps me plan for future trips.
Over the years I have learned how to keep my travel costs down. Here are five of my best travel tips for anyone looking for more affordable travel.
Take Advantage of Credit Card Travel Rewards Programs
Most credit card travel reward programs have sign-up bonuses offering thousands of points after spending a certain dollar amount on the card. Often the annual fee will be waived for the first year of membership as well. Even if you just use the card for your basic living expenses you will rack up some serious points with the bonus offers.
If you are planning on financing a major purchase such as a house or car within the next couple of years you should not sign up for multiple credit cards no matter what the offer. Your credit rating will take a hit and it could cost you much more than you gained from the signup bonus.
Book Travel During the Shoulder Season
What is the shoulder season? ‘Tis the season for cheaper travel but still decent weather in most places.
The shoulder season is sandwiched between higher costing peak season and the lower-cost but probably-crappy-time-to-go-there-season.
For instance peak season for travel to Europe is during the summer months. Book your travel just before in May or just after peak season in September and you should save money as well as enjoy fewer crowds.
I booked my solo trip to Brazil using frequent flyer miles, mostly acquired from credit card sign-up bonuses, and booked the flight during shoulder season. During high-season flights are generally more expensive and may be over-booked. During shoulder season it is often easier to book flights at an affordable price close to departure date.
Stay in Hostels, Guesthouses, or Privately Rented Accommodations
Most frequently I rent a room or shared room at a hostel. As a solo traveler I find hostels are a great place to meet other travelers to share some conversation and travel experiences.
AirBnB (get your $20 FREE travel credit) is becoming very popular for travelers and I used the site when I booked my trip to Buenos Aires. I wanted to stay near the Palermo neighborhood but I didn’t find any hostels that I liked so I turned to AirBnB and found a room in an apartment in Palermo Hollywood neighborhood.
I rented a bedroom in a 2 bedroom unit and enjoyed shared access to the kitchen, living room, and bathroom. The owner was living there but worked during the daytime so I had plenty of privacy.
I also enjoyed the added benefit of her advice and information about Buenos Aires. I had my very own personal tourist information center right there in the living room. The price was $418 for my 10 night stay in Buenos Aires in November 2011.
Research What Types of Events or Sites are Free
When planning my trips I borrow travel guides from the library and either bring the book with me or make a list of the things I might like to see. There are usually several free things to do so I take note of any that interest me.
Search the internet for “free things to do in….” and see what you find.
Ask at your hotel or hostel for any free events during your stay.
In Cartagena, Colombia I enjoyed all of the following for free:
- Touring the Walled City which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Admittance to the Museo del Oro (GoldMuseum)
- Teatro Heredia, a beautiful old opera house, I attended a theatrical performance
- Teatro Heredia I enjoyed a ballet performance
- Teatro Heredia – Jazz concert featuring students from Colombia as well as Virginia Commonwealth University
- Festival de las Artes concert featuring 7 different bands playing various types of music from big band to modern to traditional
Make Some of Your Own Meals
I often splurge on meals when traveling but sometimes I need to rein in spending so I economize by making some of my own meals. When I book my accommodation I often check the area for nearby grocery stores so that I can shop in the neighborhood.
An added benefit to staying at a hostel or private accommodation is the access to a kitchen. You can spend a few dollars at the supermarket and cook up a veggie stir fry or a big fat steak and eggs.
I eat very healthy foods at home although when I travel I have a tendency to eat whatever I like. For a healthy breakfast I’ll go to the supermarket and buy some fresh fruit, cheese, and yogurt. I also pack snack foods such as pumpkin seeds, raisins or dates which are good to have on hand for day trips or while in-transit.
I hope these 5 tips help you on your way to affordable travel in the future.
Find more solo travel tips here.
I learn a lot from other travelers so if you have any money saving tips for travel please leave a comment!