How to travel cheap and save money without the suffering
Can You Really Travel Cheap and actually have a great vacation? Cheap is a relative term. What is inexpensive travel to some may obviously be pricey to other people. But you can travel more cheaply and avoid low budget hostel and hotel squalor
The actual word ‘cheap travel’ conjures up less than desirable images. But forget the connotations of the word. It does not have to be cheap and nasty.
In fact, it can be cheap and really good. Oddly enough, if you have the time, it can be cheaper to travel longer then it is for short breaks.
How’s that? If you’re looking to do a budget international trip, you have to accept that it will cost money.
However, the good news is that it does not have to mean you take out a second mortgage for the pleasure.
The fallacy of cheap travel is that it is always about the destination being inexpensive. Naturally, some of the cheapest countries to visit in the world are great places to visit.
However, you would be very surprised that it is not always about where you go.
It is very much about how you go. Your planning, research and out of the box thinking can really make a massive difference to the bottom line.
Let’s have a look at how we go can make a huge difference on what we get.
Travel Packages are not always cheaper
All-inclusive does not mean cheap all the time. In fact, that all-inclusive package could be 40-60% more expensive.
If you know enough about traveling, you can certainly plan your own vacation. You can come up with a budget friendly option with airfares, hotels and rentals. It just takes a little bit of homework.
With some clear headed thinking about lay-overs, public transport and exactly what your objective is, you can definitely create a travel bargain.
Take a Last Minute Deal!
Flexibility is a luxury most of us do not have. However, if you do find yourself in that fortuitous position and are totally open-minded about where to go, you can get a really good deal in the 11th hour.
Tour operators have to sell their allotments of travel. As time passes, they start to discount the packages. They do this in order to not be left holding the costs of unsold vacations.
This is the time to leap and grab a deal. There are many websites that specialize in this last minute discounting and a cheap vacation could be yours.
Go against the flow
It stands to reason that you are in the minority if traveling to places when others are not.
The prices from airfares and accommodation will be much cheaper. This basically translates into doing the opposite of the masses.
With budget travel, selecting the shoulder seasons or off-seasons are the time to save your hard earned money. If, for example, you want to go to the Caribbean, you would choose winter time.
While the temperatures will be cool or warm, you take the chance of hurricanes in the September period and rain in December and January. It’s a roll of the dice and that’s why it is off-season.
Comparative Websites are a real help
There are many websites available to make comparisons. This is a great tool for saving travel expenses.
The reason I use HotelsCombined both personally and make it available to visitors on my website is that it really does compare all the prices for you and guarantees the lowest prices.
The hotelcombined search is comprehensive, looking at all the big operators, including Booking.com and coming up with great rates that don’t open a hundred windows on your mobile or tablet to have to look at. It’s all presented on one page.
Skyscanner, and Jetradar which I use on this website along with other flight comparative engines are also incredibly helpful.
Don’t be afraid to use these types of sites. You will be amazed at the hundred dollar differences sometimes with the same flight or hotel.
Planned vacations and date restrictions?
If this is the case, you are obviously not going to travel cheap going last minute. In this scenario, you really have to book far ahead in advance to make the travel savings.
It is all about availability and demand. The higher the demand for a specific destination, the more expensive the package. Getting in early means that you most likely will get the best deal.
However, you can play travel roulette and take a risk. Maybe hoping that the prices go down. Subsequently, chances are, they will not with your specific location in mind.
Research, research, research
I personally have great fun in researching a trip. Maybe that’s just me. It kind of juices me about the destination. I then have equal joy in fashioning a vacation that saves money and is smart.
I decide what my budget is and then start to chisel and mold along those lines. To travel cheap has a real value, to me. It is immensely satisfying.
With internet and search engines, it is not that hard to do research. You look at cities and decide what areas you would like to stay in and see if maybe areas just outside may be more cost effective (with transport and convenience factored in).
You can search star ratings and reviews, identify cheap times to fly, incentive deals available on car rentals and the rest. With some effort and a view to making it fun, you will be able to come up with something affordable and exciting.
Think out of the Box when planning your trip
Once you have identified the cheapest country to visit on your budget, you now need to consider the costs of getting there and the accommodation.
Instead of flying from A-B, take a look at flights from a different airport.
You always pay for convenience. You may just need to travel to another airport (not convenient) and take a flight from that location. The money you could save could be substantial, however.
Direct flights are always more expensive. If you don’t mind spending some time in an airport someplace, a layover is another huge saver in airfares.
Look at accommodation that may be further from the tourist center – it is usually a lot cheaper.
Consider a decent 3 star instead of a five star hotel. Look at renting an apartment or Airbnb. There are many ways to cut costs and not sacrifice on comfort or standards.
Check what you are in for
The travel industry is notorious for hidden costs and small print. Save a fortune by checking everything and take nothing for granted.
Airlines will quote you a fare and then, to your horror, later you’ll discover why the fare may had been so cheap.
Luggage may be extra or the allowance so low that you have to pay for extra. Hotels can sometimes hit you up for wifi and other hidden costs. Check public transport costs like trains and buses (especially in Europe).
Sometimes it’s cheaper buying online. Hence, it can be far more expensive buying from the station.
Your mission should be to walk away from all your travel bookings knowing exactly what the costs are going to be.
No matter how much money you save, it is worthless if the savings mean that your vacation will be ruined by bad operators. It is worth going through reader and consumer reviews. Don’t just use one website as your source, use as many as you can.
No review can singularly be taken on its merit. The business world operates, in part, by a lot of kick-backs and shady dealings.
The review you read may be a staff created review or perhaps even a review that is negative from a competitor.
You want to get an average feel from the many reviews you read. That will be your benchmark.
Penny-Wise. Pound Foolish
The Brits have this great saying. “Penny-wise, Pound foolish”. Penny wise – you are careful with all your pennies but Pound foolish – you end up spending plenty of Pounds.
Basically it is about fools economy. You save on things only to find that those cheap things you saved on end up costing you more
Take a breakfast at a hotel for example. You find hotel A offers breakfast but is 20 Euro more expensive than Hotel B which offers no breakfast. You opt to save on Hotel B. 20 Euro a night is a lot, right?
Well, yes it is. But when you get to the destination, you may find that buying your breakfast off the hotel grounds could cost you more.
Consequently, skipping breakfast will have you snacking during the day and paying way more than budgeted.
That’s a small example. There are many ways to fall into the bad decision category. Hence my constant reminder about research.
Join email lists, Travel Clubs, Frequent Flyer programs If you’re anything like me, I hate being a joiner.
I have no real rationale behind it other than the fact I just don’t like being a part of the flock.
It is my own small psychosis, but I truly have an aversion to anything planned, organized or designed for the masses. My maverick instincts come into action the moment I am “belonging” to something.
However, whilst I was mentally dragged and kicking to this option, I have to confess that joining an online travel club or becoming a member of some organization or being on an email list has proven very beneficial and cost saving.
Some of the frequent flyer programs can be really good, others not so much. I opened a new email account and named it as vacation/travel and I just let the spam roll in.
Yes, you will have to do some sifting through the barrage of stuff that comes your way.
For the most part, I have found some real gems – exclusive offers and discounts through this method. Definitely a plus!
Making a cheap vacation budget
One of the best ways to address your budget is to determine what it would cost you to stay at home.
Let’s say that you include the costs of power, gas, groceries and all the daily costs that come with living.
I have a situation in South Africa (where I live part of the year) where I can temporarily cancel my satellite TV subscription for a period of time, my gym membership and suspend other essential and non-essential services while I am gone.
This means that I can then take those costs out of the equation. What’s left is either rent or bond and investments.
So, let’s suppose my daily living expenses are $100 a day (that is, I have determined this to be the expenses I can suspend while I am out of the country). That means that I have a budget overseas of $100 a day.
If I go for 1 month I will spend $3100. I factor in some allowance over and above of say $30 per day, airfare of $1500 and I will be looking at the real cost of the vacation (i.e. the surplus amount to be paid after my savings on the living expenses) and I know I need to have a vacations savings chest of $2430.
So, to travel internationally, in real terms, the vacation for one full month would be $2430 for my spouse and myself.
For an international trip that’s pretty cheap for 2 people. It is doable for most average earners who have the freedom to take that kind of time off.
If you get creative, you can add to the value of going overseas by renting out your apartment/house for that period of time. This would create added income and budget.
Vital Hacks to get your travel costs lower
- Travel light. If you can get everything in an overnight bag you will save a fortune on checked in luggage fees when flying budget airlines.
- Research everything! The more you know about where you going before you get there, the better. Know the places you can buy less expensive food, costs of transport, how to get from the airport to the accommodation etc. It saves a whack off the budget
- Get walking. New destinations deserve exploration. Walk, see and save on cabs and buses
- Seriously consider renting an apartment or vacation home. Cheaper by 40+% on average than staying at a hotel and buyting food at the grocery store is another huge saver
- Investigate rail and bus cards BEFORE you go. The savings can be substantial
- Pack a lunch as this will stop you spending money when your stomach grumbles.
Doing a house swap to keep the costs down
Also, if you live in an area that could be popular for vacations among foreigners, you can look at the possibility of trading space – you live at theirs and they live at yours. That’s a really cheap way of doing things.
I personally would not be a fan of someone living in my space but it may be something you can live with.
The question is, could you travel overseas for $100 per day including lodging, transport, food, sightseeing and all the incidentals? The answer is a resounding YES!
Look, you are not going to be staying in 5-star resorts at that price but who needs that? You can find comparable accommodation to your daily living standards at home, simply by shopping around.
The secret is that you are looking to enjoy a level of comfort that’s at least on par with the lifestyle you may have when not traveling.
Cheapest deals for accommodation
One of the best methods I use when arranging accommodation is to just cover three days or so for my first week in a destination.
This will give me time to rest up and then take a look at what’s available out and about. The concept here is to find those out of the way B&B’s and small hotels that may have a vacancy for a night or two.
Some people prefer to have it all sorted so they do not spend their vacation looking for accommodation. But you really shouldn’t have to, if you’re smart about it.
Obviously, if you go someplace in high season you’ll get the double whammy of higher prices in most establishments, including restaurants and souvenir stores and also will not have much luck finding cheap lodgings – if any.
The off-season is a good time to travel – usually just on the shoulder of low/offseason. The sights are less crowded, the ambiance is more natural and not touristic and the prices are cheap.
Also, traveling at these times mean cheaper airfares
One of the most effective ways to find your further accommodations, aside from walking the streets, is to take with you a laptop or tablet or simply use your mobile and access the internet.
Check out the HotelsCombined search engine and it will suggest the cheapest accommodation in your vicinity, filtering results from all the big operators like Travelocity, Bookings.com etc.
This approach, described above, will require you to be adventurous and flexible but the rewards outweigh any perceived lack of itinerary or planning.
After all, travel should be an adventure. Going to a 5-star resort may be all well and good but what could you be missing out on
More Tips for cheap travel
- Don’t simply always fly from A-B. Maybe a more creative route will help keep the costs down. Look for arrival and departure points that may be a little off the beaten track but will save you plenty.
- Try an itinerary in the opposite direction of the suggested and accepted routes. Sounds weird but you can definitely score cheaper costs this way.
- Avoid the high seasons. As I already mentioned, keep away from peak seasons. They are not value for money and will always guarantee a crowd.
- Be active with your credit card and frequent flyer points. I have managed 50% and more of my flights with good management of these points and miles. Some buddies of mine have actually got to Europe for free using their points and miles.