You might think that having a full time job would make traveling more affordable, but that’s not always the case.
Traveling in short spurts can be much more expensive than traveling slowly over a long period of time, if you’re not careful. You’re more likely to stay in expensive hotels and eat out at expensive restaurants. You try to pack as much in as possible in a short period of time, resulting in a much thinner wallet.
Sure, you could turn to a life of full-time travel – but what if you don’t want to? What if you want to travel more, but maintain your job security? What if you like your job?
What if you want it all? A job and travel.
All of a sudden, travel opportunities seem a lot more limited. Not just by time, but by money.
I don’t make a lot of money. In fact, total disclosure, when I left teaching (and we all know how well-paid teachers are) I took a $10,000 pay cut (totally worth it to save my sanity) and gave up my summer vacation.
Despite that, I’ve traveled more in my current job than I ever did as a teacher.
So how do I do it? How does anyone do it?
You prioritize, and you make your money work for you.
To show you that it really is possible to afford frequent travel, even with a lot of smaller trips, I decided to pull together tips and tricks from part-timers like me, who are making travel their priority in creative, affordable ways.
Take a look at their advice, check out their blogs for more travel tips, and add your own insights to the comments! And the next time you’re wondering how to afford part-time travel, remember that it is definitely possible.
Saving up for your next trip
Every trip is going to cost some money, no matter how much you curb the expensive spending. Even so, there are ways to bring trip costs within the realm of possibility, and it helps if you start preparing early.
Be flexible on location! If you want to travel, but don’t care where you can find some really great deals. Skyscanner‘s “Everywhere” feature can show you the best & cheapest places to go all over the world on any particular week or weekend. Also the App “GTFO”–Get The Flight Out–has great deals to fly anywhere immediately! Call the days off from work ahead of time and then decide, you may find yourself heading to a place you never expected, but fall in love with.
The best advice I have to save for travel is setting aside a bit of money each pay check. I opened an entirely separate travel savings account. With every pay check, I transfer over $100 into the account. By the time I’m ready to take a major trip, there’s enough money inside the account to pay for it! Where do I get an extra $100 per month? Well, I make sure to save in simple ways in my daily life. I canceled our cable TV subscription, I try to prepare my meals at home as often as possible, and I try to make my own coffee and tea rather than stopping at Starbucks every day.
Really do your research beforehand–about a culture, place, and its people. The value of any trip–in another country or continent–increases tenfold when you put time and attention into your destination. What you put out there, you get in return.
I definitely subscribe to the travel fund philosophy. I went in debt after a trip to Ireland in 2013, and vowed to travel more responsibly after that. I began socking away $100 – $200 a month, and as a result I’ve been able to afford so much more. I paid for my entire trip to Europe last summer out of pocket thanks to that account.
It also helps to put yourself in the mindset of what things cost on the road. When out at a restaurant, if there’s an item on the menu that costs $30, I have to tell myself, “Okay, I can have that. Or I can use that same $30 to pay for a night in a pretty decent hostel.” It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s okay to buy that steak, if that’s what you want — but if what you really want is to afford travel, it might be worth sticking to the salad.
Getting into the points game
The most lucrative way to traveling to far-off lands on the cheap is still by using points and miles. Even with airlines devaluing their points left and right, it still makes travel incredibly feasible for people who simply don’t have the money. Their programs are free to sign up for, and you get points/miles every time you travel, so there’s really no reason not to. You can even go the extra step and get a credit card that allows you to earn more.
If you haven’t started taking advantage of the award programs that airlines, hotels, and even train companies offer, now’s the time to get on board.
We do everything we can to collect JetBlue points. While it’s not the best reward system, it’s our go-to airline out of Boston. We have the American Express JetBlue credit card, then link up everything from flower deliveries to Hilton hotel accounts to the points online. We earn double this way. You can also earn by simply switching some of your everyday items, even your electric bill! We get to fly for free a few times a year with this strategy at no extra cost, just a little grunt work.”
First and foremost, to make my travel affordable I made the decision to apply for and obtain an Delta AMEX Skymiles card. I put every expense I possibly can on this card to earn miles toward travel. You can sign up for a dining site where you go to restaurants on the list and earn up to 5 miles per dollar, and they have promotions throughout the year where you can earn additional miles.
I haven’t paid for a flight since 2004 and I have been to Europe twice, taken many trips to St. Martin, the west coast of the U.S., Denver, Florida, Alabama, among others. All I paid were the taxes and fees. It cost me $60.00 per person to fly first class!
My recommendation is that you sign up for as many point programs as possible — with a particular emphasis on what’s near you. Which airports fly out of your local hub? If you stay in hotels, which chains do you tend to book at? Then, to keep track of all your programs, get an account over at Award Wallet. It’s a great little tool that syncs all of your programs in one place, so that you can keep track of how many miles you have and when they expire.
And if you’re curious, my cards of choice are the CHASE Sapphire Preferred card and the Barclay Arrival Plus. The airlines I try to sock miles away with are Frontier, United, and Southwest, since they all fly out of Houston pretty regularly. Tara focuses on JetBlue points since they opened a route between Houston and her hometown of Boston.
Spend less, enjoy yourself more
It’s easy to forget yourself while traveling and dump a whole lot of money in a short time span. Souvenirs, meals out, and tours cost a ton of money. Melody, from Wherever I May Roam, offers a few key insights:
Never order beverages out, water is free and that saves a ton of money. Split meals with someone, as they are often too large and food goes to waste.Volunteer to help with local theaters, auditoriums, etc. where you get to see the shows for free, take the bus and read blogs to see how the tried and true travelers save money.
Also, learn what places have lunch/dinner specials. That can add up.
Melody also shared her experiences saving money by taking the bus or train. I can definitely vouch for that, and even add that when given the choice, take the public bus — not a tour bus! When visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia we could have gone through a tour company for upwards of 70 Euros. Instead we took the public bus system and paid something like 30 Euros. Huge savings!
If you’re smart about where you lodge you can save money on food. Our apartment in Dubrovnik, Croatia came with a full kitchen, so we were able to cook some of our meals at home and have breakfast foods on hand, which kept costs low.
Also, it’s worth taking the time to open a bank account with Charles Schwab. Their checking accounts are free of foreign transaction fees and, even better, don’t charge ATM fees, no matter where you are in the world. That meant that when I was faced with a cash only pub in Ljubljana, Slovenia, I didn’t have to worry about ridiculous extra charges. As an added bonus, it means I’m not walking around with as much cash in my pocket.
Ditching the traditional hotel
After flights, the most expensive part of any trip is typically lodging. Not to worry — there are ample opportunities to save in this arena too!
Travel can become very affordable once you take advantage of free accommodations — yes, you read that right: FREE! If you’re open to meeting locals abroad and open to sleeping in whatever space they may have available, try Couchsurfing.org. Otherwise, if you want a bigger place of your own for a longer period of time, opt for Trusted House Sitters wherein you do house or pet(s) sitting while the home owners are away.
How much do you think it would cost to stay in a two-bedroom suite at the Wyndham Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, just four stops away on the yellow line from the L’enfant station in Washington DC, close to the National Mall, for a week?
If you think you could not possibly afford it, think again. Our family of four plus the grandparents paid $699.00 during the 2014 April vacation for two connected one-bedroom suites, each with a king size bed, a sofabed, and fully equipped kitchen. There was plenty of room for all six of us, for mere $100 a night.
Our secret? We bought that stay on eBay. Few people think of eBay when planning a vacation, but this popular “consumer-to-consumer & business-to-consumer sales” website also lists timeshare stays, very often at quite attractive prices. Next time you’re looking for lodging at an attractive location, do a search on eBay for location’s name and “timeshare,” “lodging,” or “vacation” and see what comes up.
For road trips, my most frequent part time travel opportunity, I find that lodging is the biggest expense. To minimize lodging costs, when I do not stay for free with friends or a Couchsurfing host, I become very resourceful. When I pay my own way, I tend to stay at independent motels instead of chain hotels. They cost less, offer more space, the staff members are friendlier, and WiFi is usually free. I use a couple of apps, including Hotel Coupons, to find the lowest area rates and I even negotiate rates with hotel staff.
I just recently became an Airbnb junkie, and I’ve had luck with Travelocity for lodging as well. Honestly, the idea of staying in a hotel is downright laughable these days, except in a few particular circumstances. There’s really no benefit when you can have an entire apartment for much less money! If you haven’t given Airbnb a try, I highly recommend it. Click the image below for a discount off your first visit!
I’m also a big fan of camping. I don’t mind getting out the tent and spending a night on the ground, and I have a deep appreciation for time outside. On road trips or short weekend trips, I often look for campgrounds in the area, which can cost as little as $10/night.
Affordable travel is possible!
There are a lot of different ways to make travel affordable. When it comes down to it, though, it really is all about mindset. Unless you’re willing to put in some work and forethought, and make the conscious effort to spend less, it’s easy to fall into expensive traps. So don’t forget to ask yourself before every purchase — do you really need it? Will it add value to the trip and, if so, is that the only way you can add that value? Or is there another, more cost effective, alternative?
How do you save money, either while on vacation or leading up to it? Add your tips to the comments section!