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Are you yearning for more than a once-a-year vacation to somewhere amazing? In 2018, I completely revamped my approach to trip planning. The result: I visited five international destinations, two US national parks and three US cities…all while working full-time. Interested in how I afford to travel? Here are 13 of the very best travel hacks—courtesy of top travel bloggers— so you can travel more in the next 12 months…
- 1. Book Cheap Flights
- 2. Extend a Business Trip
- 3. Save, Save, Save!
- 4. Use Travel Guidebooks
- 5. Travel on a Budget—Work Remotely
- 6. Home Exchange
- 7. House Sit or Pet Sit
- 8. Eat In on Your Trip
- 9. Take Long Weekends
- 10. Steal Tour Itineraries
- 11. Find Free Things to Do!
- 12. Use Travel Credit Cards
- 13. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
1. Book Cheap Flights
Travel smarter! One of the most expensive ways to travel is to choose a destination and a date (particularly in high season) and then book tickets. I did this myself for so many years! These days I’m all about more affordable world travel. I watch for flight deals and then choose my dates and destination accordingly. This is how I booked roundtrip nonstop flights LAX to Barcelona for $340 and roundtrip tickets LAX to New Zealand with a stop in French Polynesia for $1000 each. (A fare that also included THREE days at a resort in Tahiti!)
So how do you do this exactly? One of my favorite ways is to sign up for emails on flash sales at Scott’s Cheap Flights. It’s free to sign up and you won’t be spammed. This works well if you are prepared to buy within a day or two of the sale (even if the actual a trip will occur many months later). Or, let’s say you have some dates for travel but can be flexible on the destination. Try Skyscanner. This handy website lets you click on “anywhere” to see what’s on sale. Get complete details in my post on 5 Ways to Save on Airfare.
2. Extend a Business Trip
contributed by Jackie and Justin at Life of Doing
Some people may dread going on business trips, but we love them! There is something special about taking a flight to your next destination, accomplishing your work goals, and even taking an extra one to two days (or a weekend) to explore the area. It’s one of the best ways to travel. We always prioritize paid time off since traveling is important. Your company paid for your round trip flight, so you’ve saved money. Plus your hotel accommodations may extend the discounted business rate for your personal stay.
A work colleague may even become your unofficial local tour guide…introducing you to their favorite restaurants and local attractions. Otherwise, it’s easy to plan your own sightseeing activities and have new experiences! One of our most memorable trips was when we stayed for a weekend after working in Boston, Ma. It was fun to try lobster rolls and seafood, walk along the Freedom Trail in the snow, and meet up with friends who lived in the area.
Take advantage of business trips to travel more. You never know when you’ll be back to visit. In the meantime, enjoy a life of travel courtesy of your day job!
3. Save, Save, Save!
Do you want to travel but have no money to do it? These days I buy very little that isn’t travel related. Once I realized how far a little extra cash could take me, I resolved to cut out my trips to Starbucks and shopping for shoes. It’s almost counterintuitive: Wouldn’t a new pair of boots bring me more pleasure than a trip that’s over in two weeks? And yet, I find it’s just the opposite.
My travel photos are my most important souvenirs. I revisit them often and am instantly transported back to some of the most amazing days I have spent on this planet…to the top of Fox Glacier in New Zealand and the lavender fields in Provence to a memorable meal in Tuscany or snorkeling with sharks on Moorea.
So devise a saving strategy that’s effective for you. The act of actually planning a trip is what motivates me most to save. And one of the best ways to do that is to indulge your travel fantasies on Pinterest by pinning inspirational travel photos, potential itineraries, or foodie destinations. Then set a savings goal with a plan to make a monthly deposit to a dedicated travel fund. Keep planning that dream to stay motivated to sacrifice fewer meals out or forgo other luxuries. There’s lots of ways to travel on the cheap, too. Just read on!
4. Use Travel Guidebooks
contributed by Sally at Our3kidsvtheworld
There are lots of ways to travel the world. One of the best ways we save money is by using guide books to travel independently which enables us to travel more frequently, like we did during our trip to Myanmar. My guide book of choice is Lonely Planet: with detailed information, maps and recommendations for nearly every attraction in every city.
Best of all are the restaurant recommendations, from budget to high end cuisine…You’ll learn about the cheapest and best eats in town. This approach has often saved us from hiring guides; we just take our Lonely Planet books, hit the pavement and see what we can find. (Otherwise, traveling with a family of five can get pricy with guided tours.)
Frequently, we cut down on weight in the backpack by leaving the book itself in the hotel. Instead, we just snap a photo of the relevant pages on our iPhones of the places we want to visit. Then we add it to google maps and head out on foot. One of my favorite aspects of these guide books is that accommodation recommendations have been vetted by the authors who have actually stayed there.
Options typically range from budge to luxury. ( I love a luxury stay!) Also, the guide books are sorted into geographical areas so it’s easy and convenient to find a restaurant recommendation close to where you are staying. All the hard work is done for you!
5. Travel on a Budget—Work Remotely
contributed by Maire at Temples and Treehouses
Wondering how to afford to travel more with a full time job? Get a job that travels! If you’ve got limited vacation time, consider negotiating remote work from another country. It’s one of the best ways to travel more often when time is a challenge.
International companies with offices around the world are often surprisingly happy to let employees work from another country, especially when you present a plan on how you’re going to share ideas and benefit your role while on the job. And then you can spend all your evenings and weekends exploring and going on day trips!
Another bonus is that slow travel is a lot cheaper. So if you want to travel on a budget, this is a great way to do it. In fact, if you can stay in one place for a month, you can get huge automatic discounts on Airbnb apartments. Many home owners offer savings of 30 percent or more when you book to stay for at least a month.
At my previous job, I negotiated a three month-stint working from my company’s Barcelona office. I ended up staying in an amazing little apartment in the central Born neighbourhood for a fraction of my London house share rent. (Concerned about not speaking the language? Don’t be. It’s easy to get around language barriers with a little creative thinking.)
6. Home Exchange
If you own a home, you may be pleasantly surprised about the (literal) doors it can open when it comes to how to afford traveling abroad. Here’s how it works: You list your home on one of the home exchange websites first. My favorite is homeexchange.com, but there are many others.
Concerned that you don’t live in a tourist hot spot? You might be pleasantly surprised to find travelers who are interested in visiting your area. (Find out with a “reverse search” on homeexchange.com. Search for homes in areas you’d like to visit whose owners are also interested in your area.) Perhaps someone has a daughter in college or an old friend in your area. Maybe there’s a business connection. I heard about a French family who traded their chateau for an Airstream trailer based in Michigan once. They’d always wanted to do a U.S. roadtrip!
It’s all about finding a home, an area, and a traveler or family who feel like a fit for you. (Or consider swapping hospitality stays for a truly local experience…You stay in their home for free while they are there and then return the favor.) For the complete scoop, see my post on home exchange 101.
7. House Sit or Pet Sit
Talk about traveling on a budget…We’ve been traveling full-time for two and a half years and have had housesitting gigs for 6 months of that time. It has saved us so much money! We pay no rent or bills when we’re housesitting.
As animal lovers and pet owners, we knew we would be a good fit for housesitting. We are a family of three and started housesitting when our daughter was seven. I think it helps having a slightly older child; however we do know other families with younger children who have also housesat.
It has so many benefits besides saving money. As you are staying in someone’s house, there is often really good wifi which can otherwise be a challenge when traveling. As a digital nomad family, we rely on a good internet connection. You’ll also usually find a fully-equipped kitchen.
And then there’s the joy of being around a furry/feathered friend. Our daughter loves animals and really misses our pets, so having temporary pets is wonderful for her! She has learned so much about caring for different kinds of animals as we have looked after all sorts of pets.
Our top tip for getting housesitting gigs: Get good references. Pet owners need to be able to trust you and know that you will look after their animal family. The best way? Try volunteering at an animal shelter or walking your neighbor’s dog.
(You can also hire a free house sitter for your own pets while traveling to save on kennel expenses. It’s free. Check out Trusted Housesitters to explore both options.)
8. Eat In on Your Trip
It is always more fun to go out to eat whilst you travel, but if you want to travel more often, consider cooking some meals. As you venture out to different countries, one of the great ways to connect with the local way of life is to shop where they shop and eat accordingly. Not only you will discover the ins and outs of the local culture, but you will also save big bucks!
When we travel to different countries, we like to stay in Airbnbs to feel a part of a neighborhood. We always choose an accommodation with a good kitchen and close to the shops. Then we choose breads and pastries from nearby bakeries or patisseries, get our essentials at nearby small supermarkets and find the freshest fruit and veg at weekly farmer’s markets.
Our kids love it when we find foods that they have never seen before. Every country has their own delicacies, so why not have a taste? Be adventurous! My recommendation is: Get to know the locals, their cuisine, and their recipes. Cook up memorable meals while you cut your food budget in half. And as you travel more with the extra dollars that you’ll save, you’ll only grow richer through your experiences and your memories.
9. Take Long Weekends
Unless you are your own boss, most of us face the challenge of limited time off when planning trips. In fact, in some countries, avid travelers can feel stuck working with only two weeks or a month of time off annually. Here’s what to do: Take advantage of holiday weekends. Public holidays frequently deliver an extra day for a free long weekend to travel. (Or even a four-day weekend.) Best of all, it’s easy to advance plan travel since the Human Resources Department of a company can often share published holiday dates a year in advance.
While a long weekend can feel short, it’s also a great way to sample somewhere new. While working in the United States, I used numerous long weekends to check out new neighboring states and major cities. (Martha’s Vineyard is an easy weekend from NYC, for instance.) Then when winter rolled around, I turned my attention to scenic ski resorts across the country.
Now that I live in South Korea, I use long weekends to travel to completely different countries and have since traveled to Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines. While it may sound daunting, those published holidays mean early planning for saving money on advance tickets. So if you’re short on time, use long weekends to scratch that travel itch!
10. Steal Tour Itineraries
My biggest time saver and money saving hack for luxury travel on a budget both time and money wise is to use the big tours as my planning aid. I take the tour I would love to do and dismantle the itinerary. Here’s how: I look at where they stay, where they go, and the route they take.
Then I research the hotels used and the tour companies they partner with, as there is usually a third party involved. Next, I choose the locations that I would love to visit and piece them together to fit my budget and time limitations. This way I can have my dream adventure on my terms.
On numerous occasions, this approach has helped me fit a week-long trip into an available weekend For instance, once I condensed a weeklong tour in Finland down to three nights. I stayed in the same hotel, but rather than repeat activities I’d done in the past, I looked for new activities offered by the same tour operator.
So instead of visiting the reindeer farm I’d seen before, I went dog sledding and cross country skiing. The savings by booking myself? Over €500 to enjoy the most meaningful activities to me. And that allowed me to save my annual leave from work (and money) to spend on longer trips that tour companies just don’t offer.
11. Find Free Things to Do!
contributed by Patrick at Germanbackpacker.com
One advice I could give you to have a better travel experience and how to travel on the cheap is focusing on authentic, free things to do and visit at your destination. If I visit a new city, I love attending a “free walking tour” – these tours are typically funded only by tips, guaranteeing you an engaging and fun guide.
I’ve always enjoyed memorable experiences on these tours, since it’s also an easy opportunity to get to know other travelers and gain local insights. It’s a great way to meet other solo travelers too. After the tour is over, most people are normally looking for a place to eat, connect and grab a bite together.
While couch surfing is mostly known as a website connecting travelers with locals who host tourists for free, I’ve also used the app many times just as a way to connect with locals over a meal or activity while staying at my hotel. You’ll always meet excited and open-minded locals on Couchsurfing who are more than willing to show you around the city or meet you for a drink.
I’ve made some good friends this way! For example during my recent visit to London, I had beers with a few locals and travelers who I met online. They’re friends now. And in places where it might be a bit harder to meet other travelers—like in Yekaterinburg (Russia) or Khartoum (Sudan)—I just posted a public message on the city board explaining that I’d be in town on certain dates. Locals always reached out offering to meet me and to show me around.
12. Use Travel Credit Cards
What better way to rack up free airline miles and hotel stays than with the money you’re already spending on other monthly expenses? That’s where travel credit cards come in. There’s a whole array of cards that come with different benefits and costs. (You can find a current round-up of best values here.) What they have in common is that they reward travel, frequently offering two or three times the points on travel-related purchases and generous sign-up bonuses. You can then pay for hotel or airfares with points instead of cash.
This is also a perfect example of how I combine many of the travel hacks listed above to earn free travel. We’re headed to a beautiful home in Provence, France next fall for two weeks. It’s a home exchange that’s owed to us so there is no cost. I’ll be watching for flash sales from Scott’s Cheap Flights (mentioned earlier) from LAX or SAN to Nice or Paris.
When there’s a deal, I’ll be paying for that sale airfare and car rental with the points I’ve racked up from Chase. We’ll stock the kitchen from the local farmer’s market and save on meals. Unless we go crazy with restaurant splurges, that two weeks in the South of France will cost the same as staying home!
The card that’s right for you will depend on your travel and spending habits. (Don’t forget to choose a card that has no foreign transaction fees.) As an American who loves long weekend getaways in the states, I was thrilled to qualify for two years of free companion fares on Southwest Airlines by combining sign-up bonuses on a business and personal card last year.
My other favorite travel credit card is Chase SapphireReserve. It comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, but $300 of that is credited back to you with travel-related purchases. You also earn a 50,000 point sign-up bonus by meeting certain spend thresholds.
The $150 in fees you’ll actually pay provides airport lounge access, one free application for Global Entry annually (expedited US customs), and outstanding travel insurance (including primary rental car insurance and travel delays or cancellations). It’s been worth every penny!
13. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
When I’m between trips and feeling that wanderlust grip me, there’s just one thing to do: See my own town with fresh eyes. Have you actually been to those famous landmarks that tourists visit in your area? Have you explored attractions that make for an easy day trip? One year when our kids were young and money was tight, we planned a staycation in our area where we went on a day hike to the mountains, visited Disneyland, spent time at the beach, and ate out at local restaurants that were family favorites.
What about a walking tour with a local guide? Or a food tour? Resist the temptation to spend weekends at home doing errands and laundry. Try new restaurants. Explore a new neighborhood. The sky’s the limit!
Need more inspiration to travel more? Check out my interview with Nomadic Matt, who roams the globe as a full-time digital nomad.
“It’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times.”