Hey y’all Karen and Raymond here! Today we are sharing all of our secrets on how we travel on a budget. This is probably my favorite blog post we’ve ever written together. In the past 5 years we’ve been incredibly blessed to have traveled to beautiful places we only dreamt of seeing. Some of our favorites include Hawaii, Spain, Cayman Islands, London, Paris, Portugal, Jamaica and The Bahamas. We’ve done all of this on a tight budget so without further ado, here are all of our best tips and tricks on how we book flights, find hotels and budget all of our expenses prior to departure. We’ll take you from start to finish on how we have planned all of our trips and still have money left over when we come back.
If you’re rich and have money to blow clearly this post will not make sense, hence the title. I wish I was you.
Some of Our Travels
How to Budget Your Money to Book a Trip
First things first, to be able to travel you must be on a budget year round. Yes, you read that right, year round. Meaning Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, the summer, the weekends you name it. Budgeting is key. Budgeting can be tough and not always fun. It takes discipline but eventually it gets a easier when you’re dreaming of a trip to Hawaii.
Trusting that you’re reading this blog post with a destination in mind, take a look at your budget and see what you can tighten the rails on or simply cut out completely. You need to come up with some money to book your flight and hotel first. Do some research and come up with a dollar amount you’ll need to book the flight and hotel. Let’s say you need $1,000 to book. You need to come up with money to book the trip first and put it on the calendar. This doesn’t include food, transportation, entertainment, clothes for your trip etc. Saving for all of those additional expenses comes after you know you’re actually going. Here are a couple of things to look into to help you save money to book the flight and hotel.
- Subscriptions – Are you signed up for Amazon Prime or Apple Music? Take a good look and see if you’re actually using it or if you can live without it for a while. Cutting subscription based services can save you up to $50 a month that you can move to a travel savings account. That’s $300 in 6 months.
- Eating Out – Oh boy this is a tough one. Be honest with yourself…how much are you actually spending on eating out each week? Yes, this includes Starbucks! Just to give you some perspective, is it fair to say you eat out 5 times a week including the weekends? That may sound like a lot but I know people who eat out every day. This is specially true if you’re single. Let’s say you spend on average $10 a meal, thats $50 a week and $200 a month. Now, cut that by 50-70%. Trust me when I tell you, when you’re in front of the Eiffel Tower, you will not be thinking “Ahh man, I wish I would’ve eaten out more this year”. All those fast food trips you replaced with eating at home will pay off. Just to give you some insight, when we’re saving money to book a trip, we go out to eat once or twice a week at the most and have a strict dollar amount we cannot go over.
Pro Tip: To help you stay on track, print a picture of where you want to go and put it on your fridge or somewhere you’ll see it every day. If you’re having a hard time, stare at it for a couple of minutes and think of how badly you want this.
Travel Apps for Flights & Accommodations
There is one app we use to monitor flight costs and have used it for the last couple of trips. It’s called the Hopper app. You input the dates you want to travel and it will alert you when flight prices drop or increase. For example, we wanted to go to Cancun for Christmas but the Hopper app showed flight prices at $400+ for December and $200+ for January. We decided to look into January instead. The app notifies you when there’s a change in price and will say something like, “Wait to book, we predict better prices in future” or “Book now, this is likely the best price”. As soon as we’re notified of the best price, we book.
We use Expedia to book all of our trips. I’ve found it’s the easiest travel site to use and the prices are great. Once I see the flight price in the Hopper app, I sign in to Expedia and book a package of flight and hotel with the airline that has the best price Hopper showed me. Like many travel sites, you can also earn points for booking with Expedia. It’s not very much but if you stick to using just one site consistently, they can add up and you can use those rewards to book hotels at a discount.
Pro Tip: If you don’t live in a city with a large international airport, research the flight cost from the closest large international airport to you. For example, if you live in smaller city and a flight to The Bahamas is $500 but that same flight is $350 from a city 3 hours away, what you can do is rent a car for $50 round trip to that airport. A round trip flight and car rental would then cost you $350 compared to $500. Yes, it is a more convenient to spend the extra $150 to fly out of the smaller airport, but this entire blog post is about how to travel on a budget. You could use that extra $150 to book an amazing excursion instead. I would rather do that to save a little money wouldn’t you?
For accommodations, we always book the cheapest room. We don’t pay more for an ocean view or a city view or a hot tub in the middle of the room or whatever. We have found that when we travel we are out exploring most of the day and only use our room to sleep. We don’t sacrifice comfort or safety though. So we’re not saying stay at the cheapest hotel or anything like that, but realize that an ocean view can add unnecessary cost per night to your trip.
Pro Tip: When you arrive, ask the front desk if they will upgrade your room for free! Most of the time they have better rooms that are not booked and will love to make your stay at their hotel more enjoyable. Why? Because you will run and tell all your friends about how awesome the hotel was and maybe even be inclined to leave a review. If they will not budge, then ask for the next room upgrade cost and ask them to meet you half way. I have done this and I am not ashamed! We once got upgraded to an ocean front view with a balcony for free!
How Far in Advance We Book Our Trips
Once you have the money to book your trip, look into the best and most economical times to visit. For example, the popular time to visit Europe is the summer. This is the absolute worst time to go. Not only is it packed, it’s outrageously expensive to fly during this time. The best time to go is the spring or the fall season. If you’re willing to travel some other time that is not the summer or the popular time to go, you will save hundreds of dollars.
Pro Tip: You should also look into a cruise. We’ve found that this is an incredible way to travel on a budget and get the most places checked off your list. If you’re interested read my post, 7 Reasons Why you Should Go on a Cruise.
For every big trip we’ve taken we book flights and accommodations 6 months in advance. When we went to Europe in May 2018 we booked our flights and cruise in November of 2017. Guys, this is the only way we can afford to travel. Having an entire 6 months to plan, execute and save for expenses during the trip is the only way we can come up with all the money needed. Some people say to get the best deals you have to book 90 days in advance. That could work, but we have found that for us a couple of months is not enough time to come up with all the money we need to actually go on vacation.
Once you have booked your flight and accomodations, take a look at your monthly budget and expenses to see how long it’s going to take you to come up with enough money to take on your trip. This amount needs to cover:
- Excursions – Let’s say you are going to Mexico and you want to see the Mayan Ruins. Price it out and get a good idea of the cost for that excursion. We usually do one excursion a day when we travel. We also try to see what we can do for free to save money.
- Transportation – You need money for transportation like to and from the airport, trains, taxis, Ubers, ferries, etc. This can add up quickly so add this to the amount of money you need for the trip. In Hawaii we took the local bus which is really popular. It’s only a few bucks a day compared to Ubering.
- Food – When we travel we like to eat well. This is where a big part of our travel budget is spent. We normally budget our food expenses in increments, for example $20 for breakfast, $40 for lunch and $60 for dinner (I’m just throwing numbers out there. Depending on where you’re going you might need more or less). If you do not spend all of your allotted money, roll it to the next day OR even better, save it so you can have money left over after your trip. I don’t know about you, but when we come back from a trip after having a blast, there’s nothing better than coming home with money in our pockets rather than have spent it all.
- Shopping – We don’t do a lot of shopping when we’re on vacation, but when you’re in another country and want to bring something special back, it’s nice to have money separated to do that. So make sure you add shopping money to your budget.
Pro Tip: When deciding on where to travel, be aware of the exchange rates. Our dollar stretches far in places like Mexico and Thailand but in England be ready to lose at least a quarter per dollar. So take that into consideration when coming up with a budget for your trip.
When we need to get somewhere our first instinct is to call a taxi or an Uber, but when you’re in another country, that might be the most expensive way to get around.
For example, the majority of Europe has train transportation and it’s much cheaper than Ubers or Taxis. When we went to London, we had to get from London to South Hampton to take our cruise, which by car was about an hour and half and cost roughly $200. We decided to take the train which also took about an hour and a half and cost us roughly $100. The taxi was of course the most comfortable way to get there but we decided to save $100 and have an experience we wouldn’t normally have back home by taking the train.
Pro Tip: Many cities have public transportation that are so much cheaper and not as hard to navigate as we may think. In Hawaii we took the bus everywhere and it only cost us a couple bucks a day. Look into this rather than booking a shuttle or any other form or personal transportation to save money.
In our experience, it’s good idea to book a trip during a holiday sale like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Fourth of July etc. If you’re looking to take a cruise to Jamaica, research all the cruise lines deals during that holiday. If you prefer one cruise line over the other but the other has a better deal, just simply call the cruise line you actually want to book with and ask them if they can price match or throw in an onboard credit for the spa or give you an upgraded room. They will usually either put you on hold and come back with a similar deal or they’ll simply agree. You have to think outside the box and you cannot be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for a discount. If you are, then have fun spending unnecessary money.
Pro Tip: If a cruise is more your cup of tea, once you book, ALWAYS go back to the cruise line website every month to see if your cruise has gone down in price. On our last cruise, we paid for the cheapest interior room with no window and ended up with a deluxe balcony room at no extra charge. We accomplished this by simply going to the cruise line website and noticing 24hr flash deals they were promoting. We called in and asked if there was anything they can do to give us the same deal and the only thing they were allowed to do is upgrade our room at no extra cost. We saved hundreds of dollars for probably 60 minutes of work. That’s a major “traveling on a budget” win for us!
Please notice how we did not mention anything about using a credit card to book trips. I know there are so many cards out there that offer points and discounts for travel, but we personally rather live on a tight budget and pay for vacations out of pocket than use a credit card. Remember that traveling is a luxury and a reward for your hard work. It’s meant for adventure, fun, happy memories, and exploring rather than to get you in debt. Just wanted to give you that little piece of advice.
Places We’ve Traveled To
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
George Town, Cayman Islands
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Las Vegas, Nevada
West Palm Beach, Florida
New York City, New York
There you have it friends! This is how we travel on a budget and get discounts on flights and hotels everywhere we go. Traveling is not cheap by any means but it can be affordable! We really believe that you can travel the world and do it responsibly by saving money and living on a budget. We really hope that this post gives you some ideas on how you can save money for a trip, save money while you’re on your trip or simply inspires you to travel and explore the world. Thank you for reading and please comment with any tips you may have that are helpful for traveling on a budget. If you have any questions on anything in this post, please don’t hesitate to email!
Karen & Raymond