This year, I've taken a lot of trips--20 flights, to be exact. That doesn't necessarily make me a jet-setter but it's certainly more than I've done in past years. Last November, I made a commitment to see more of the world in 2019 and here I am a year later happy to say that that is exactly what happened. However, I haven't spent much more money on travel this year than I typically would. Won't He do it?! If you're curious, I'm about to tell you exactly how I travel on a budget. There's no single secret but rather a number of practices, products, and opportunities that have put me on planes around the country and the world without hitting my pockets too hard. Let's get into them.
Different Ways to Travel on a Budget
Hop on Flight Deals
A couple of years ago, I hit my first travel lick with round trip airfare to New Orleans for right at $100 through one of those Southwest sales. My cousins and I took advantage of this and had an amazing girls trip in the Big Easy full of unforgettable experiences and none of us broke the bank. Around this time last year, I booked a week-long vacation to Oahu, Hawaii after finding a flight deal for about $400 on American. Mind you, this was before Southwest started flying to the Hawaiian islands and everyone subsequently ran specials. This practice takes a bit of preparation. You have to keep some change in the bank for flight deals in order to be ready at any given moment. Flexibility is also key. Waiting for flight deals doesn't align well with fixed travel dates. I'm not as concerned with when I go as actually going. I use apps like Hopper and follow @SecretFlying on Twitter to keep up with flight deals.
Be Good at What you Do
Some of my travel opportunities have been for professional development and networking and were paid for by my company or industry organizations I work with on a volunteer basis. These were all-expense-paid trips based off the strength of my relationships and professional track record. When you're good at what you do, people will want to invest in you. This past weekend, I was in DC for a conference where I learned a lot during the day and got to cut loose a bit at night. (Hit up Marvin Social for allll the vibes next time you're in the DMV area.) I also got to finally visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture during my downtime.
Take Advantage of Business Travel
I realize that not every job includes travel but mine does from time to time, so I make the most of it. I recently spent about a week in Calgary, Alberta and tacked a quick trip to Banff onto the end of that. Travel from Calgary to Banff was much cheaper than making that trip from Houston so I had to take advantage of the opportunity, right? Making the most of business travel doesn't have to be that dramatic, though. In past years, I've gone to Dallas, DC, and Nashville for work and made sure to take in unique sights and eats during those trips.
Despite the goal to travel on a budget, I prefer to fly direct whenever possible. But I'm not opposed to an interesting stopover if it includes ample time to explore. If a layover is unavoidable due to the potential cost savings or nature of the trip, I look for one that provides enough time for me to exit the airport and see the city (and get back in time for my connection) without requiring an overnight stay. Walking around Amsterdam for a day was a wonderful use of my time during a seven-hour layover en route to Lagos last year.
Traveling during the traditional workweek (Monday through Friday) is typically cheaper than on the weekends. And the off season is when climate, economic, social, and/or cultural factors converge to decrease tourism. This is the time for which you'll typically find great flight deals. A few years back, I went to Belize during Halloween weekend, which is hit or miss with hurricane season, and had a blast. Banff was also technically an off-season trip since the ski slopes hadn't yet opened and although Hawaii is beautiful year-round, visiting Oahu in January was much less popular than say, the peak of spring and summer. Off seasons vary by location so do a quick Google search for whatever destination(s) you have in mind. Departing on a Monday or in the middle of a workweek is not always possible with the way PTO is set up but my work schedule has some flexibility. I work a 9/80 schedule which means I have every other Friday off and have the option to work remotely, as necessary.
Travel in Groups
I tend to travel solo more often than not so I know that can get pricey. In addition to being lots of fun, traveling in groups cuts down on costs--mainly accommodations. Group travel can also yield group discounts on things like transport and excursions. A good example of that is our recent girls' getaway to Blue Ridge. We stayed in a beautiful luxury AirBnB for just a small amount per person.
I absolutely hate checking bags when I travel and avoid it at all costs. The bag drop before departure and waiting game at the carousel after arrival are just not how I want to spend my time. Here's my complete carry-on only method, in case you're interested. While saving money isn't my primary motivation for traveling carry-on only, it definitely adds up. Checking a bag on every flight I've taken this year would add up to about $1,000! That's two trips to Hawaii with that flight deal I found. Or a cute contribution to my health savings account. What could you do with an extra $1,000? And packing light doesn't mean re-wearing the same clothes or skimping on travel essentials. Here are a few look books and packing lists from recent trips I took with just a carry-on bag:
- Blue Ridge, Georgia Packing List
- Honolulu, Oahu Look Book
- Las Vegas, Nevada Style Guide
- Miami, Florida Look Book
- San Juan, Puerto Rico Look Book
Use Credit Cards & Loyalty Programs Strategically
I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card at the end of last year when I decided to make travel on a budget a priority and it has already paid off big for me in less than 12 months! I use it for both everyday expenses and travel planning then pay the balance and reap the points benefits. Between that practice and the bonus welcome points I received, I've booked two round trip flights (San Juan, Puerto Rico and Atlanta, Georgia) and covered a couple of hotel stays with points. This credit card has a $450 annual fee, which isn't cheap, however, here are a few of the card benefits I take full advantage of in order to offset that:
- $300 statement credit for travel and dining expenses
- Complimentary Priority Pass membership (So clutch for free food at the airports and getting work done when flights are delayed or I'm just early!)
- Statement credit for either Global Entry or TSA Precheck
I count the statement credits as going toward offsetting the annual fee but depending on how you look at it, you could say I got two more round-trip flights this year.
And here are the loyalty programs I take part in to rack up free parking days, hotel nights, etc.
- Marriott Bonvoy
- Open Table
- The Parking Spot
- United Mileage Plus
I hope these tips help you travel on a budget, too. Now tell me, what helps you save money while traveling? Sharing is caring, after all. Thanks for reading!