Every year, I take two to three international trips a year and get a few domestic trips in, too. While I make a decent salary and am pretty good with my money, I also have a large student loan payment along with Bay Area rent to deal with each month. With large financial commitments, I have gotten good at traveling at a price point that works with my life. Because I love to travel (especially in warm climates) making sure that I can weave travel into my life is key to my happiness, check out a few of the tips and resources that enable me to regularly travel.
Establish a budget
The first, and I would say most important, thing to do is the establish a budget and stick with it. When starting travel research and planning, I am sure to always go into it with a budget. With pretty fixed expenses, it’s important to not only create a budget but also stick to it so I’m not stressed when I get back to my everyday life.
The flight is typically the largest portion of my travel, so when I have a good idea about my flight costs, I’ll use that as my starting point build a budget from there. With that, I’ll move on to the next big chunk – lodging. Similarly, I do a ton of research, finding the average costs of hotels, Airbnbs. One thing that works for me is looking at the quality of low-end lodging, understanding my comfort level, and moving up from there.
Want to read more about choosing lodging? Check out Choosing between Hotels and AirBnBs, a Guide >>
I am not big on apps or tools, I usually go with a google sheet for planning because it gives me the ability to compare any number of budgets. Here’s an example of how I build a budget:
|Trip: Puerto Vallarta||Cost||Notes|
|Round trip flight for two||$600||One stop from SFO|
|4 nights lodging total||$450||Highly rated Airbnbs|
|Transportation total||$50||includes rides to and from airport, based on local Uber estimates|
|Airbnb food tour experience per person||$60||Found one that looks great!|
|Food and Bars||$200||based on a quick search of popular local restaurants|
|Souvenirs||$100||i really want to bring back art, so putting aside money for that|
|Total per person||$800||This is halving everything but the souvenir cost, which is all me.|
Coming up with a realistic travel budget is an important step in planning travel. Before clicking the [purchase flight] button, it lets me know if the trip fits within my budget. If not, it helps me contextualize if I need to modify my trip or understand how much I’ll need to save first.
plan using these Travel Tips
I am lucky to always land at companies that allow me to be fairly flexible with PTO and vacation. So, I have been able to schedule travel as close as a week or two in advance. With that, I scour the deal sites when I start to get the travel itch and jump on deals that I’d otherwise not be able to afford.
I flew to Bali, for example, about 2 weeks after finding the cheap flight. Usually around $1000, I jumped at the $500 flight I found on theflightdeal.
When I’m saying be open, I’m talking about destinations and accommodations. While Paris is on my list, I remain open to learning about other, lesser-known destinations that come at a lower price point. Similarly, it’s important to look at a variety of lodging options to find the right place within your price point. For me, it most often means choosing an Airbnb over traditional hotels.
While I may want to head to the beach over Thanksgiving weekend, I know that will cost me. Instead, I pretty much exclusively travel during off-peak times.
I planned a recent trip to Puerto Vallarta for the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend, for example. While it would have been nice to use the free vacation days, the 50% we saved on flights and hotel was worth it.
Don’t be afraid to be out of your comfort zone! The best travel comes when immersing yourself and leaving your life at home behind.
Stick to carry on luggage to avoid fees. This is especially important for longer trips if you’re taking multiple flights, the fees can really add up. It is also just a good practice, noted by many frequent travelers, to avoid lost or delayed luggage.
Whether a weekend trip or a multi-week trip, I find a way to fit everything I need in my carry-on luggage.
Live like a local
This one is both a benefit for your wallet, but also for getting the most out of travel experiences. When you get out of your comfort zone and live, travel, and eat like locals, you’ll see how much further your budget can go.
In Mexico City, I made a point to split my dining so that I was eating at a fair share of local spots. And though Mexico City is extremely reasonable, by eating at local restaurants, I was saving a few dollars each meal.
Travel with a buddy
Though I enjoy solo travel, finding a travel partner can make travel more reasonable. From splitting lodging costs and taxi fares to splitting meals, there are definitely some advantages of traveling with another person.
You can see in the chart above, if I was to take the same trip alone, my expenses would have been quite a bit more. So much more, that when I think of traveling alone, there really has to be a strong reason for it.
Accumulate and use miles
Okay, here’s my last and one of my favorite tips. With all of these other tips in mind, I also make a concerted effort to stick to traveling on 3 airlines when possible. By sticking primarily to Delta, Southwest, and American Airlines – I rack up points that I use for future travel. Of course, if there’s a great deal on another airline, I’ll jump at it, but for the most part, I follow this rule. In the past, I’d travel on any and all airlines, but really feel the benefits of being loyal to a few airlines.
Additionally, I use a Delta mileage card to increase my miles. Using this card for the majority of my everyday purchases, I grow my mileage balance pretty quickly, giving me enough points for a couple extra flights each year! So you can see why I make a point to use my miles card for most of my purchases.
My Favorite Resources
These are the tools I use on a regular basis to ensure I’m getting the best deal on every trip!
Theflightdeal.com – If you don’t yet have a destination in mind, this is a great starting point. I check out this site a couple times a week to see current cheap flights. Often, the best deals are for flights within a month or two or only available for a couple days so you’ve got to be flexible and willing to pull the trigger pretty quickly [after a quick budget planning session, of course]. As I said, I used this to find a great deal to Bali, and also found cheap last-minute flights to Costa Rica. So if you’re up for an adventure, I recommend you bookmark this site.
Hopper App – have a destination in mind already? This is a great app for monitoring the best time to buy your flight. This works best when planning far in advance. You can monitor any number of flights, so will use this to compare things like – best days to travel to a destination, monitoring two similar dates or if I have two destinations in mind, I’ll set alerts for both destinations during the same period of time.
Google Flights– If I have a set destination in place, let’s say, an upcoming wedding, I will use Google flights to keep up with the pricing that airlines are offering. It is a great tool to quickly compare all airlines for any given trip.
Travel Noire – a great research tool for black travelers. I like to check out this site to see if there are any tips for black folks by black folks for a specific destination. Thinking about traveling in South America, a quick search will provide a number of articles full of recommendations, many of them budget focused.
With all of these tricks and resources, I’m able to take amazing trips without breaking the bank.