We get a lot of questions from friends and readers asking how we afford to travel as much as we do. In our view, we could always be traveling just a bit more. It’s that travel bug. It’s hard to kick.
We have to start off by saying that we’re not super budget travelers. We like to stay in nice accommodations (usually nothing too fancy, just clean and comfortable) and eat well when we travel. Also, our finances are structured so that travel is one of our top goals. Our older vehicle is paid off vehicle and we’ll avoid having a car payment again for as long as possible. We don’t race out to buy the newest technologies or have many expensive habits (other than going to restaurants, which we consider travel in its own way). We both keep full-time jobs and side hustles and can afford to spend a bit when it matters. However, we still prefer using the travel hacking solutions below to maximize our travel budget.
Become a Weekend Warrior
For some people, a vacation should be a weeks-long affair to one of the world’s most sought after destinations. And while that sounds great and all, we don’t like to wait around for that one exciting trip every year. We prefer to make travel happen more often. So we’ve found little tricks that help us see more of the world without breaking the bank. A weekend getaway can be just as much fun as a mega-vacation, not to mention a lot more affordable. No matter where you live, chances are there are dozens of places within a four hour drive that you haven’t been to yet. Or, use a cheap flight tracker service (like Scott’s Cheap Flights) to snatch up a cheap ticket to somewhere a little further.
For example, when we lived in DC we got away to the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Wine Country as often as we could. Places like Ocean City and St. Michaels, Maryland were also within a reasonable drive. Alternatively, a train ride could take us to Philadelphia or New York for a weekend. Boston is a short, cheap flight away.
Now that we’re in OKC, it would seem like our options would be smaller since the states here cover much more surface area than those in the Northeast. But we’ve still found our ways to explore. Arkansas is a treasure trove of natural beauty. We’ve visited Hot Springs, Little Rock and Eureka Springs and still have so many spots we want to see. We’ve also hopped up to Tulsa for concerts and skipped down to Dallas to visit friends and get a dose of that big-city lifestyle. We’re driving to Austin, Texas next week for TravelCon as well! I also really want to check out Texas Hill Country one of these days!
Long story short, don’t discredit the places close to home as not being exciting enough for a “vacation”. A little change of scenery is always a good thing.
Go in the Off Season
If you want to travel a lot, you can’t always be going to the hottest destinations at their peak season. There’s really no faster way to drain your entire travel budget. Something we have been doing for a long time is going to places during the off season or sometimes during the shoulder season (though that can still be a bit pricy depending on the destination). We’ve traveled to places that were freezing cold (St. Michaels, Tilghman Island, the Finger Lakes) and blazing hot (Puerto Vallarta).
Were we super thrilled with the extreme weather? Not at all. Did it keep us from having a good time? Never! Along with decreased prices in flights and accommodations, we’ve always enjoyed the more laid back vibe of the off-season. They are fewer crowds and more locals out and about.
Use Frequent Flyer and Loyalty Programs
This is definitely one of the more popular ways to save money on travel. Loyalty programs have been around for a long time and there is no shortage of options to choose from. We’re far from experts in this field, but have had a lot of success getting free flights and occasional free rooms through credit card points.
There are many of these programs for nearly every airline and hotel chain, but our advice is to stick to one or two and be as consistent with them as possible. It won’t do you much of good to have a few points with several different companies. Instead really try to focus on earning enough points on a single one until you can book a free flight. There is a unique sense of satisfaction in booking a trip fully on points. We’re personally loyal to Southwest and United and often get free rooms using our AmEx points. If you want more flexibility on where you can use your points, Jennifer Garner has thoughts.
Consider Pet and Housesitting
We mention this all the time, but using TrustedHousesitters truly is one of our favorite ways to travel big on the cheap. We never would have been able to stay in Puerto Vallarta, St. Michaels, New Orleans or Switzerland for an entire week at a time without it. Granted, housesitting isn’t for everyone. But for pet lovers with flexible schedules and/or the ability to work remotely you can score some really great trips, both short and long term almost anywhere in the world. We highly recommend giving it a try, but sure to read this post before you make the commitment.
Opt for Airbnb
This is another one that’s no hidden secret, but also still very effective at keeping costs down. Any time we are going somewhere we always do a full comparison of hotels vs. Airbnb options. We consider price, location, comfort, and amenities depending on where we are going to find the best match for us. Sometimes a nice pool is a must when other times we know we won’t be around much to use it. In some cities, the hotels are further out and surrounded by tourists so we look for local apartments that get us closer to the action. And some times you just want a little luxury and need a nice hotel to fully relax and feel a bit spoiled. It’s all about finding the right balance for each trip.
For big cities in particular, like New York City and Chicago, we have found that there is always an abundance of Airbnb options that are cheaper than hotels. We’ve stayed in some really nice apartments and condos with ample space, clean bathrooms, and full kitchens for a fraction of the price of hotels. Always read the reviews for an Airbnb to get a better sense of the location and experience before booking. We tend to go with “super hosts”, Airbnb’s label for recognizing outstanding hosts, whenever possible and have had a lot of great stays over the years in places like Sonoma, Nashville, and Austin.
First time booking with Airbnb? Use this link to get $40 travel credit towards your first trip.
Take a Road Trip
An increasingly overlooked method of travel is the road trip. Sure it may take longer than traveling via plane, but there’s so much to love about hitting the open road. For starters, you can really see and experience the travel itself. You’ll encounter countless unexpected view and wind up stopping in places you never would have thought of. Some of our best travel memories have been in small town restaurants or cafes you’d never find through a travel guide.
This goes into my next point, you can improvise more during a road trip. You don’t have to follow a strict travel schedule if you don’t want to. You can take extra time, make detours, drive more some days, drive less other days, stay an extra night somewhere. There really is a level of freedom that isn’t always available in other types of travel. And lastly, you guessed it, it’s cheaper than flying.
Our first serious road trip was through New England a couple of summers ago. We started in DC and made stops in Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island. Late last year we took a road trip from DC to Oklahoma City. We had a blast grabbing barbecue in Asheville, seeing live music in Nashville, relaxing in Eureka Springs, and much more. Staying in a mix of Airbnb’s, with family and at hotels and really kept the spending down while still being able to see and do so many cool things.
Extend Your Business Trip
With both of us working full-time, the occasional business trip is inevitable. Tom usually has several trips a year and we always try to tack on some extra days when we can. With his flight expense covered we’ll add on a couple days on our own dime to explore new cities and have some fun. This works best when we can extend into a weekend and not have to use any extra vacation days to take off. It’s nice to be able to see more than just a convention center and hotel room as is the norm during most business travel.
We have done this for work trips to Austin, Las Vegas, and San Francisco (extending the trip to Sonoma). We’d recommend making sure to get company approval in advance of the trip for any flight changes. Also be mindful it doesn’t have any negative effect on the work part of the trip. It probably goes without saying, but be professional and honest about your expenses. Then enjoy your mini vacation!
Stay Open-Minded and Flexible
This last one is a little more out there, but roll with me. Some of the absolute coolest travel experiences we’ve ever had have come from the most unusual circumstances. Like that time we up and decided to move to Brazil for six months because Tom’s job had an office there. Or the time we won a trip to Portugal. (I still enter a ton of those free trip giveaways because hell, someone has to win. Who knows, it could be me or you!) Keep your mind open and say yes to opportunities that pop up! I promise you won’t regret it.
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