I am very excited about today’s addition to the blog! Not only is this the first guest post on Life Worth the Living, but it is chock full of great money-saving travel tips that anyone can use, whether you are a newbie explorer or someone who has traveled extensively.
First, a little backstory.
I met Wes the summer before my Sophomore year of college when he asked me to help him on his Chicago bus route. (Wes was in charge of picking up children in Chicago for church and shuttling them to and from. He was in desperate need of a “lady worker” since he was quite outnumbered, so I joined his ranks. haha)
In the years following, Wes married and moved on to Mexico to help a veteran missionary. After a few years of “apprenticeship”, he branched out to Brazil to start his own church. Since then, he has traveled to 20 different countries on various missions work while continuing his ministry in Brazil.
I asked Wes to gather some of his travel knowledge together so I could include it on my blog and he has graciously agreed.
So, I will let someone far more experienced take it from here:
When it comes to money-saving travel tips, there are literally a plethora of websites, blogs, and YouTube channels that will tell you how to travel like an elite for a fraction of the cost. I mean there are tons and tons…and tons of them. And they all guarantee you can fly First Class, sleep in the Taj Mahal and dine with the Queen, all for the measly price of $1.85. (I jest.)
There is a caveat, however: most of them are paid to produce this content by big banks and travel credit card companies whose praises they are singing. And they’re a bit like the extreme coupon shows you see; if I jump through all 283 hoops, then yes, I could save $50. But do I really need a pallet of grape-flavored dish soap? lol
The great thing is that I don’t have to be hyper-dedicated to travel hacks to be able to travel affordably or check something off my bucket list every now and then without going into debt. Like many things in life, it works best if you keep it simple and get organized. Flexibility will get you pretty far, too.
Here are three simple tools I use to travel VERY affordably:
(There are others, but these are well-known and user-friendly, so I’ll expound on these for now.)
If it is on the internet, Google can usually find it. That includes airfare. There are a lot of things that google flights can show me all in one place. I can search specific dates, or better yet, it will show me a two-month calendar and which days are cheapest to fly between my departure city and destination.
On the same page, it will list the cost of an Economy, Premium Economy, Business Class, or First-Class ticket. Believe it or not, Economy isn’t always the cheapest. If I have searched for a specific itinerary, it will let me know if I can save money by switching my arrival or departure, and it will tell me the amount I will save.
I can also track flights through Google Flights. Basically, if I’ve had my eye on a certain trip, I can set an alert and Google will let me know anytime the price changes. Handy little thing.
Lastly, a really nice feature they have allows me to select my outbound and inbound flights of an itinerary I like than Google can send me directly to whatever site that itinerary is available on and I can book my flight.
A lot of the same tools as Google, but I have historically found more mistake fares via Kayak than with Google. Also, Kayak has an “explore” tool that is interesting: punch in your home airport and it will show you where all you can fly in the world and for how much, at any given time.
Another good tool is their alerts/watch list. I can set up an alert to watch for good deals on airfare between any two cities. I can also have that alert watch for a specific time frame or keep it open. Example: If I’m watching the price of airfare between Chicago and San Fransisco, I can limit it to the second week of June or have an alert that will show me any major price drop at any time of year.
Anyone who lives in the US (especially near a major airport) and enjoys traveling absolutely must have a Twitter account to find amazing deals on airfare. Like, I’m pretty sure that that’s one of the things Jesus commanded His disciples when He commissioned them and sent them out. No really.
There are numerous Twitter accounts whose sole purposes are for tweeting out really low airfare deals of all classes (Economy, Business, etc). Numerous times a day they will post deals between various cities in the US to places all over the world. And if I just set my phone to show an alert on my lock screen anytime they tweet a deal, I’ve done minimal work to come across affordable airfare on a regular basis.
Will they be deals from my home airport only? No, but whenever there IS a deal from my location, I’ll know about it right away. Most of us don’t have hours and hours a day to scour the internet searching for amazing deals on airfare.
These different Twitter handles SPECIALIZE in finding mistake fares that offer HUGE savings. (Round trip business class on Singapore Airlines for less than $550, anyone?) My favorite Twitter account of this type that I follow is @theFlightDeal, but there are several others. They are all excellent resources for finding and taking advantage of affordable airfare.
These are just a few “starter” things that everyone can use to help lower their travel costs. The better your familiarity/knowledge, the more useful these tools become. When it comes to airfare, if you want to go more in-depth from here, then we start getting into the world of earning and redeeming frequent flier miles and/or credit card reward points, but these I’ve listed here are tips anyone can use to save a lot of money to achieve their travel goals.
The approach to money-saving travel tips: Informed, Organized, Flexible
When it comes to reaching travel goals, you will save yourself much time, worry, and money by ensuring that you are informed, organized, and flexible.
What is your dream vacation destination? How much does a hotel in this area usually cost per night? What does the average roundtrip ticket cost? Do they charge any tourism fees/taxes? What is the airline, hotel, or rental car chain’s cancellation/delay policy? Does that amazing cruise fare include the taxes and fees of both the cruise line AND every single port of call? (hint: Most of those published “amazing” cruise fare deals look so good because they conveniently leave out hidden surcharges.)
Having all of these answers can be the difference between saving $20 or $200. (Or forking over an extra couple hundred.) Being informed is the most important part of affordable travel.
Because my job involves regular travel, I do my best to stay up to date on current costs, deals, and upcoming changes. Very often, this helps save money on an already planned trip or gives me the confidence to pull the trigger on one in the works all because I am confident I can do so and take advantage of significant savings.
Just that one little tool I mentioned above (The Flight Deal Twitter account) has allowed me to observe trends in air travel over the past couple of years.
Three years ago, you could routinely find roundtrip airfare from the US to southern South America for $500 dollars. Huge savings! Now? You’re lucky to find it for less than $850. Yet, three years ago, airfare to Europe would routinely run you $700 or more per person roundtrip. Now? It can be had all day, every day for less than $500. So if I had always dreamed of that European getaway….now’s the time.
People that can’t develop a budget and stick to it are going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities…or go horribly into debt. If I take the time to figure out what the cost is to achieve some of my goals, then I can develop a plan to reach them.
How many of us are going? For how long? What is that going to cost us? Am I going to pay straight cash for everything, or do I have some hotel points and frequent flyer miles I can use? How much will that offset the cost? Should I pursue a way to earn more points or miles before I book the trip so as to use less “hard currency”?
With proper advance searching, you can almost always find a good deal on any vacation. With proper tracking and prior budgeting, you can jump on a super cheap fare if the opportunity presents itself. But there have been several times where my bacon was saved when I needed to book a flight last-minute, and because I had some points or miles available, I didn’t have to pay the exorbitant last-minute cost of a ticket. So figure out what’s in your wheelhouse and get organized to take advantage of some great opportunities.
In my own limited opinion, this is the most surefire way to save a lot of money traveling. It has been my experience that the degree of flexibility of the traveler is directly related to the amount of savings he or she can find.
I have some heartbreaking news: if you are hoping to find a way to pay 40% of the normal cost for a trip during Christmas break….ain’t gonna happen. Just like trying to do Disney on the cheap in July is a bad idea. If, however, I am able to travel during “shoulder season” (not peak season, not the low season), my chances of finding better deals will greatly increase.
Let’s use the example I gave a few paragraphs ago about airfare costs compared between South America and Europe from the US. If I were willing and able to build an itinerary based on where I could get the most bang for my buck, then three years ago, I would’ve done a trip to South America. But if I were planning for this year or next, I’d be heading to Europe. And both have some great places to visit, so I wouldn’t even be “settling.”
The guy who is trying to find the best deal to spend a week in Hawaii only during the second week of June is going to have a much harder time-saving money than the guy who is willing to go anytime in June, or October, or January-March. Why? Because he has many more options.
And (not to beat a dead horse, but) the more informed I am, the better idea I’ll have of how to make my hard-earned dollar go further. That’s one reason I heavily use airfare search engines that allow me to peruse a calendar of dates that will show me which ones are the cheapest. The more flexible I am, the more I can take advantage of big discounts.
It didn’t fit my travel schedule (and definitely not my travel budget), but during the month of July, the Conrad hotel chain had an insane deal for their resort in Bali, Indonesia. You could stay in an overwater bungalow at a 5-star resort for $60 a night. That’s about 90% off in some cases. Obviously, Bali isn’t exactly around the corner, but I only use that example to illustrate that if I am informed about what a good deal is, where to find those good deals, and I have budgeted some funds or reward currencies to take advantage of said deals when they pop up, then the world is my oyster.
(All photo credits from this blog post go to Wes Palla.)