Do you ever scroll through your social media feed and continue to notice that one girl or guy who seem to always post about their latest travel adventure? They are always on the go, seemingly living their best life. Meanwhile, you’re low-key fixated on their photos wondering how they manage to travel so often, how they earn the money to do it, and more importantly, how you can travel more frequently just like them.
It is too often that people ask us these questions, so we would like to share how we go about with planning our trips, and how we actually execute on those plans. Although our trips are not large scale at this point, we still have fun travelling to both small charming places and major fascinating cities.
To start, we would advise you to always think with your own wallet as you start planning out any trips. This is a very important concept to apply because it will help you to consider your financial priorities and how much you would be willing to spend to fulfill your goal of taking a vacation. We each have our own way of budgeting and saving for trips, so let us tell you how we travel often without spending everything:
Anytime we think of a city we would like to visit, the first thing that we do is search for a place to stay. If the trip is random meaning that we are not restricted by any particular dates, then we search hotel websites, plug in random dates, then make reservations for the dates with the least expensive per night rates. A few hotel websites that we recommend are Hotels.com and Booking.com. There are also some mobile apps that we have discovered that provide great rates like HotelTonight. This app offers the best deals for last minute reservations. Also, many employers and financial institutes [USAA or American Express for example] offer hotel and other travel discounts to their employees and/or customers. You should really look into whether your job offer such benefits because this can save you a nice percentage on rates. If you know a friend or family member who works for a hotel chain, you maybe able to book at discounted rates through your association with them. Even if you sign up for a hotel’s membership program [which is usually free], or if you are a member of certain organizations [AARP, AAA, Military] there are exclusive discounts that are available just for you.
The point is, we hardly ever book a hotel room without having some form of discount applied. We also suggest comparing hotel rates with those on AirBnB or VRBO because sometimes these home rental sites offer even better nightly rates than hotels.
Once we have secured an affordable rate for our lodging, then we focus on transportation. Several of our trips have been within a reasonable driving distance – reasonable as in 6 hours or less, so for those trips, we save money by driving our own vehicle. If you do not have a dependable vehicle for traveling, then your option would be to rent a car. You can apply some of the same discount methods as discussed under accommodations for reserving a rental car. Our preferred rental car company is Budget, because we both get great discounts through either our employer or a membership program.
If your trip is a farther distance that may require a flight, we suggest flying Southwest airlines by far! Not only are their rates inexpensive, but only on Southwest can passengers check in two bags for FREE in addition to a carry on bag, then enjoy a free snack and beverage mid flight. Sure, you can find cheap flights with other airlines like JetBlue or Spirit, but you’d likely be paying extra for checked bags. And since bags can be super expensive to check in, we’d rather stick to where its just free. Southwest also promotes special offers during certain times of the year which can be a good time to purchase tickets for a never been to before destination. Honestly, sometimes we base our trip destination depending on whether we can get there by flying Southwest airlines because we know the flight cost would not be expensive.
If you are willing to drive a few hours to a major hub airport, such as Atlanta, Charlotte or Miami [if you live in the Southeast US], you can save hundreds of dollars on a ticket by flying out of these cities. Even with the cost of gas to drive to these places, you would still save a bundle of money. Wouldn’t it feel better to know you only paid $250 for a round trip to a fun destination, as opposed to $668, and you could make it a two-cities trip!
As for when to purchase flight tickets, travel sources say that a Tuesday is the best day to purchase a flight, but we depend heavily on the Southwest’s Low Fare Calendar. With this tool, you can see which days offer the lowest fare and also plan your trip around these dates. If you are able to save more money on your flight than on your hotel room, then definitely book your trip around your flight dates.
Once you have secured both your hotel room and transportation, now you can plan out your activities, dining, events and entertainment. This part of taking a trip is highly recommended because it gives you an idea of how much money you may need to save and have on hand when you are on your trip. We usually never go on a trip without having an itinerary. We use TripAdvisor as a major source to find interesting things to do and places to visit. A simple Google search also leads us to blogs and sites that offer great recommendations. The key is to plan activities in advance so that you can control most of your spending. We usually try to plan for activities that are free or low cost.
Once we have totaled the cost for our room, transportation and planned activities, now we have an idea of what we need to save. The goal is to save for the fun we plan to have while still managing our bills and other living expenses. We both have our own methods of saving. Below are our individual recommendations:
Tiffy: My best advice for being financially capable to travel or just to live your best life doing what you love is to have multiple streams of income [side gig or hustle, second job, allowance, equity etc]. I consistently save a percentage of my additional incomes and place it towards my You Only Live Once account. That way, I am usually always ready when an interesting trip is being planned. My additional incomes pay for my trips (and experiences I love), while my main income pays the bills! For extended trips or ones that are a bit more expensive, I also suggest using a travel agent so that you have the option to pay for your accommodations in installments over time as opposed to all at once.
Ebby: The key to my preparation for trips is already having a sum of money saved in an account. However, if you do not have any savings, then start now or as soon as you book the hotel room or flight! I would suggest setting up an automatic transfer to a special account on your pay day so the money goes straight into that account. Do not depend solely on the paycheck you receive before the date of your trip because it is very easy to overspend and come back off of your trip with no funds. Also, when we plan for the things we are going to do on our trips, I take envelopes and label them with each planned activity. Each pay period, I take a few extra dollars out of my check and place those funds into each envelop. I also take each of these envelopes on my trip so that I can keep an accurate account of my spending. It really helps to keep my spending on track!
Now that we have shared our individual recommendations, below are a few other tips or hacks to help you plan your next trip without spending everything:
► 💰Plan your trips out for the next year or at least 3-6 months in advance. This will help you to better prepare and have a longer period for saving. Secure your lodging and transportation at least 3 months in advance of the date of your trip. This is about the time frame that you would find the best reasonable rates.
► 💰Constantly check hotel and flight websites for discounts. Both of these rates fluctuate based on demand. Even if you have booked the hotel or flight early on and a lower rate appears, you can re-book at that lower rate [sometimes without fees]. Again, keep checking on rates even up to the week of your trip especially for hotels. Rates are likely to drop considerably if the forecast’d occupancy is not as high as expected.
► 💰Reserve hotel rooms that are closer to the city’s airport or slightly on the outskirts because these are usually way less expensive than staying in the city center. Sometimes these hotels offer free shuttle services into the city so that you are not missing out on anything or they may have walkable access to public transportation.
► 💰Consider traveling with a group to keep the cost of some expenses low. When you’re able to split the cost of accommodations between multiple people it keeps the cost at a minimum for you. If you plan a group trip, be sure to set deadlines for deposits/payments to keep everyone on one accord. There are also several official travel groups/organizations that you can join that allow you to travel at really low rates with people who share the same love for traveling as you.
► 💰When you are searching for flights, try to depart and return on the least busiest days of the week. Tickets are usually less expensive on certain week days than they are on the weekends. Mobile apps such as Hopper and websites like Google Flights and Kayak do compare rates among various airlines and also advise when it is the best time to purchase a ticket.
► 💰Try to search for vacation packages and destination deals to bundle on flights, hotels and transportation. Groupon, Expedia and Priceline are all great avenues to go down for great deals at reasonable rates. Also, look into consulting a travel agent/adviser because they have exclusive access to systems that offer discounted travel packages. Online travel agent sites like Bookit offer bargain vacation packages to fabulous destinations, and you may be able to pay for your vacation in installments for some deals.
► 💰 Call the reservations department before booking anything online. You may be surprised to know that reservation agents can sometimes offer better deals than what you see online for vacation packages and hotel rooms.
► 💰 If you have good credit [670 +] and you are really great about paying your bills on time, applying for a travel rewards credit card can definitely cut the cost of your flight and/or hotel expenses. Ideally you can go on a free vacation by paying your existing bills and/or daily expenses with your rewards card! Take advantage of the bonus points offers as well. The points that you accumulate can be redeemed for free flights or hotel nights, and simultaneously you would be increasing your credit score by paying off your balance each month. Just be sure that you are paying off your balance [in full] each month. *We would not recommend this option (applying for a credit card of any sort) if you are already struggling to even pay utility bills on time! You have to be great with managing money and bills to consider this option.
Traveling is one of the life experiences that we love to do, so we both have learned to budget so that portions of our savings are dedicated exclusively for traveling opportunities. This is a huge part of the reason why we are able to travel often without sacrificing too much or spending everything we have in the moment.
If traveling is truly one of the things you would love to do more of, then together our best advice is to be serious about it and to prioritize your savings around traveling or whatever it is that you would love to experience more of in life ✈🌎.
If you LOVE it, you SAVE for it, you BUY it!