Friday, April 24, 2015

Travel Hack: Travel on a Budget

Something that people are constantly asking me is how Tom and I afford to travel so much. And the answer to that question is pretty simple "we can't". We are both pursuing our doctorate degrees right now and school is our top priority so neither of us is working. Well technically, Husband works as a research and teaching assistant, but only because it is incorporated into his program. Regardless, we are definitely living the student lifestyle. To be quite honest, we can't afford much of anything, yet alone travel. But because our graduate schools are in different parts of the country, every time we see each other requires a plane ticket. This gets really expensive really fast! And to make up for lost time together, we do like to go on adventures to new places anytime that we have corresponding breaks. So if we can't afford it, then I bet you're wondering how we do it? 
We travel hack!

 Travel Hack
Everyone may define travel hacking a little differently, but for me it includes a combination of things with the outcome of more affordable travel. 

Make Travel a Priority
Firstly, I want to say that we have made travel a priority in our lives. We consciously make decisions that allow travel to be more attainable for us. This definitely involves making sacrifices in other areas, but it's worth it to us. There isn't a magic button to click to suddenly make travel cheaper or ourselves richer. We've just realized that we can't have everything. If traveling is a big desire, then we must be willing to make it a priority. 

Plan Ahead
There are obvious reasons to plan ahead for a trip. For instance, I hate returning home from a new place, only to find that I missed an opportunity for adventure simply because I didn't know about it. As a result, I definitely over-plan all of our trips. Don't get me wrong, spontaneity is fun and amazing, but it's also expensive. Planning ahead is the difference between eating at restaurants with authentic affordable food as opposed to the ones that are overpriced tourist traps. It's the difference between buying your ticket online with a discount code and paying full price at the door. Planning ahead maximizes how you spend your time, it allows you to enhance your experiences, and saves you lots of money. So next time you plan a trip---don't leave anything out. Know what you will be doing and how you plan to get there. Know the best places to eat and hang out where the locals go. Spend the time to plan ahead and it will save you so much money, making your travel that much more affordable.

Budget Everyday Life
One of the best ways to afford travel is to budget your everyday life. You'd be surprised where you can find extra money! I budget for every penny that I spend. From month to month, I know how much I'm spending on everything from groceries to toilet paper. This may seem excessive, but I just find it entirely too easy to go into a place like Target and leave without realizing how much was spent on crap I don't need. Budgeting everything helps me keep things in perspective. And if there is extra money leftover in a category of my budget at the end of the month, it goes into the travel fund. Plus, anytime I buy a nonessential I play a little game. I call it "would you rather?". Would you rather have that fancy Starbucks drink and pastry (why does everything there taste so good) OR would you rather buy a ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower (~$10)? Would you rather have that new handbag OR would you rather have great seats to a Broadway Show in New York (~$300)? Yep I thought so! If I just force myself to pause for a moment, it's easy to see that the stuff I want can be easily outweighed by the experiences that I could gain traveling. Budgeting everyday can turn into savings over time, which really adds up. Your next trip just got a lot more feasible. 

Haggle & Ask for Discounts 
This varies widely depending on where you are traveling so know the accepted customs. In some countries, haggling is the norm--it's expected. I can't even tell you how much Tom haggled during our trip to the Dominican Republic. As a result, we went parasailing and snorkeling for less than it costs to buy a tank of gas. We had already designated a specific amount to these activities so the money we saved went towards more travel together in the future. 
If you aren't traveling to a place where haggling is acceptable, you can still ask for a discount. In fact, many businesses already have discounts in place, but simply don't advertise them. The only way to find out, is to ask. I find that I can often get better hotel rates when I simply call and ask for one. As a student, I always ask if there is a student discount. Often, vendors will toss in a discount just because I asked. I hear yes much more than no, so I never hesitate to ask and you shouldn't either. 

Consider Alternatives 
Going on a vacation doesn't always equate to staying at a luxury hotel and eating every meal at pricey restaurants. If you get creative and consider other alternatives, traveling can become much more affordable. Instead of paying $200+ a night for a decent hotel room, use Airbnb or stay in a hostel. At the end of the day, you just need a safe clean place to lay your head. And I've found that some of my private hostel rooms and Airbnb stays have been just as nice, if not nicer than a hotel stay. Plus, there is the added bonus of interacting with the locals. When lunch rolls around, consider grabbing food from the local market or deli and having a picnic, rather than popping into a restaurant. The point is, always be open to other options. It will lead to a more unique travel experience and yield big dividends in the end. 

Travel Credit Cards & Rewards Programs 
Using rewards programs and travel credit cards is one of the biggest ways that Tom and I are able to afford to travel. My only regret is not figuring this out sooner. After paying way too much on flights just to see each other, I knew that we had to find another way. Once I discovered travel hacking, I learned pretty quickly. I'm still learning, but as for now we have managed to get thousands worth of freebies. Tom and I fly to each other at least once a month, with many of these flights being FREE! The luxury hotel we stayed in as a special treat for our anniversary-FREE! Tickets for dates to art museums and concerts-FREE! We just booked flights for our summer vacation that came in right around $1k-FREE. From the outside looking in, it may appear to others that we spend a lot of money to see each other and to go on trips together. And of course there is spending involved on our part, but many of the things we do are discounted and sometimes completely FREE! I could literally go on about rewards credit cards and how we use them all day, so this may require it's own post if you guys want more info. 

For now, I just wanted to share some of the many ways that we make travel more affordable for us. Also, check back for a travel budget post of our current trip to Canada. I'm going to reveal what the trip cost us and how travel hacking saved us money, making the trip affordable for us.

"Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer" 

Linking up with SerenityNow


  1. Id love more detail on the credit card rewards!

    1. Good to know-I didn't want to drown on about the details if there was no interest. I will definitely bookmark this as a future post.