By David Flores Wilson, CFP®, CFA, CDFA®, CCFC
Seeing the world doesn't mean you have to compromise your savings. You don’t have to choose between your bank account and Bali. If you’re itching to get away, here are five ways you can travel on a budget.
1. Be Flexible About Where and When You Travel
Make perusing affordable flights a part of your daily routine. Staying flexible with your travel dates means being able to land a once-in-a-lifetime deal. The best resources for affordable flights are Skyscanner and Adioso, which allow you to search a destination without specifying dates so you can easily browse flights throughout the year by price.
If you're feeling spontaneous, The Flight Deal is the best resource for affordable flights if you are willing to book at a moment’s notice. The site features daily deals you can search by departure and destination. Some example deals include round-trip from New York to Lisbon for $436 or from Philadelphia to Beijing for $635. Domestic flights are even more of a steal with deals such as round-trip from New York to New Orleans for $156. The catch is these deals are only available for limited dates and they sell out fast.
You can also use the Matrix by ITA software (typically used by travel agents) to research what dates are available for the round-trip price and book the dates through Priceline. Finally, whatever you do, don’t miss a deal. Sign up for email alerts from these top resources, and if you really mean business, bookmark them in your browser for easy access.
2. Forget the Status-Quo Destinations
Focus on places with unparalleled, scenic landscapes where the U.S. dollar stretches far. Destinations like Thailand, Nepal, India, Vietnam and Latin America are a far cry from a $10 latte with so much to discover and do. Even Europe boasts some stunning and affordable destinations such as Croatia, Estonia, Prague, Budapest and many others.
Some of the most beautiful destinations that you can explore for as little as $50 a day include Morocco, Thailand, Bosnia, Bolivia, Belize, El Salvador and Turkey. (For related reading, see: 10 Place to Travel in Asia That Won't Break the Bank.)
3. Take a Different Approach to Accommodations
Finding a great hotel or unique accommodations doesn’t have to be expensive. Last-minute booking resources like Hotel Tonight are a great way to book an affordable hotel room at 30%-40% off the hotel’s average daily rate. When it gets closer to your trip, you can set up alerts for hotel searches in specific destinations so you know when a hotel’s rate drops. Expedia has a last-minute deals section as well with great steals on accommodations and flights.
If booking last-minute isn’t your thing, searching advanced purchase rates for hotels in a destination you are considering is a good idea. Most hotels will offer an advanced purchase rate 20%-30% lower than their average daily rate and have flexible cancellation policies if you end up changing your mind.
Alternative accommodations to hotels such as Airbnb are another great way to save and have more room to sprawl out. Finally, if you’re feeling social and adventurous, take advantage of the sharing economy and find accommodations on sites like Couchsurfing where you can essentially sleep on someone’s couch (or if you're lucky get a spare bedroom) for free. This is an open, fun community that shares a passion for travel. You can also consider house-sitting while you travel using resources like Nomador, Trusted House Sitters, or Luxury Housesitting, which allow you to search travel dates and view house-sitting opportunities by destination.
4. Make Earning Travel Points a Priority
Racking up travel points is one of the best ways to save money on travel. Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best credit cards for travel perks, including 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months after opening the account. Benefits also include $300 cash back on travel expenses, an application fee credit up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, and triple points on travel and dining. If frequent travel and culinary adventures are at the top of your to-do list, this is the card for you. (For related reading, see: Are travel rewards credit cards worth it?)
Another great travel credit card is the Venture card from Capital One, which allows you to earn 50,000 bonus miles once you spend just $3,000 on purchases within the first three months and twice the points on every purchase.
And let’s not forget the Platinum Card from American Express, designed for frequent travelers. This card offers five points per dollar spent on flights directly booked with airlines or with American Express Travel. While the $550 annual fee is a bit high, the perks are worth it. Aside from the 60,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 within the first three months, you get access to no foreign transaction fees, a $200 annual airline fee credit for incidental purchases, up to $200 in Uber rides annually and a $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck expedited screening.
5. Pack Light and Visit a Destination in the Shoulder Season
Checking a bag is not only a hassle if you’re embarking on a multi-destination trip, baggage fees can add up. The trick to packing light is bringing only the essentials and being able to mix and match clothing.
And last, but not least, beat the droves of tourists and consider traveling to a destination in the shoulder season, when both flights and accommodations are cheaper. For example, you can visit Croatia and Greece in September or the southern France in May. While you may need to brave a little rain or chillier temperatures, you gain a more unique, local experience.
If your travel goals seem unattainable, consider being flexible about when are where you are traveling and capitalize on cheaper flights. Consider cheaper alternatives to accommodation and save money every way you can, even if it's just racking up travel points on credit cards. Often, it only takes a little extra effort to make traveling affordable.
(For more from this author, see: Take a Different Approach to House Hunting.)
This article was originally published on Investopedia.