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There is a perception--especially in the U.S.--that travel is expensive and therefore out of reach for many. That’s unfortunate. There certainly are many expensive destinations, fancy resorts and high end hotels around the world, but there are also more affordable regions, reasonably priced accommodations and good deals to be had almost anywhere. So when I am asked, “How can I afford to travel?”, I respond with a variety of strategies, five of which I share here.
How to afford to travel–Rethink Your Destination
For many people living on the West Coast, Hawaii is a highly desired destination, and for good reason. But if the intent is a tropical vacation, then there are many options that are equally beautiful but less expensive. Several years ago our family was considering a Hawaiian vacation and I began the research. I was stunned at the high prices of airfare, hotels and activities. So I decided to research Costa Rica instead and discovered significant savings. The airfare was comparable, but the lodging and activities were much less money. We took advantage of a zip-lining tour that was half the cost of something similar in Hawaii. What I later learned was that the food costs were much lower as well.
Instead of being committed to a particular destination, consider the type of vacation being sought. If it’s a big city then research several options. Chicago is a city with delicious food and a long list of great attractions (to learn more click here and here) and yet the average cost of hotels in this city is less than New York, Boston and Los Angeles. If Europe is attractive, consider Eastern Europe with its fascinating history and fairytale villages, but significantly lower costs. If Asia sounds enticing then Thailand and Vietnam will be more affordable than Japan.
We all have bucket list trips that can’t be replaced, after all there is only one Eiffel Tower in the world. But you can afford to travel by considering more cost effective destinations.
Be Flexible In Order To Travel More
Flexibility is important while traveling, but also in the planning process. The first step is to decide how much flexibility you have each time you prepare for a trip. Can you leave on a different day? Do you have a few airports to choose from? Many airlines offer a calendar of rates. If you had originally thought of leaving on a Friday, but discover that the airfare is lower on a Saturday, it might be worth altering the trip a bit. Where we live there are several airport options and the prices can vary widely. After taking into account drive time and parking costs, departing from an alternative airport can be a good choice. There are so many ways to find cheap flights if you are willing to do some research.
But flexibility comes into play in other situations. Hotels in a nearby town might be more affordable than the final destination. A few years ago Jason and I planned a trip to Banff National Park in Canada. The hotels in Banff were very pricey so we stayed nearby in Canmore. The cost savings was about $100 a night and therefore worth the twenty minute drive into the park. In some cases additional savings can be had through lower parking and resort fees in addition to more affordable room nights.
Finally consider the timing of a trip. Peak season will always be the most expensive. This is the time when a particular city or destination expects the largest number of visitors each year. For those willing or able to adjust the timing of a trip there can be significant cost savings combined with less crowds.
Know When To Splurge And When To Skimp
If money was unlimited then we could fly whenever we want, stay wherever we want and do everything possible in a new place. But that’s not reality for most people. Instead, based on our budgets we have to decide where we are willing to skimp and what is worthy of a splurge. Those choices will be different for each person.
When Jason and I travel we like to splurge on a food tour or one meal at a highly rated restaurant. For our 25th anniversary we were visiting Copenhagen and made reservations at Relae, one of the top restaurants in the city. This was probably the most expensive meal of our lives but worth every penny. At other points during the same trip we ate at hot dog stands and street food vendors. We are willing to balance the higher and lower expenses so that we can afford to travel more often.
I have friends that are retired and splurge on business class airfare when they travel. They’ve said at this point in their lives economy class seats are just too uncomfortable. Their trade off is to travel less often. While I don’t love economy class (especially in U.S. carriers) it’s usually what we fly so that we can travel more. For each of us, we've chosen when we are willing to splurge or skimp.
Be clear about what is worth a splurge and what is not for you. Build this into your budget and make the most of your splurge--take plenty of photos and post them on social media. And when you opt to skimp appreciate the cost savings combined with the likelihood that you are hanging out with the locals.
Reduce The Costs Of Tours And Attractions
Sightseeing can be expensive, but a bit of time spent on research can definitely pay off. City Passes are offered in most major markets around the world. These are companies that sell a special pass that includes dozens of free and discounted entry fees. I’ll admit that we do not purchase these types of passes often. To make the cost savings work the deals must include places you actually want to see. However, we did purchase the Copenhagen Card and found it valuable. In this case it included free public transportation and several of the sites we already had on our to do list. Each of these passes has different offers so read them all in advance carefully to decide what makes sense for you.
A recent discovery for us is smartphone audio tours. Several companies make available a no cost app to download and then offer different tours for free or a small fee. My favorite right now is Detour. This company uses some unique narrators and tours not offered by anyone else. The cost is $7.99 for each tour or $24.99 for a city bundle. Friends recently recommended Rick Steves’ Audio Europe which I hope to try during future travels.
Free days--usually offered by museums--are an excellent way to save. This will require some research and advanced planning. During our recent trip to Barcelona we discovered that the Museu Picasso was free on Thursdays evenings starting at 6 p.m. The best way to take advantage of this offer was to reserve a time online in advance. The museum was certainly crowded the night we went, but we still enjoyed it. In addition to free days, there are hundreds of museums around the world that are always free.
Finally, there are organizations like AAA (American Automobile Association) and AARP (American Association for Retired People) that offer their members discounts for attractions. Sometimes the tickets must be bought in advance from the organization, but in other cases visitors simply show their membership card. Again, a little research goes a long ways.
Consider Your Food Budget Carefully
Depending on your destination, food can be a significant portion of a vacation budget, so it’s worth deciding how you want to dine. Eating out is not the only option.
During our recent trip to Iceland we were shocked at the prices in restaurants. Since we were staying in an AirBnB, we found a local grocery store and stocked up for breakfast, snacks and a dinner. Not only was this a cost savings option, but it was a great way to experience the local culture. In all my years of grocery shopping I had never seen such a large lamb selection in the meat section. In fact, lamb was the primary meat selection. My husband, son and I spent over an hour exploring the market and all of its unique products. We had a blast!
Other great cost savings options include picnics. This is a great way to combine the experience of a local market with a beautiful site like a park or beach. During the summer in Paris a picnic of a baguette, cheese and a bottle of wine is quite popular and romantic.
The restaurants located nearest a touristy part of town will always be more expensive, so consider getting out to lesser known areas. Ask a taxi or uber driver about their favorite restaurants. If traveling in the U.S., research Yelp recommendations which are typically the places where locals eat, not necessarily those designed for tourists. The city of Anaheim is of course famous for Disneyland, but it is also home to some of the best ethnic restaurants in Orange County. This amazingly diverse city has attracted immigrants from around the world who have opened restaurants for the purpose of serving their home cuisine. Getting beyond the theme park restaurants is both delicious and more affordable.
Do Your Research And Travel More
My goal is always to travel more. To do that I need to carefully consider the budget for every trip. At the same time, I won't “rough it” in cheap hotels, eat fast food or skip seeing the famous sites. Over the years I’ve found that I can travel in style and have a great time if I’m armed with several cost saving strategies. And with the combination of these strategies I’ve found that travel can be a regular part of our lives.
Want to check out seven additional cost savings strategies? Click here!