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This post was updated August 2021
Top Tips for Exploring on a Budget
While Logan was in optometry school and I was teaching, we didn’t have much wiggle room in our budget. But having limited finances didn’t stop us, nor should it stop you, from having new amazing adventures. We decided to get creative with how we traveled and here are some of our best tips that allowed us to travel around the United States and beyond while living on a teacher’s salary!
Open An Airline Credit Card
I know, I know, credit cards are scary. But we have been able to travel mostly due to travel hacking with credit card points. I first started by opening a Southwest Credit Card in college because it gave me two round-trip flights just for signing up and each year I received 6,000 bonus points which are equal to a one-way flight!
Let me break this down a little more… when Logan and I went to Florida and Jamaica for our honeymoon we had three flights costing around $150 each. So $150 x 3 flights x 2 people= $900. However, because I used my Southwest points, these flights were FREE. Needless to say, airline credit cards can give you some serious perks when used correctly.
As time went on, we became even more crafty with credit cards and points. So much so that we were able to fly business class to Japan and stay nearly 30 nights in hotels for free using points!
Utilize Helpful Budget Saving Travel Websites
There are a number of travel websites we use to save money when planning our trips, here are just a few that are great for budgeting!
Logan and I swear by TripAdvisor for advice on local restaurants, hotels, sightseeing suggestions, and so much more. TripAdvisor also will compare the prices of different hotels, flights, and vacation rentals. In addition, it allows you to read the reviews of these places from other travelers.
Another website we don’t use as often but has come in handy is Rome2Rio. Rome2Rio quickly identifies route options to easily compare costs, time, and ease of access. Overall it’s an awesome way to plan quickly and easily especially when you’re trying to find the best route and there are different modes of transportation.
Skyscanner is another budget travel website that opens the doors to the many possibilities of flights, including an open search capability. No weekend plans? Enter ‘Everywhere’ and see what your next destinations hold! When we aren’t using points we have used Skyscanner and Google Flights to search for the best flights available.
For example, for our first trip to Japan, I looked at flights for months and finally found the best way to get there in the most affordable way. Remember those Southwest points I was talking about?
Well, I realized that I could book our flights from St. Louis (STL) to Los Angeles (LAX) with my Southwest points, then book our flight from Los Angeles to our first destination in Japan on Skyscanner. Although we had to recheck our baggage, (it was free anyway!) this saved us roughly $400 for each ticket. Being budget savvy while traveling allows you to experience even more!
Consider Staying in A Hostel, Airbnb, or Bed and Breakfast
At times, hotels can be expensive or limiting. Airbnb has been a wonderful alternative for accommodations that allow people from all over the world to “rent” their home at various different price points.
We’ve stayed in Airbnbs in Ireland and all over the United States and have enjoyed them 99% of the time. The 1% of the times we didn’t enjoy our stay in an Airbnb was simply due to the fact that we booked a place that had no prior reviews so we didn’t know what to expect and it wasn’t as the description read or photos looked.
So if you’re thinking about booking an Airbnb, make sure you follow a few guidelines. The first being, only book an Airbnb that has reviews. If you see a number of positive reviews then chances are you’ll get what has been described or even know what grievances people have had like, ‘not enough tableware’ or ‘uncomfortable pillows.’
Another thing to note when booking an Airbnb is looking at the area or country your booking in. Some places, like Japan, have strict guidelines for rentals and if they don’t have a government ID, they are illegal. In Portugal, many of the Airbnbs are causing housing issues so I wouldn’t recommend staying in a rental there. Just make sure you research accordingly. A quick google search can typically tell you whether or not Airbnb is a good option for the destination you’re visiting.
Don’t Forget About Membership Discounts
If you live in the United States and do not have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership you should look into getting one. Logan and I have found that they are so much more than grocery shopping. Both of these wholesale clubs offer a variety of travel packages for an incredible price.
We’ve also saved a ton of money by renting cars with our Costco membership because it allows you to have two drivers (instead of paying for a second), has automatic upgrades, and the ability to cancel and rebook as many times as you want so if you notice that the price of your rental goes down, you can cancel the reservation and rebook for the lower price.
We also have found that our AAA membership is much more than just roadside assistance, it has provided us with many discounts on airline tickets, car rentals, and restaurants. It also gave us discounts on our International Driving Permits which we used for our Japan road trip.
Don’t Fear Groupon and LivingSocial
Groupon and LivingSocial often have getaways at a very reasonable cost and often have another discount on top of that already amazing deal! I would encourage you to check both of these sites out to look for hotel rooms in major cities, all-inclusive vacations, or to find a charming bed and breakfast.
We haven’t personally taken a Groupon Vacation, but we’ve booked a number of activities or purchased restaurant Groupons for local places while we’ve been traveling. Pssst, you can sometimes find Sam’s Club memberships for a discounted price on Groupon and LivingSocial too!
Talk to Locals
While we were in Jamaica for our honeymoon we stayed at a Sandals resort. Although Sandals has many unique excursions, we found a place online that we really wanted to visit called The Blue Hole. So, we decided to hire a private driver to pick us up at our resort and take us to this local hot spot that has since turned into a more touristy destination. It was breathtakingly beautiful and a significant highlight of our honeymoon.
There have also been countless times when we’ve been dining at a restaurant and struck up a conversation with our waiter/waitress or another patron. In doing so, we’ve been able to ask for other local recommendations and found some of the best places to eat and visit because of this!
Many aspects of travel can be either budget savers or budget busters. There are so many simple ways to save money to travel! Who knows – with patience, time, and preparation you might be able to afford to travel the world!
What are some of your tips to save money while traveling?