When it comes to budgeting for travel, every penny counts.
So often I find articles that promise to teach you “how to travel the world for free!” and while I don’t doubt that it is completely possible, it’s also a little unrealistic. Is the average family that wants to travel a couple times a year going to couchsurf or work on a farm for room and board? Ehhh…probably not.
So instead, I’ve put together a list of realistic ways that we routinely cut our expenses every time we travel. 100% approved by a normal family.
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1. Sign up for a travel rewards credit card (and every frequent flyer program out there).
This may be the single most effective way to cut travel expenses (regularly). If you only do one thing on this list, go right now and sign up for a credit card that rewards you with travel points. Why? Because it is so easy to rack up points to use towards flights (and hotels, among other things) just by spending money that you’re already spending anyway! Now, I’m not advovating going into debt for travel. Not at all. You should only use a rewards credit card if you have the time to review your expenses and pay the card off each week. But with discipline, it’s 100% worth it.
The Points Guy is a fantastic resource for comparing different travel rewards cards, but by far one of the very best bangs for your buck is going to be the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which gives you 1 point for every dollar spent, 3 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining, and a host of other benefits. Do your own research and see which card is best for you.
Likewise, any time you take a flight on a new airline, sign up for their frequent flyer program. Many rewards credit cards partner with airlines’ frequent flyer programs, so even if you don’t have enough points through the airline itself, you can combine them with points from your rewards card to maximize your earnings.
Read More: How We Flew for (Almost) Free in 2016!
2. Get a ride to the airport.
Leaving your car in the airport’s long-term parking can add up, especially if you live in a big city where the cost can be $15+ a day. Instead, have a friend or family member drive you to the airport and pick you up when you return. Don’t feel comfortable asking? Offer to pay them $20 for the inconvenience…it will still save you in the long run over a week’s worth of parking or even a long round-trip cab ride.
3. Use public transportation, or better yet, walk!
Renting a car is sure convenient, but if you’re not pressed for time, public transportation is a cheap way to get around and also a great way to observe locals in thier daily routines. I try to plan activities for a specific day by location. That way, once you get to the neighborhood you’ll be exploring, you can spend the rest of the day walking in between sights.
4. Stay farther outside the city center in a private rental.
I’m usually all about location, location, location, but if your budget doesn’t allow it, you can still visit some pretty fantastic cities on the cheap if you’re willing to stay a little farther away from the city center. We tend to try and avoid touristy areas anyway, and instead look for neighborhoods that are home to students, artists, and immigrants. You’ll find some of the best deals on Airbnb homes in these off-beat neighborhoods. (and if you use this referral link, you’ll get a $35 travel credit when you book your first Airbnb stay!)
5. Plan a few picnic lunches or “home”-cooked dinners.
I get it, I love to eat out when we travel too, but occasionally it’s also nice to plan in a meal that feels more homey. Visit the local grocery store, pick up foods from a nearby market, and plan a night in to relax after a busy day.
On that same note, parks are a great place for families to relax during the day, with kids getting to play while parents can take a load off. Pick up some meats, cheeses and fruits from a local market and make yourselves a picnic lunch. You’ll feel like a local in no time.
6. Check your credit cards for travel insurance perks.
Having extra insurance when you travel is always a good thing, but you might already be covered for more than you know. Take the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, for example. The card covers you against trip cancellations, reimbursement of costs due to a flight delays, additional insurance for rental cars, lost luggage reimbursement, and partial coverage of emergency medical costs. And that’s just to start!
7. Travel carry on only.
Baggage fees may not seem like much at first, but add $25 each way for two people, and you’ve suddenly blown $100 of your travel budget. There’s good reason frequent travelers are so adamant about traveling minimally. Aside from the costs, having less stuff willl mean less stress. And if Evelyn and I can share a carry on, anyone can do it!
8. Avoid impulse buys and unnecessary souvenirs.
We used to feel obligated to buy souvenirs for friends or family when traveling, and now I realize that was just so silly. Instead, we pick one thing we want to collect from each place we visit (for us, it’s usually a children’s book and a small momento for our home office). Of course, if we see something else we absolutely love, we go for it, because there’s nothing better than having a special reminder of your trip at home. But generally speaking, keeping a shopping budget low will greatly help keep your travel expenses in check.
9. Be patient and do your research before booking.
I can’t emphasize this enough, do your research early, but wait to book. Check multiple home sharing and hotel sites for the best deal. Check to see if the hotel will offer a discount for booking with them directly. Research airfares using a search tool like Skyscanner or AirfareWatchdog, and browse after cookies have been deleted (there’s a good article on that here). Set up price alerts with AirfareWatchdog and track price changes. Bottom line: being patient and persistent and having flexible travel dates could save you hundred of dollars in the long run (or even thousands, if you’re booking for a big family!)
10. Skip the tourist traps.
There are some places you just have to be a tourist, and that’s ok. If that’s the case, consider buying a cityPASS so you can see all of a city’s popular sites at a bundled (aka. seriously discounted!) price.
But that said, sometimes the best sites are seen from afar. If you’re not into museums, you can still visit the Louvre and take a picture in front of the iconic pyramid without paying to go inside. You should never feel like you have to do something just because it’s on a “must-see” list. After all, hidden gems are what really make a trip memorable, aren’t they?
What are some of your favorite tips for cutting travel expenses??
Read Next: Starting a Next Adventure Travel Fund!
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