Are you traveling less than you would like because you can’t afford it?
Do you find yourself constantly worrying about how much money you are spending on a trip rather than actually sitting back and relaxing?
Does budgeting for your next adventure cause constant tension between you and your travel partner?
Traveling can be expensive. But it doesn't have to be!
The goal is to make your trip as stress-free and enjoyable as possible - and we are here to help make that happen!
We are sharing the top tips to saving money and budgeting so you will be on your way to traveling cheaper, smarter, and all around better!
How to find cheap flights
1. Be Flexible
You can save big bucks on airfare if you are able to be flexible on your dates (and/or your destination). Choose options like “my dates are flexible,” or play around with the search engine’s calendar to see if returning a week later makes a big difference in cost.
Weekdays are often most affordable to fly - specifically Tuesday and Wednesday - when there are less business travelers and weekend warriors in the sky. And you will typically find the lowest prices on early morning or late evening departures. If you are able to sleep on flights, overnight redeyes are usually cheapest when flying domestically.
2. Know the Best Travel Search Engines to Use
Some travel search engines inflate flight prices quite a bit higher than others since they take a cut from the airlines (we’re looking at you, Expedia). Google Flights is a great tool to quickly compare dates and prices, but the prices shown aren’t always the best available.
Here are a few of our favorite deal sites for airfare:
KAYAK is best for when your travel plans are flexible. They have a handy calendar to visually compare flight prices across the month. Try the “Flexible 3-day, Weekend or Month” search tool on Kayak to help stack on the savings.
If you see the label “Hacker Fare” on a listing, this means that KAYAK has found a deal based on round-trip options made up of one-way flights from two different airlines. This is a great way to save on your flight, but be aware that you have less protection if there is a cancellation for one of your flights, as well as the change/cancellation policies and the fees associated with them may differ from one ticket to the other.
You can also set up price alerts which will update you when it’s the prime time to buy based on if fares are predicted to rise or fall.
Momondo is dedicated to price transparency and doesn’t add extra fees or use browser cookies to raise prices so you can search and compare the cheapest flights available. (More on this below)
Momondo also includes results from budget airlines and Southwest which other sites leave out. The color-coded price calendar helps you find the best airfare deals for your budget.
Skyskanner is great for travel inspiration if you can’t decide where you want to go. The “Everywhere” tool makes it simple to find the best deals on specific travel dates if you’re open to any destination. Skyscanner also provides a “Whole Month” graph to quickly and visually find the best days and months to fly.
Note: Southwest Airlines is not included in any travel search engines (you must search it directly) but with their competitive fares and free luggage, it may be worth the additional step.
3. Search for Flights in the Dark
No, we’re not suggesting you turn off all the lights to do your flight sleuthing at midnight. Instead, keep your flight searches secret from the prying eyes of the internet.
You can avoid the frustrating and sneaky skyward shift in flight prices by enabling private browsing or incognito mode on your browser. Here are instructions for Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari.
4. Don’t Wait Too Long to Book
Are you planning a trip to a popular destination during peak travel times, such as Spring Break? You don’t want to procrastinate and find yourself booking a flight a week or two in advance, as prices tend to jump dramatically.
On the other hand, during off-peak travel seasons, solid flight deals can often be found around 1-3 months prior to a trip for domestic travel, and more broadly about 2-8 months prior for international travel. If traveling to Europe, for example, off-season is generally considered November through March, when there are far fewer international tourists crowding popular destinations.
Something else to consider is visiting traditional “summer destinations” in the winter. Alternatively, visit “winter destinations” in the summer. Head to Finland in late August or September and still catch the Northern Lights! Even consider taking a cruise during hurricane season (June through November). If nasty weather manifests, ships can change course to avoid it. You may not see every port you planned to, but you might see some fantastic ones you didn’t plan on.
5. Go to Where the Deals Are
So, you’ve got your travel bucket list and some unexpected free time, but you don’t necessarily need to check a particular place off the list—you’re just itching to get away…
If you’ve got an open mind and a clear schedule, some fantastic and unexpected trips of a lifetime can happen. All you have to do is search for destinations that happen to be on sale at a particular time! These sorts of deals can also be found on travel search engines and apps, and also by subscribing to various airline mailing lists, which will often send out alerts on inexpensive destinations.
Scott’s Cheap Flights is one of our favorites. They help uncover the airline’s mistakes to find the cheapest international flights out there. (Most deals are 40-90% off normal prices!) It’s super simple. Enter your email address and departure airport and Scott’s sends a regular newsletter when they uncover great deals. You receive them quickly - before they disappear.
If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, KAYAK Explore will narrow down everywhere you can fly in the world based on your desired month, budget and reason for the trip.
6. Turn Dollars Into Miles, and Use Them
If one of your life goals is to experience the world through inspiring, meaningful travel, why are you using a credit card that rewards you with an Olive Garden gift card? No offense, everybody loves those yummy endless breadsticks, but a trip to the OG doesn’t qualify as a trip to Italy.
This may be another seemingly obvious one, but it’s often overlooked as an incredible opportunity to prioritize and realize travel. There are dozens of credit cards available that reward you in miles or points that you can then use to make your travel dreams come true.(For example, with a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you earn 2x points on travel and dining, which can then be redeemed for 25% more on travel purchases (airfare, hotels, ubers, car rentals, cruises).
Perhaps you have a favorite airline you’d like to rack up miles with, or maybe one that holds routes in your region to destinations you travel to frequently. You’re going to spend that money on food, toilet paper, and your cell phone bill anyway—why not turn those dollars into miles and essentially fly for FREE?!
Bonus: This gig can be particularly sweet if you happen to be an independent business owner, or travel regularly for your job. You can put company costs on a credit card with juicy travel perks and watch the points pile on. The price of doing business is a vacation in Bora Bora. Rough stuff.
7. Cozy Up to Budget Airlines
Sure, we’d all love to fly in style and stretch out in business class at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. For the average Joe, however, this just isn’t practical. If the goal is to experience the fulfillment and lifelong rewards of travel and seeing the world, the quality of the means by which we get there sometimes has to take a backseat economy class in the interest of affordability. Budget airlines are very often the cheapest way of getting where you want to go.
If you are able to pack light and don’t need all the perks, a no-frills flight on a low-cost carrier can save you too. Budget airlines such as Allegiant Air, Frontier, Spirit Airlines, WOW Air and Jetblue offer significantly cheaper tickets but you will need to compromise on added baggage fees, less leg room and no “free” food/drink on-board. But, the destination and ability to travel when budget would otherwise prevent it is such a worthwhile payoff for a few hours of being tucked into a tight seat.
8. Read the Fine Print
Before booking any trip, always check the fine print on the cancellation policies of flights which could stick you with hefty fees. Worried you may need to revise your plans? Try booking with an airline such as Southwest that will transfer your bookings to a later date within the calendar year without charge. You would just have to pay for any fare increase.
9. Pack Light
Many airlines these days charge for checked baggage, even if you aren’t flying budget. Pack light and limit yourself to only a carry-on bag if possible. Or fly Southwest Airlines, which allows two checked bags without charge.
Also, many airline branded credit cards or rewards programs offer a free checked bag and other perks which is worth it if you fly frequently with them.
Weigh your baggage before leaving home to avoid extra fees on both carry-on and checked luggage. If you find out you are above the weight limit once at the gate, you could be charged 2-3x more than the normal rate. Leave a bit of extra space in your carry-on to transfer items from your checked bag if you are above the weight limit.
How to find cheap accommodations
1. Book for the off-peak season
Much like when booking your flights, realize that most popular destinations around the world don’t get a consistent amount of visitors all year round (Example: people flock to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and Cancun for Spring Break). Prices usually skyrocket due to the best weather conditions or a major event happening in the area.
While traveling in the low season may mean a chance of inclement weather and less restaurants open, it also has its perks too. You will likely save a lot of money since there is a lower demand for rooms and you will also battle much smaller crowds.
2. Wait until the last minute to book
I know, I know, this sounds counterintuitive. But, if you are willing to take the risk, you can often find last minute deals on unbooked hotel rooms that would otherwise remain vacant.
Booking a hotel within the same week of domestic travel could grant you massive savings around 21% less than average, according to a study by Skyscanner. For international travel, the cheapest time is the week prior to your stay.
Note that this last minute strategy works best for larger hotels in big cities. Airbnbs in smaller cities don’t typically have dynamic changes in pricing the same way, so you might as well book as far in advance as possible for the peace of mind.
3. Beware of hidden fees
Sometimes, the price you see on the booking site is not the price you get. There are several travel fees that alone may seem small, but can really add up! With a little planning and research, you can avoid these fees, or at least be prepared for them when they arise.
Some common hidden fees you may encounter in your stay:
- Resort fees for amenities such as the gym or pool
- Charge for wifi
- Fees for an extra person
- Early check-in or late check out fees
- Parking or valet fees
- Housekeeping fees
- Mini bar fees
4. Double Check the cancellation policy
Every place is different, so be sure to read the fine print on cancellations wherever you choose to book. Many hotels allow 24 or 48 hours notice for a full refund, but others are 7 to 14 days in advance, so plan accordingly. You don’t want to be stuck with a huge bill if you get sick, injured or have a family emergency last minute and have to cancel.
If booking with Airbnb, each listing has a different cancellation policy. They range anywhere from flexible (Full refund one day prior to arrival like most hotels) to super strict 60 days (50% refund up until 60 days prior to arrival). And don’t click “request to book” unless you are sure of your decision. This will automatically lock you in and charge you if the Airbnb host accepts the request.
5. Consider alternatives to hotels
For some people, their accommodations are simply a place to rest their heads and fuel up for the next day of adventures and don’t need to be particularly fancy. If this is the case for you, there are multiple budget-friendly options beyond hotels.
Once only known for backpackers, hostels are super inexpensive and offer many of the same conveniences as hotels. You often have to share a room, but always with the same gender. Bonus: Many times a free welcome drink and breakfast will be included in your stay!
If you’re okay sleeping outdoors, you can pitch a tent at a nearby campground for a super cheap option. Most have showers and bathrooms so you don’t have to go au naturel , as well as grills to keep your belly full.
Couchsurfing is the most budget-friendly option of them all - FREE! Basically, you stay on a local’s couch in the area you are visiting. This may not be for everyone, but Couchsurfing does take your safety very seriously!
6. Stay in a nearby town
If you choose to stay in the middle of downtown when you travel, prices will likely be much higher than staying a few miles out of the city or in a town that is close by. This may mean you will have to spend a bit more on transportation, but it may be worth the money saved on your accommodations!
7. Know which booking sites are best
There are tons of options out there these days, each with their own nuances and fees. But they make it super simple to find the most affordable stays. Here are a few of our favorites:
Airbnb offers all the comforts of home at a fraction of the price. From cottages, studio apartments and entire houses to even houseboats, castles or treehouses.
Refine results by price, neighborhood, room type (entire place, private room, shared room), size (number of bedrooms, bathrooms, beds), amenities, and more.
Bonus: Since you are renting from a local, you can usually ask about insider tips for exploring the destination!
Booking.com offers something for every travel style and every budget. It finds a mix of hotels, apartments and hostels.
They eliminate booking fees, allow free cancellation on most rooms, offer a best price guarantee, and you can “book now, pay later” at check in. It displays the total cost up front (except taxes) which is helpful to compare prices without hidden fees
Booking.com is said to return twice the results of other online booking agencies and consistently shows the lowest price options. If you become a member, you can unlock even more exclusive deals.
You can also see unbiased reviews from guests that have stayed at the properties to make the most informed booking decisions.
Perfect for the flexible or last-minute traveler! HotelTonight finds deep discounts on hotels for the same evening or week (and even beyond!) Browse hotels, inns, B&B's, motels or resorts near your location.
Check out fellow traveler's reviews and photos to ensure you are making a great choice. Easily filter by free wi-fi, pools, breakfast, pet-friendly options and more.
So are you convinced yet that your travel dreams are within reach?
We get it, you probably don’t have unlimited money to throw around. And the good news is: you don’t have to spend your entire life savings to achieve your travel goals!
We know how tough it can be to prioritize travel because it takes a certain amount of planning, budgeting and diligence to save money for and during your travels, but it is very realistic, no matter your financial situation.
By following the above tips, you will be booking your next trip in no time!
You know what’s definitely worth the investment to get you closer to fulfilling your travel goals? A push pin map to document your travel experiences and give you motivation to travel more often!
We have a variety of map sizes to fit your budget, space and style. The smaller maps are easier on the wallet and great for tracking larger areas like countries. The larger maps offer more space for pinning smaller areas such as cities and states.
Plus, you can make your map more affordable and give yourself a bit of extra time to save up by taking advantage of one of our buy now, pay later options. You can space out your payments with zero fees and zero interest with ShopPay at checkout.
At the end of the day, we want to ensure that your travels are as stress-free as possible by minimizing the financial burden. With all of these tips, as well as a travel tracker map, you’ll be ready to have the most enjoyable travel experience you can. And you will also have a visual way to stay inspired for future trips while back at home!