May 13, 2022


Traveling on a Budget

By: Leah Nalepa

What does it mean to travel on a budget? To me, it means traveling within your means. As someone who discovered my love of travel in my early twenties after I moved to an expensive city, I didn’t have much disposable income to spend outside my daily cost of living, which meant I had to travel cheaply. Despite that, in 2016 I made a goal to travel to a foreign country annually and to see every state before I turn 30 (I have 2 years left and 7 more to go!). In the decision-making process of where and how to travel young, I found some helpful tricks to keep me on track with my financial goals without breaking the bank. Here are some of my favorites!

1. Stay in an Airbnb or VRBO…Most of the time. In my opinion, Airbnb’s and VRBO rentals can offer some of the most authentic, iconic, and beautiful places to stay when traveling. They offer a home away from home without breaking the bank. That being said, they have their limits. Oftentimes, to get the cheapest prices, you have to be willing to stay with someone in their home. I’ve done this in multiple cities including Galway, Dublin, London, and NYC. I was always with at least one other friend, so I felt safe. COVID has changed how hosts offer housing, so be cognizant of that.

House rentals can become astronomically expensive when you’re traveling with many people. For example, when traveling with groups of 7+, the cost starts to outweigh the benefits of staying in the same location. At that point, it may be well worth it to look into cheaper options such as several rentals or a hotel.

Hotels can sometimes be the best way to save money. Websites like Kayak, Expedia, Trivago, and others can save you lots of money in last minute situations. All-inclusive resorts (vs rentals + food + travel) can also be a money saver if you’re looking for that type of trip. Though I generally prefer a rental house or apartment as a unique way to explore a new region, I frequently keep my eye out for hotel deals too.

2. Always be on the lookout for cheap flights. Half the time I’ve traveled to a new location was because I found cheap flights to said location, not because I planned it out 12 months in advance and hoped that the flights would be affordable. Sometimes, when you’re trying to save an extra buck, it’s worth it to plan your travel around affordable flights.

I’ve found Scott’s Cheap Flights, Hopper, Google Flights, and Kayak to be particularly helpful for this. Kayak’s “Explore” option is fantastic. It allows you to select a date range and search all over the world for the cheapest flights. If you didn’t know about it before, now you have no excuse!

3. Consider off-season travel. When my husband and I got married, we saved thousands of dollars by getting married the first week of January instead of December. We were hoping for a winter wedding but December was a popular (and therefore expensive) month. Instead, we opted for an “off-season” wedding one week later. The church was still decorated for Christmas, there was snow on the ground, and we got everything we planned for because there weren’t many other weddings that conflicted with the date.

I encourage you to think similarly when traveling on a budget. Consider “off-season” times when traveling across the pond or to another popular location. Prices will be higher in Europe during the summer because everyone wants to travel there then. Hawaii rarely has an off-season because of its constant beautiful weather but New Zealand (my dream trip) has an off season during their winter (our summer). Many companies will offer discounts when people don’t want to travel and sometimes those are the best times to go.

4. Credit card travel hacking. This is my favorite recent discovery, and this topic could be a whole blog post itself. But I’ll try to keep it brief. While we try to Dave-Ramsey most of our life, getting rid of our credit cards is not something I can get behind. Why? Because my husband and I made it a priority to be completely debt free in the first year of marriage and pay our bills consistently every month (admittedly, I had to work on this). Thereby, allowing us more flexibility in how we can use credit cards for travel points without getting into trouble. IF YOU PAY THEM OFF EVERY MONTH, credit cards can offer wonderful travel benefits. But not every credit card or credit card company is the same. Here’s the general idea:

a. Choose a credit card company that offers great travel perks, such as Chase, Discover, or Capital One. Other companies focus on cash back or other rewards, which are good for different reasons. I’ve chosen Chase and am working to build what the hosts of the ChooseFI podcast call the “Chase Gauntlet.”

b. Once you’ve chosen the company, find the credit card that gives you the most travel perks and flexibility. For me, this meant the Chase Sapphire card. When I signed up, I received 70,000 travel points (equaling about $600+ worth of airline dollars) after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months (which was rather easy to do because of my rent). It also allows other Chase credit card points to be transferred into travel points through the Sapphire (I’ll get to that in my next point). I am working to upgrade to the Chase Reserve card, which offers more perks, but it’s a more expensive credit card and until COVID subsides, it’s not worth it to me.

c. Build your gauntlet. When I say build your gauntlet, I don’t mean get 12 credit cards simply because each one offers a new travel perk. I mean, be intentional with your cards and be loyal to the company you’ve chosen. Since I have the Chase Sapphire, I’ve also added the Chase Freedom Flex and will soon add the Chase Freedom card. These are technically cash-back cards, but the cash back can be used as airline points through the Sapphire card. For example, when I signed up for the Chase Flex, I received $200 cash back. I immediately transferred that money into 20,000 airline points through the Sapphire account. Side note: Southwest also offers a Chase card, but I rarely use Southwest so I haven’t invested in that one. However, many love the airline so it might be worth it!

d. Be creative in airlines. Not all airline points are the same. I’ll use Delta to illustrate. Delta is a well-known and liked brand, and their points are expensive. Meaning, you need more of them to fly with the company. However, Delta has a Global Airline Partners list and is part of the Skyteam partners, an alliance of 19 airlines serving over 175 countries and 1,150 destinations across the globe. The same points you can use for Delta can be used for their partners, but many of their partners’ flights are cheaper and therefore use less points for the same destination.

While there are more ideas I can dive into, I’ve found that the information I’ve detailed here is the most immediately helpful when looking to travel cheaply. I hope you enjoy traveling and finding beautiful places around the world just as much as I do!