The Art of Affordable Travel
Every time I tell my 82 year old grandfather about our upcoming trips he always gets worked up. “Katy! You travel too much. Aren’t you saving any money?” This always annoys me and makes me feel very cared for all at the same time. (Opa, if you’re reading this, we are saving money, don’t worry).
The truth is, we really don’t spend that much money on travel. This is mostly thanks to my very frugal and overly organized boyfriend.
I understand that budgets and affordability are subjective topics so I’m going to try and avoid numbers in this post. But here is a list of things we always make sure to do when planning a trip and traveling to squeeze every Euro, Pound or Dollar out of our time!
Take advantage of mileage plan memberships
This is a money saver for domestic travel mostly. Matt and I both have Alaska Airlines credit cards. This works well for us since we have the Seattle connection (SeaTac is their main hub), but I think this is hands down the best program out there. It is a simple 1 mile earned for every dollar spent and we make an effort to use our cards as much as possible (and, of course, responsibly pay them off every month. Another parental/Opa disclaimer). We typically get a free domestic flight a year, and we use the $99 companion fare to fly home to Seattle once a year.
This is a money saver for international travel, or travel outside your mileage plan. Matt found our most recent trip to Ireland/Scotland on Google Flights. You need to plan months in advance and have flexible dates, but you can really find some good deals. I typically like to find the flight on Google Flights and then book directly through the carrier to avoid any confusion with the reservation, or to avoid getting bumped from flights.
Expect comfort, but not luxury
This is key. Traveling in your 20s is not about staying in 5 star hotels, eating like a king or going on shopping sprees. However it is important to be comfortable. For example, I won’t stay at an Airbnb that has any negative ratings or comments in regards to cleanliness. (“Bathroom could be cleaner” Nope.) I also prefer to not have shared space with other guests. Obviously your comfort level is a personal decision, but it’s important to identify the things that make you comfortable and to identify what you can afford within your comfort zone.
*This does not apply to the 10+ hour flights to Europe. Let’s be honest, those are just miserable.
Stay with friends
We always try and stay with friends when we can! This allows you to get away from the other tourists, save money and visit with some pretty special people! I do have a three night rule when staying with friends and family though. I want us to part friends, and cherish the memories made, not think about how much we annoyed each other in the end. I guess the cats out of the bag for those friends wondering why we go to an Airbnb after a few nights. Don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s me. We still love you.
Use Airbnb whenever possible in lieu of hotels. You’ll get more bang for your buck and, pro tip, if you have a kitchen, you’ll save money on food! Check out these photos from my Airbnb Experiences.
Don’t buy things you can get online
Just don’t. Unless it’s a gift. Buy things for yourself with a story that you won’t see in a ‘description’ field on Amazon.
We do these in every new city! I highly recommend Sandemans New Europe tours. They do offer a couple in the U.S. as well. They are typically 2.5 hours long, informative, very entertaining and we’ve never been on a bad one! They do solicit tips so you can pay what you wish at the end of the tour. Make sure to show up early or make a reservation online.
Travel guru Rick Steves also offers free walking tours through his app. While these aren’t as personal and interactive, they will allow you to get your bearings in a new city.
Off Hours Pricing
For activities that have paid admission, check their website for any discounts or off hours pricing. For example, the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin offers a 15 euro discount if you go before 10 AM. Up to you to decide if you want to drink a Guinness before 10 AM, but I enjoyed it. Also, the crowds were much more manageable at that hour!
We like to do a lot of free walks. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge. Walk the Highline. Hiking Arthurs Seat. Howth Cliff Walk. Walk through the English Garden in Munich. You’ll enjoy great views and get some exercise.
If it’s socially acceptable, split meals when you eat out, especially for a casual meal. You can always order more if you’re hungry and that way you don’t cart around leftovers.
If you have access to a kitchen, go to a local grocery store and make your own breakfast and lunch! We like to pack a picnic for the day so we don’t have to come back to where we are staying.
Stick with Public Transit
I know your feet are killing you…but walk, take the subway or bus. Avoid the taxis. You’ll get to know the area you’re staying in more, see more and save a ton.
Finally, don’t pay to see things you don’t want to see! Don’t pay to go to the top of the Space Needle or Empire State Building because you feel obligated. Don’t pay an entrance fee just to get a good picture. Don’t pay to wait in line with other tourists. Instead, wander to a local bar, teahouse or bakery. Relax and enjoy.
I’d love to hear your cost cutting travel tips! Please share.