With rising inflation and a looming (although unofficial?) recession looking imminent, a lot of Americans are reconsidering their travel plans. After all, flight tickets and hotels are among the items that have gone up in price the most lately. That being said, there have always been ways to travel on a budget. Luckily, that still remains true in 2022, despite everything happening with the global economy right now.
This article will cover a variety of easy to perform travel hacks. From tips on how to score the cheapest airline tickets to simple hacks on how to save on currency conversions and cellphone data, you’ll soon realize that you don’t have to abandon your travel dreams. Some careful planning and dutiful research is all you need to make your next trip a bit more affordable. Let’s get right into it!
Fly On a Tuesday
To be fair, this tip isn’t as simple as “fly on a Tuesday.” However, the majority of travelers book using full calendar weeks. That means the most popular travel dates are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you can, try to plan your flights mid-week. The airlines are typically slower, meaning they will likely price their seats a bit lower in order to get them sold.
It might take a bit of extra planning on your part, but it will probably pay off. If you’re able to be flexible on your departure and return dates, flying in and out on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday could save you hundreds of dollars compared to weekends. The same holds true for train tickets too, if your destination is reachable by rail.
Clear Your Cookies or Browse Incognito
It’s almost scary how much of your data every single website you visit wants to track. And yes, all that data can (and will) be used against you when it comes to travel plans. If an airline or travel site is able to make a calculated guess about certain financial data (like your average income, home value, or credit score), your quoted costs will reflect the price they think you’ll be willing to pay. And — no surprise — that probably won’t be the cheapest deal.
When you’re shopping for airline tickets or hotel accommodations, fight back by clearing your cookies or using Incognito Mode (or private browsing, depending on what browser you use). Or try using a browser with more privacy built in, like Tor. This will block a lot of those tracking pieces that advertisers use to identify you. Without that data, you’re more likely to see a “fair” price for travel, instead of what their algorithms predict you’ll be willing to pay.
Consider Indirect Flights or Flying Out of Different Cities
Flying directly from your local airport to your destination is super convenient. But it also comes with a hefty surcharge. If you don’t mind extending your travel day a bit in order to save some money, consider a couple useful alternatives.
The first option is to look for indirect flights. Those are flights that require you to have a layover in a connecting city, then hop on a different plane that will take you to your final destination. A long layover can be tedious, but a short one is totally manageable and will likely reduce the cost of your airfare by up to 20%.
The other option is to look for flights out of different airports. For example, my closest international airport is Pearson International in Toronto, Ontario. However, there are also select international flights out of Billy Bishop (downtown Toronto), Waterloo, and even across the border from Buffalo Niagara International. I’ve often found cheaper flights flying out of Buffalo. You just have to budget a bit more driving time, but it’s still saving you money in the long run.
Take Advantage of Reward Programs
Almost every major airline has some sort of frequent flyer or rewards program. If you’re willing to stay loyal to a particular airline, you can often use these programs to score discounted fares or other upgrades. Even if you don’t fly often, it’s worth making sure you’re enrolled in these programs — a lot of the points, miles, or other perks never expire.
Joining these programs is often free, but could get you access to exclusive airport lounges with free food and drinks. Even if you can’t use them to get a cheaper plane ticket, you may still be able to have a more enjoyable travel experience as a result. Additional potential rewards are cheap (or free) upgrades to business class, priority boarding, free WiFi, or free checked baggage. Every little bit helps.
Use a Dedicated Travel Credit Card
Speaking of rewards programs, there are dozens of credit cards out there specially for travelers. Not only do they rack up some sort of travel miles or reward points, but they likely come with additional perks and features too.
For example, many travel-focused credit cards won’t charge you fees for converting currency when you use them to buy something in another country. Others come with additional identity theft protection — something you don’t want to have to deal with while on vacation.
Don’t Check Bags
If you’re starting to feel like airlines are constantly nickel and diming you to death with extra fees, you’re not alone. It seems like there’s a fee for everything these days. Early check-in? Pay a fee. Want to pick your own seat? Another fee. Check a bag? Break out your wallet, because that’s also a fee.
You can avoid some of these things with careful planning. Or straight-up indifference. If you don’t care that you might end up in a middle seat next to the bathroom door, then don’t pay to pre-select your seat. Likewise, if you can carefully pack a reasonably sized carryon bag without needing to check one, you can skip that fee too. Just make sure you check your airline’s rules for limits on the weight or size of the carryon. Otherwise, you’ll probably be paying a fee for that too.
Research Your Destination Ahead of Time
Okay, we’re passed the tips that help you save money getting to your travel destination. Now that you’re there, how can you best budget your money to make the most out of your stay? For starters, you should have researched your trip well in advance. You should definitely have a rough idea of where the major attractions are, geographically. You don’t want to be scammed by a dishonest taxi driver. You should also know what you want to see and the estimated costs.
There are hundreds of travel sites out there. Do some basic research on the city you’ll be visiting. You may find deals on event tickets or discounts on certain attractions, if you book ahead of time. You can also find advice on things to see that aren’t quite as geared to tourists. A local park, market, or music scene could be just as memorable.
Take Local Transit
Taxicabs or Uber rides are incredibly convenient. However, they can really make the cost of your trip skyrocket. Even a $20 cab ride, a couple times a day, can equal a few hundred dollars by the end of a week or two. If you’re trying to travel on a budget, you’re best to seek out alternatives.
For starters, research the local transit system. Taking the subway, streetcar, or bus to local attractions will be much cheaper. Sure, it can be daunting — especially if the signs are in a local language that you don’t speak. Luckily, using your smartphone can make tackling local transit routes much easier than in the past. You can also ask a friendly local for help — most are happy to point you in the right direction. One last pro tip to save some cash: skip motorized vehicles altogether and rent a bike or e-scooter (if your travel destination has them). They are a great way to see the city while you travel around for almost nothing.
Take Advantage of Local Free Activities
The most “touristy” of tourist attractions typically cost a lot of money. Do yourself a favor and avoid most of them. Instead, make a point to check out more of the cost-effective local sights. Take a walk through the local parks. Search online for any public concerts or free live music as a local dive bar. Check out the local farmer’s market, craft show, or bazaar.
Another great option is to spend a day or two checking out local culture. Most major cities (and even smaller ones) have museums dedicated to local history or art galleries filled with the work of local artists. Entry to these places are often free, donation based, or at least very affordable.
Get a Local Sim Card
Excessive cell phone charges are one of the things that many people forget about when they budget a trip. If you don’t want to rely on free WiFi from local coffee shops, you’ll likely want to still be able to use your smartphone on vacation. However, those roaming charges for minutes and data can get really expensive. A week away could easily pad your mobile bill by $100 or more. Luckily, there are some things you can do to keep the costs down.
In many countries, you can buy a temporary local SIM card. It’s prepaid, with a certain number of minutes or specific amount of data. The price will vary from country to country, but it’s almost always cheaper than using your domestic cell plan while abroad. Just make sure your smartphone is unlocked and know what size SIM card to buy. You’ll temporarily have a new phone number, but that’s okay.
The other option is to use a mobile provider that specializes in travel plans. If you’re out of the country often, it may make sense to look for a plan that doesn’t charge you a bunch of extra money for roaming or data. This is still a pricier option than just buying a local SIM card though.
Try a Luxury Hostel
Hotels are expensive. Hostels are dirt cheap, but you get what you pay for. If you don’t mind the shared dorm room experience of a hostel, then they’re a great way to nab a cheap place to sleep. However, if you’re not into sharing your private space with complete strangers, a new niche option is popping up in cities around the world — luxury hostels.
A luxury hostel is perhaps the best of both worlds. For a little bit more money, you’ll get better amenities and an additional bit of privacy. It won’t exactly compare to a full hotel stay, but it will do wonders for your travel budget.
Visit a Country That Doesn’t Require a Visa
Some countries require you to apply for, pay for, and obtain a travel visa before you can cross through customs. While it’s usually not a very expensive part of your trip, it’s still an extra cost. Unless you have your heart set on visiting a very specific city or country, you can probably plan an amazing trip to one of the hundreds of countries that doesn’t require a visa to enter.
Whether you need a visa or not depends on what country your passport originates from. Certain countries have different rules or agreements, depending on your citizenship. Take a moment to research where your passport allows you to travel without paying this extra fee. There’s no shortage of amazing options.
Have Travel Insurance
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t travel insurance actually an optional extra expense? If you’re trying to save money while traveling, opting for an additional cost seems counter-productive, right? Wrong. Wrong. And wrong again.
Here’s the thing. Travel insurance is normally dirt cheap — especially compared to the cost of an unforeseen emergency expense. Travel insurance will cover the costs of canceled flights or hotel rooms, theft of personal items, foreign medical expenses, and even car accidents with rental cars.
In short, travel insurance is a very cheap way to guarantee your trip doesn’t turn into a financial disaster. Don’t just ignore it because you’re too cheap to pay an extra fee. This one is worth it.