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Tips for Traveling on a Budget

"You have to be rich to travel." How many times have I heard this widely held misconception? Too many to count.

We love to travel for a variety of reasons-- to learn about other cultures, to rest and recharge, and to visit friends/family (and for the food-- always for the food). Sometimes when I post about traveling, I receive messages like the aforementioned. Now, if you want to fly first class, stay at 5-star resorts, and order room service everyday, you definitely need a lot more money than we have, so this is probably not the article for you, but these are my 5 tips for traveling on a budget.

1. Budget for it. (seems obvious, but maybe not)

If travel is important to you, put it into your budget! Figure out ways to cut spending in other areas-- next time you are about to purchase something, ask yourself if you really need it or if you can either forgo it or get a less expensive option. Then, put that saved money into your vacation jar. Some people choose to spend their disposable income on monthly facials, luxury purses, or by treating themselves to coffee everyday-- I could not afford to do that AND travel as much as I want to. Little expenses add up- $5 on coffee everyday for a year could easily buy me 2 or 3 round trip tickets to Europe during non-peak travel.

2. Use credit card points to buy your flights or your rental car.

Let me start by saying that I do not believe in racking up credit just for the sake of earning points- if you cannot pay off your credit card (or a good portion of it) every month, don't buy things with a credit card (also note that you don't earn the points until the balance used to earn the points is paid off). However, if there's something I would normally pay for with cash/check, but have the option to use a credit card and earn points, I use a credit card. I only have two cards-- one for personal use and one for business use. I love that I can transfer my points between these two cards and combine them for redemption (and points are worth 25-50% more when you redeem them for travel). Last year, we did not fly anywhere and I didn't use my points for anything... so this year, I was able to buy all five of our roundtrip tickets to Europe + our rental car with points. These are the two cards I use.

Personal - comes with tons of travel benefits. My favorites are:

Priority Pass airline lounge access for the cardholder and two guests (another way to save money at the airport because you can eat all the food and drinks all the drinks before boarding your plane).

Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver when you pay for your rental with your card

Emergency medical benefit up to $2500 if you are more than 100 miles from home (we were able to use this when our youngest sledded off of a cliff in Switzerland and ended up in the ER).

No restrictions or blackout dates on airline tickets booked through with points. Redeem for tickets on most major airlines and fly any class. If a seat's available, it's yours. No restrictions, no blackout dates.

Business - if you ship products or buy social media ads, you can earn 3 points per $1 spent. You can also earn 3 points on every dollar by using this card to pay for your internet, phone, or cable bills (things you probably already pay for with a credit card, so why not earn points?). 

The ability to combine points with these cards has allowed us to travel a lot more than we could have afforded in the past few years.

3. Search for the cheapest flights.

I use two search engines for flights-- Skyscanner and Google Flights. For our summer vacation, I normally start searching right after Christmas. For winter vacations, I start searching at the end of summer.

On Google Flights, I toggle on the "track prices" button. If your dates aren't set in stone, you can change the number of days you'd like to be away (circled in red below) and the prices will update accordingly.

On Skyscanner, I set email alerts. I like that you can search everywhere on this website (circled in red below).

I usually know where I want to go, but if you just really want to go on a vacation and don't care where, this site literally allows you to search everywhere AND search entire months. This helps to find the cheapest price if your dates are flexible. Here's an example of what pops up when you search everywhere. You can then click the dropdown to see prices for specific destinations in the listed countries.

As soon as I get an email alert for a flight at the right price, I go back to my credit card rewards website (which uses the Expedia search engine) and search for the flight there and then I buy it with my rewards points.

4. Stay in a vacation rental.

Vacation rentals are usually cheaper than hotels. Many hotels in only allow 4 people/room. As a family of 5, this doesn't work for us because then we end up paying for two hotel rooms and using only one (hey, honesty is the best policy). Vacation rentals normally have more room for us to stretch out and yards for the kids to run around in.

You can choose a rental with a kitchen and save money by cooking instead of eating out 3 times a day. If we're gone for an extended period of time, we choose vacation rentals with a washing machine-- another plus for us because we pack light and only carry-on (a great way to save money is packing light and avoiding extra fees for checked bags). Bonus: I can use my credit card rewards points on vacation rentals, too.

5. Consider a side job.

If a vacation still seems far off budget-wise and you have a bit of extra time on your hands, consider picking up a side job. A friend of mine wakes up early while her kids are still in bed to teach English to kids online. Another friend has a side job translating documents into Spanish. They both use this extra cash to add to their vacation jars and wouldn't be able to vacation otherwise. I am a small business owner, but I also have a side job as a Beautycounter consultant (and I'm always looking to add to my team, so let me know if you're interested!), which pays for extra things we do on vacation like hot air balloon rides and cooking classes.

I hope these tips get you closer to taking your dream vacation. They've definitely helped us to travel the world with our kids and it has been such a blessing to see it through their eyes. And remember, vacations can be close to home and don't always require getting onto an airplane or a huge budget. Last summer, we road tripped across the USA and it was a wonderful adventure!

Buon viaggio!

 




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