There are plenty of motivational pictures and memes all over the internet that say things like “If traveling was free, you’d never see me again” and “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”. The problem is… traveling isn’t free and not everyone has the money to travel!
My mission is to share the best traveling strategies with you so you have the ability to travel wherever you want in the world and spend no more than $1000 on your trip.
I also want to make sure you don’t sacrifice comfort. No one wants to sleep in a sleeping bag on a porch in Australia. You might wake up to a snake trying to eat you or something.
Let’s look at the data to give us an idea of about how much the average vacation to London costs:
- The average round trip flight from most cities in the U.S. to London ranges anywhere from $800-$1000. (Prices vary depending on the season, destination, and availability)
- A decent room at a popular hotel chain will run you $100+ a night.
- Food in London and most other European cities is expensive! An average meal at a pub in London can cost $15+ a meal!
- Most people will pay around $50 for transportation around their European city of choice. (This includes shuttles from the airport to your hotel, bus passes, train tickets, etc…)
If we add up our expenses, we find that you’ll be hard pressed to spend a week in London for anything less than $2000 if you don’t take advantage of any deals.
Things to Think About
Before we get started with the meat and potatoes of our guide, we need to talk about a couple things.
1. You will have to make sacrifices
Saying “I want to travel” and actually making the sacrifices needed to travel when you have a tight budget are two completely different things. I’m really not trying to sound preachy, it’s just the reality of the situation.
Most of you will have to put your nose to the grindstone, not go out to the bars 3 times a week, and figure out where your priorities are. If you love to travel or you’ve always had an affinity for adventure and want to try it out, make travel your priority and stick with it. Everyone has their hobby, and travel could be yours!
Related Post: How to Balance Fun with Financial Responsibility
2. Cost is Dependent on Destination
If your dream vacation is traveling to New York City and you live in Florida, your cost is not going to be thousands of dollars. It might only be a couple hundred. If you want to go somewhere exotic like Indonesia, Vietnam, New Zealand or somewhere else across the globe, expect a much higher price tag.
Preparing for your journey is 99% of the struggle. Be prepared to go outside of your comfort zone, do some new things, and spend months planning this trip. The more time you spend preparing, the the more affordable and more enjoyable your trip will be.
If you want to get the best airfare and hotel rates, you may have to apply for an airline or hotel credit card and use it for your expenses in order to rack up miles or reward points for free flights/nights. This could take months.
Flights WILL be your biggest expense by far for your trip. Airfare is absolutely ridiculous these days, but there are ways to reduce the cost!
Timing is Everything!
There are a couple times of year when flights are cheaper than normal:
1. Last three weeks of January and early February
This month or so right after the holiday rush and right before spring break is a great time to take a vacation. That’s if you can get away from school/work for a week.
Many plane tickets will be at least 30% off and you can find some flights that are 50% or more if you look hard enough. Airlines want to fill their flights during this time so they offer really good deals!
2. Last three weeks of April and early May
Once again we’re hitting a dead zone for airlines. This is right after spring break and right before the summer rush. This could be an ideal time for you to take a vacation and reward yourself for all the hard work you put in during the spring semester!
3. First couple weeks in December
This is right in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. These couple weeks might be the best point in the year to travel. The deals during this time are even better than the two previously mentioned.
The holiday season (Thanksgiving through Christmas) is when airlines make most of their money. Their one and only goal is to fill planes so take advantage of the discounts!
Airline Credit Programs
Many airlines offer credit cards for use by anyone who qualifies for them OR they partner with an actual credit card company like Chase, Citi, Discover, etc…
These programs all basically have the same theme. For every dollar you spend on the card you will earn reward point or “miles”.
Using This to Your Advantage
We just talked about preparation, and this is where it comes into play. If you want “free” flights, or flights at a more reasonable price, you’re going to have to apply, be accepted, and use these cards religiously to get enough points to make an impact.
That being said, many of these cards give you free points when you’re accepted to their program. This will get you even closer to your goal of free flights!
List of Top Travel Rewards Cards: goo.gl/KWQCM6
Finding a hotel or somewhere to stay on your trip will most likely be your second biggest expense. You might be expecting me to tell you to find a hostel or sleep in shed, but that isn’t the case! There are plenty of ways to be comfortable and still be frugal with your stay.
A new trend, especially in Europe, is to book private rooms (kind of like a bed and breakfast, but with less creepy dolls and old people). Essentially, people with houses or apartments that have extra space will post their accommodations on a website like Airbnb.com. Then, travelers like you will go onto these websites, find these available rooms, and book them!
I found a twin bedroom available in the middle of London for $34/night (plus a small service and cleaning fee). That’s absolutely unheard of and no hotel can compete with that. The room looks recently refurbished, and very clean. This is a win-win for any traveler on a budget!
VRBO (alternative to Airbnb): https://www.vrbo.com/
Many airports have hotels attached or inside them. While you’re booking your flight, check with the airline or with the airport to see if they have any deals if you buy your ticket and book your room with them. You will have to do your research, but that’s a common theme in this post.
If you’re not opposed to taking public transportation or not staying directly inside the city of your choice, this could really benefit you. Many airport hotels will also offer you deals on rental cars, parking, and public modes of transportation.
Best Price Gaurantees
Many booking sites like Expedia and Orbitz offer a “best price” guarantee. If you find a hotel or other accommodation that you really like on a booking site with this offer, book it! Then you’ll need to go back later and see if you can find a better deal somewhere else (check the actual hotel website, call their front desk, etc…).
Expedia offers a full refund and a $50 travel coupon if you can find a better deal within 24 hours of booking a room with them. This is a great way to not only get the best deal, but also get $50 off another purchase with Expedia. Every single dollar matters when you’re traveling on a budget!
Preparing For Your Trip
Don’t set an exact date for your trip until you have the money, and know when you can get the best deals! Let’s break down the steps you’ll need to go through if you’re going to come in under budget.
1. Saving (T-minus 6 months+)
This should be fairly obvious. You will have to save for your trip. Starting 6 months or more before you want to leave will give you enough time to save your money and not put yourself in the poor house.
Start a Travel Account
The best suggestion that I have to help you save for your trip is to make a travel account. Go to your bank, set up a separate savings account, and label it “Travel Account (Do not touch)”.
You’ve made your travel account, so you’re definitely serious about taking this trip! Now you need to start depositing money into it. My suggestion is to deposit a set amount of money into your travel account from every paycheck you receive.
If you get paid $300 every 2 weeks, put $30 (or more if you can afford it) into your travel account on the day you get paid. This will slowly grow your account and you can watch your progress.
To help your travel account grow, you’re going to need more than $30 every two weeks (it would take you over a year to get $1000). I suggest putting all of your raises, bonuses, and holiday/birthday gifts into your travel account. These are extra sources of cash that you shouldn’t count on anyway, and are a great way to boost your travel account!
2. Airline Credit Programs (T-minus 3 months+)
We talked about this previously, but there’s more to these programs than meets the eye. Most of these programs have a one-time bonus offering when you sign up with them.
As you can see these are some great opportunities to save on airfare. Spending $1000 on living expenses and transportation in 3 months is not unusual for someone in their 20s.
The best way to take advantage of these offers is to grab these cards up, use them to buy your groceries, gas, and bar tabs, and then pay them off with cash at the end of the month. This is a quick and effective way to reduce your flight costs, build your credit, and learn how to manage your debt.
Note: Use your credit cards wisely and don’t spend thousands of dollars (that you can’t pay back) just to get a free flight.
Guide to Airline Miles: http://lifehacker.com/a-beginners-guide-to-airline-miles-1592887319
3. Hunting for Deals (T-minus 1-month+)
At this point in your journey you’re ready to start making reservations and really planning out your trip. You’re getting close to reaching that $1000 in your travel account and you’ve wracked up quite a few miles on your credit card.
It’s time to search for some deals! Remember the tips we gave you earlier about flights and accommodations. It may take weeks and weeks to find the right deal you’re looking for, but be patient! Here are some of the best places to find flight and hotel deals:
My personal choice: Booking.com
Best for international/exotic: Momondo.com
It’s Time to Travel!
After you’ve completed all of your preparation, you are ready to travel. This seems like a really drawn out process, and in some ways it is. But it is possible to get out of the country and go somewhere interesting and new for under $1000! Let’s revisit our first example where we traveled to London for a week and use some of our new strategies to reduce the cost:
- Round trip ticket from Chicago to London in the middle of Feb. (great time to find airline deals) = $580
- Travel rewards card credit (after spending $1000 in 3 months) = ($212.50) (20,000 miles plus $1000 x 1.25 miles = 21,250 miles = $212.50 in travel rewards)
- Private room in the middle of London, found on Airbnb.com: ($35 x 6 nights = $210 + service/cleaning fees) = $248
- Estimated cost of food per day: $35 x 7 days = $245
- Transportation in London = $50
- Souvenirs, admission fees, etc… = $75
Our Total = $985.50
We did it! We made it under budget. I must admit that the last two categories (transportation and miscellaneous) were ball-park numbers. You could spend a lot more or a lot less on either one of these. If you walk everywhere (most European cities are very compact and pedestrian friendly), don’t want any souvenirs, and don’t go to any popular attractions you could save even more.
I hope you enjoyed this guide as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have any questions, comments, or have other resources you’ve found to help you travel, contact me, or leave it in the comments section below!