Wanderlust that won’t bust the bank

When people get to know Colby and I, we often hear comments like, “Wow, you all wander a lot,” and “Do you ever sit still?!” And these are fair questions. We have been blessed to travel more in the last five years than many people get to in a lifetime, and for that we are eternally grateful. That being said, a few people have asked us how we afford to travel living on our modest teaching salaries (and a few others have skirted around the question).

First of all, I should point out that we make traveling a priority. We are extremely intentional about saving in other areas (we do not go out to eat much at home, I shop at thrift stores, etc.). But, I have learned a few “tips of the trade” so to speak, so here is my input about budget travel and how it can make your seemingly unrealistic dreams come true.

General tips:

1. Take advantage of the opportunities you are given. Study abroad is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had, and I spent a fraction of what I would have spent traveling to Spain otherwise. This was a unique experience I only got because I took the plunge and scheduled a summer semester in Europe. Best.decision.ever!

2. If you are in close proximity to a landmark, city, etc. that you have always wanted to visit, go then. Do not wait to book a separate trip; transportation costs will be significantly more. When I studied abroad, we had a free weekend. I made sure I got to Paris that weekend, because traveling to France from Spain is much cheaper than traveling trans-Atlantic.

3. If possible, travel during the off-season. This one is a bit tricky for Colby and me, because whenever teachers are on vacation, tourism is during peak season in many places. But while our big trips often require us to be on a school break, long weekends do not. For those, we always book during the off-season.

4. Pay attention to special events that make traveling more cost-effective. Last fall, Gatlinburg advertised a “teacher appreciation” weekend in which many area attractions were complementary to educators. That was one of the most fun and cheap weekends Colby and I have ever had!

5. Travel with friends and split costs. A few years ago, a group of friends and I went to Myrtle Beach during peak season, and we only spent about $100-$150 each TOTAL for the entire week.

Transportation:

I will admit, I am not as skilled in saving money in this area as others, mainly because I am not enrolled in any “Frequent Flyer” programs. When I feel financially stable enough to get a credit card, I plan on looking for one with great airline rewards. That being said…

1. I always buy airline tickets through Expedia. I always price check, but I seem to have the best results with them, so that’s where I recommend people start searching for flights.

2. Do not stray away from budget airlines. My plane ticket for the previously mentioned trip to Pairs was $90 round trip from Valencia. Granted, Ryanair is not glamorous, we did not check bags, and nothing on board was complementary, but for a $90 round trip flight, I am not complaining.

3. If you plan on driving, watch gas prices. Colby and I have wanted to take a cross-country road trip for years, and we hope to do so this summer while gas prices are still down. This is not rocket science.

4. Do some front-end research about the place you are visiting. If they have efficient public transportation, use it! Public parking fees stack up; my husband had to pay $25 to park at the National Zoo in D.C. Plus, taking public transportation really gives you a feel for a place’s culture, and I am always an advocate for authentic experiences.

5. If possible, try to map out your trip so that you spend the least amount of money on transportation possible. Calculate whether buying unlimited passes is really worth it, or if you can get by with a few single-fare rides. While it is usually cheaper than driving or taking cabs, subway/street car/bus fees eventually add up. Some cities offer awesome deals (like Boston, where I only paid $18 for a 5-day pass for “the T”), but otherwise, I would try to slim down riding the public transportation as much as possible!

6. Keep in mind that walking can double as your vacation cardio. You’re welcome!

Lodging:

Lodging is one of the best ways to cut down on trip cost, although budget lodging is not always ritzy. Bear with me and try to keep an open mind about some of these suggestions. 🙂

1. Couch surf. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a beautiful, world-wide movement called Couchsurfing, and it makes travel really financially accessible. For those of you who have not heard of the movement, here is the low-down: people with spare bedrooms, couches, air mattresses, etc. open them up to travelers– here’s the best part– for free! If sleeping on the couch of a random stranger seems insane to you, know that there are several safety precautions behind the movement. I wrote a lengthy blog post about this subject, so I recommend perusing it if you want a good picture of what Couchsurfing is really like!

2. Take advantage of hostels. Even if you are not comfortable staying in a dormitory with several strangers, many hostels offer single and double rooms that are still a fraction of the cost of hotels. I stayed in a youth hostel in France, and I am currently typing this blog from the NOLA Jazz House in New Orleans. I have met some awesome people in hostels and have had nothing but good experiences in them.

3. If you have to book a hotel, shop around and be patient. I use booking.com a lot, and I typically find a lot of great deals on there. I rarely book directly from a hotel, because sites like Booking have given me much better prices.

4. Like frequent flyer miles, many hotels/real estate properties offer rewards program with certain credit card companies. When I finally admit I am an adult and get a credit card, I will definitely look into this type of rewards program in addition to mile programs.

Food:

1. Complimentary breakfast is a wonderful thing!

2. Eat your big meal of the day at lunch. Not only is it healthier, but also much cheaper than dining at dinner.

3. Cook when possible. Colby and I usually go out for one meal each day while traveling. This way, if we want to try somewhere a bit nicer, we have the budget to do so, because we cook our own suppers. It is really nice to be able to eat a nice meal, because we love to search out Food Network restaurants.

4. Street food is awesome. I ate a lot of it both times I went to Europe, and I saved a pretty penny doing so!

Entertainment:

1. Similar to food, Colby and I typically budget our entertainment to one paid event per day. We may spend $30-$50 on show tickets, but we only catch a few each vacation. We usually seek out cheaper options as well, like museums, matinee movies, etc.

2. Self-guided sight-seeing tours are free! We are big fans of them, and I would always recommend exploring a city on your own rather than booking some kind of tour.

3. If you do book a tour, shop around like you would for hotels. During our stay in Aruba on our honeymoon, Carnival Cruises offered an island excursion for around $120 per person. We chose to take a similar tour from a local, and it cost us $40 per person instead. My caveat: be careful. Saving money is important, but safety is an even bigger precaution. Exercise good judgment. I would not recommend hopping in the car with a local if you are traveling alone…

4. Find unorthodox entertainment opportunities. We love art galleries, and they are almost always free.

5. Do a little research and see when attractions have free or reduced admission rates. In Boston, I got to go to the Museum of Fine Art for free, because they offered a free night during my trip.

Shopping:

1. Thrift stores

2. Sale racks

3. Outlet malls

4. Occasional splurges only for things you really want (I am buying designer heels in Milan next summer).

So, there you have it! If there is a trip you have been dying to take but have convinced yourself that you cannot afford, I would encourage you to think again. Too often, we limit ourselves when we shouldn’t. Even our most outrageous dreams are within reach if we step outside the box to achieve them.

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