How to Travel Smart, Savvy, and Spend Less
If you’re looking to go somewhere new and want to get the best deals on where you stay, how you fly, and what rental you drive, I’ve laid out 7 tips I use when traveling on a budget. Have any other ideas you love to use? Do dish!
This is just a sampling for now, focusing on options for trip planning travel hacks. There are so many more, I could go on and on. And new businesses with promising travel hacking angles are popping up all the time.
1. Choose a destination based on easy flight distances
Want to fly somewhere extra on your trip but can’t decide where? Look at any airport near you, then see what nonstop flights they offer. I did this in Costa Rica & discovered the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama just a simple flight away.
2. Do as locals do
If hotel/lodging prices don’t look like what you’d want to pay when overseas, seek out where the locals stay. We didn’t want the 1,000 average a night lodges at Kruger for safari. So instead we booked directly with the national park and stayed in nice bungalows for $100 a night.
3. Trust the ratings
For choosing the best hotel or rental property, Tripadvisor remains a top tool in my book. Use this, but don’t just glance at star ratings. Take a look at why someone put 1 star or 3 star. Is it one star just because the person didn’t like the blue carpet? Or because the bathroom small in a historic downtown Paris hotel? If that doesn’t bother you, as most all hotels in Paris have small bathrooms. It’s a big difference to have that issue versus it’s one star because of a bug issue or mildew. Oyster.com is another way to look at hotels. It’s a very detailed account of hotels, reviews, and I especially like their detailed pros and cons of staying somewhere.
If you see a 5 star review rating with at least eight reviews, trust it. My husband and I found one (which is rare to find all 5 stars across the board) and it was incredible. We stayed at La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm in Bahia Honda, Panama, and wow. What a cool find.
4. Find the cheapest flight on Kayak.com or similar. You can set up alerts on these cheap airfare sites, so that if the price drops, you’ll get notification by email. Then, book flights direct with the airline. Fees for cancellations and flight changes are cheaper and easier to deal with on airline sites than on online booking engines like Expedia or Orbitz. Though these sites now have a points system, so at least you get rewards when booking there.
5. Discount Price Auctions Rock
Name your own price on Priceline is something I love using. For rental cars, I use this nearly every time because the brand doesn’t matter to me, and the deals area consistently good. For hotels, I do this when I’m flexible with neighborhoods. The bigger the city, the more likely I use this so I can pinpoint the neighborhoods I want to stay in. Just scored a deal in Chicago for $101 a night in a 4-star in exactly the area I wanted, when comparable deals were closer to $240. Yes!
For just a little more knowledge of where you’ll stay, you can also opt for an express deal that shows you star ratings, guest reviews and amenities, plus the bargain that’s offered, but a surprise brand. This is a great thing too, and I’ve had successful hotel finds this way.
6. Choose Airlines that Show You Love Rather than Take Your Nickels and Dimes
If you think you might need to change your flight schedule and you are going somewhere where Southwest flies, go with them. Flight changes are hassle free and fee free. An easy online option. Plus baggage is free. And frequent flyer points have a $5 service fee, as opposed to somewhere like United that has an $80 fee.
7. If Location Matters, Research is Easy
Worried about what a surrounding area of a hotel will look like before you book it? Or want to see how close you are to the nearest bar or coffee shop? Simple. Put the address in Google maps and take a look through satellite view and street view. You can get a real feel for the neighborhood. This is how I booked my destination wedding without actually visiting.
8. The Sharing Economy is BIG
Look into airbnb.com as an alternative to hotels. As this shared economy lodging grows, it means hosts are more motivated to impress guests, and you get the local vibe anywhere you are. I stayed in a gorgeous neighborhood in the Western Cape of South Africa, and got to stay somewhere overlooking the beach, with cute dogs, and a very friendly couple. I’ve also stayed in the heart of Manhattan for a fraction of any hotel price there. Definitely a good option.
There’s also Couchsurfing.com, which is still a good way to do things. Best part? It’s free! And the hosts are people who simply just like hosting people – they don’t have an agenda to make an income. I’ve met fabulous people this way. The only downside is with no money incentive, short notice cancellations could happen (but I haven’t had this issue, personally).
9. Why have a room when you can have a whole house?
Look at vrbo.com for rental house ideas (along with airbnb). When you’ve got a big group of people who enjoy cooking and having that home away from home vibe, a rental house is a great, often low cost option. Much cheaper than the cost of several hotel rooms that require eating out for every meal.