Tips for Traveling on a Budget
Traveling has always been out of reach for me, for three main reasons:
I had a full-time job and was never able to save up enough vacation time for a decent trip
Never had enough money
I didn't know how to relax and rather worked
While only the first reason has changed, the other 2 still linger around however in the last year I've learned that if I don't do it now then I'll never do it.
I'm 28 and live in a studio apartment outside of downtown LA. My rent isn't too bad and the area I live in is safe, quiet, and has the best Chinese food around. That being said, I still don't have enough money to travel as often as I like but I do it anyways. Now the big question is, HOW?
I'm going to be frank, I get sponsored to travel most of the time. What does that mean? It means that I partner up with hotels, car rentals, and restaurants in areas I'll be visiting and work out some deals in exchange for stays, drives, and food. However, I do have a few suggestions when it comes to your trip but I apologize in advance if they're not mind-blowing!
Flights: A recent Huffington Post article has found out when the best time to buy tickets for your flight is - 54 days out. I have found that buying ahead of time does save you more than half the cost versus last minute flights. My best example is our recent trip to New York, in which Pau and I bought our ticket to NY in late December/early January, but waited last minute (the week of) to get a return flight home. We paid a little more than double the cost to come back to LA. Totally my fault as I was under the assumption that booking last minute would be cheaper. Lesson learned. I also used Sky Scanner to help track our flights and alerted us when the price dropped. It's also a convenient way to check prices of all your desired airlines. Thanks to Naty for the tip!
Rental Cars: Driving allows you to be in control of when and where during your trip. If you have a reliable car that you don't mind putting miles on, then take that. If it's a gas guzzler, then rent. I just got my car last year and the miles on it aren't easy on the eyes so I avoid taking it too far. Enterprise and Hertz are my go-to's, although Hertz has Triple A discounts if you're a member so take advantage of that! Enterprise does have great deals from time to time and I've personally used them more than Hertz, but make sure to compare both options before booking. Renting can save you gas, miles, but you will have to consider the cost for borrowing so make sure you're traveling with friends to help split the cost.
Hotels: I've been a loyal Hotels.com customer for a little over 2 years, racking up my stars to get that free night stay on them. I've found great deals off them and they always have a sale going on. One of my best friends uses them too and loves them! Of course, there's also Air B&B if you're bringing a group of friends along or want some private getaway for you and your boo. Another resort is Hotel Tonight, an app that gives you last minute deals and I've used it on a couple of times but would prefer Hotels.com (IMO).
P.S. Try to find hotels that offer complimentary breakfast so you can save on at least one of your meals!
Ok so the booking part is never fun and planning ahead does save you more money. So let's talk about food and the visit.
I'm a snacker so I will stock up on snacks for any trip and you'll always find something in my purse. This saves on sporadically spending throughout the day and keep you satisfied until lunch or dinner. It also helps save you time on the drive as you won't need to stop as often.
I use Yelp a lot, but I'm not an Elite member (in case you're wondering). I'm just like you, I use it to find affordable places to eat based on reviews. I do keep in mind that some people are just salty and can't be pleased so reviews can be completely bias/wrong for whatever reason. Trust me, I've talked to enough restaurant owners to hear all about it! So when looking for a restaurant to eat, read more than just 2-3 reviews. Get into it and look at photos, if it looks good to you then try it! After all, you never know until you've tried. I've never gone wrong from Yelp, well just once and it was from a restaurant that had perfect reviews!
Another way to look up food and things to do in your area is Trip Advisor. You can find hotel reviews, restaurants, flights, and learn more about your destination. I use it here and there, but most of the time I just type in "Things to do in ______" or "Best places to eat in ______" (on Google). Of course, there's always Instagram where you can look through the hashtags of the city to find some hidden gems (i.e. #sanfrancisco #sf) - although this takes some time and not everyone has time for that!
Lastly and most importantly, make sure you can afford the trip! Before you start wondering where to go, calculate up the estimate of how much it'll cost to get you there and the total amount you'll be spending when you get there. Once you've figured out a budget for transportation, food, stay, and activities then you can see whether it's worth putting a dent in your wallet. There's been plenty of times where I set myself up, planning everything out and announcing I'll be traveling only to be hit with a flat tire, needed car service, cat expense, or forgotten bill. So be honest with yourself and don't try to "do it for the gram" unless you can truly afford to. There's no shame in being an adult and being financially responsible. The last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of somewhere, with little to no money left.
Start small, as I did, with weekend getaways to Palm Springs, Vegas, Santa Barbara or whatever cities are within a driving distance to you. I was dubbed the weekend getaway queen for awhile (lol).
Traveling and exploring doesn't mean you have to go far away. If you're craving an adventure, just create one. Dare yourself to visit a part of your own city you've never been or to find local hidden gems with friends!