Can Travel Actually Be Affordable?

This seems to be the number one reason people do not travel. I do completely understand. Travel can be expensive. But it can be so much more than that.

I tend to look at taking these amazing vacations as more than just money. Of course traveling can be relaxing and can help prevent stress, as well as it can induce happiness. But one of the things that people to say to me when they hear me talking about my adventures, they always say something like “must be nice”, or “how can you afford it?” Even, “I wish I could do something like that.”

Truth is, you can. You really can.

Traveling does not have to be expensive, if you don’t want it to be. It’s all in how you decide to travel. Of course there will be some places that will be more expensive than others. I like to keep track of what I’ve spent on my trips. And this is how I can tell you, it’s completely manageable.

The first thing you have to do is research. This can be the most time consuming that you do. But you have to look at it as fun and not work. Let’s say, you want to go to Hawaii. The first thing you should be doing is looking at pricing. The price in flights alone can range drastically. I live in Milwaukee, yes, we do have an airport. But with where I live, I have access to a few different airports. I have Chicago O’Hare (which I would claim as my usual airport), we also have Madison, Chicago Midway, there’s even Appleton, and Green Bay. Granted, the closer ones will be Milwaukee, Chicago, and Madison. Living in a place where I have different access to flights, also means, that I have access to different prices. I may not have the budget for a non-stop out of O’Hare. But I may have the budget for a flight out of Milwaukee that stops in Minnesota and then from there on straight to Oahu.

So I’ll do a few flight searches for random months in the year; this works if you are able to travel at any time. I understand that there are people who work full time in positions where they do not have that luxury, like teachers. Since you know that you have certain times to travel–which may be on the more expensive side, you can set a more realistic budget. For those of us that can use their Vacation Days anytime of the year, you can just scroll for a time to travel that looks good with your budget. I would recommend staying away from times of the year such as the Summer Months, Christmas and New Years, and Spring Break (I know, I know, my birthday always hits this time of year, and I can never find any good pricing!). Google Flights may be one of my favorite places to just browse for flight prices. You can scroll through the calendar, set the price range your looking for, etc.

Once I’ve seen the numbers, I also see the connections. Being someone who knows the airline industry pretty well I do a few things. I continue my search on other platforms–maybe there’s a sale somewhere. I just want to make sure I do have the most accurate pricing I can get. 

Just know, airline pricing is like gas pricing, they can go up and down without any reason, at any time–even when you are in the process of booking. This can happen, and unfortunately, sometimes it does. Until you book that ticket, that price is never concrete. 

Sometimes I also build flights. Occasionally, I can find better pricing by mixing airlines, and creating my own stops. Also by doing them one way, instead of buying them as a round trip. For new travelers, I wouldn’t necessarily advise this, due to the fact that schedule changes can happen, and they can really mess with flights if you’ve built them on airlines that do not have ticketing agreements. You can find yourself losing money trying to rectify this, and occasionally find yourself stranded. But if you are confident and a problem solver, than I would highly recommend this!

The next thing to research is where are you going to stay? Do you have friends in the area? Is it better to stay at an AirBnB or a hotel? Are you daring enough to go CouchSurfing? Or would you really just like to stay at a Hostel–store your stuff, sleep, shower, and go? There are so many things to consider, and luckily, you have all of these options! Maybe you want a more local experience like staying at a Bed and Breakfast, or even renting a camper-van and staying at a camp ground. There are places where you can even exchange skills for free room and board. (You can check out WorldPackers.)

The next thing to keep in mind is how will you get around? Would it be easier to rent a car or is the public transportation easy enough? Maybe you’re staying in Downtown and Uber and Lyft are your best options? When you do consider this option, please make sure you take a look at parking options. How much does it cost a day? Is there street parking or meter parking? Take this into consideration when you’re looking for where you will stay as well.

With all these options out there today, travel is becoming more and more affordable. We have budget airlines, we have baggage included airlines, we have basic economy tickets, we have about 20,000 different types of places we can sleep. Once you conclude your research you can set your budget and you’ll be able to set your dates and actually begin your official planning. But how can you budget?

Please keep in mind, traveling can be a lot more fun with friends (this may not always be the case, you can read that post here.). It can also help save money, with your car rentals accommodations, groceries, parking, etc.

Here are the top things I do to save money to save for a trip:

1. Stop going out to eat. I plan my meals, I make my lunches. This prevents me from going out to eat and wasting money. Granted, I may now just go out to eat twice a month, instead of 12.

2. Stay in. Maybe you’re that person that wants to go out with friends every weekend. There is nothing wrong with this, but think of how much money you would save without a $50 bar tab every weekend. Immediately put that money into your Travel Fund and plan a night in with your friends!

3. Immediately move 8% of your check into your Travel Fund. 8% may not be much, but after doing this every paycheck for a couple of months, it can definitely save you money!

4. Don’t go shopping. Of course, sometimes you really do need a new pair of pants, or a dress for that wedding, but, you really can wear that dress you wore for your friends wedding two years ago to this one. Instead of shopping where unnecessary, put that amount straight into your travel account! Because honestly, do you really need that pair of new shoes?

5. Round up. I use a service called Qapital, that rounds up every purchase I make on one card up to $2.00 and it saves that for me. There is currently a $3.00 a month fee, but I feel like it’s been worth it. This is excellent for those who are just not good at saving. It also stops if your card amount hits a certain amount. I’ve been using this for a few years now, and it’s amazing at how much I’m saving without putting any effort into this. They can even send you a debit card–perfect for travel! There’s even a sign up bonus! Click the link to take advantage.

6. Make gifts instead of buying them. Everyone loves homemade gifts, they are more meaningful than things that can be bought. It can also save you money. Of course, making gifts can always cost money as well.

7. Look into a travel credit card. This can go several different ways. While this is not something that may always save you money, it is a great way to help you save money with travel. You can get travel points and credits for travel. There are many different types of travel credit cards so please do your research if this is something you can see yourself using. There are airline credit cards that after so many months you can get a certain amount of frequent flyer miles– make sure this airline goes to the places that you would like to do. I wouldn’t recommend a Southwest or Frontier Credit Card if you’re trying to go to Europe. Nor would I recommend getting an AlItalia Credit Card if any flight would cost you having two layovers. Chase also has some excellent travel credit cards that lets you use points and credits on reward travel. Please make sure you know your credit and are able to do this.

** The best place to exchange money is going to be your bank, or a
Travelex Currency Service. I would highly advise to not ever exchange money at an airport. If you have a credit/debit card with international exchange fees (or even none), then doing this at an ATM is also a better bet than doing this at an airport. **

Below I have a few examples for traveling and how you can plan a trip and some of my budgets and real life expenses.

Please keep in mind, while you can do all the planning and research yourself, you can also find a wonderful travel agent who will help you, if you really just have no idea. They may include a fee but many can find you some great deals as well!

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Example 1:

So with Hawaii, let’s say after scrolling through flight pricing I decided to budget my airfare for $650. I don’t care how long it takes me to get there, I just want to get there and this is the price I’m going to stick with. I’m going to try and stick with a realistic budget of $1500 for 7 days.

One friend that went to Hawaii with me asked what budget she should go with. My answer was “You can do it as budget friendly or as expensive as you would like it to be.” And that is the complete truth. I told her my goal was $1500, and she decided to go to $2000. She also said “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Now, if that is your mindset, then you may want to budget more in. That’s because you already have the mindset that you want to do as much and buy as much as you can while you are there. While, yes, that is how you’re looking at this trip, I want to tell you, that I would not recommend it.

Why?

Because when you look at it as you’re only going there once, or you can only do it once, you pack in everything into a short window of time. This leads to disappointment if things don’t go the way you want it to, or you’re too exhausted you aren’t actually having fun. You have to set realistic goals, it is still a vacation. You really do want to lounge on the beach for a whole day. Or even beach hop!

Now that you have found your airfare, the next big money killer is your accommodations. Here you can look everywhere, random hotels, Airbnb, etc. Since you may not be into the Couchsurfing vibe yet. Let’s settle on a nice Airbnb. (Check out my AirBnb blog post for what I always look for here.) Sweet after a ton of searching, found one that fits my needs for $519.

So now I have $1169 spent out of my $1500 budget. Don’t freak out, it’s okay! Let’s say you also want to rent a car, because you want to be free to see ALL of the island, and not just Waikiki and the area that you’re staying in. While Hawaii does have “The Bus” which does go everywhere, and it is very inexpensive, and a really nice way to see the island, let’s just say that’s not for you. Yes, they do have Uber and Lyft, but that does add up, and sometimes the driver won’t want to go to Pupukea from Waikiki. So the car rental you’re looking at was $260. Now you may think I am now almost at my entire budget for the trip. You don’t have to panic.

What are things that you could cut out when you get there, that you don’t really need?

1. Taking tours everywhere. While taking tours may be super cool, they can get pretty expensive. Instead of taking a tour to snorkel with Turtles, you can drive yourself to Electric Beach and snorkel with turtles for free. You don’t have a mask or flippers? You can rent them pretty inexpensively, or you can buy some on Amazon for around $30 and can keep it for your next snorkeling adventure. Or you scratch off the Waikiki City Tour and Pearl Harbor tour–you just want to experience Pearl Harbor. Perfect! Get to Pearl Harbor early, and you can get a ticket with a time for FREE! Or you can book a ticket online for a time that works for you and I think there’s a reservation fee–it costs about $2. (Please check the listings if you are able to actually go to the USS Arizona–it has been closed.) One of the greatest things about Hawaii, is a lot of things are free!

2. Change your Night Life attitude. Sure, going out and partying with people on the island is a lot of fun. You can keep a low budget by not drinking. This not only ensures your budget friendly wallet is untouched, but it also can keep you safe if you end up traveling alone.

3. That dinner at Tommy Bahama.Look for the local restaurants. You’ll get a better bang for your buck, and you’ll even get better quality. (I highly recommend South Shore Grille by Diamond Head–my personal favorite. I dream about their fish taco plates!)

4. Eating out every meal. You booked your AirBnB so you had a kitchen. Stop at the grocery store and buy some food to cook for yourself for two meals, and go out for one. Even buy some Longboard if you want to have a beverage or two at home (or before you go to explore the nightlife).

Other ways you can explore by trying to keep your budget down is asking a friend to join you. That way your accommodations and that car rental is split in half. So now you’ve only spent $1039.50.

Example 2:

Let’s say you want to go to Europe. Simple. I just found a $350 ticket to Ireland. Except you want to go to Paris. You can find really cheap flights within Europe, or you can explore Europe by Train. I bought a ticket on RyanAir for about $70 to an airport North of Paris. There is a bus that will take you to the train station to get you into the city of Paris. I booked a Super Shuttle that would take me to my hostel for about $60 roundtrip. This was door to door service– airport door to hostel/hotel/AirBnB. For this hostel I booked a Single for 2 nights, and a shared dorm for 5 nights, and it came out cheaper than booking a hotel. Let’s be honest, I’m just going to sleep, shower, and store my things there. I don’t need a room to myself, My bag fits in my locker with a lock, and I’m out exploring for the next 18 hours.

The transportation system in the city of Paris is phenomenal. It goes everywhere you would want it to go, and it is super easy to take. Ask the front desk for a map and they will give you one easily. You can also buy a multiple-day train card for less expensive than a 24-hour ticket. Just remember to sign and date them! There are police who do check them on occasion, and you do not want to get caught without that being done!

Food is a different story. In Paris, you can find some of the best food from street vendors for very little. Crepes, sandwiches, bakery, paella, fallafel, among other things. In the morning I would grab a pain au chocolate and a coffee or juice for 1 Euro. For 7 days, that’s 7 Euros for breakfast (depending on where you go). Done. For lunch I would see what is around me when I get hungry (when I travel I don’t get hungry very often, so I usually have breakfast and either lunch or dinner, depending on how much walking I do during the day.). I’ve been to France a bundle of times so I’ve already had fois gras, caviar, Quiche Lorraine, escargot, steak tartare, and coq-au-vin, among other things, but sitting in a French cafe is an experience in itself. One that I would recommend. Try the local dishes — some of you may only “France once”. One day on my trip I will sit down to Four-six course meal.

I try to find a Street market, and grab some fruits, cheese, butter, some dried meats, and bread so I can also keep it in my room, so if I do get hungry, I will always have something. However, I do always buy a few bottles of water to travel around with. Always keep yourself hydrated.

Cost for 7 nights:
Flights: $420
Accommodations: $317
Transportation: 100.60 euros (5.80 x7 + 60)
Food: around $100.00
Total for 7 Nights, 8 days in Paris: about $934.60

Example 3:

Staying on the Mainland (if you live within the US). Here are my costs for my Washington DC trip on Memorial Day Weekend. This is a more expensive time to travel. We stayed 3 nights, 4 days.

We could have cut costs down by taking the public transportation. However, we had very specific times for the things we were doing, that we needed to make sure we got there at those times. (For example, The Holocaust Museum, The Memorial Day Special, and Arlington National Cemetery.) To read more about this trip, click here.

Flight: $346.96 (just my ticket)
Cheap Hotel with breakfast (Comfort Inn Downtown DC): $290.03 (divided by 2, my portion $145.02)
Transportation via Uber: $61.71 (divided by 2, $30.86)
Food: about $65.00 (30.00 each)
Total: $416.74 (without air or $552.84 was my portion with air.)

Example 4

Roadtrips! This can be a simpler and less expensive way to travel. You now have your transportation. I would recommend having a reliable vehicle to do this. If you do not, then I would suggest renting one. Let’s say I was going to Nashville. From Milwaukee, it’s about an 8 hour drive. In my vehicle, that’s about roughly a tank and a half one way. Roughly about $100-150 in gas. When my friends and I did this previously, we had a cooler with drinks and some food to save some money during the drive. We got a hotel for $59/night–nothing fancy (Motel 8), since we would be exploring rather than staying in the hotel (as you can tell, I don’t care too much about the accommodations–granted this is the way that I travel, and may not be for everyone. Some may like to spend more on that.)

Now here in Nashville, I’m going to want to do more things that will cost money. For example, the Country Music Hall of Fame ($30), Walk of Fame (free) and I want to go to the Grand Ol Opry ($75) and the Belle Meade Plantation ($24) and of course Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge (Free, drinks are a little pricey, food pricing is reasonable).

While you are in Nashville, you do want to indulge in the food. You can easily do it for $50 a day. Pricing for drinks is going to depend on where you are. Drinks on Broadway are going to be higher priced.

Gas: $150
Parking: $20
Hotel (3 nights): $190
Fun: $130
Food and Beverage: $143
Total: $633
Split between 3 people: $392.99

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Categories: 24 Hours, Accommodations, Adventure, airbnb, Airline, Airplane, Beach, bucket list, Caribbean, Featured, Food, Foodie, france, Germany, Hawaii, Italy, Jamaica, Las Vegas, memorial day, Mexico, Outdoors, passport, Quick Trip, Solo, Spontaneous, travel, Travel Solo, Uncategorized, United States, Weekend Trip, wisconsin, Zurich

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