“How do you afford to travel so much…where are you off to next?” say friends and colleagues. Usually the comments are tinged with curiosity, excitement and occasionally envy, followed by self-analysis. Based on the volume I hear this inquiry, the perception seems to be that I travel all the time. Truth: I average about 4-5 weeks a year. This includes big trips (fly) and short getaways (drive) that provide the same benefits. I tip the scale by taking a Friday off once a quarter to turn a long weekend into a closer-to-home adventure. This travel trick apparently has all my friends bamboozled into thinking I travel for a living!
The real trick is finding balance in your life every day, every week and monthly by adding in the fun quotient, reducing the mundane routine of life.
There are plenty of ways to save on vacations and travel. Try these out for plenty of fodder to increase your travel dosage.
1. Use websites like Expedia.com that pair flights and lodging deals. Purchase a flight and then save $200-300 on hotel or lodging. When the US Women’s National team played in the 2015 World Cup in Winnipeg, Canada, I started by searching packages in January for the June tournament. For only $750 per person, my foursome booked a Delta flight via Minneapolis and five nights lodging at an upscale boutique hotel, the Fort Garry. The math works out to an international flight of under $300 and a hotel room for under a $100 per night.
2. When booking flights, check Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday departures and arrivals. Those three days are almost always cheaper unless on a holiday. Most airline sites show comparisons on fares by day or check the box that says, “My dates are flexible.”
3. Plan ahead and begin several months out to research alternative lodging options on www.Airbnb.com or www.couchsurfing.com and compare to higher-priced condos, hotels or resorts on VRBO or Homeaway. Airbnb has achieved acclaim for unique and creative spaces, both private or shared, that can cut lodging prices in half. For example, Airbnb owners live in the home and offer a portion of the space or a single room (apartment, loft, treehouse, etc) to travelers. Plus, an added bonus is most owners are generous with their local knowledge of eats, entertainment and cheap transport in the area.
4. Planning a city trip to Chicago, Nashville or New York? Most upscale chains or boutiques range from $200-250 per night and that does not include parking… a weekend away should not require a second mortgage! Try a booking on www.Hotwire.com or Priceline to save over $100 a night! Hotwire and similar websites pool available inventory and allow users to search by neighborhood or city zone. Other selection criteria includes 2-star through 5-star with filters to rank by price. My tip for city stays, don’t select less than 4-star. The catch, they only provide a grouping of hotel names during online booking; the actual name is only revealed once the agreed price and the type are confirmed. On my last Chicago trip, Josh and I secured a room for $95 a night at the Hotel Chicago Downtown (Autograph Collection) in river-north area. It receives an average rating of 4.3 stars on google reviews.
5. Stay with family or a friend (acquaintances too)! The tip is not to be afraid to ask. Save a bagful of money by bunking in with an aunt, uncle, third cousin, grandma, high-school classmate, co-worker, brother, the sis-in-law or the ex-boyfriend you’ve remained friendly with! Treat them to dinner for the favor and then you’ll still have extra cash for excursions and entertainment during your stay. On two of three Alaska trips, I stayed with a friend and her family in Anchorage, which provided a homebase for day trips to bike, hike, raft and paddle. The guest bedroom in their two-story log home was cozy, comfortable and the kitchen was fair game to make meals instead of eating out every night.
6. This is an important one, so I’ve saved it for last. Be willing to travel off-season and save a ton of cash, plus you won’t encounter hordes of people and horrendous lines at tourist attractions. And, flights are cheaper to Europe in October or November vs. May- August. Off seasonality also means rental owners drop prices to fill their inventory. On a 2011 Ireland hop, my group rented a 4-BR cottage in Western Ireland in a small town called Letterfreck, just two miles from the Atlantic coast. We paid $750 for the week, splitting it between four of us. My lodging portion was just $187. And, we hiked in Connemara National Park without seeing one tour bus in the parking lot. I was willing to sacrifice slightly crappier weather for huge savings…besides, the likelihood of it raining in Ireland is high no matter what time of year. Go in November, bring your slicker and celebrate your fat pocketbook at the pubs. (our cottage is third in the row of seven in the photo)
7. Oh, wait, I am forgetting the obvious – Stay and play locally in your home state. Last I checked, gas is cheap and so are campsites at National Forest sites. In the Mitten, Manistee National Forest is only half hour away from my door, where I can hike, bike and pitch a tent to rest tired legs. The North Country Trail also traverses the entire state, north to south and through the Upper Peninsula. Tip: It’s free to camp along the NCT.