Since KC and I started traveling together in 2010 we have visited; 17 states, 4 Canadian provinces, taken 19 road trips, and 25 total trips (I'm probably forgetting some here...).
We have been dog sledding, whale watching, and sculpture garden exploring. We've seen amazing concerts, wandered through the French Quarter, seen glaciers and ice bergs, totem poles and light houses. We've walked too many miles to count, and had so many incredible meals that thank goodness we were walking off. (I hope... )
I get a lot of emails, questions, etc. about how we travel so much. "You're always traveling, what do you do for a living?!" "I wish that we could travel as much as you guys do!" etc. While I don't feel like we have any magical secrets, and we certainly don't have ultra-high-paying jobs... KC and I have been thinking of what allows us to travel more often than others.
We've narrowed it down to two main reasons: creative vacation budgeting and having a good imagination.
Here is our list of 12 ways to make travel cheaper, and more of a priority. Read on for more info!
1) Travel Close By
While it's tempting to write this off immediately, don't! Traveling more often includes exploring places that don't seem "cool" or you haven't heard much about. Or maybe even places that you've been before, but not in a long time, and you can't imagine what there is to do there. Think again! I can't tell you how many times KC and I have taken driving trips 4-5 hours away to places that didn't sound that exciting, but had a GREAT time. We've utilized so many weekends to drive to St. Louis, Omaha, Tulsa, etc. It's the perfect amount of time to explore somewhere you can easily go back to!
2) Take Advantage of Weekends / Long Weekends
This pairs nicely with the first one, using a weekend as your travel days saves on using vacation time, limits the amount of time you pay for things away from home, and somewhat limits the destinations that you can travel to. All-in-all this saves tons of money, and opens your eyes to destinations you may not have thought of before. 1) you can continue saving vacation time for other trips, 2) you can spend at most 2-3 nights in a hotel (that adds up!!), and you probably won't be jetting off somewhere that costs more money! I mentioned above that we take 4-5 hour driving trips on weekends, but we have now expanded into anything 9 or less hours away being a suitable weekend trip distance. That allows us to visit: St. Louis, Omaha, Tulsa, OKC, Iowa, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Indianapolis/Bloomington, Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, or Louisville. - just to name a few.
3) Travel for Events
Travel for your hobbies and interests, and extend those trips into short (or long) vacations. Maybe you love concerts, plays, festivals, etc. Or maybe you've read about a new museum or shopping location that you want to check out. Incorporate that into your travel plans. It gives you another reason, excuse, or justification to travel again. KC and I have taken many trips based around a concert. We will buy tickets anywhere within that 9 hour range if we can make it work. This option is great coupled with 1 and 2. One of the greatest times was when we found out that Bastille (center) was playing in Omaha for $16 per ticket. It was when they were still fairly new, the tickets were cheap, the drive was short, it was my second favorite concert to date. And only second to Coldplay (left).
4) Extend Non-Personal Travel
Often times people have to travel for work, or a conference, or have family vacations that are already planned. These things aren't necessarily the trips that YOU would plan, but that doesn't mean that you can't extend them, or take advantage of time pockets while you are there. We traveled to Alaska last year for work, which meant that everything was covered or reimbursed as far as our flight, hotel, meals, etc. were concerned. We decided to go up a few days early to get in a little mini vacation before the real work began. This left our costs at ONLY what we did on those extra days. Our rental car, our meals, and hotel nights on those days. That made somewhere far like Alaska, so much cheaper! Another way to do something like this could be to tack a few days onto an end of a family vacation. We visited Florida with my inlaws over the summer and had at least one day where we took off on our own to explore. We are planning another family trip for next summer. We're headed to Vegas, but KC and I are talking about driving down to Phoenix to see my parents afterwards, or maybe flying. Flights from Vegas to Phoenix are usually much cheaper than Kansas City to Phoenix.
5) Visit Family & Friends (and Stay With Them if You Can!)
We are fortunate to have great friends and family scattered all across the country. Visiting them is a great way to keep in touch, and to have a multi-purpose, not to mention less expensive, vacation. I find that hotels/lodging is my very LEAST FAVORITE way that money disappears while traveling. When we are traveling, we rarely spend time in our room anyway! When it's possible, and offered (!!) it can be a great way to take expense out of travel. When we visited my family in Arizona, we still had to fly, but because we were able to stay with my parents the whole time. So. Much. Cheaper. On those quick weekend driving trips that include a concert, we've stayed with friends in Minneapolis several times, which always makes those quick trips less expensive too. It's easy to forget, but odds are people would love to see you. Just make sure to offer up something nice in thanks, pay for a meal, bring a gift, return the favor, something like that. Be a good house guest. ;)
6) Make a Plan
KC and I talk about doing all kinds of things, but unless we seriously prioritize it, go for some kind of a goal, achieving it is difficult to do. Find a time that works for you, but isn't insanely expensive to travel. Pick a place that you want to go (don't be too set, see #7). Start to pick things you are excited about doing. This year we are trying to map out possibilities for several times during the year, hopefully that results in better planning and more realized trips. It's like anything else, if you don't make it a priority, and set yourself up for success... it won't happen.
7) But Don't Be Too Set on that Plan!
Having flexible travel days and locations can be a great way to get good travel deals. It can result in cheap flights, specials, and a new possibility that you hadn't thought of before. Look up cheap flights from your city. Odds are there is somewhere you haven't thought of that has tons of possibility. And the price tag might just be much cheaper.
Estimate your costs in advance. Many restaurants have online menus and pricing, hotels and flights are easy to estimate, as are many attractions. Pick the "free night" at museums and attractions when you can. Look for online coupons as well. Factor in souvinirs, shopping, and things like snacks and coffees. It's easy to forget about things like that! Kristen just did the BEST post on a travel budgeting app she loves, download that ASAP. Her post, thank you for sharing Kristen!
9) Saving Money Quickly
As you save up before leaving, see what you can do without in between now and then. Could you get that book at the library or from a friend? Could you cook at home instead of going out as many times? Use netflix or the library instead of going out to see movies. Or maybe just skip the popcorn. Is there something that you spend money on regularly that you could scale back? One less trip to the nail salon in a few months, limiting how many times you get starbucks per week? Cut costs at home, so you can feel free to spend when you go. I even go so far as to say, "well I really want to buy this ring... but I would rather get to spend that $20 on something more unique while we are traveling." Experiences vs. material items, is another good way to scale back pre-trip. Would you rather have 4 new t-shirts or a set of concert tickets? Or two really great meals somewhere? Or a horseback riding tour? There are endless experience ideas when you travel!
10) Keep Yourself Motivated
Make your plan or dream public, and that will hold you accountable for it. Put up a picture of the place you are visiting on your fridge, or your desk, or hell, taped to your credit card! Blog about it, share it on social media, share your progress, people will cheer you on. People will ask about it. If you must shop or spend money, try to do it on something related that you need to purchase for your trip! Book a tour, get a rain jacket for Seattle. etc. Having this mindset and reminders frequently will keep you focused on your goal!
11) Block Out Time to Plan it
As your trip gets closer, you'll want to spend money, and you'll need to be planning some of your trip. One way KC and I combat this simultaneously is to have planning date nights. We gather up our books and research and map out what we want to do, or at least options. It helps us make sure we're both involved and both on the same page. It also gives us a date night with a purpose, one where we aren't spending much money to-boot. You could do this with family, roomies, etc. If it's a solo trip, block out some fun time to plan it yourself.
12) Prioritize Your Budget
It would be lovely to stay at a nice hotel, eat the best meals, have an endless shopping budget, fly first class, and attend events nightly on every trip. Wouldn't it? The reality is for most of us, we have to choose some priorities. If you want the all of everything trip, this whole post is not for you! We take cheap flights, at strange times, and stay at 3-4 star hotels in convenient and safe locations. We drive when we can. All of those things save us money. In turn, we get to spend it on our priorities, foodie experiences, book shop scouring, occasional drinks out. We buy our concert tickets knowing that our hotel will cost $79 per night. That's how we like it! Maybe you would rather check into a great condo, and spend your money on resort fees, so you buy groceries and eat from the condo instead. That saves you money where you want to save it. We all travel for different reasons and enjoy different things on our vacations, my point is, choose what you WANT your money to go toward in your travels and adjust as necessary.
13) Go Incognito & Clear Your Cache
Browse for flights, hotels, etc. in a Chrome Incognito browser. Or at least clear your cache when you are done searching, this way your flights and hotel prices won't skyrocket next time you search from that computer!
There you have it, KC and I's top 12 tips for traveling more, and traveling on a budget.
What do you guys think? Did you have any revelations?
What are your travel tips?
Do you have any travel questions for us?
Where are you planning to travel in 2016?!