How you can afford to travel: 7 tips you should know

Wood bridge piers with smoothy sea water against beau
AJ: I found this article one day while mentally escaping from my hectic life on pinterest and thought it was a really unique perspective on one way you can afford to travel. She references a lot of the tried and true factors that we leverage (see our post on How to use credit cards to your advantage) like making your credit cards work for you throughout the year but also has some other tips that we love.

Checkout this article we found, too, with some great ideas on how a blogger discusses her experience with traveling in a cost effective manner: Travel, Paint, Repeat blog article.

KJ: Once you catch the travel bug, you get this strong desire to keep searching the globe for different foods, different cultures, and different ways of seeing the world. Traveling the globe has an allure of being very expensive, but there are countless ways you can find creative ways to travel on the cheap – or at least cheaper than you thought was possible. Here are some tips on how we enjoy ourselves while we travel, yet keep a healthy perspective on our budgets.

Scour the internet for airline mileage credit cards
AJ: This is how we were able to subsidize the cost of our most recent European vacation. We found a couple of cards that were offering 50,000 miles for signing up and completing a few purchase milestones. That’s right: 50,000 miles just for signing up for a credit card and meeting some qualifications. The key is to read the fine print, so you know exactly what you need to do to get those miles (and how long it will take to get it credited to your account). Don’t get a credit card where the minimum purchases required are above what you spend on a regular basis, and don’t extend yourself on the credit cards just to get miles. That’s ill-advised and dangerous, and you will end up spending more on interest and charges than it was worth it.

After a year, our cards moved to an annual fee style setup, so we simply cancelled the cards at that point and continued using our other, regular cards.

Balance working hard with playing harder
During our annual Valentine’s Day spa day last year my facialist, a beautiful Russian woman, told me that “we Americans work too hard and don’t enjoy life enough!” Every time KJ and I are in Europe we wind up feeling the exact same thing after a few days – we work too hard! Alas, we have no intention of leaving the states permanently anytime soon, so why not make all the working hard worth it by playing even harder on vacation? I’m almost as addicted to the working hard as I am to the playing hard because it makes it THAT much sweeter.

Search online forums for advice
My newest travel on a budget find came from Google. KJ and I have vacation days to burn and while I really wanted to go back to Europe, KJ wanted to stay domestic, so we went to Boston! In my hunt for must-do things and must-eat places I found this online forum where chefs can post their nightly, weekly and monthly specials – a totally public-facing, underground-esque approach to what city-based magazines used to provide 10 years ago. Prix Fixe menus galore, dinner for two specials, happy hour deals, you name it, they cover it. We sorted through all of them and picked out the must-eats for us and then built our schedule around it.

Build a budget
Even if it is quite a simple calculation, at least begin to add up what you plan to do on the trip(s) including travel, meals, transportation around the city(ies). That will help you frame what you have to work with while not just assuming you have the money to pay for anything your heart will desire. Knowing what your average spend for the day is will go a long ways in making sure you don’t overspend – it’s amazing how quick a coffee here, snack there, drink here can really add up and impact your spend for a trip.

Avoid high-priced hotels and accommodations
One of the best ways we have found to help save some money on our travels is to find local bed and breakfast stops or apartment or house rentals for a few nights (or week). It’s not just the nightly cost you save, but most places we look for have some type of kitchen, so it allows us to experience the local grocery stores and make some meals ourselves which saves some extra money since it’s cheaper than going out to a fancy restaurant.

Plan ahead and plan last minute
Wait, what? One of the keys for keeping costs low is to plan really far in advance. That way you can get some deals for being some of the first to book your trip. However, don’t be averse to last-minute deals either. Sometimes that’s the best way to find a good deal where airlines, hotels, rental car companies, etc. have extra inventory they are trying to get rid of, so keep on the lookout for those opportunities if your lives and jobs allow for that last-minute flexibility.

Understand that luxury doesn’t mean high priced
There isn’t always a direct connection with price and luxury. We have been in plenty of hotels and locations that were top dollar only to find that they were far less than what we expected, while we have found some great gems on the cheap. Don’t always associate high cost as being a better experience. Sometimes it’s the lower to middle part of the market that provides you with the best travel experience.

    What are your travel secrets?
    How do you keep costs low while you travel?
    Share with us what your experiences are.

Image courtesy of khunaspix /

How you can afford to travel: 7 tips you should know is copyrighted by without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Traveling part three: after arrival

This is the third and final post of our series on travel. If you missed the first and second posts, please check them out at: traveling part one: before departure and traveling part two: during the trip.

You’re finished, now what?
KJ & AJ: Now that you’re back and you have officially planned and completed your travel goal, what’s next? Well first for us is always catching up on e-mails, snail mail, and addressing items we had been putting off until our return. We tend to go all-in on vacation, so the coming back part is always tough. It takes us a few days to settle back into making meals at home and not indulging every minute of the day but when we do settle down, we re-focus our attention and get back to work.

Take a final inventory
You spent months planning your trip but great travelers and savers don’t walk away from a trip until a full check-up has been completed.

Did you finish where you wanted from a financial perspective? Of course you’re relaxed, happy, possibly tan, but were you over budget? Were you under budget? We mentioned in our last post (traveling part two: during the trip) that we monitor our budget closely each day as we progress along our trip because it is helpful perspective (but that method doesn’t work for everyone). If you’re not tracking as you go, now it’s time to dig your heels in, sort your receipts, check your credit card statement and start analyzing.

Leverage your planning for your next destinations
Hopefully you were under budget, but either way, there’s always a take-away for your next trip on what you could do better or differently. If you spent half of your budget on things you didn’t plan for (cabs for long hikes you underestimated, bottles of water at every tourist trap, meals at super trendy spots, etc), maybe it’s time to designate a trip planner within your group who helps anticipate and map out the trip (down to buying cases of water at the grocery store and mapping out a route with places to sit and rest). You don’t have to specifically list each of these items, but simply being aware that these extra costs may arise speaks volumes for how prepared you are for the unexpected and how you can manage around it when it does happen. Analyze which budget categories you were over on and which you were under on to help you plan for your next trip. It’s so much easier to do this when it’s still fresh on your mind than a year later when you’re ready to plan your next big rendezvous. Try not to fret about the nitty gritty details of why you had that extra drink, but try to at least keep good enough records to know how you ended up, so you can keep that information in mind for your next journey. The more you plan, the better you can plan, and the more you can fit those “must have” expenses into each trip. Be creative!

Have some wiggle room
The best kind of vacation for us is always one where we’re under budget and have a little extra left over to take care of small things we’ve been putting off buying. Not splurging on every meal might mean buying new patio furniture or spending a great night out with friends once you’re back home. We love to enjoy every bit of our vacation to the fullest but over planning by a small margin allows us a little breathing room when we’ve underestimated expenses and allows us a little slush fund when we’re acclimating back to everyday life.

Be realistic
What happens after you get back from your trip and (hopefully) don’t have anything trip-related left to pay off (since you planned well and saved prior taking your trip, right?)? For us, we keep moving down the list of future goals and adjust the savings we were previously putting towards the trip monthly into buckets that meet other priorities. Most trips for us are many months in the planning and we’re constantly looking forward to what we’re going to do while on the trip without considering fully the time after we return. Coming back to reality is sometimes tough. Paying bills, running errands, doing yard work, etc aren’t always things that make you want to immediately snap back into focusing on watching what you spend but refocus your efforts on the greater good and dig your heels back into planning.

Plan your next trip
Just because you just got back from an amazing trip doesn’t mean you should feel guilty about planning the next one (regardless of how far off it is). See what’s next on your bucket list and what it will take to get there. Maybe it will be six months from now or maybe it will take a couple years to get there, but planning early leads to success. The further out you plan, the more ahead you can get provided you maintain the discipline to stay on track! Years ago we started a list of places we both want to visit. It’s really more of a list of countries than it is cities or actual locations but when we’re in need of a getaway it’s a good reminder of places we’ve always wanted to go. Continue to dream and think about your next adventures. Dreaming and thinking about your future keeps you young and spry, so dream on!

    How do you plan for your trips?
    How did you adjust your saving to get to that goal?
    Tell us about the joy (or struggle) you had in accomplishing that goal.

For parts one and two of this series, direct your browser to: traveling part one: before departure and traveling part two: during the trip.

Traveling part three: after arrival is copyrighted by without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Traveling part two: during the trip

And here starts the second post in our travel series. If you missed our other posts, check them out at: traveling part one: before departure and traveling part three: after arrival.

Keep your goal in mind
KJ: Just because you’re on vacation to get away from it all doesn’t mean your goals and planning should go out the window either. $20 here, $20 there, $40 more in dinner, and a $30 extra taxi ride can all add up very quickly. Don’t be too proud to say, “we don’t have the funds for that” or, alternatively, find creative ways to shift your expenses around on vacation to make that a new goal. We had a meal in Amalfi (probably one of the most notable meals of my life) that cost us more than 2X what we budgeted for the entire day! Woah! Well, we planned around it, and made slight adjustments to our dining plan on the days before and after. Nothing significant, but cut out a few groceries here, cut out a few beers and unnecessary snacks there, and you can find out how easy it can be to do the things you really want to do even if it seems out of reach. Now, we not only shifted our budget, but we had the best meal of a lifetime (Hosteria Il Pino in Praiano, Italy), and we have memories to talk about for a long time (you know, in five or ten years when we’re too old to remember anything).

AJ: This goes back to what we’ve mentioned many times before with regards to how we enjoy our lives. We love a great meal and most times it’s worth it to splurge on one incredible meal a month in exchange for things other people might prefer.

Back to pen and paper
KJ: We’re tech savvy, but when it comes to budgeting and traveling, we can be quite rustic. Back to the good old days with only a tablet and chisel…oh wait…not that far back. With relatively little extra work, we keep track of our expenditures (no matter how large or small) to see where we’re at from where we planned. Under budget, yes-siree, I think we’ll grab an extra pitcher tonight!

AJ: I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Buy yourself a Moleskine notebook and don’t ever look back. We traveled for two plus weeks with me tracking every expense and collecting every receipt and many keepsakes in the back pocket. The elastic strap keeps everything securely inside, and it helps organize my extremely cluttered mind within its beautifully lined pages. Without this notebook we would have been scrambling to remember how much we spent where. With the notebook it was easy to sit down each night and track that day’s expenses and compare them to our pre-trip daily estimates.

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself
KJ: The reason you’re on vacation is not to stress yourself out and worry about every little item. If you did your planning and research before you set out, you should have plenty to let yourself relax for, now enjoy the trip you spent so many hours, days, weeks, months planning!

Is frugal the same as not being wasteful?
KJ: On our most recent trip, we made a couple decisions, less out of ‘got to stick to the budget’ than they were out of just good practical, non-wasteful sense. There are two illustrative takeaways from our trip that might help you realize that your little quirks aren’t as crazy as you thought (see also our frugal series wherein we discuss reusing coffee). Before we got to the villa in the Amalfi region, we stocked up on toilet paper and paper towels (among other necessities) only to find out there were plenty at the place we stayed. So..instead of simply leaving our toilet paper behind when we left (that stuff’s expensive), we packed it up in our large suitcase and took it home. No point in being needlessly wasteful! Another example of our ‘don’t waste anything mentality’ is the wine. We had two perfectly good boxes (yes, you ready that properly boxes – not bottles – for which we paid E1.60) of wine that we couldn’t leave behind, so we took them with us. Lo and behold, our flight in Naples was rerouted with our flight being pushed back five hours, so thank you very much, we enjoyed those boxes of wine while we played our cards and laughed at the entertaining people watching…it doesn’t matter what town or country you are in…this can provide hours of fun!

    Do you keep track of your expenses while on a trip?
    What methods do you use?
    Tell us about your travel goals you have set and accomplished.

Oh, and if you haven’t already, check out our other posts in our series on travel: before departure and after arrival.

Traveling part two: during the trip is copyrighted by without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Traveling part one: before departure

Foster your goal
KJ: Much like any story, every goal has a great beginning, middle, and end. This goal of ours started with a great beginning. Angela came to me with a goal that was her number one priority: we must go back to Italy with her parents before time carries us away and we get too swept up in ‘life.’ Since it is very important to Angela (and hey, I wouldn’t mind going there too), I quickly put a spreadsheet together, so we could ‘what-if’ until our hearts were content. We thought of potential expenses, destination locations, and all the in-between. Angela had her heart set on the Amalfi coast, and I had my heart set on spending some time in Spain since I wanted to show Angela some of the sights I saw while studying abroad years ago plus it’s where the in-laws spent their honeymoon over thirty years ago and hadn’t been back. So we set our sights on our goal and started setting aside the money we planned to spend. Note: just because we are budget-a-holics doesn’t mean we’re frugal and pinch every penny. We planned to have a great trip with nice hotels and villas, and lots of wining and dining, so we knew the uphill climb we were heading toward.

AJ: This trip became incredibly important to me as I started to analyze what really mattered to me. Family is so indescribably valuable to both of us and we seem to enjoy life more when they’re around. Being able to give my parents back a gift after they paid for my college and for our wedding seemed like a no brainer way for us to show how much we appreciate those gifts we couldn’t have afforded at the time. I knew if there was a way for us to take this second trip of a lifetime (we’re spoiled, right!?) that Kirby could find a way. My goal was to pay for the trip. Kirby’s goal was to pay for the trip well before the plane ever took off. So, we did.

Plan for the unexpected
KJ: The best part of any budget is some wiggle room. Just because one area is spoken for, doesn’t mean some of the funds can’t be used for other purposes though. You can’t possibly project your exact expenses in the future (and if you could, it’s not like you win a prize or anything!). You never know when you will have to take an unexpected taxi, public transportation, or have a surprise tax or final fee at checkout, so plan with enough room that if you have an extra 10% of expenses, you aren’t out on the streets looking for a side job trying to figure out how to get home. A second good check of a quality made budget is that expenses can shift. You under spend on some, and you overspend on others (we ate how much tonight!?). It’s the balance between the two that you’re trying to look for, not consistency to have every meal or ticket item be at or below budget (at least that’s no how we function best).

Plan for the expected
There are some expenses that are quite obvious:

    Transportation – airfare, taxis or drivers to/from the airport or point A & B, buses, trains, etc.
    Meals – we all have to eat, it’s just to what lavish extent you want…are you looking for 5 course meals everywhere or just one heavy meal and then a snack or two along the way?
    Lodging – hotel, villa – often a more economical purchase if more than two travelers, bed and breakfast, hostels for the cheap travelers at heart
    and last, but not least, planned sites – museums, gardens, entrance fees, etc.

These should be relatively easy to plan for if you spend some time looking at travel guides or perusing the internet on what exactly you want to do at the location you plan to enjoy. For this trip, we utilized sites like Summer in Italy and Trip Advisor. Read reviews carefully to see what others said. You could spend days reading reviews – like what we did to do our research to see that we were picking the right places to stay and eat – but try not to get caught up in the endless amount of information that is out there. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision!

Plan to actually relax for once!
If you’re like Angela and I, we could be happy laying on a beach, sipping some beer (or Miami Vice anyone?) and enjoying the slow pace. We like to plan, plan, plan, but we also like to make sure we have adequate down time to actually relax on our vacation instead of dealing with the hustle and bustle. We have enough of the go-go-go mentality with work that we really enjoy a day (or several days for that matter) of completely nothing. Sure there are ‘must see’ sites that people recommend, but every person or every guidebook has their own priorities and for us, it’s a little relaxation time. Maybe it could even be good for the budget if you spent the night in and made a nice, quick meal from local, fresh ingredients. I can taste the Caprese salad now…

AJ: It’s really hard to relax when you’re concerned about money. Creating a list of all of the known expenses, all of the planned outings and all of the wish list items in advance along with associated costs and open times makes vacation far more enjoyable. I’m a list-a-holic without question but how can you plan for something comfortably and with any level of confidence without properly researching the liability you will incur? I made the fatal mistake of assuming flamenco was something that just happened. I never Googled it prior to the trip and was SHOCKED that it’s a minimum of 60 Euros a person. I guarantee had I known that in advance I still wouldn’t have paid that much for it but that’s a real game changer for people with a budget! If someone in our party was dying to see flamenco, that would have put a really significant dent in our miscellaneous budget. Thankfully our crew was satisfied to watch me dance in the street so we didn’t starve but research would have better prepared me.

I’m so thankful that I have a husband who values enjoying our lives as much as I do and is willing to make my goals happen. Being married means having a built in problem solver. Rely on your partner to help each other fulfill your goals and create a plan to pay for what you want before it happens (even if it takes 10 years, do it together!).

    How do you plan for your trips?
    How do you adjust your saving to get to that goal?
    Tell us about the joy (or struggle) you had in accomplishing that goal.

Interested in reading further? Check out the rest of our post in this series on travel: Traveling part two: during the trip and traveling part three: after arrival.

Traveling part one: before departure is copyrighted by without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.