I was lucky to grow up always traveling. Every weekend and school holiday, my parents were bringing us somewhere new. By the time I was 15, I have gone to over 20 states and two countries. Traveling has been instilled into me as something you make a priority-NO MATTER WHAT.
One thing that really drew me into Chad, was he felt the same way about traveling. No matter how poor we were, we always found a way to take incredible trips. In the 5 years we have been together we have traveled to Portland (over 6 times), Disneyland (5 times), Italy, Alaska, Bahamas, Miami, Canada, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and hundreds of in-state trips. We have also gone to so many professional basketball, baseball, and football games.
And half the time we did it when we were only making $400 each every two weeks. Seriously, we had $800 bi-weekly total, house bills due, and somehow paid all our bills and made a last minute trip for 8 days to Portland for the Trailblazer Playoffs. Then the same thing happened again in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series. We were not planning to go but the second they made it, we booked a flight & Airbnb to Chicago. Again, on very little money.
So how did we do so many spontaneous trips? Rack up thousands in credit card debit? Absolutely NOT.
Because we prioritized traveling, I learned a bunch of tips and tricks that got us to our destination cost effectively while not compromising on a good time or unlivable situations. The entire time we have been together we have never missed a bill payment or got into any credit card debt. No matter our income, we always put traveling first and made it work.
And I want to let you guys in on my travel secrets. How to get the best deals, plan the greatest trips, and make sure to always have enough money for a spontaneous vacation..
HOW TO AFFORD TRAVELING ON ANY BUDGET
If traveling is a priority in your life, then you will make it happen. Not having money isn’t an excuse. There are always ways to have money to travel.
Credit Card Points
- There are hundreds of credit cards that offer amazing points. What we personally do, is use a credit card for everything. The way we avoid credit card debt (and boost our credit score) is we never spend more than what our paychecks are. So every pay day we put the full amount onto the credit card and use that instead of a debit card. By paying the full amount every payday (which is possible if you don’t overspend) you completely avoid any interest payments. Using your credit card for everyday purchases is a quick way to rack up points which you can redeem for traveling. When we went to Denver, we didn’t pay for our flights or hotel AT ALL. Because we saved so much money we were able to spend a day in Disneyland before our flight the next day.
- Another way to save money to travel is to create a travel fund that you put money in every paycheck. Even if it is as little as $5-$10 a paycheck, that money will come in handy for going out to dinners or any activity you want to do while on vacationx.
- Something we practice at home is any time we have spare change or a single $1 bill, we put it into our travel fund. A quick tip though when cashing in on the coins, is to cash in from your bank and not a CoinStar. CoinStar takes too much out of your saved money to make it even worth it sometimes. But your bank doesn’t take any percentage if you deposit it into your checking account. One time we had over $300 in coins alone from collecting for 6 months! And that’s before we adopted the $1 bill rule.
- I could not advocate enough for the app Acorn. Acorn is an investing account that gives you total control over your money earned. We downloaded Acorn almost a year ago and have over $2,000 in our investment account. How it works is you set up how much you want to invest every month and how aggressive you want to be. We chose to invest $10 a month aggressively as well as roundups on our credit/debit cards. What that means is every time we make a purchase they round up to the nearest dollar. So if our purchase is $1.48, we get charged $2 and Acorn invests the $0.52. It is incredible how quickly the money has accumulated from investing. What’s great about Acorn is you can have various accounts, one of them being an account you can withdrawal from with ZERO penalties. We don’t touch our Acorn account and I’m hoping to use it next year to take Addyson on a Disney Cruise!
Cutting Out Unnecessary Expenses
- This is HUGE! When people say they can’t afford to travel, it literally baffles me. Say you and your husband spend $10 each on lunch a day. That is $100 a week, $400 a month. Right there that is enough for a mini trip. Stop eating out at lunch for two months and you almost have $1000!
- Same thing for dinners. Dinner for two is about $50 every time. If you have a bad habit of eating out rather than eating at home, think of how much money you could have and FAST. When we are wanting to plan a big trip, everytime we want to eat out (lunch or dinner) we take the money we would have spent on eating out, and throw it into savings. (I’m not saying don’t eat- I’m saying COOK AT HOME).
- Cutting expenses isn’t just from eating out but from unnecessary things that you absolutely don’t need (like that 50th Rae Dunn mug). If you are wanting to go on a shopping spree for things you don’t need, throw that money straight into savings.
BEST TRAVEL SITES
Affording to travel isn’t just about saving money, but it’s learning how to shop for the best deals.
- Expedia is BY FAR my favorite travel website. You get points every time you use their website to book and those can be redeemed for money off. I use Expedia for all of our trips and when we had our wedding and paid for everyone’s room, I had over $500 in redeemable points. It’s hard to not cash in everytime, but save them and you can potentially get your whole hotel paid for! (Or if you have a lot of points, you can get an upgraded room you normally wouldn’t splurge on!)
- Expedia also has a book now, pay at check in which is great if you are ready to plan your trip but not wanting to pay for it upfront. It allows you the freedom to budget or cash in those coins.
- I have used Hotels.Com a few times and what I like most about it, is they help you find last minute deals AND after 10 nights stayed, you get a night free. It’s a lot different than Expedia’s point system and I like being able to redeem one night free. I switch off between using both, but find that Expedia usually has the best pricing. However, Hotels.Com is a great option for those wanting to redeem a free night rather than earning points.
- I LOVE AIRBNB! When we went to Portland for the Trailblazer playoffs, we rented an Airbnb in an amazing part of Portland for only $50 a night. However, it was a shared house meaning the host lived in it and that was a little awkward but they were rarely home and we saw them maybe twice during the whole week we stayed there. It was such an incredible deal in a prime part of Portland. We were able to afford the trip because we choose to stay with the host.
- AIRBNB does allow you to rent the entire house and another time we went to Portland we chose to stay in a guest house in the back of someone’s house. It had its own private entrance and we didn’t see the host once during the whole 5 days we were there. It had a washing machine, kitchen, and everything we could need. We paid $80 a night and it was nicer than a hotel downtown that is $300-$400. Another time we rented out the whole place was in Chicago we stayed a few blocks from Wrigley Field during the 2016 World Series and I have no idea how we scored it. It was fully loaded with a kitchen, living room, and washer and dryer. It had everything we needed and when we wanted to save a little money, we cooked! It was $150 a night, which in Chicago- DURING THE WORLD SERIES it’s a HUGE steal!
- With everything accessible online, I thought Travel Agents were a thing of the past. But when we traveled to Italy in December, we used a Travel Agent and it was the best decision we made. My in-laws were traveling with us and I didn’t want the stress planning a two week vacation. I wasn’t aware that you didn’t pay the travel agent, but she gets paid from the companies she books through. At first we were a little leary, so everytime she gave us a price for hotels or activities, I price compared. She came out 10% less AT LEAST every time. What was great about her too is when we had questions or any roadblocks traveling abroad (which we did, my husband and his dad have the same name and the airlines canceled one of their tickets thinking it was a duplicate) she was available 24/7 and able to get it handled for us ASAP. It’s worth reading reviews to find a great travel agent, I think it was totally worth it. Before we left she had everything mapped out for us, printed, confirmed, checked in to the flights and ready to rock and roll. It was a stress free experience and we just told her what we wanted to do in what price range and she handled it all!
- Groupon Travel is a freaking INCREDIBLE option!! I always kind of thought it was a scam since the prices are unbelievable. But my Sister-In-Law took a 10 Day Trip to Thailand, and it was legit. They paid $800 per person and it included flights + hotel + 1 meal per day. They had separate rooms and then traveled in a group with everyone that bought the Groupon. She said they had a lot of freedom but traveled together on the busses and to different excursions but also had the ability to do what they wanted. This is a great option to travel to amazing places without the stress of planning every detail or paying thousands of dollars.
5 TIPS FOR HAVING THE BEST VACATIONS
Call The Hotel For Discounted Rates/Free Upgrades
- If you are planning a spontaneous trip, before you book a hotel through a 3rd party website, call the hotel and see if they have any discounted rooms needing to be filled. Hotels will sometimes give you a cheaper rate than you find online to fill a last minute room that would have been empty anyways.
- To get upgrades, email the hotel you are staying at prior and let them know you are celebrating something. See if there are any discounted upgrades. I did this for our honeymoon and various birthdays and have gotten a two bedroom suite upgrade for free as well as an ocean view room upgrade for $25. It never hurts to ask, all they can say is no.
Find alternative transportation if possible.
- When we traveled to Portland, plane tickets from Fresno was $400+ a person. So instead we took the Amtrak. It was a longer trip (16 hours one way) but it was the best experience. We paid $75 a person and have memories that will last us a lifetime.
- Make a road trip out of it! The ultimate cheapest way to get from A to B is to drive! If you have the time to add in two driving days (there and back) if it is far, then drive! You will get to see so many amazing things and sometimes the journey is better than the destination!
Look For Unique Things To Do
- Everytime we plan a trip, I always try to find unique things to do. I don’t just google “Things To Do In [CITY]”. Instead I search Instagram hashtags of that city to see what locals or others tourists do. I also google “Unique Things To Do In [CITY]” and spend some time searching Yelp, various websites, and reading blogs. When we went to Seattle, we actually did a ghost hunt on a navy ship in Burmington and in Denver we did a Ghost Tour through the city. (I love anything creepy haha) But we are always trying to find off the wall unique things to do that isn’t super touristy but still an incredible time. Groupon is also a great way to find unique things to do in the city you’re traveling for half the cost.
- Another fun thing to do is plan a photoshoot if you have time. Again search the hashtag of the city you’re going to for photographers. Example: #CarlsbadPhotography It is a great way to preserve the memories and have wonderful photos to look back on for years. Plus it’s fun! Do a mini shoot in a popular tourist destination or beautiful setting, you won’t regret it.
Rent A Car
- We were guilty of Ubering everywhere because we were a little nervous driving in cities we weren’t familiar with and thought that renting a car was more complicated than it actually is. We rented a car in Denver to go up to Estes Parks and it was SO easy. It took 15 minutes to pick up the car and when we were done, we just left it in the designated spot and left the keys in the key drop. Also, we saved SO much money. To rent the car per day it was roughly $35 plus gas. It seems like a lot until we added up how much we were spending on Uber a day. Depending on the time, the rates, the distance, etc we were spending $50-$100 a day on Uber. What sucks about Uber is if you just want to run into a place or plan on going somewhere and they’re closed or packed, you’re stuck waiting on a new Uber and having to pay the fees all over again.Plus if you are traveling with kids, you have to literally carry your carseat EVERYWHERE.
Get Space Saver Bags
- Remember when you were a kid & they always advertised the vacuum bags? Well they have those for traveling and they are freaking GENIUS! When we went on our 2 ½ week honeymoon, we had to bring suits, dresses, and enough clothes to last us because we weren’t sure if we were going to have a way to wash anything. Plus we had to plan for Alaska, Vancouver, and Portland weather which as all vastly different. I was able to OVER PACK and pack everything we needed in two suitcases and two carry ons. I got the ones that didn’t need a vacuum and instead had a small pump. You fill them up to the line, roll out all the air and if there is anything left, you pump it out. I also got ones without the pump so I didn’t have to pack it and they worked great too. I liked the pump ones a little more because it really got all the air out and made it SO flat. I couldn’t believe how much we were able to fit! Just be cautious of going over on the weight. I usually pack all clothes in the bags and then shoes and toiletries in the carry on since those are usually the heaviest.
And that’s it! That all the advice I have for now on how to plan incredible vacations on any budget. I hope you guys enjoyed and if you used any of my tips & tricks- let me know! I would love to hear how they worked out for you. And if you have any tips & tricks of your own- drop a comment below! I would love to know!!
BONUS TIP: If you are an influencer or blogger, reach out to the hotels, AIRBNB, restaurants, or activities you are interested in doing and see if they would be interested in a collab. Heck, even reach out to limo companies or something unique/fun to create an incredible experience you normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to do. You might be able to save even more money and get to do some pretty awesome things for free. Remember to always treat your collabs with the utmost respect. I always go above and beyond for all colabs because it is beneficial to build a long term relationship. Leave reviews on all possible platforms, deliver on time, and create high quality content.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!