Planning a trip on a budget.


Somewhere in the sky. (Unsplash)

Somewhere in the sky. (Unsplash)

As Hotch from Criminal Minds would say — Wheels up in 30.


Airfare 

Monitor prices well before it’s time to go. Airfare fluctuates ludicrously based on demand, location, airline, and flight time, and it isn’t unheard of for prices to increase 10-20% overnight. It’s been said that the sweet spot for booking a ticket is 45-60 days prior to go-time, and my favorite apps to monitor airfare are Hopper and Skyscanner. Some claim to have it down to a science (“Book on Tuesday nights at 11:59PM!” or “Exactly 36 days before the trip, no later!”), but honestly, Google Flights is advanced enough to give insight to what prices will look like based on historical data. Go incognito on Chrome, get on Google Flights, and turn on price change notifications – it really lights a fire under you to book when you need to. Change currencies to see if it’s cheaper, if you’re flying internationally.

If you’re flexible, think about different dates and times.  Flights during mid-week are typically cheaper, and those on Thursday through Sunday are the most expensive of the week. Time of day matters too.

Sometimes two one-ways make sense. Again, airfare changes dramatically throughout any specified time period. In a few circumstances, I’ve found it’s cheaper to book two one-ways than one round trip ticket.

If you’re going international, check currency. Money certainly isn’t the same everywhere. If you want to travel far but under budget, check which currencies are weak against the dollar. Thailand has been a popular choice in the past few years for this reason.

Being consistent with an airline has its perks. United has been my pick for years, and after earning status, I won’t fly another airline unless I have to. The miles I’m accruing are well-worth my loyalty, especially when it comes with free upgrades and trips I can buy with miles. Granted, picking an airline to stick with varies by city; you need to look at your typical routes and what’s most popular at your airport. Outside of United’s MileagePlus, American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta have equally attractive programs.

United: The Excursionist Perk, with award miles. You can essentially get a free one-way ticket to another city when booking one-way multi-city trips. Not many who use United know about this, and it’s a shame. Quick example: let’s say Houston to Barcelona is 50,000 award miles each way. Let’s say I want to make another stop in Europe before going home (I choose Paris). I can book Houston to Barcelona for 50,000 award miles, Barcelona to Paris for free, and Paris back home to Houston for 50,000 miles. Read more about it here, and take advantage of it ASAP.

 

Entrance to our VRBO in Tulum, Mexico.

Entrance to our VRBO in Tulum, Mexico.

Hotel/Lodging

There’s so many options to choosing where to stay when travelling domestically and abroad – hotels, Airbnb, VRBO, hostels. When it comes to lodging, I love hotels and I love Airbnb, and I won’t take sides today. In places where I’m very unfamiliar with the country, language, customs, etc, hotels are typically top of the list; they’re consistent, and the Wifi runs stable. Staying in someone’s house is also super cool – there’s a certain authenticity to it. I’ve used Airbnb in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and all across the U.S. and Canada, and I’ve had very few problems.

When it comes down to choosing where to stay, though, there’s several factors that play into my decision.

  1. Location. Where is this Airbnb/hotel? Is it in a safe area? Where is it in relation to where I want to be, or want to explore? Will I need a car if I stay here, or is there public transport?

  2. Per night price. What is the value I’m getting out of this Airbnb versus hotel every night? What’s the cleaning fee for the Airbnb? Does the hotel offer free breakfast?

  3. Reviews. Do not skip this. Reviews are the currency of hotels and lodging. Are the reviews effusively positive? Do they look fake? Has anyone who’s stayed here mentioned something that would bother me?

  4. Design. I won’t lie, this is typically top of mind. There’s something about an airy, open, minimal space that has me pulling my wallet out a little faster. If I’m going to be spending money, I want to do it in a place that I’ll love.

 

Tips on lodging:

For hotels, think long-term loyalty. No matter where you are, it’s worth creating loyalty accounts with major hotel chains (Hilton, Marriott, etc). These brands have a tremendous portfolio of hotels around the world, and earning points and free stays has its benefits.

At a hotel, always ask for the complimentary upgrade. Check in, ask for the upgrade, try not to look embarrassed, and wait for a response. If there’s an open room, hotels are happy to accommodate. Your consistent business is what makes them money. 

If you’re leaning toward Airbnb, message the hosts prior to booking. An Airbnb host wants to maximize the nights they have guests; they’re incentivized to book as many guests as they can per month. I tend to book Airbnbs later than my airfare for this reason; it’s easier to ask a host about potentially lowering the price per night when it’s clear they likely won’t have anyone staying during that time. The worst a host can say is no, and you’ll pay what you would’ve paid anyway.

 

Along the coast in Monterey, CA.

Along the coast in Monterey, CA.

Rental Cars

I don’t rent cars when I travel — liability and uncertainty with driving in an unfamiliar place is a heavy no-go. It goes back to lodging, and booking a place near public transportation or taxis/Ubers. Any advice you have for this category (aside from taking numerous photos of the car before you step foot into it), I’m all ears!



And lastly.

Know how much you are willing to spend on food, clothes, gifts, etc before you arrive. Your budget shouldn’t change once you land. Avoid tourist traps like the plague, and try not to fall into last-minute splurges.