How To Plan An Affordable Vacation

I recently returned from an incredible three-week trip to Greece with my boyfriend, Thomas, to celebrate his recent graduation from law school (and his last summer before becoming a lawyer full time!).

Although we’ve known for years that we wanted to take this trip, I made some risky career moves last year,  and I was not where I’d planned to be (financially) by the time the trip rolled around. Of course backing out of the trip was NOT an option (and I am all about being 50/50), so I dedicated a lot of time to saving, planning and budgeting, in order to make it an affordable reality.

In this particular article, I'm focusing on a few easy travel hacks to help you get way more bang for your buck throughout your vacation.

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WHEN BOOKING ACCOMODATIONS:

#1. Know how to find the best places on Airbnb

I’m a huge fan of Airbnb, but there are always a million properties to filter through, and you have to be really thorough to ensure you're getting the best deal.

Obviously, you need to start by selecting the "type" of room/board you want, and adjust the price meter to match your budget per night. Next, make sure to adjust the map so that you're only looking at properties listed in your favorite neighborhoods. I highly suggest picking somewhere with a lot to do in walking distance (and/or close to public transit), so that you don’t end up spending all your money on taxis, trying to get to a better part of town (location is EVERYTHING).

Once you’ve made those adjustments, try to get a place with a kitchen, so that you can buy groceries and cook a portion of your meals at home (saving you lots of $ in the long-run).

Finally, focus on properties with highest ratings, and make sure to read ALL the comments so that you can draw your own opinions about the place (and not be affected by people with totally different travel preferences than you).

#2. Use Hotels.com 

If you’re staying somewhere without a lot of Airbnb properties available, get a free account on hotels.com – which offers lower "member" prices and lets you accumulate points towards future free stays (works like a punch card). 

WHEN BOOKING FLIGHTS

#1. Sign up for price alerts 

Sign up for price alerts from Kayak, Southwest, and Virgin America (just a few of my favs) to regularly find out about the cheapest deals in your city. Travelzoo offers some amazing travel packages for specific travel dates as well.

Make sure to keep a special eye out for cheap one-way flights coming in and out of your city - as you can book a whole series of one-ways flights and end up with a cheaper overall roundtrip route.

#2. Pay bag fees online 

A lot of smaller airlines charge outrageous fees for checked bags and carry on bags, but offer discounted rates online. Make sure to also check the weight limit on those smaller flights, as they can be quite restrictive, and you can end up shelling out a lot of extra cash to cover your hefty bag at the airport (even if it's only .5 lbs over).

WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR MOOLAH:

#1. Choose a credit card without travel fees 

If traveling internationally, it’s best to order a credit card like Capital One (before you go) that doesn’t charge travel fees, saving you a 3% fee on every purchase!

#2. Avoid currency exchange kiosks

It's best to find a bank (before your trip) that does currency exchange to ensure the best rates. If you're already abroad, the ATM will give you a better conversion rate than the kiosks will.

WHEN PACKING:

#1. Pack HEAVY 

If you don’t have a lot of extra cash for your trip—pack at, or just under, the max weight allowed on your flight, so that you can buy a couple special things if you want to, but not blow all your money on shopping right out the gate. I know it sounds restrictive, but it worked really well for me! Keep in mind that the memories you're collecting are SO much more valuable than things.

WHEN PLANNING YOUR ACTIVITIES:

#1. Avoid pre-paid travel services

Traveling is unpredictable, and if you've paid for activities or travel services in advance and something happens, you can end up eating a lot of your $$ - or at least your deposit (that's what happened to us on our last trip). Wait till you get there to buy tickets or book activities (if you know they won't sell out)!

#2. Go where the locals go

It's always best to talk to locals to find out about the best cheap eats, as well as viewpoints, hikes, or other affordable / free activities. Most travel destinations jack up their prices near touristic parts of town-- so walk a block or two in the opposite direction to find much more affordable shops & restaurants.

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There are SO many more travel tips to write about in future posts, but hopefully you've gleaned something useful here for any of your upcoming adventures!

XOXO, ryan