July 24, 2014

How to Plan an Affordable Trip

If you know me personally, you probably know that I love to travel. Travelling is awesome. You get to experience historical sites, visit beautiful and exotic places, and eat a lot of delicious food. Well, like most of you out there, I’m not lighting my proverbial cigars with $100 bills, so when I travel, my budget has to be within reason. Luckily, my wife shares my love of visiting new places and doing new things, so we save specifically for trips and spend less in some other areas of our lives. Even though this extra saving allows us to spend more on vacations, a lot of our travelling escapades are also the result of careful planning and a few tricks of the trip-planning trade. With this in mind, I thought I’d share a few tips on how you can plan an affordable trip.
  • Plan and book your trip really early. That may sound crazy to some of you, but when it comes to getting a good deal on a trip, I really believe the early bird gets the worm. You can sometimes get sweet deals and complimentary upgrades, but if you make your plans early you can also get the aisle seats on airplanes, the window seats at restaurants, and more central seats for shows and concerts. Aisle seats, window seats, and more central seats don’t usually cost that much extra, if at all, but they can certainly make a trip that much better of an experience. Some of you will probably counter that you can get good deals at the last minute, and you’re absolutely right, but last-minute deals aren’t always available for what you want or need. Personally, I don’t want that last-minute stress when I’m trying to enjoy a glorious trip or vacation.
  • Don’t make things more expensive than they have to be. Tote your own bags to the room (if you don’t, keep it classy and tip the bellhop), don’t buy the family picture at every landmark you visit, and go with the full-sized rental car instead of the mid-sized SUV. Little things like that can save a little money and not reduce the overall quality of the trip.
  • You don’t always have to have a drink. Alcoholic beverages can certainly be a fun treat, but they aren’t always required. Have a few more waters and a couple fewer drinks, and you’ll have a few more bucks and maybe even a few more memories.
  • Travel light. Oh my goodness! Nothing irritates me more than baggage fees, so I do everything in my power to avoid them. Pack just carry-on luggage if you can, but if you need to check a bag, make sure it fits the weight requirements so you don’t get charged even more! If you’re travelling on multiple airlines or internationally, consider going with the airline(s) with friendlier (and more economical) bag policies.
  • Be careful of tourist traps. Some tourist traps, such as shops or restaurants, are a great part of the experience, but don’t fall into the costliest of tourist traps, such as a gas station at the Grand Canyon or a camera equipment shop at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Think ahead and gather what you need before you travel.
  • Look for coupon codes. I know they’re a nuisance to look up and they work a lot less often than I’d like, but a few minutes on Google can save you some real money. In the last few years I’ve found and used promotional codes intended for the guests of a hotel that was hosting a video game convention, for being a return customer, and for being a CPA. If you’re a member of a group such as AARP, have served or are serving in the military, or are an active or retired government employee, there are lots of promotional codes out there for you! It doesn’t hurt to look!
  • Consider currency implications. If you want to travel internationally and are trying to decide where to go, look at the currency exchange rates and find somewhere favorable. Not only will doing this make you look smart now, but it could also make you look smart when you arrive somewhere and trade in a few Greenbacks for a lot of local currency.
  • Look at websites like TripAdvisor.com. I don’t often specifically “plug” things, but Trip Advisor is my homeboy. It’s the best and most accurate source I’ve found for vetting hotels, restaurants, and landmarks. Look for options with lots of stars and not so many dollar signs. Look for a reasonable number of reviews and make sure the reviews are recent, too. I used to be skeptical, but now I’m a believer. You may think you want the hotel restaurant now, but after looking at a site like Trip Advisor, you may find that hidden jewel of a place that costs a lot less, has better food, is a lot more fun, and is within walking distance.
  • Go to National Parks. If you want to feel small, you want to be awed, and you want to experience natural beauty, go to national parks. They usually cost close to nothing to drive in, and visiting them can be a really good and enjoyable way to chew up a lot of time you could be using seeing less amazing things that cost a lot more!
These are a few of my tips. What are some tricks of the trade you other travel enthusiasts out there utilize to see the world without taking out a second mortgage?

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