For over half a decade, I traveled around the U.S. putting on events 3-4 times per month. Half of those years I worked for a startup that gave me a limited budget. The other half I operated under my own startup and gave myself a limited budget. Here are some of the lessons I learned in traveling that might save you from breaking
1. Harmonize the Big 3 Expenses
The 3 biggest expenses in travel will almost always be – flights, accommodations, and transportation. Unfortunately, you won’t always find great deals on all 3 but if you’re able to find good options and harmonize all three, you’ll find travel really doesn’t need to be that expensive.
Getting cheap flights is all about knowing where to look and knowledge of different airlines and airports. It’s also helpful if you’re flexible with dates. I usually start out my search using flights.google.com. Google has an awesome flight aggregator that searches most of the major airlines and the pricing on any given date. Sometimes you may find some really cheap deals on Spirit, Frontier, or United flights but keep in mind the low budget airlines will have a lot of hidden fees – namely baggage fees that can make the flights as expensive or even more expensive than some of its competitors.
As a general rule of thumb, I would say if you need to check-in baggage, it is usually easiest just to stay away from low budget airlines like Spirit or Frontier.
Be sure to also checkout Southwest.com for their rates as flights can sometimes be pretty cheap on Southwest. Southwest also includes two check in luggages and have one of the more outstanding services in the airline business.
Also, always look for nearby airports (e,g. I have saved over $100 on flight to Oakland Airport instead of San Francisco airport and the drive to the different airports is only about an hour away).
Once you’ve found some great flight deals, don’t book the flight just yet. You want to make sure you can find reasonable accommodations for your travel dates. I have found amazing flight deals before and booked only to find out moments later the cheapest accommodations I could find were hundreds of dollars per night. It’s always safer to have a complete plan before booking all 3 of the major expenses.
For accommodations, I actually recommend finding a decent airbnb on (www.airbnb.com). These days it is not only cheaper than hotels, but you also always get a more local experience. We have had a lot of incredibly awesome hosts and of course airbnb has reviews that you can do your research on prior to booking. The only real advantage we have found from hotels is daily house cleaning but if you’re able to keep relatively clean a few days yourself, it is worth more to clean up after yourself than to pay much more for cleaning service.
If you absolutely need a hotel or just want a more luxurious experience, I would recommend priceline.com and try their express deals program or their bid program to get great rates at discounted pricing. Just note those programs are non-refundable.
Lastly, consider transportation and how you’ll get around your destination. Will there be public transport to take you wherever you need to go? Or will you need to rent a car? More often, you will probably need to rent a car. If you have a Costco card, Costco has a great car rental program that is often cheaper than priceline or the car rental site itself. I would recommend checking both and comparing prices.
Once you know how much you will be spending for the biggest 3 expenses and you are satisfied with it, then you can go ahead and book. Often, the best harmony in all 3 will lead you to not only saving money but having the best possible experience wherever you go.
2. Learn from Others’ Experiences
The easiest way to have an idea of what to expect at your destination is to learn from other travelers experiences by reading tips and blogs. This doesn’t take as much time as you may think and it has proven to be invaluable every place I go. The 2 tools I mainly use are TripAdvisor.comand wikitravel.org.
If you enjoy visuals, YouTube also has plenty of resources with vloggers and travelers who have filmed their experiences at virtually any major destination you can think of. Watching travel videos of destinations has actually been as helpful as some of the other resources on TripAdvisor or WikiTravel.
Often, not only will you have a much better idea of what to expect at your travel destination, travelers also are eager to give tips that will help future travelers navigate through the place better.
3. If at all possible, only bring a carry-on (and backpack)
There are various reasons why – you won’t have to worry about lost luggage, you won’t have to wait for checked baggage. But the biggest reason why you want to travel with just a carry-on is – so you can check-in early. In fact, you can check in 24 hours before your departure.
Why is this so important? Well, if you’re flying business class- you’ll have early access to the lounges (often, multiple lounges under the partnering alliance program).
This is really a lifesaver; particularly if there are times when you just want to work/relax at the lounge for a longer period of time. Lounges are like an oasis in the hectic and tiring world of travel. You get access to premium food, showers, comfortable seating areas, wifi, and even sleeping areas sometimes.
If you have checked luggage, you will have to wait outside the gate until 3 hours before department (when they start checking in people) and will NOT have this luxury.
Believe me when I say, this is a very overlooked luxury you will be thankful you have. Particularly when there are days you don’t want to rush to the airport or even book a hotel; you can stay in the lounge ALL day, work, relax, eat for FREE, shower, rest, and enjoy the features of a lounge when you need it for as long as you need it.
Lastly, in your carry-on: keep things you can afford to lose (clothing, toiletries, extra shoes). In your backpack, keep your valuables + 1-2 pairs of clothing. Why? So you can drop off your carry-on at airport overnight storages, your accommodations, or wherever you need to so you can be more mobile.
And why do you want to be more mobile? So you can move around and embrace more of the destination and culture without having to lug big suitcases around :).
4. Bring an ATM card instead of cash
Everyone has their own preferences in either using credit card, debit card, or cash. But when you travel (particularly abroad) you will inevitably always need local currency.
Credit cards and debit cards often will incur high fees which you don’t want to pay for. And if you bring cash to exchange, you will almost always get bad rates at most exchange places unless you want to go through the hassle of trying to exchange with a local bank.
To combat the challenge of getting local currency whenever you need it, I recommend getting a Charles Schwab account and ATM card. Not only is it free to open an account, but you also get $100 for opening a free account. The best part is you can use your ATM card to withdraw local currency from almost any ATM machines worldwide without any fees. Charles Schwab reimburses all fees from ATM withdrawals worldwide.
This little tip proved to be invaluable when I traveled around the world and needed local currency in each place. This way, you won’t have to carry a lot of cash around with you and you can withdraw just the amount you need. This is important because drawing too much cash creates a problem of exchanging the local currency back to whatever currency you normally use.
Just be sure to keep your ATM card safe.
5. Know How to Get Around
This may be more of a tip than a hack but one of the most important things to know once you get to your destination is how to your accommodation.
Once you’ve checked into your hotel, airbnb, or hostel, you’ll have a lot more flexibility to move around as you wish and you won’t have to lug all your luggage around. But you’ll still need to know the best mode of transport so you’re not paying for expensive cabs everywhere.
Walking & Public transport is always the most economical means of transportation. On the flip side, cabs & ride-sharing is not only expensive but in a lot places you are more likely to get scammed.
To get around, even without knowing the local transit, Google maps is an incredible tool that will not only tell you exactly where to go and what to take but it normally gives you a fairly accurate estimation of total transit time with traffic.
If you get stuck somewhere, ask people around you. More often than not, people are usually willing to help – particularly if you are nice about it.
6. Be Respectful and Kind
On the onset, this also may not really seem like a travel hack, but it’s one of the best advices I can give./
Having traveled extensively around the world, the one thing that remained constant was no matter where you are or what culture you are in, people will always respond well to respectfulness and kindness.
You may not always know how to honor someone else’s culture but if you treat everyone you meet as human beings deserving respect no matter their race, you will find much more joy in embracing people from all walks of life around the world.
And that’s one of the best things about travel – to see, learn, and understand more of someone who is different from you.