Holy smokes, two blog posts in a row? I'm on FIRE, Freebs!
I should be in bed, but I had a stroke of inspiration so I'm going to run with it for a sec.
Tonight I spoke to a church group about budgeting and frugal living, as I often do. We covered many things, stopping for a long while on grocery shopping and meal planning, which is fairly typical. As the night went on the subject, however, moved to travel. Every time I start teaching about affordable travel, I'm amazed by a few things. One, by how often people assume they can't travel because they don't make enough money. Two, how many people accept travel as being “expensive” and don't take the time to find fair deals. And three…how many people don't know about some VERY key (nay I say secret for the sake of being dramatic?) money-saving travel tips that will save you potentially THOUSANDS!
I agree in a sense to the “I don't make enough money to travel” scenario. There is certainly a time and season for all things. When we were swimming in credit card debt and had no money in the bank, travel needed to take a back seat (naturally). Over the years, however, we got out of debt, built up our savings, and met our financial goals. These last two years we have found ourselves in a phase of life where we ca actually travel for leisure, and not just travel to visit family.
Up until that point we hadn't travelled much. I don't follow travel blogs, I don't watch travel shows, I don't read travel books or listen to podcasts…certainly to travel expert. But, having met our goals, we wanted to start traveling more and wasn't sure where to start, or whether we could afford it. Through trial and error we have learned some major strategies and tricks for traveling to fabulous places, on a tight budget!
As I was sharing some of these tips tonight I realized that many of you might not know them as well. So I thought I'd pop on real quick and share them with you! So without further adieu,
“Secret” money-saving travel tips you probably didn't know (or think) about:
1- Using a travel agent doesn't cost you, but may save you thousands.
Many people don't know that travel agents cost you nothing! Well, almost nothing. If you have them book your flights for you, there is often a fee since they don't get a commission from the airline. Other than that, they do the work and get paid by the hotel or excursions companies on the other end. Sure, some travel agents may be slightly biased about where you stay (because of the kickbacks) but for the most part, any travel agent I've talked to is more interested in making sure you get 100% out of a trip and have a fantastic time, so you will use them again and again. We used a travel agent that saved us over $1000 on our first Europe trip, in fact.
Our trip to Ireland, London, and Paris was the first big trip Bubba and I took together since our honeymoon. It was so scary for me. Having never been to Europe, I had NO CLUE where to start, what to budget for, where to stay, what to see or do…it was all very overwhelming. Oh yeah, and we took our 3 month old baby with us. I ended up calling a travel agent after encouragement from my mom (who swears by them).
I basically told her…
“We can do up to 10 days, we want to visit 3 countries, we don't care so much about how fancy our hotel is since we won't spend much time there, but we want great food and want to do and see EVERYTHING…for $4,000 or less. Ok…go!”
By golly, I'm still not sure how…but she did it!
For $4K she got our flights, hotels, transportation, rental car, train and subway passes, and even our hop-on-hop-off tours. We factored in an extra $1000 for food, sight-seeing, and souvenirs, and we were right on. We did all 10 days in 3 countries in Europe, flights included, for right around $5000. She was able to shave off about $1000 from what I would have paid to book it all ourselves, and that was after an exhausting amount of research.
Not only did she save us money, but she knew so much more than I did about where to eat, what was worth seeing or not, what to pack and wear, helpful apps and books, and way more. She's a travel agent because she loves travel! And this novice needed all of her knowledge. Next time I'm going to skip the hassle and start with an agent first.
When choosing an agent, treat it like you would a doctor and don't be afraid to shop around. The first agent I called years ago was NOT a fit. She kept trying to put us up in high-end hotels, when I specifically asked her for “nice but not high-end”. I could tell she wasn't respecting my budget, so we moved on. It's ok! No harm, no foul. Find a good fit.
2- There is no such thing as a discounted cruise
Now, I don't own a cruise line, and as a rule, you should always verify information for yourself. BUT…to my understanding from all the research I've done (and many cruises I've gone on) I have come to learn that there is no such thing as a discounted cruise. The cruise line sets the price, and no matter what site you buy it on – even last minute/discount cruise sites – the pricing is the same across the board.
Sure, they can look different. Some might list it with taxes and fees, some might not. But when you hit PURCHASE, the pricing will be the same in the end.
There is such thing as a good deal on a cruise.
Other companies can't manipulate the price of a cruise, but they can offer incentives to sweeten the pot. They can upgrade you to a bigger cabin, they can toss in on-board credits, they can give you discounts on excursions or adventures. All of those things matter, and they all add up!
And, just for the record, the more last-minute you book your cruise, the cheaper it gets because they are interested in clearancing out the rest of their inventory. The ship is going to sail anyway, might as well fill the cabin so you will spend money on booze and bingo on their boat!
So there are ways to get a good deal on a cruise, and to get good benefits out of who you book through.
Take our Freebs Cruise in October, for example (which, you still have time to sign up if you missed it when it sold out because we were able to get 7 more cabins to open up!). I chose that cruise because it's a good deal. A great price per-person, it's off-season, more days on land than sea, several stops, and I was able to negotiate for Get Away Today to provide $100 on-board credit, instead of $50 like all the other companies were doing – which is why I booked with them.
Cruises can be a very affordable way to see the world, so take the time to make sure you're getting the most benefit out of your fare when booking. (Ps see all my best cruising and travel tips HERE.)
3-Doing it yourself may not be best
As many of you know, we went to Italy for our 10 year anniversary in March. It was incredible. The most incredible part? The price. Instead of booking the trip ourselves piece by piece, we bought an all-inclusive package through Gate 1 Travel. Again, not sponsored.
Our trip cost us $2,300 per person for 9 days and 3 cities. The price included: airfare, hotels (3 and 4 star), taxes, fees, transportation, all breakfasts, several dinners, all museum and entrance fees, several excursions, trip insurance, a fabulous english-speaking (local) tour guide who stayed with us the whole trip, and an enormous pease of mind and time-saving.
I'm sorry, but I would challenge anyone to do exactly what we did for any cheaper.
A very successful friend (who could travel on a private jet if they really wanted to) told me all about Gate 1 and insisted they won't ever travel any other way. We went to Italy with 2 other couples and started finding the logistics to be difficult. We decided to buy a trip package instead, so all the details were handled for us, and now the 6 of us have agreed to do a trip together every year, and to never travel any other way but through Gate 1! I cannot TELL YOU how amazing it was.
See my Italy vlogs for proof.
We decided to do Thailand in 2018, and just booked a 9 day central Thailand trip (including all the same things as Italy + more meals) for only $1050 per person! It's bananas, I'm telling you. That's less than HALF of what we were thinking we'd end up paying.
Another benefit of buying a trip package is that you pay for it in two big chunks. You usually put down half as the deposit, then pay the rest just before your trip. I LOVE having it paid for in advance. We save up the entire amount before the trip, pay it off, then save up a bit more for spending and additional food while there. It feels so good to not have to come home and pay off a bunch of credit cards.
Again – consider buying a package through a company like Gate 1 or Travel Zoo (or even Groupon! And remember that you can get 6% cash back if you buy through Ebates!) and it will likely save you a lot of time, money, and hassle.
4- Crowd-sourcing is the new way
“Crowd-sourcing” is taking over the world.
Previously, we had to pay for a hotel if we wanted to sleep, or had to hail a cab to get from point A to point B. Now, thanks to crowd-sourced travel, taxis and even hotels are becoming a thing of the past.
When you find that hotels are too pricey, don't be afraid to try AirBnB! No, this post is NOT sponsored. I'm just a fan. AirBnB is a website where people can offer their house for rent short-term needs (usually a night or two). Sometimes it's the whole house, sometimes it's a room or two, or maybe it's even a pull-out couch in the living room. It's a space that isn't being used by the owner, so they post it online to earn extra money.
I have friends who rent out their California condo when they leave for a weekend and will pull in $200-$400 in a few days. They then take those earnings and put it into a travel account, where they save up for their travels that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. It's easy money for them, and extremely affordable sleeping arrangements for the renters.
When I was in New York doing Good Morning America, I extended my trip a few days so I could spend the weekend with a friend in NYC. The hotel GMA put me up in was amazing!…but at $350/night, I wasn't about to continue picking up the tab. My friend and I split an AirBnB apartment instead. We got the whole place to ourselves for $80/night. That's $40 EACH! It had a little kitchen too, which was an added bonus. Sure, we shared a bed. And no, no one made it for me in the morning. But $40 to make my own bed is paying you $350 to make it for me, any day.
Is it weird to be in someone's house with all their stuff around? No, not really. I'm only there to sleep. If I planned to spend all day and night inside…then why would I be on vacation?? Get out there and go DO stuff! We basically use it to sleep, then we are up and out, trying to soak in as many experiences as possible. Spending $40 vs $350 is what ultimately allows us to be able to travel, and it just. makes. sense.
Would I use AirBnB for a week vacation in Tahiti? Don't know. Probably not. But for a few nights or less in one city? Absolutely.
It's the same with Uber. (Again, not sponsored.) Taxis and public transportation can be a NIGHTMARE with a capital N. In New York, Italy, and basically every other place I've visited, we've opted for Uber.
Uber is essentially a taxi service where any normal citizen with a license and a safe car becomes the taxi driver. It's a full-time gig for some, a “I just need some extra cash” gig for others, and sometimes even a “I'm commuting home from work anyway, might as well drive someone else and make money while I'm at it” gig. Whatever it is, it's WAY more affordable than traditional taxis.
In New York for Rachael Ray I was heading to meet a friend for dinner, 25 minutes away. What would've been a $$40-50 cab ride was only $16 with Uber. The savings is unheard of. Not to mention it was late, in a sketchy neighborhood, and who knows how long I would've had to wait to hail a cab.
Aside from the savings, I love that I use the app on my phone and it comes right to me (the longest I've had to wait is 10 minutes). I never have to hand them cash or wonder if I'm being over-charged, everything goes through the app. They set the rate (and you see it and accept it even before getting into a car), everything runs off of GPS on your cell and theirs so the company knows where you are at all times (won't get kidnapped – hooray), and it even automatically charges the tip so you don't have to fuss or worry about that. I feel safe because every driver is watched like a hawk through their system, and everything is based on ratings. If they don't have 5 stars, they are basically out of a job.
If I can help it, I will never step in a taxi again. #UberForPresident
So there you go!
4 Clever little money-saving travel secrets that you may or may not have considered before. What are your best money-saving tips and tricks? Please share with us in the comments so we can all learn from each other!
Now get out there and see the world!