People ask me all the time how we are able to travel so much or how we travel to such far away places. This is a perfectly reasonable question because we are not rich. We are not heirs to some incredible fortune. We have not figured out how to work remotely, allowing us to take our jobs on the road (yet!). We have two regular 9-5 jobs and we are considered middle class by most standards. So when people see photos of us from our time on the Amalfi coast or snorkeling in St. Lucia, they just don’t get it. There seems to be a huge misconception among many that it takes a lot of money or a certain way of life to be able to travel, but this is simply not the case. So I wanted to share with you a few tips on how we have been able to minimize our costs with traveling and see some really amazing places in the world so far. Because I believe that anyone who wants to travel, can do it, and should!
Sites like Groupon or Living Social will literally save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars if you are willing to be a bit flexible with your trip. Up until recently, I assumed that everyone knew about these sites, but I found out that many people have never even heard of them. I personally tend to look on Groupon more than Living Social because it usually has more vacations listed that appeal to me, but both are fine sites. Travel agencies work with Groupon to get their vacation packages sold and you can find some really steep discounts here! On Groupon, there is a section titled “Getaways”. If you go to that section you can further sort the options shown by selecting “Air Inclusive” and it will only show you packages that include flights as well as the hotels. I usually sort it this way because I like to travel internationally as often as possible and the airfare tends to be the most expensive part when you book separately. So it’s like a dream come true to have it included! You will be astonished at some of the prices you see! Suddenly, traveling to far off places will get a lot more doable thanks to Groupon! For instance, my family and I just booked a 7 night vacation to Ireland for $699 per person that includes round trip airfare, hotels, breakfast each morning at the hotels, a rental car for each couple, and admission to some of the most popular sightseeing destinations there. That is an AMAZING deal considering that a round trip plane ticket can cost more than that on its own! We purchased the packages from Groupon and then booked the trip through Great Value Vacations, which was the travel agency offering this particular deal. Each vacation listed on Groupon is different so make sure you look at which airport options they are offering and then check to make sure what dates are available to travel. I usually look for packages that allow us to fly out of Chicago or Detroit since those are the largest airports within driving distance for us. We had originally planned on traveling in May or June but when this deal came up, we easily changed our minds to going in April (when it was offered through this deal) because of the amount of money we would save! If you are thinking about taking a trip, I encourage you to look around on these sites before booking anything. Your future self will thank you that you did!
If the particular trip or destination you have been stalking is not listed on Groupon and you find yourself planning the trip all on your own, a good place to start is on Skyscanner.com. When planning a trip, the most important thing is figuring out how you are going to get there first. You need to make sure that your dates are available and that the prices are in line with your budget. This site is a compilation of search results for airfare prices and schedules for multiple airlines listed all in one spot. It saves you from having to go back and forth between a bazillion websites to compare their prices. There are filters that you can use to narrow down the search results, such as price, length of flight, departure time frames, you can sort by a particular airline, etc. I would caution you to not only look at the price of a particular flight, but also how long the layover is. A lot of the really cheap flights tend to have really long layovers, sometimes even 24 hours+ which means really sleepy and possibly really cranky travelers by the time you arrive! Sometimes prices change daily or even hourly. So check back often and when you find a good price, book it immediately! Another great site that does the same thing is Kayak.com. I prefer the way Skyscanner’s site is set up, so I frequent that site more often, but whatever works best for you!
Booking.com has become my go-to site for booking hotels when we travel. I found the site a few years back when we were looking for hotels for our honeymoon in Italy and fell in love with it because many of the hotels listed on this site allow you to book now and pay later, which is huge when you don’t have large lump sums to slap down after having just booked your airfare! Many also offer free cancellation in case life happens. I am a very visual person and I love the way this site is set up. Once you type in the city where you want a hotel, it brings up a list of available places. The price shown is the total price that you will pay for the entire trip, not the nightly rate. Anything that saves me from having to do math is my friend. I usually have a set budget in mind of what I want to spend on hotels in each place we go and this takes the guesswork out of staying within the budget. On the left side of the page, you can filter the search results by budget, amenities, location, review rating, whether it’s a conventional hotel/apartment/hostel, etc., if they allow book now/pay later (No pre-payment), if they allow free cancellation, and you can even filter it to show only the places that include a free breakfast each morning, which is also something to consider to save some more money! On the main search page, there is a map that you can click on and it will show pinpoints of each hotel so you can easily see where they are located within the respective city. This will help you to see how close your hotel is to the key places that you plan to visit while on your trip. You can also search by neighborhood if you have a particular area in mind that you want to stay in. When you click on a hotel, all of the details about the property, including lots of great photos, are displayed. One of my favorite things about this site is the plethora of information they give you about each property. Each listing has a section at the bottom that tells exactly how far away it is from main tourist attractions or other places of interest. It tells what languages the staff at the hotel speak, which is helpful when traveling abroad. It tells whether or not they offer luggage storage. On our upcoming trip, we will be arriving to the city several hours before check-in time at our hotel so I made sure to book a place that is willing to store our luggage for us while we sightsee until the room is ready later in the day. No one wants to get stuck carting luggage around all day especially if you will be in a large city where pickpockets are prominent! Another thing worth paying attention to is the parking situation at the hotel if you will be driving your own vehicle or a rental car. Many hotels in larger cities do not have on site parking or they will charge a fee if they do. Booking.com lists each property’s parking policy which is extremely helpful. Once you have booked a hotel through Booking.com several times, they refer to you as a Booking “Genius” and you will automatically get 10% off select future bookings. If you would like, you can sort the search results to list the hotels that offer the Genius discount first. It’s a simple way of rewarding you for being loyal to their site.
Once I find a property that I like on booking.com, I then go to googlemaps.com and type in the address for the property that I will potentially be staying at. Doing this has saved us many times. Properties always put their best foot forward on their online listings so, at times, they neglect to show photos of the jail across the street with barbed wire fences or the burned out cars down the road and give a false representation of the property. Looking on Google Maps gives you a 360 degree view of the area at a street level view so you can see what it actually looks like before Photoshop happened. To get to the street view, you simply hover over the little yellow guy down at the lower right of the screen on Google Maps, click on him and then drag him to the location on the map that you want to see and it will change the view to street view. For certain places, you can even look into the buildings and take a virtual tour. This has completely swayed my decision on where to stay several times! I highly recommend taking the time to do this extra step before you book a place.
5. Trip Advisor
Trip Advisor is a fantastic site with tips and advice from real people just like you and I who have already been to where you want to go. The amount of knowledge and resources on this site is unmatched and is a phenomenal help during the planning phase for a trip! There are discussion forums posted for just about every destination and topic you can think of that you can read through while researching your trip. If the question you are looking for is not listed, you can simply post a question and usually within a matter of minutes or hours, one of your fellow world travelers will answer you back. Trip Advisor allows you to talk not only with other travelers, but also with locals, which is one of the best ways to gain knowledge about a place. It is also a great place to find unbiased reviews of hotels, attractions, and airlines. I always read the reviews before booking a hotel or buying tickets for a tour or attraction. Some you have to take with a grain of salt because some people will never be pleased but for the most part, people are pretty honest about their experiences here. It will save you a lot of time and money because people often share tips on how to get the best deals on tours, hotels, tickets for attractions, and transportation. Once I return from a trip, I always make sure to review the places I visited on this site. It helps me remember where we visited throughout the trip and also helps others traveling to the same destination with planning their trips.
Once you have the flights and the accommodations all set, next is figuring out how to get from point A to point B while you are there. Depending on the destination and the specifics of your trip, you will want to choose different modes of transportation. For instance, I highly recommend NOT renting your own car if you visit Italy due to the tight, narrow roads and congested cities, but we loved having our own car in Costa Rica to explore the beautiful country at our leisure! It all depends on where you are going and what you plan to do during your trip. Rome2Rio.com is a fantastic site for figuring out the cheapest and the quickest way to travel between locations. It shows you average costs for different modes of transportation and gives you the most common route options from one point to another. It also gives you an estimate of how long each route will take versus the others (taxi vs. train vs. bus vs. subway, etc.). I used this site a lot when planning our trip to Paris. Not being fluent in French, I wanted to know the easiest way to get from our hotel to different points of interest without having to make an embarrassing attempt to get directions at every corner. Rome2Rio even mapped out walking directions for us to get from our hotel to the nearest metro station! This has proven to be a priceless resource for us time and again and has helped us to save a lot of time, frustration, and money while traveling within a foreign country! An added tip: taxis tend to be the most expensive means of travel. If you are comfortable using public transportation, the subway, buses and regional trains are often the cheapest way to go.
If you are wanting to go on a cruise for your vacation, I recommend checking out Expedia to start. There are plenty of companies that offer extravagant cruises at ridiculous luxury prices but if you spend the time to really compare the different options, you can have a truly luxurious experience at a fraction of the cost. Expedia is much like Skyscanner in that it compiles search results from several places all into one site. You can select the area you would like to travel to, the month you want to travel in and the length of the cruise you want to go on. The results will have many different cruise lines that you can compare and each will list which ports the ship will pull into. Once you find a cruise line that you prefer, you can even filter down the results to see just the cruises offered from that line. Perhaps the best feature of booking a cruise on Expedia is the ability to book the trip and make payments on it. Last spring, I surprised my husband, Dustin, with a Caribbean cruise for his birthday. I had booked it in August 8 months prior to his birthday. All I had to put down was $250 for a deposit and then I made payments in the amount of my choice until it was paid off. The deposit is based on the total amount of your cruise and the payments have to be finalized by a certain pre-determined date, but the flexibility that it offers is wonderful for people like us who like to plan trips ahead but don’t have the funds just yet and need time to save up. Because of this option to make payments on cruises and due to their incredibly reasonable rates, I was able to present my husband with a fully paid for cruise ticket to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten for his birthday and he was pumped!
Another option for those that like to give back to the communities that they visit are voluntourism trips. Trips that combine volunteering and sightseeing into one. In 2016, I went on a trip to Guatemala with a church from California and we spent the week in remote, poverty-stricken villages building brick cook tops and ovens, houses, and helping with renovation projects in schools. At the end of our very rewarding week of work, we got to spend the day and night in Antigua sightseeing and exploring at our leisure. It was the perfect combination of volunteering our time to help those in need but being able to still explore a new place and immerse ourselves in the culture while we were there. Often times trips like this are very inexpensive since you are basically working and earning your keep, but it is a great option to share God’s love with the world while still being able to feed the travel monster.
There are many, many other tips and tricks that I have learned over the years since I fell in love with traveling, as will happen the more you travel yourself, but for the sake of keeping this post a decently modest length, I will wrap it up here. I just wanted to show you that it is possible for anyone to travel. It’s just a matter of saving, being resourceful, and researching before finalizing plans. If traveling is what you want to do, don’t let money stop you!
Feel free to email us if you have specific questions or would like advice on anything in this post!