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How To Travel In Style [While On A Budget]

March 4, 2014

By:

Erin Schrader

The requests have been heard and today I am here to deliver. Traveling is one thing that most people always want to do, but never actually do because “it’s just so expensive.” Before we begin, let’s talk about the importance of travel for a second. 
I personally think traveling provides some of the richest experiences and memories you will ever have and is absolutely worth every dollar it takes to do so. Rich or poor, I will travel. Without sounding too romantic, I believe that you grow as a person, and closer to the people you are with, when you enlarge your tiny little world and go out and experience new things in new places. There is a quote that goes something like “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” (thanks to good ole Howard Thurman for those wise words) and to me, I come alive when I travel. 
So now that we have discussed my love affair with travel, lets dive into the things that have allowed me to do so. Before we begin it should be noted that I am a travel snob. I prefer to stay in 4+ star (typically newer) hotels, eat at great places, do fun things while there, BUT I do so on a minimum budget (which is typically $1500 total or less which includes round-trip flights and a car rental for the two of us). My goal is that a few of these items below will make that trip to wherever you are dreaming of going, seem a little more possible. 
+ For starters, create a vacation savings account. If you are able to, set-up an automatic transfer weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly into that savings account out of your regular checking account. Make it easier yet and have a small percentage of your paycheck direct deposited into that vacation savings account. This way you are consistently saving and won’t have to shell out a huge chunk of change at one time for your trip. 
+ Second, we always take our vacations in off seasons. Typically we try to vacation two times a year. These two trips typically happen between January-March and September-November. This avoids paying high ticket prices during Spring Break season, Christmas Vacation, etc. It also means not a million people will be in the same destination spot as you. This is easier for us to do because we don’t have children and their school schedule to plan around, so for us these times of the year are perfect! Along with this, we prefer to leave on a weekday and come back on a weekday for the lowest price. For our most recent trip we left on Friday evening and returned the following Friday evening. 
+ When deciding where to go, I turn first to Expedia (you can also go to BookingBuddy to compare all different sites, I typically have had the most luck with Expedia) and just start typing in destinations I have in mind. But here’s the deal, I always sort by star rating. Like I said, hotel snob. What I have found though by doing this is that you are able to stay in some really nice places for not a lot of money. After getting a good idea of what it is roughly going to cost to go to several different places, I put together an Excel document to present to the husband. This document will list the destination spot, dates of travel, flight times, hotel, type of room, and last but not least, the price. We can then hash out what we think is the best bang for our buck. [side note: I use Trip Advisor like a fool during this time, researching and reading reviews on the hotels I have in mind to get all of the inside scoop].
+ Another great idea that has worked for me in finding great hotels and resorts for less is to Google “new hotels in ________”. Many times new hotels and resorts will run specials when they first open. We were able to stay at Secrets Maroma a few years ago in its opening year for around $700 a person (including flights), that trip today would cost us over $4,000. 
+ Before booking ANYTHING (this includes activities on your trip), google “discount codes for ____”. I have saved lots of money this way. 
+ Bloggers this is for you–before booking your hotel, email them and introduce yourself and your blog. See if you can work out a deal where you will promote your stay on your social media accounts and blog for either a free or discounted stay. The travel industry wants exposure just like anybody else, use it to your advantage! I contacted the last hotel we stayed at prior to arriving and was able to land a free room upgrade. It’s not worth not asking. 
+ Book your flights, hotel, and rental car all together if possible for the best price. Again, I either do this through Expedia or most recently, have started doing it through Southwest as that is who we prefer to fly with. 
+ Speaking of flights, try to fly on an airline that offers free bags (three cheers to you Southwest). This alone can save you anywhere from $50-$200 depending on how many bags you take. On Southwest each person can fly two bags for free. If you are questionable on your weight limit for your first bag, bring a second just to be safe. This way if you purchase anything on your trip you have an empty bag to put it in which won’t cost you any additional money to check. This can save you $75 alone for not going over the weight limit! 
+ After booking your trip, sign up for Groupon in that area. You can find a ton of great restaurant or activity deals this way. Why pay full price for dinner when you pay half? Exactly. Also hit up Restaurant.com and see if there are any good deals in that area. We have saved some money doing this ourselves! 
+ Now, departure time. Some of us writing this blog post hate flying. To cope with this fear, alcohol is needed. However, alcohol can be expensive while 30,000 feet in the air so I highly recommend bringing your own shooters. As long as they are 3 oz or less and put them in a plastic bag, you are free to bring them on the plane! Free water + pop on the flight plus your shooters and you are one happy camper. Or at least I am. 
+ Once arriving to your hotel do two things at check-in: Ask if there are any room upgrades available and ask if your room has a mini refrigerator (I always place this in the special request section when booking my trip). I always ask about upgrades and it has worked 98% of the time. If they don’t have the room sold, why not let you stay in it? The mini refrigerator is muy importante because you can then hit up a local grocery store and buy breakfast items, lunch items, snacks, bottled water, and your own alcohol. We save ridiculous amounts of money on vacation by not going out to breakfast and lunch and drinking our own drinks at the hotel. Try it. 
+ If you are traveling somewhere that has Happy Hours, do your best to grab drinks or eat dinner during those times (typically between 4-7 pm). You can also save huge amounts of money doing this. Utitlize yelp like it’s your job to find these spots. 
+ And last but not least, this has nothing to do with saving money but more with remembering that great vacation you just took–bring your nice camera. I know that phones take pictures and it’s convenient and all, but it’s also a lot of fun to have great quality photos to look back on. My recommended camera for travel and every day purposes? A Sony NEX-5. Compact enough to throw in your purse, the option to change out different lenses (my favorite is this lens), and great photo quality. 
+ I know there are more things I haven’t covered (shockingly enough), but if you have a topic you would love discussed on travel please let me know in the comments below and I’ll be sure to do a follow up post!
My favorite places to stay as of recent: 

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