Listen, if you’re reading this, I feel you. Your frustration over not feeling like you can’t afford to take all the trips you see all over Instagram – I’ve been there. And to prove it, I’ll tell you this. I’m a millennial with nearly $30k in student loans. I’ve been working my butt off to pay off credit card debt that my college self thought was okay to rack up. And I live in Chicago (i.e., rent is not cheap). I’ve struggled financially, to say the least and in this past year, I’ve finally gotten a handle on my debt. I’ve figured out how exactly I can still fulfill my passion of traveling while making sure my finances are in check.
Here’s how I do that and how YOU can afford more travel:
1. Use Travel Credit Cards
I know, I know. The word credit card is scary for some people. If you’ve got some credit card debt already, you might be thinking “ummm why would I sign up for another credit card when I already have debt, you’re crazy.”
If you have unmanageable debt and are struggling with the self control to stop spending, then maybe this isn’t for you. But if you’re consistently paying it down or maybe you’ve always been responsible and you don’t even have any debt, then consider getting a travel credit card (TCC) to help with your travel expenses.
This is the single best advice I can give to afford more travel because at this point, I rarely pay for flights when I travel. I save up points from my favorite cards and “buy” my flights through the credit card company, without spending any additional money than I normally would.
For more information on the best travel credit cards for 2020, head on over to this post. You can also follow this link for more information on my personal favorite travel credit card – Chase Sapphire Preferred.
If this is new territory for you, worry not! I wrote an ebook that goes into detail about how this whole TCC system works and how you can get started. Click the button below for more info!
2. Shop Around
When you’re in the planning stages before your trip, you’ll obviously be looking for the best hotel for you based whatever you may want to prioritize – cost, location, luxuriousness, or anything else. But once you land on a hotel, you may want to take a little extra time to shop around and determine where is the best place to book it.
Here’s an example: When i was planning our Krakow trip last year, I found Hotel Francuski on Booking dot com and eventually decided to book that hotel.
I allllmost submitted the booking on Booking dot com, but decided to just quickly check the price directly from the hotel’s website. It turns out, it was about $20 cheaper per night to book direct.
When this happens, it’s usually due to the fact that hotels have to pay Booking or Expedia, or any other hotel aggregation site a commission fee for anything booked through their site. So, if someone booked a hotel for $100 per night, they might have to pay a 20% commission to Booking. In that scenario, they’d only make $80 per night.
To avoid earning less money for each stay, some hotels jack up their prices to account for the commission that Booking will take.
There could always be trade-offs though. For example, Booking happens to have a very flexible cancellation policy. So, if their policy is better than the hotel’s, it might actually be worth it to pay a higher fee.
This is by no means what every hotel does, but I’ve seen it enough times to point it out. I know we are all trying to save money wherever we can in order to afford more travel!
3. Track Your Flights
I can’t even begin to count how many flights I’ve purchased in my lifetime and then a week later, look back and they’re cheaper than what I paid. Isn’t that frustrating?!
There’s no 100% scientific way to know exactly when flight prices will be cheapest. However, if we track them, we’ll at least know how low the prices have been. Then, if we have the time, we can wait for them to get that low again.
I like to use Google Flights to track any and all flights I take. As soon as you start tracking a flight, Google will actually show you the historical pricing data. So, if I track a flight that’s currently $700, but I know that last month, it hit a low of $400, I’m going to hold out buying the flight until it gets closer to $400 again. Tracking your flights is the easiest way to afford more travel because all you have to do is wait!
Obviously, this doesn’t always work if you need a last minute ticket, so part two of this tip is to track early. I start tracking flights when I have even an inkling of an idea for a trip so I know what I should be paying.
4. If Your Destination/Timing are Flexible, Use the Explore Feature
This tip won’t work for everyone, but if your travel destination and dates are flexible, travel suddenly becomes a whole lot more affordable and, in turn, you can afford to travel more. All you have to do is use the explore feature on Kayak or Kiwi, or other flight aggregation site. This will show you the cheapest places to travel to at the cheapest times.
To use these tools, you’ll input your departure airport and simply click explore. The tool will then show you a map with affordable prices for just about anywhere. Just beware that unless you put in certain dates, it’ll likely show you off-season or unpopular days to travel because that’s when the flights will be the cheapest.
Which brings me to party two of this tip – travel on unpopular days. Again, this works best if you’re relatively flexible. For example, if you return home on Monday instead of Sunday, you’ll likely see a huge drop in price. The same goes for other unpopular or inconvenient days to travel for the “normal” 9-5 worker.
5. Look Through Your Current Expenses
You didn’t think you’d get through an entire blog post about affording travel without some budgeting advice, did you?! It had to be here.
For those of us that aren’t on top of our finances, this can be scary. Trust me, I’ve been there. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, block off an hour or so, and just get through this because I promise you, you’ll feel so relieved just to know. Sometimes the unknown is the scariest part.
I suggest using Mint for this because it takes a lot of the manual work out of it. You’ll give them all the credit card accounts, student loans, checking/savings, and any other open financial/banking accounts you have and they will spell everything out in a very easy-to-digest way.
All of the transactions you make, no matter which card they’re on, will show up in one place. Mint will even attempt to break them into categories to show you where you’re spending the most money. I recommend you go through the last month and categorize them manually so you get a sense of where your money is going.
Stay with me here…
I know you may think you know where your money is going, but I did too! You’ll never truly know until you sit down and look. When you do this, you can actually go through the list of transactions for each month and decide whether or not you need to keep spending money in this area.
When I did this for the first time, I realized I was paying for iPhone apps that I no longer used that I had forgotten about because they were subscriptions. I also cancelled a few subscriptions like Hulu and Spotify and chose to use my boyfriend’s family account instead.
Any way you slice it, there is likely some way you can cut back on spending, but you need to look at what you’re spending money on first to know where to stop.
When all else fails, just remind yourself “I can spend money on this, or I can spend that money on travel.”
I really hope this list was helpful for you. This is something I’m incredibly passionate about because I’ve struggled so hard with finances in the past and traveling is kind of an expensive hobby!
Here’s an old cliche, but it is SO TRUE. If I can find a way to cut back on expenses and afford to travel as much as I do, then YOU CAN, too.