Are you a 20-something (like me) who has a never ending curiosity for all the world has to offer, but your wallet doesn’t have as much to give in return? Maybe you’re a mom (or dad!) that never had the chance to study abroad in college – but now the kids are at camp and you a have a few weeks to roam and explore. No matter who or where you are, the world is out there waiting for you, and it can get EXPENSIVE. With the economic turmoil we’ve experienced in the last few years, money is tight for everyone, and pinching pennies where you can really makes a difference. For most of us, $250-per-night hotel stays just aren’t an option. The good news is, I’m not the kind of girl that takes no for an answer, and my #1 hobby is googling. With a little elbow grease (or..keyboard grease?) I scoured the net for weeks on end until I found the best deals possible to book a trip I’d never forget this summer. Here is my list of tips and tricks!
1. BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR LOCATIONS!
The world is a wondrous place to see no matter where your journey takes you. You can find beauty anywhere you go, so have an open mind and plan your destinations around cheap flights. For example, you want to hit London first, then visit Morocco, then take a quick flight over to Amsterdam… BUT – flying to London from your home city may be $600, whereas going straight to Amsterdam first is $400. Don’t set boundaries or an order of places. Don’t even have the places set in stone. This is because you might run into the scenario where flying from your home country to any of the places you planned is $600 no matter what you choose first. Yet, going to Portugal (which wasn’t even an original option) is $350! GO TO PORTUGAL, because that first international flight is going to be your biggest travel expense and you want to save on that in any way you can. Once you are already in Europe, traveling within neighboring countries will cost you next to nothing. So pick the CHEAPEST flight you can get to ANY country in Europe and worry about getting to the ones you had planned while you’re already there.
Make a list of maybe 20 different countries or cities you’d be willing to visit, and plug them ALL into a flight search engine. Of course, you’ll only get the chance to see about 4, but having an open mind and long list of 20 destinations will allow you to find a very inexpensive initial flight overseas. Like I said, once you’re already in Europe, traveling to neighboring countries on budget airlines will be the least of your worries. It’s that big first international trek that will run you some $.
The flights below are all out of New York on March 15, 2015. If I had my heart set on seeing Paris first, I might have run into a $572 pricetag. By seeing Milan instead which is just as fun and exciting, I’m saving $265. You can actually use that $265 savings to take a train from Milan to Paris after experiencing Italy as an added bonus!
2. Be flexible with your travel DATES as well.
Plan many months in advance so that you can have a free calender and wiggle room for which days you’ll be traveling. Your coworkers probably won’t be putting in their time off so many months ahead, so you’ll have a better chance of getting off work on the days that turn out to be the cheapest to travel.
For example, below I had my heart set on leaving on a Saturday to Nice, France. By simply checking the “my travel dates are flexible” box, I discovered that leaving on a Sunday would save me almost $100.
3. Don’t just check different days within the same week… check different weeks entirely! Look what happened when I checked prices 15 days after my original date – Another $150 off the price tag! FLEXIBILITY is always key.
4. Use your STUDENT DISCOUNT!
It doesn’t matter whether you are a current student or an alumni… just the fact that you WERE a student at some point means you get a discount on StudentUniverse.com
. You will never, ever in your life find flights as cheap as you will on this website. I swear and live by it, and no I’m not getting paid for this! If your friend is a student, heck – go with her and have her buy your tickets! I use Student Universe for all my international flights, and for flights within the U.S. However, when I am flying to small countries WITHIN Europe or that neighbor each other, I use Kayak’s search engine because I find it to have a wider range of small
airlines (see #5 below).
5. If you don’t have a student or alumni e-mail address and are not eligible for Student Universe, use an excellent flight comparison search engine.
My favorites are www.kayak.com
. Even though I am eligible for Student Universe and use it for international flights, I ALWAYS use Kayak for flights within Europe or between countries that are very close. They seem to have a better variety of small budget airlines that close countries use for quick flights (1-3 hours). Use the “my dates are flexible” for this as well, because spending 4 days in France instead of 3 could mean a $150 flight difference.
Below I did a Kayak search from Nice, France to Rome, Italy. If I left France on March 17th, I’d have to pay $207 to get to Rome. If I stayed for just one more night (in a budget-friendly apartment that would only cost about $70, see #9) I could get from France to Rome for $67 on March 18th. Even with the extra night’s stay, you are saving $70!
6. Continue this flexibility thing I’ve been hammering on about when you are planning your country-to-country flights.
When thinking about what country I want to see after I visit Nice, France, I would look at my “20 destination” list and search them ALL. Going from France to Portugal would cost $181, whereas going from France to Rome would cost only $63. If you really want to pinch pennies, a flight to London is $55!
7. Book 5 to 8 months in advance.
I just looked up a round trip flight to Milan for 8 months from now, and it’s only $600. THERE AND BACK! If I look up a flight only going to Milan two months from now, it’s $1300.
8. Use the flexibility rule (and Student Universe) for your international flight home as well.
Find out which country it’s cheapest to fly home from (use that 20 destination list), and go there! Like I said, chances are once you are already overseas it will only cost you around $100 to get to the place you can return from for the best deal.
9. DO NOT STAY IN HOTELS!
Hotels are the biggest waste of money in my opinion. There is no reason to stay in a hotel when the world has been blessed with the miracle that is AirBnB
! You can use this link
to get $20 off your first stay anywhere
you’d like. (This may be ‘bending the rules’ but you can use the $20 off link
several times through different accounts if you’re staying with others. I used the link on my account to book in our first country, Nick used the $ off link on his account to book in our second country, and my friend used the link on her AirBnB account to book our 3rd place.) I am just so grateful to have this resource – you can stay in someone’s ENTIRE APARTMENT for the THIRD of the cost of a hotel. Or, if you’re really on a budget, you can stay in a private room in someone’s apartment for as low as $10 (while avoiding a hostel!). How can you beat that?! These are all verified people with reviews you can easily read before booking. If you have any questions about the neighborhood or proximity of major landmarks/beaches/restaurants etc. you can just send the host a message before booking. Look at the address of their apartment on Google Earth to see if the location is nice!
10. Pack LIGHT so that you only have to check one bag for every two people.
You might not even have to check a bag if you can fit everything in your carry-on (this will only work for people traveling for a week or so.) If you’re traveling for two weeks you’ll need to check a bag, but if you pack light, you’ll only need to check one for every two people. When you travel on small budget airlines between close countries, their prices are so low that they have to make money any way they can. That means you’ll be paying about 40 bucks for a checked back. Split the space in the bag with a friend or partner and ONLY bring the necessities! You will wear the same jean shorts, t-shirts and dresses many times. No one cares about outfit-repeating on vacation, and if it means you’re saving a checked bag fee you better ROCK those repeat-shorts! And don’t bother bringing heels because I only wore mine once (and changed into flats 20 minutes later).
11. Cabs are a big no-no!
No matter where you go, cabs are a rip-off. It’s pretty much a universal law. Except for Portugal, where the cabs are surprisingly cheap… but still, that does not justify failing to plan! Before you even leave your home, make a “directions folder.” Print out the public transport directions you’ll need to get from every airport to every apartment you’re staying in and back to the airport for your journey to the next country. For example, when we went to Copenhagen, we would have had to spend over $40 on a cab to get from the airport to where we were staying. BUT, before I left America, I typed into Google Maps the address of the airport and the address of our AirBnB apartment. I clicked on the bus/train-looking icon and it told me I had to take the Metro then Bus 5A to arrive at our destination. It turned out to be $5 because you get a free transfer to the bus from the train!
12. Don’t rent a car in a city. Rent a bike or get a several-day bus ticket.
Renting a car is one of the worst things you can do. Your feet are an excellent option and you’ll build killer calves, plus you’ll get to take in WAY more of the culture that’s around you. Biking is always a thing in flatter cities like London and Copenhagen, so see if the place you’re visiting has a lot of bike shops or even public bike stations. Sometimes you’ll be able to rent a scooter, too, like we did in Portugal. If you’re planning on using the bus or metro to get around, check out the country’s transit website first to see if they offer a several-day bundle deal.
13. Download travel apps that will help you navigate bike routes, walking routes, and public transport directions.
For major cities, City Mapper is an absolute lifesaver and gives you several options for any mode of travel you choose. Otherwise, Google Maps and the classic Apple Maps app will always have great public transport and walking directions. See if there a metro app you can download for specific cities – for example, when in London we downloaded an app that gives you a map of the tube whether you have internet or not!
14. Unlock your smartphone before leaving the country.
If you are currently out of your contract, your carrier will unlock your phone for free. If not, there are plenty of online websites that will do it for a reasonable fee. Whatever you do, DO NOT use your American cell phone carrier’s plan to call or text anyone, because the fees are ridiculous and roaming charges are no fun. If you just unlock your phone, you can get a pay-as-you-go SIM card at any corner store in any country and simply top up as you need. You can also pay for 3G on the same SIM cards so that you can use the internet and map apps to get around no matter where you are. If you don’t want to pay for 3G, many cafes have wifi hotspots that you can use if you buy something small like a water bottle.
15. Before you leave the country, download the Google Talk app.
Google Talk lets you use wifi to call any and everyone at home. When I studied abroad in London for a month, I didn’t even buy a SIM card because I could call anyone at home for free using wifi.
16. Most countries have Groupon, and a quick google search will lead you to tons of clever bloggers making lists of free attractions and walking tours!
Google is your best friend. May the force be with you.
I hope you loved this list – don’t forget to use the $20 off coupon if you’re staying with AirBnB! Have a great time!! x