And even if you fly to a country without 8.5% inflation, you still gotta pay inflated American airline prices to get there.
Luckily, you can greatly offset the higher cost of travel by implementing a few smart, money-saving strategies that start the second you begin planning and span the length of your adventure.
How can using separate browser windows save you money on flights? How can you save 30% on nice meals at almost any restaurant worldwide? And what’s a simple hack for saving big money — and stress — riding to and from the airport?
Let’s dive in with seven ways to travel on the cheap!
1. Set Price Alerts Super Early
Imagine if Delta sold used cars.
“What’s the price of this Kia Soul?”
“What’s the price on Tuesday?”
And yet, we’ve grown to totally accept that flight prices fluctuate like the price of Bitcoin.
That’s why it’s good to get in the habit of setting price alerts on flights the moment you’re thinking about going somewhere.
Getting a few months’ head start can save you hundreds per flight, thousands per year if you travel frequently.
Now, which services to use?
Kayak.com is great if you’re looking for an effective, no-cost option. But if you can afford to invest $49 for an annual subscription, Scott’s Cheap Flights will help you save 40% to 90% on most flights.
Read more: How to find a cheaper airline ticket
2. Before Booking a Flight, Check a Different Browser
Once you’ve found a good deal on a flight, I’m going to ask you to try something crazy: look for your flight an a different browser (Firefox, Edge, Chrome) and see if the prices line up.
I know it sounds nutty, but a Consumer Reports study in 2016 found that out of 372 searches for flights, “we found 42 pairs of different prices on separate browsers for the same sites retrieved at the same time.”
“…shop around, and … if it’s possible, search on at least two different browsers.”
3. Uber to/from an Airport Hotel — Not the Airport
Here’s a trick I learned flying in and out of the world’s busiest airport.
As you probably darn well know, rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber typically charge around 40% more for airport pickup or drop off. This helps to cover tolls, parking fees, and driver time lost navigating airport traffic.
It’s also just cold-hearted profiteering.
Plus, ridesharing isn’t even as convenient as it used to be. Even after you figure out where the “official” rideshare pickup area is, you now have to spend the next 25 minutes awkwardly approaching every white 2017 Nissan Sentra that appears, looking for “Sal.”
All that stress — and 40% of the fee — immediately goes away if you can meet Sal at the nearest airport hotel instead of the airport itself.
Most big airports will have a free or nearly free train that you can ride one stop to an airport hotel or conference center. Get off there and Uber the rest of the way.
That may sound a little time-consuming but in the end, I usually save time doing it this way because my driver doesn’t have to wait in airport traffic.
Plus, if you’re flying in the winter, this strategy gives you a way to wait indoors.
4. Book with a Group Travel Service
Now that we’ve covered flights, let’s talk about saving money once you get there.
One of the biggest challenges with traveling on a shoestring budget is the stress. Not only do you have the stress of figuring out what to do, but you also have the stress of paying for it (and later wondering if you got a good deal).
That’s why I love booking with group travel services like G Adventures, Intrepid, and Contiki. They take care of all the logistics for you — accommodations, daily agenda, your guide, etc. — so all you have to do is show up on time and have fun.
Plus, they’ll drop you in a group of likeminded young travelers so you have the fun (and safety) of group travel.
But most importantly to our purposes, booking with a company like G Adventures saves you money. It’s typically cheaper than booking all of the individual parts yourself because you’re paying a group rate.
That being said, I still preferred to do my own thing in a few countries. And that’s when I learned one of the best money-saving travel tips ever:
5. Stay in Hostels — No, Seriously
Hostels have a mixed reputation. I mean, the name literally sounds like “hostile” and they’re often known for being loud party-dens where you won’t get a wink of sleep.
But my experience with hostels has been the opposite.
Sure, they’re not quite as quiet as your own hotel room, but they’re 80% cheaper, filled with cool people, and typically have a strict lights-out time that everyone respects.
Plus, the top-rated hostels on HostelWorld are top-rated for a reason: comfy beds, clean sheets, warm showers, tons of surprising amenities, and they often have in-house restaurants with cheap (but delicious) food.
Modern hostels have more in common with 5-star Airbnbs than frat houses (and I know, I’ve lived in both).
And speaking of delicious food…
6. Have Lunch as Your “Nice” Meal and Street Food as Dinner
Regardless of how short your shoestring budget is, I’m sure that at some point you’d like to treat yourself to a decent sitdown meal.
As you should — it’s good to relax, indulge, and try a high-quality version of the local delicacy wherever you land.
That being said, for a money-saving tip, consider having lunch as your fancy sitdown meal and have beer and street food for dinner.
Reason being, restaurants often charge 30% to 40% less for the same food served during lunchtime. This is due to something called a convex demand curve in the dining industry. In English, that means there’s higher demand for sitdown dinners than sitdown lunches, so restaurants can afford to charge more for the former.
Besides, sitdown lunches have their own special benefits. The lines are shorter, the service is often better, and you can sit on a warm, sunny patio, sipping chilled Pelligrino.
A few hours later, a faster, cheaper dinner at night won’t delay your nighttime shenaniganry nor dent your budget.
Plus, a quick street kebab will leave plenty of room in your stomach to drink more, um, Pelligrino.
Read more: 9 Ways to Save Money on Food and Drinks While Traveling
7. Bring the Right Travel Rewards card — and Use Those Points
On the Secure Website
But Chris, I hear you say.
My Chase Freedom Unlimited® already nets me 1.5% cash back. Is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® really worth bringing for 2X points?
Because the main appeal of a travel rewards card isn’t actually the minor boost in points within certain travel categories.
Rather, it’s twofold:
- The free trip insurance.
- The points multiplier when redeemed for future travel.
To start, most travel rewards cards will come with free insurance for your trip, luggage, and rental car. As long as you book using your travel card, your trip will automatically be protected by:
- Trip cancellation/interruption insurance.
- Trip delay reimbursement.
- Travel accident insurance.
- Lost luggage reimbursement.
- Baggage delay insurance.
- Travel and emergency assistance.
Some of these policies could net you $10,000+ in reimbursement, so they’re definitely worth the effort to get the card.
Second, while many travel rewards cards have just ho-hum travel bonuses (2X for hotels, 3X for dining, etc.) it’s what these points are worth that makes the difference.
To illustrate, Chase points are worth 1.25X when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, meaning you can buy a $750 flight for just $600 if you save the points.
Finally, the best travel rewards cards may come with an annual fee of $95 or more — but they also have sweet sign-up bonuses as high as $750 for spending $4,000 within the first three months.
That means if you have a big, $1,000 trip coming up and ~$1,000 in monthly expenses you can put on the card, that’s $4,000 in three months. Once that lands, you’ll get up to 60,000 points — worth $750.
Yep! You just paid for your trip.
When inflation rises, frugal-minded young travelers have to get smarter. Hopefully, at least one of these travel hacks will help you save big, have fun, and see more of the world on a shoestring.
Featured image: NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock.com