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How We Take Big Budget Trips on Pocket Change

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How We Take Big Budget Trips on Pocket Change

Everyone always wants to know how in the world we travel for so darn cheap! In 2018, Trent and I spent at least two full months (spread out) traveling the world. You want to know how much we paid for those two months of traveling? Pocket change! A large chunk of our money for these trips was saved from our actual pocket change. This total includes flights, train tickets, luxury excursions, day trips, hotels, and rental cars. Of course, we saved more money for food, souvenirs, last minutes activities, etc. but our main expenses cost less than $6,000 for over two months of travel! That equals to roughly $92/day for 65 days of travel.

Throughout the course of 2018, Trent and I traveled to Las Vegas, Arizona, Colorado, Alabama, Illinois, Missouri, took multiple trips to Florida, London, Scotland, Austria, France, and Morocco. Broken down, that is 7 states, 5 countries, and 3 continents. Also, 14 flights, 2 rental cars, 60 nights in hotels or Airbnbs, 1 luxury excursion, 9 day trips, and 4 train tickets. Read on to find out how we did it.

1. Start planning your trips at least a year in advance

Whenever we plan a large trip, I am usually looking up details about a year out. This gives me enough time to do extremely thorough research and to get an idea of prices throughout different times of the year. Usually we try to plan our trips when it isn’t going to be too busy. We hate tourists and feel that it takes away from the culture of the area. We try looking into the shoulder season because the weather is usually perfect and the prices are much lower than they would be during the peak season. That works for many places, but some it doesn’t. We did that with Colorado last year and it didn’t work as well as we had hoped.

Colorado was one of those trips we planned on a whim. This is why we rarely do that because we didn’t do enough research to realize that there really isn’t much to do in Colorado during the off season. Which was fine because we love to hike and spent a large part of the trip hiking. We were there the week before summer season was supposed to start. I learned that it’s best to do research on when and where to go during each part of the year. Colorado at the beginning of May is not a time I would recommend.

For our Europe/Africa trip? This is something we had been planning for two years. Let me tell you, our initial trip looked nothing like the trip we ended up taking. We did our research on each country and saw what they had to offer. We looked at different excursions, tours, and activities to compare prices. Starting our research so early in advance really helped us to understand what we wanted for our trip.

Some things to look for when researching your trip:

  • Best time of year to go
  • Compare flight prices
  • Hotel vs. Airbnb
  • Get an idea of average prices for meals, hotels, taxis, etc.
  • Different excursions you want to go on
  • What to pack
  • Manners and cultural traditions
  • Do you need a visa or just a passport

2. Research countries that give you the most bang for your buck

For Trent and I, we really do not enjoy going to the big touristy cities very often. We’ve been to London and Paris, but that’s just because we got cheap flights to and from Orlando. They were fun to see, but I thought they were a little overrated. If you do your research, you can find hundreds of amazing places to go for not that much money! In fact, our big trip that we’re taking for our five year anniversary (three weeks), it is costing us less than $2,500 for all flights, ferry rides, hotels, and food.

Picture it, three weeks of nonstop adventures, gorgeous beaches, hiking active volcanoes, and exploring the rainforest with wild animals surrounding you for less than $1,250 per person. When it gets closer to our anniversary, I’ll announce where we are headed 😉

For real though, finding countries that are cheaper to visit can sometimes mean they are also less touristy. These are also places that many people you know have never been before. Everyone has been to London or Paris or Dublin…while they’re beautiful places, how many people do you know can say they’ve been to the Sahara Desert or the Amazon Rainforest? Leave friends and family in awe with your amazing pictures of the most beautiful places in the world that people would never think to visit.

Kristin from Be My Travel Muse put together an awesome breakdown of each continent and how much it costs to travel each country. She does a great job of putting together an average price to expect wherever you go. She said Morocco was mid-range, but we found it to be quite cheap. Regularly, we each got 3-5 course meals for an average of $9 each. We spent the majority of our time in Marrakesh though, maybe she was talking more about Casablanca and Fez. I’m not quite sure how expensive those areas may be, we did not get the chance to visit!

3. Pick out your activities before leaving

One of the perks of spending so much time researching in advance is that you are able to have a clear idea of what you want to do when visiting. This allows you to save up for the activities so you can avoid charging your credit card on a last minute whim. None of our trips have put us a penny in debt, even with doing all sorts of excursions and activities. Why? Solely for the reason that I did the research of what each was going to cost. This leads to a stress-free trip. If you’re anything like me, then swiping that card over and over gives you extreme anxiety. There’s no time for anxiety on vacation!

If you’re looking to travel on a budget, this is something that is a must. Impulse activities are the quickest way to put yourself in debt on a vacation.

4. Avoid baggage fees by bringing only a carry-on

There are two perks to bringing only a carry-on on your trip. One is that you can avoid the baggage fees. Two is that it makes it so much easier to keeps everything compact and together. We never had to worry about losing bags or going over the weight limit because we stuck with whatever could fit in our backpacks. We were realistic and made sure we planned all of our outfits ahead of time. It was also nice that there was no extra waiting. We were able to get off the plane and get right to it!

5. Limit your souvenirs

This was a hard one, especially in Morocco. There were some of the most beautiful handmade pieces I’ve ever seen. From leather bags to lighting fixtures and everything in between. The quality was also amazing! We love walking through the Medina and looking at all of the pretty colorful pieces they had to offer. Of course, we did bring a few things home, but nothing that couldn’t fit in our bags!

We made a pact that if we were going to travel with only backpacks, we needed to decide on an item that was small enough to collect from everywhere we went. We debated between ornaments, postcards, and magnets. Ultimately, we settled on magnets because they can easily be displayed year round.

So pick one thing and stick to collecting it for each place you visit! It was honestly quite fun trying to find the perfect magnet for our collection. Something we looked forward to when visiting each location.

6. Utilize credit card hacking

This is for those of you who are extremely smart with your money and don’t have credit card debt to begin with. We started with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and were able to get an extra $750 towards our travel for free! Between the sign-up bonuses and putting our everyday purchases on the card, it was very easy to quickly rack up free money for the trip.

What I do is divide the total spending amount by the time period. So for the Chase card, you needed to spend $4,000 in the first 90 days. I divided $4,000 by 3 months and saw that we needed to spend roughly $1,350 per month to earn our bonuses.

The next step was to charge any bills that could be charged on this card. For us, we were able to charge roughly $500 on our cards. The rest were set up to withdraw from our accounts. That means we needed to spend an extra $850 on that card each month. So, I set aside $850 and put it in our bills account (which is totally separate from checking). This way we always had the money and could pay it off immediately before any payments were due.

If you put the money aside and keep track of just how much you’re really spending on your every day purchases throughout the month, you can easily do this with multiple cards and earn a lot of free travel money or cash back!

7. Take advantage of any discounts you are eligible for

For us, those discounts included student and military. Travel companies around the world love students and love to give discounts to them. Sometimes you need proof that you are a student, other times you need an active student email address. Also look into applying for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC). It’s the only student ID accepted around the world and gives you access to some awesome discounts for activities, flights, and hotels. It costs $20 but definitely worth the price given how much you’ll save! They also have a card for teachers and anyone under 30. Check out the website to see if the discounts to where you’re going interest you! If so, I highly suggest signing up for the card.

For military, they unfortunately don’t really do military discounts around the world, that I know of. Which they shouldn’t, we’re not their military! But if you’re traveling in America, you can take advantage of some awesome military discounts. Check out this post I wrote on 13 different military travel discounts that you need to take advantage of. There are companies out there where you can rent a condo anywhere in the world for $349 per week. It’s strictly for military members and their dependents. The post I linked talks more about it though. Between Space-A and the condo deals, you could easily spend a week in Hawaii for under $500! Tell me how that doesn’t sound like the deal of a lifetime!?

Regardless, if you Google the company + military/student discount, it’ll usually pull something up and tell you how to take advantage, if it’s something they offer.

We also take advantage of affiliate code discounts from other bloggers. If you find an activity you really want to do, Google it and look for travel blogs. Sometimes you’ll find a discount code through the blogger’s page! For our luxury excursion in the desert, I got a 10% discount because I found that Helene from Helene in Between partnered with the camp to give her readers 10% off their stay.

If you dig long enough, you’re sure to find some kind of coupon code, or discount to help save money on your trip.

8. Lay off the drinking and partying

You’d be surprised how much money is spent on drinking and partying, especially on vacation. For those who tend to indulge, an average of $380 in spent on alcohol over the period of a 5-day/4-night vacation. I’m not saying don’t treat yourself, you’re on vacation after all! Just be aware of how much you actually are spending on drinks. If you have a hard time controlling yourself, take only cash to the bar and once you’re out of cash, you’re done drinking for the night.

Trent and I aren’t ones to drink or go to the club, to us it’s a waste of money. For others, it’s an important part of their trip! There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just not our style. I know that partying is a huge attraction that brings tourists in. Just something to be mindful of, if you’re looking to save money!

9. Pick one big activity per location

Not only is this cost effective, it gives you something to look forward to for each part of your stay! When we went on our latest trip, we picked one larger event and then spent the rest of the time doing free activities and sightseeing.

  • London – tour of Westminster Abbey (we were there on a long layover)
  • Scotland – A day trip to Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands
  • Austria – a train into Salzburg for the day
  • France – Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • Morocco – Our luxury camping trip in the Sahara Desert

Not everything listed above was super expensive. It allowed for us to stay focused on what we wanted to do while we were there though. It ended up working out really well because there was so much to see while sightseeing that we didn’t want to miss a thing. There really is just so much to do and see in each country. If you do your research, you’re not going to want to waste your time at museums and waiting in line. While I enjoy a good museum every once in a while, to me it isn’t worth it unless I really want to see something they have there. I’d rather spend my day immersed in the culture.

10. Use Airbnb instead of hotels

Trent and I aren’t one for hostels, but understand why solo travelers would enjoy them so much! For us, we kept looking at hotels and it was outrageous how expensive they could be. We started looking at Airbnb and we got apartments in the middle of town for roughly 75% less than any hotel room in the same area would cost. Airbnb saved us so much money and it was nice having an entire apartment to relax in.

I struggled pretty bad with jet lag after arriving and didn’t sleep for the first two or three nights. Since we were staying in an apartment, I was able to go into the living room and watch TV while Trent slept. If we were in a hotel room, I would’ve had to twiddle my thumbs and stare at the ceiling.

To save even more money on lodging, take advantage of getting $40 off your stay of $75 or more. *This is my Airbnb affiliate link. If you do choose to use it, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!* Take advantage of those savings!

11. Don’t eat out for every meal

I’m not sure about you, but I do not enjoy eating out for every meal while on vacation. I don’t know, it’s just nice to have a nice homemade meal sometimes. Besides, if you cook in your Airbnb in a foreign country, you are able to go to the grocery store and get foods that locals get. You can find easy recipes online and have an awesome evening in with your family learning how to cook local cuisine! It’s fun, great bonding time, and saves you money. I’m not saying we do this a lot, but it’s nice every once in a while to not eat out for every meal.

If you’re trying to cut back on cost though, this is a fabulous way to do so! Also, eating only twice a day instead of three times per day. Go to the store and stock up on filling snacks to keep you satisfied during the day. Cutting back the cost of even just one meal per day will save you so much money!

If the average meal costs $10 per person and you’re gone for ten days, that’s $100 per person extra you are saving. Then minus maybe $15-$20 for snacks for those ten days…you’re still sitting at an extra $80-$85 per person saved. That’s a nice extra activity you can take advantage of or money you can save for your next trip! You really won’t even realize you’re missing another meal with how busy you are anyways!

12. Set a trip budget before booking anything

Another reason to start doing your research so far in advance. This helps you to understand the prices of the time frame you want to go in. Once you understand the types of prices you are looking at, set a budget for your trip. This budget needs to include hotels, flights, transportation, activities, food, alcohol, and anything else you can think of. Then do everything you can to save that amount of money before even booking your trip!

Once you have a budget set and you have the money readily available, you can go ahead and book everything. You don’t have to have the money all at one time, but don’t book until you are certain that you can pay for that part of the trip in cash.

Spending money as well, do not charge anything! Whatever extra you have saved up while on your trip is what you have to spend on extras. If you are worried about saving money, check out these 5 apps that have saved me over $5,000 since I started using them. Also, here is my most popular post on the blog about how we saved $8,000 in six months. Both of these posts have phenomenal ideas on how to save money! They have escalated our savings immensely as well.

13. Email travel bloggers for any advice or discount codes

Bloggers LOVE hearing from their readers. If you contact a travel blogger asking questions about a destination they’ve been to, you will most likely get a response. Be patient though, they definitely get a lot of people messaging them everyday! Most of them are really good about responding as quickly as they can. They also have the scoop on everything that you must see and do at these locations. What better way to plan a trip that with the help of a professional traveler?

Also, don’t forget to ask if they have any affiliate codes for any hotels, flights, transportation, etc. for the destination you are headed to. They will be more than happy to give you as many discount codes as they have because if you use their code, the company you book with will pay them a commission. It’s a win-win for all three parties! I’ve definitely saved quite a bit of money by simply just asking the bloggers for their advice and codes. This is what they do for a living! They want you to reach out and talk with them.

How do you like to save money while traveling? I’m always looking for new ideas, so please let me know in the comments below!

This post does contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links above, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support and enjoy your trip!

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