If you’ve been keeping up with me for a while, you know I absolutely love to travel- in style. But I’m not currently at that point in my life where I can ball out like I really want to, so like most twenty-somethings, I have to do it on a budget. I did an Instagram poll at the start of my San Francisco/LA trip asking whether or not I should share my travel tips with everyone, and the consensus was, GIRL, YES! So I’m here on this lovely Monday to break it down for all you other bougie gals (and guys) on a budget.
1: Pick the right place at the right time.
Certain places will obviously be cheaper at specific times of the year. For example, I would definitely not try to stay in NYC for New Year’s Eve. The flights and hotels are marked up super high for people trying to watch the ball drop in Times Square on NYE. Also, being frozen with thousands of other people on NYE doesn’t sound as good to me as spending it with the ones I love. That’s just me though. Most of my travel is limited by family and school, so I have no choice but to visit NY around Christmas, and I can’t take the random, really cheap trip to Europe in September, but if your schedule allows, I would definitely recommend traveling during non-peak times.
There are some great tools that help you score deals during those times and track when those times are- I personally use the Hopper app and have booked two flights through the app since downloading it. The app will help you see what dates flights are cheaper during and will track your flight to predict when the right time to purchase it is (more on these tools later). I have found that February, May, September, and October are the best months to travel. The typically crowded destinations aren’t as crowded, the weather is generally nice, and the prices are even nicer.
2: Split the costs with a friend or two.
I’ll be honest, I’m not the type of person to travel solo. I’m not saying I wouldn’t ever travel by myself, but I love sharing experiences with my friends and family. And it definitely makes budgeting for the trip easier, since everything is essentially split in two. It’s important to fully investigate where you’re traveling, so you can calculate all of the total expenses: the hotel, transportation (accounting for Uber/Lyft, public transportation, or a car rental and parking), food, tours/admissions, etc. It really can add up if you don’t budget for it ahead of time, so having a friend or two to split the cost is sooo helpful. I wouldn’t really advise having too many people on the trip, though, as it may be overwhelming trying to plan things.
It’s also crucial to investigate the housing situation. If both you and your friend are comfortable with Airbnb, those homes are typically cheaper than hotels… depending on the area. Sometimes, boutique hotels will be your best bet. And sometimes, you just want to live your best life at the Fontainebleu in Miami. That’s why you’re splitting the cost of the room with your bestie, right? 😉
3: Planning is everything.
I try to start planning the trip no sooner than 2-3 months in advance. My LA trip in March was completely last-minute, but I have a list of places to visit in LA handy in the notes on my phone, so it wasn’t hard to put an itinerary together. I look at the flights first, then look at hotels once my flight is booked. Once I figure out how I’m getting there and home, I give myself time to save up for what I’ll be doing when I actually get to my destination, but it’s imperative to do your research before committing to the trip itself. Again, figuring out the transportation is so necessary, because there are some places where using a rideshare service (like Uber or Lyft) is cheaper than renting a car, some places where you want to rent a car despite the lack of street parking available because you want to go on some road trips, and some places that are completely accessible via public transportation.
I also start looking up my destination on FourSquare and TripAdvisor to see what the food and activity costs are like. I love museums, so finding a free museum or a museum with free entry days is something I definitely do when planning my trips. If you’re a student like myself, it’s also worth seeing what ‘attractions’ have student discounts. I’m not the type of person to cook on vacation (I totally wish I was though), so I check restaurants and hole-in-the-wall spots in the area that won’t break the bank. I usually go to the nearest grocery and get the basics: water, snacks, and granola bars, just in case another lavish meal really isn’t in the trip budget. Another good source to use is Instagram, actually, to see what spots have good rapport with the community! I definitely recommend cross-checking the places you find on Instagram on FourSquare if you’re pressed for time. I have a folder of ‘saved’ photos on Instagram just for food places I want to visit around the world.
As I’m doing my research, I jot everything done in the Notes app on my phone or laptop. Once my thoughts are together and I run them by who I’m traveling with, I go ahead and make an itinerary on Google Drive that I can share with everyone and they can make changes to. After the itinerary is all set, I do the absolute most and make a Powerpoint for the trip so that we know what we want to do each day. It’s extra, but I like having some idea of what we’re doing each day!
4: Use your resources.
My trips would be nothing without resources. I’ve mentioned Hopper, TripAdvisor, FourSquare, and Instagram so far, but there are tons of resources out there. At the same time I set my flight alert on Hopper, I also check SkyScanner for the cheapest flights. There’s even an option to just put in where you’re from and see what the cheapest destination is for at any given date. TravelPirates is another resource worth mentioning; I haven’t booked a trip through them yet, but I get deal alerts when there are alarming travel sales.
The beauty of social media is being connected to people from all around the world you wouldn’t be connected to otherwise. One way to use it to your advantage is to talk to people who you mutually follow that reside in or have recently been to the place(s) you are traveling to. I always message bloggers I know from destinations I’m traveling to so I can get the inside scoop on the most beautiful views, good food, and shopping finds. I also google “(destination) travel guide blog post” to check out what other bloggers have to say about the place. I’ve found some of the best spots across the US just from using social media and Google!
5: Be wise.
One thing I’ve stopped doing when traveling is going overboard on the shopping. I focus more on the actual experience and taking pictures/videos rather than spending my time shopping. I try to limit myself to one clothing purchase per trip, with an exception for the international countries with affordable beautiful textiles, fabrics, etc. such as India. I’ve also stopped trying to buy souvenirs for every single member of my family (sorry guys)- I just buy postcards, fridge magnets, or something small to put on a desk or console table.
Another thing I’ve learned to do is consolidate everything as best as I can, even if packing light is out of the question. I try to bring just one big suitcase and a backpack to carry-on for domestic travels, and a backpack, small carry-on suitcase, and one large suitcase for international travels. Not only does it save you from paying $35-$50 extra for an overweight or extra suitcase, it saves you from the potential hassle of having to navigate to your hotel/Airbnb/hostel straight from the airport with all your luggage.
Travel is a continuous learning experience, so it’s okay if your trip isn’t perfect the first time – take lessons learned from each trip and it will make every trip that much better! It’s also okay if you don’t have the means to travel the world. You have plenty of time to take the trips of your dreams, and where there’s a will, there’s a way.
If you have any travel-related questions or tips you’d like to add, please comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂