Traveling on a budget requires strategizing and forethought. And, as it turns out, you don’t have to go into debt to see the world, as long as you know what to pack, how to spend, and when to fly.
We talked to someone who’s mastered frequently traveling (for pleasure) — and who has found ways around many of the high costs. Based on his insights, we’ve compiled this compact guide to saving money while traveling all the time.
(And right now, our favorite baggage to travel with come from Away. This carry-on model costs $225 but makes fitting everything you need easy. It’s not the cheapest investment up front, but it will last for years, making it a worthwhile investment.)
How to pack
We’ll start off with the simplest component: how to pack and what to bring in order to save yourself money while traveling. If you’re looking for more significant (and more involved) cost-cutting tips, keep reading; but we’ll start with the basic things that anyone can do to save.
Try to fit it in a carry-on. Many domestic airlines charge extra for checked bags, making it worth it to fit everything into a carry-on if you can. We love this Away suitcase, as it’s perfectly sized to fit in overhead bins. When we’re in a pinch, we compress our clothes into space-saving bags.
Carry a duffel bag. If you plan to return with souvenirs, put a duffel bag inside your carry-on that you can check on your return. Since you pay for checked bags each way on your flight, it’s worthwhile to save on the trip there if you can.
Bring your own bottle. Rather than buying an overpriced plastic bottle at the airport or relying on in-flight service to keep you hydrated, bring your own (empty) water bottle to fill before your flight. Most airports offer filtered water fill-up stations.
Pack some snacks. All airport food is ridiculously marked up, and those costs can add up quickly. Bring your own meal-replacement bars or pack trail mix in snack bags that you can reuse on the return trip.
Provide your own entertainment. Rather than occupying precious carry-on space with a book or buying an expensive paperback in the airport, bring an E-reader with plenty to read already preloaded. Alternately, save on in-flight WiFi by downloading movies or TV episodes to your tablet before you fly.
Don’t lose power. People flock like buzzards to the sparse outlets in airport terminals, so you’ll be wise to provide your own power source; plus, when you bring this with you, you’ll never have to worry about paying for a charge.
How to spend
Many credit cards offer points that can be transferred to different airline and hotel programs in exchange for free travel. This is a way to save on travel even when you aren’t traveling — as you spend on everyday items, like food, gas, and home goods, you’re accruing points that you can later put toward trips.
Check out this comprehensive breakdown of travel rewards credit cards to learn more about the top money-saving options. Some of the cards even include lounge access and TSA pre-check, so you can save money while traveling in luxury.
How to fly
The data on the best time to purchase flights is always adapting to ever-moving trends. However, one reliable resource is Google Flight’s price tracking feature, which shows if the current cost of a flight is high or low and also predicts if the price is likely to go up or down. You can also opt in for emails about price changes for a specific itinerary.
The frequent flyer we consulted chooses flights in one of two ways: He either picks a specific destination and then waits to book until a low price appears, or he picks a specific time to travel and then chooses his destination based on what’s most affordable. Whatever you do, it’s important to be strategic and organized if you’re looking to travel for the lowest possible cost.
Travel as much as you want — here’s how to afford it – Chicago Tribune