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by Maurie Backman | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on July 16, 2019
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Traveling is even more fun when you manage to do it on the cheap.
I’ve always enjoyed escaping the daily grind, getting away, and seeing new parts of the country -- or the world. And while I definitely set aside money for travel in my personal budget, sometimes it takes a little finagling to pull off the various trips I plan. Here are three tricks I use to make traveling more affordable.
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When you only have a limited amount of time off from work, driving all over the country may not be feasible. But when you’re self-employed like I am, you don’t get vacation days at all, which means that while I don’t get paid to not work, I can take as many days to travel as I wish. As such, when I’m traveling within the U.S., I’ll often pack my family up in the car and drive to our destination rather than fly. Doing so has saved us a ton of money in the past, and we’ve also gotten to explore parts of the country we otherwise would’ve glossed over.
Last year, for example, my family of five drove down to Florida at a time when the cheapest flights cost $400. Rather than spend $2,000 (not including the cost of getting to the airport, checking bags, and so forth), we spent about $300 in fuel and tolls, and another $250 in lodging to break up the 16-hour drive each way.
Now if you’re traveling solo, driving won’t always make sense or save you that much money. But in a group scenario, it pays to see how much you can shave off the cost of your trip by hopping in the car and taking turns at the wheel.
As a general rule, I try not to open too many credit cards, since doing so can actually ding your score. But if I know I have a big trip coming up, I’ll often apply for a new card with a generous sign-up bonus. What I’ll then do is charge expenses like flights and hotels on that card, snag my bonus, and use that money to cover the remaining part of the trip.
For example, I recently applied for a card with a $500 sign-on bonus for spending $3,000 within three months. I expect to fork over $3,000 in the course of paying for my summer vacation, so once I do, I’ll collect my $500 bonus and use it to pay for restaurants and activities while away.
If you’re going to sign up for a credit card with a generous bonus, make sure you’ll actually use it enough to snag that perk. For example, if it weren’t for this upcoming vacation, I don’t know that I’d be able to spend $3,000 on that new card, but because the timing works out, I should be able to grab my bonus.
Traveling at less popular times not only lets you avoid crowds, but often helps you save some serious money. That’s why I try to make a point of traveling during random times -- times that don’t overlap with holiday weekends or school breaks. In fact, I’ve been known to pull my kids out of school to travel at times when flights are inexpensive and hotels are practically begging for guests. I may not win any parenting awards for doing that, but I've saved my share of money.
Now to be fair, not everyone has the flexibility to travel completely off-peak. But if you’re looking to get away on a holiday weekend, for example, you might try leaving town on a Friday and returning on a Tuesday rather than on a Monday. Doing so could easily shave $100 or more off the cost of a domestic flight, and you’d only be talking about missing a single school or work day.
The more money you’re able to save on travel, the more you’ll have left over for your next trip. Be strategic when planning vacations, because a little effort could save you a bundle. At the same time, consider getting a travel rewards credit card if you don’t have one already. That way, you’ll snag additional perks that make traveling more affordable.
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