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Travelling on a budget is something I am actually pretty great at. For a few years, I was responsible for coordinating trips of large groups of international students at one of the best jobs I’ll ever have, and I learned a lot of sneaky little tricks from it when it comes to booking travel and how to pack.
Tip 1: Learn how to pack, and let go of the checked bag. Everyone knows by now that checking a bag is the best way to get a vacation off on a bad start. I’ve only checked bags twice (when I was moving) and I guarantee you that you can easily go on week-plus long vacations using only what fits in a carry-on. (Plus it’s cheaper to do laundry than it is to pay baggage fees!) Below is what I brought back from Michigan with me (I did some shopping there since it’s hard to find great places where I live now.)
To save your eyes from squinting too badly, in my rolling bag, I shoved: two pair of denim, two pair of shorts, a skirt, bra, two sports bras, running shirt and shorts, compression tights, five pair of socks, ten shirts, a bathing suit, two pair of underwear (I’m starting to bring old ones on trips and throw them out after wearing,) a pair each of shoes and sandals, my brush, two dresses, a hat, four magazines, an iPad case, a pack of batteries, and an extension cord. In my carry-on bag, I had a whole mess of stuff. My liquids, three books, two water bottles, an iPad, and a swim cover up are the strangest things. Choosing not to check a bag doesn’t mean you’ll be wearing the same two outfits through an entire trip!
Tip 2: Research. Before you get close to booking your flight, start researching to see what the lowest prices are, then lie in wait until that fare comes available on the day you need. I have Airfare Watchdog set up to send me alerts when prices for routes I fly often are below a certain point. Prices are usually cheapest six weeks before departure, and it’s true that fares are often more when purchasing via a Mac computer. (The last time I checked the difference, it was $150 on one site!) I also never book over the phone because there are added fees per ticket.
Tip 3: Last Minute Fares. If you’re just looking for any sort of getaway, check out airline last minute fares for a cheap weekend away. If you’re travelling for some kind of sickness or emergency, many airlines offer “distress” rates. You’ll have to produce some sort of validation, but if you can’t get it to them right away, they’ll process it and send you a reimbursement check later.
Tip 4: Use Priceline to book hotels. I’m an admitted hotel snob, and I will give up the mini fridge and in-room microwave to stay in a fancy 4- or 5-star hotel. What is the point of vacation if not to relax? That’s how I like to do it. Once you use Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool enough, you learn what hotels go for what prices. I try to always stay at a Hyatt-owned property (make sure you enroll in their rewards program!) to earn points, and in most cities, I can book them out at $80/night.
What budget travel tips are your faves?