7 tips for traveling on a budget


traveling on a budgetI have no family at home or major ties that keep me at home every night. So instead of buying things, I invest my money and flexible time into travel experiences. Like my trip last week to Arizona. I find myself lucky to be able to work on the road.

While I may not be the most frequent of fliers, I did travel enough to rack up over 60 flight segments and a good number of rental car miles last year. When you do have time for personal travel, there’s a smart way to do it so that travel can be done on a budget and trips do not drain the bank account.

7 tips for traveling on a budget

  1. Have a customer loyalty account with businesses – every company you do business with. These often come with perks, sign up bonuses and for most the points do not expire. Points = free nights/travel/stuff.
  2. Be loyal to a few specific brands. Spread your points out among as few brands as possible. For example, I do my best to fly with only one airline, limit my hotel stays to a few select chains, and rent from the same car company.
  3. Always make reservations with the brand, not third-party sites. Having loyalty with a brand isn’t only about status, though those perks are nice. When you’re in a pickle, booking with the brand and having status ranks you higher on their list, increasing your chances of getting help from the company when plans change.
  4. Upload your itinerary and confirmation details to a calendar available on your phone. Google Calendar does this automatically from Gmail. Include your confirmation numbers and addresses in the event details to make navigation better and relieve the stress of planning logistics.
  5. Use a credit card that will earn you points/miles for everything – the key is to pay it off each statement, just like your debit card. These points become free cash when you’re ready to spend on something like a trip. Airline cards also pay off in helping you earn free bags, early boarding, upgrade eligibility and greater access to customer service when flying.
  6. Stash cash in a savings jar throughout the year. Loose change and single bills add up. Save your gift cards. This comes in handy for trips, a special meal and even gas for going around town.
  7. Take food and drinks with you. My first stop on every trip is the grocery store. What I don’t pack in my bag (small items and dry goods), I will get cheaper at the local grocery. I carry a collapsible cooler for items like lunchmeat, yogurt, cheese, and milk. I carry a stainless steel mug for coffee refills and buy a jug of water. Bring electrolyte tabs for water if you need them. These items all add up in a hurry at convenience stores and restaurants. Limiting myself to one restaurant meal per day of a road trip, and eating out of the car cooler saves big bucks!

And a few bonus tips…

  • Invest in a good paper road map and put away your phone.
  • If you’re into outdoor adventures, get a good guidebook.
  • Download several podcasts or audiobooks before you leave.
  • Always visit tourist information stops for possible freebies like park passes.
  • Use Google Flights to compare flights and book directly with airlines.
  • Search Google to find hotels and book directly with brands.
  • Invest in a good travel bag. @JPLovesCotton has things to consider.

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4 Comments

  1. Oh one more tip: Use ebates.com to book travel and cars with the loyalty brands. A number of businesses are listed.

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    1. Good idea, and spurred me to reword one of the tips. I always book directly with the brand/airline. I’ve found much better customer service that way vs using third-party sites. If you’ve booked through another site and trouble arises, often the brand cannot or will not help you and will direct you to the third-party service which usually pales in comparison with customer service efforts. Many brands now have low-price guarantees if booking directly on their sites. And many credit cards offer travel insurance, if needed.

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      1. So far so good on that front but it does make sense. When I have had an issue the 3rd party sight and hotel worked together to refund me 🙂 But I know that is not always the case.

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