You probably know by now that one of my goals for 2016 is to take 12 trips, and I’m doing really well: I’ve already taken five! A couple friends have asked for my tips on how to keep expenses low, so I thought I’d share some advice here too. To be clear, I’m certainly not an expert here: This is not a be-all, end-all list, and I do splurge in some areas, when travelling and at home. (I mean, I spend about 45% of my take-home income on rent. Thanks, NYC!) But if I didn’t at least try to be frugal, my financial situation would be dire, so here are the ways I cut back while still having a good time.
Stay with friends
Maybe I just have super generous friends, but if I know someone at my destination, they’re usually willing to offer up a couch or guest bed. So far this year I’ve stayed for free in D.C. (thanks Courtney), Dallas (thanks Mom and Dad) and Phoenix (thanks Jordan and Mom and Dad!) Be a good person, though. Buy them dinner or some groceries so they invite you back. And I also reciprocate when people visit NYC!
If you do need to find accommodation, don’t go straight for fancy hotels. I’m a big fan of Airbnb*, which I’ve used in Brooklyn, Boston, San Francisco and the Bahamas. A lot of people have safety concerns; my personal rules are that I only stay with female hosts, and at properties that have reviews. I’ve never felt any less safe than in a hotel, and it allows me to stay in better parts of cities than I could otherwise afford. PLUS you have the added bonus of getting to know a local who can give you ideas of things to do. My host in Boston even treated me to dinner at a local tavern, and if not for her I never would have visited the Sam Adams Brewery!
Consider alternate modes of transportation…
Whenever possible, I travel by Megabus. They have fares as low as a dollar, which are hard to find, but I’ve still never paid more than $25 round-trip. You get what you pay for, and I’ve heard horror stories, but it gets you there – and I’ve never had a bus arrive late by more than 30 minutes or so. There are other bus companies, too, and if you’re hesitant you can also consider Amtrak.
…but if you do fly, watch for sales and use miles
Tragically, it’s just not feasible to take a bus across the country (or the world!) when you only have a few days off from work. That’s why I’m a big fan of Southwest and Jet Blue. They both offer cheaper fares than a lot of other airlines, and they both have great rewards programs. I even flew round-trip to Dallas for less than $70 this year thanks to rewards points! I’ve heard great things about airline credit-card programs, as well, but I’m not a part of one so I don’t have any great insight. In general, I track my ideal flight route on Kayak, set a price point in my mind, and buy when fares are around that price – regardless of the airline. By flying at weird hours (leaving early in the morning or taking a red-eye), I’m almost always able to find reasonably-priced direct flights. I’m also a member of pretty much every airline’s loyalty program!
Use public transit
I’ve taken public transportation not only in New York, but in London, Dublin, Rome, Amsterdam, Boston, D.C., San Francisco, the Bahamas and Phoenix. I’ve never rented a car and I only take cabs at night. This keeps my transit costs once I’m in a place crazy low – usually within the $20 range for short vacations. Plus, it lets you feel like a local.
Decide which meals are most important for you to eat out for, and buy groceries to cover the others so you save money. This is especially feasible if you’re in an Airbnb with a kitchen! When we were in San Francisco, Jordan and I got a loaf of bread and peanut butter for sandwiches for breakfast (her) and lunch (me), so we’d feel less guilty eating dinners out. In the Bahamas, we stocked up on snacks and breakfast food (our Airbnb host drove us to the grocery store!), and ate big dinners out. (We also hit up a liquor store, if that’s your thing, to save at the bars).
What are your favorite ways to save money on the road? I’m always looking for tips!
*If you use this link to register with Airbnb, you’ll get $35 off your first booking and I’ll get a credit too! Everybody wins!