Have you wanted to travel somewhere awesome, and felt super excited?
Then you crunch the numbers… and put your head in your hands, sobbing uncontrollably.
Ok, maybe not so dramatic – but adding up all the expenses is usually followed by cringing and choice words.
The good news is that there are ways to dramatically reduce the cost!
Our family of four just got back from a week of enjoying the white-sand beaches of Naples, Florida.
Total cost of the trip with 2-bedroom condo rental close to the beach, airfare, car rental, and parking: less than $500!
We’ll give you tips to save money on travel so you only pay a FRACTION of the retail price.
But to save money and get more out of the experience, it’s incredibly helpful to know WHY we’re travelling – and what the pitfalls are.
THE BEST TRAVELERS KNOW WHY THEY’RE DOING IT
Wait a minute – you guys are advocating saving money by focusing on my real needs. Travel is a luxury. What gives?
We’re arguing that possessions, especially mass-produced consumer items like cars or purses, won’t make us happier. The pleasure will quickly wear off.
On the other hand, travel is a form of experience that can enrich us.
It helps us learn more about ourselves and our world, better relate to other people – and share lasting memories with those we love.
I still fondly remember the family trips we took to the Adriatic Sea in Bosnia and Croatia when I was a kid.
I recall the smell of the ocean and pine trees, climbing trees to pick ripe figs, taking inflatable airboat rides, and eating funny pizza with eggs-over-easy on top.
But I’ve never once thought nostalgically about the possessions we lost in the war.
BENEFITS OF TRAVEL
Travel can enrich us in many ways. Here are four (among others):
We get a richer perspective on life by experiencing different cultures and works of art, and better understanding history.
For example, the Statue of David and other masterpieces that ushered in the era of humanism and Renaissance after the Dark Ages made a powerful and lasting impact on me.
Many of us feel joy – and awe – when we experience the extraordinary beauty and diversity of our natural world.
From tropical oceans to Alaskan wilderness, from desolate deserts to rain forests teeming with life, our planet is truly amazing.
The last time your were fully immersed in nature, how did you feel?
Travel offers adventure and excitement – we never know what we’ll discover.
And this novelty has some unexpected benefits.
You’ve probably heard people say how time seems to go faster and faster as they age.
It turns out that this mostly happens because many of us get stuck in a routine, and our brain isn’t laying down as many new neural pathways.
The good news is that we can hack this!
According to neuroscientist and best-selling author David Eagleman, we can add perceived time to our lives by exposing ourselves to new environments.
So in a way, travel can make us feel like we’re living longer!
REFRESHING AND CONNECTING
Sometimes it’s just nice to slow things down and be fully present with each other.
Admittedly, a week of collecting shells with the kids, building sand castles and swimming in the ocean was not the most productive of my life – but I thoroughly enjoyed it, feel refreshed and made great memories.
What is your main reason for travel?
Knowing this will help you figure out how to best use your money and get the most out of your unique experience.
PITFALLS OF TRAVEL
Travel can be wonderful, but it has its pitfalls.
I’ve heard people say, “I just want to retire young, travel to different beaches and drink cocktails for the rest of my life.”
This is the point where I need to scoop up my jaw that’s dropped all the way to the floor.
We’re all gifted with a precious life and a set of talents we can use to make a positive impact – and gain greater joy and fulfillment from doing so.
And no, I don’t think horizontal cocktail-sipping qualifies as a talent.
Now, I get that people may be burned out on their jobs and seeking an escape.
I can see people enjoying laying on beaches for a few months, maybe even a year – but there’s no way that can be satisfying for a LIFETIME!
Hello, crisis of meaning.
Mark and I experienced this first-hand.
In our twenties, we travelled a ton, including the vast majority of European countries and over 30 Caribbean islands.
And guess what – we burned out on travel.
It became less and less satisfying, and we had to take increasingly exotic trips to get the same high.
So we started looking deep within to find what gives us real meaning and purpose.
Do we regret the money we spent on travel?
And we’ll still take fun, adventurous trips. It’s just that we recognize that there are deeper, richer sources of joy and meaning for us – and travel is not a substitute.
So glad we didn’t wait until retirement to find that out!
As we’ve learned and changed, so have our goals.
For example, taking a cruise around the world used to be one of our goals.
After trying it for just two weeks, we were beyond ready to get off the ship and do something more productive and meaningful to us.
That’s not to say we couldn’t travel for extended periods.
But to be truly satisfying, extended travel would have to involve creating something, building something new, connecting with others, or helping people.
OK… so we’ve gotten all philosophical about travel.
As in all the other posts, the goal is to question why we’re doing what we’re doing, so we can make the best decision for each of us.
So let’s say we’ve thought it through and decided to travel for a week or two to refresh, have fun with our loved ones, and make some memories.
Our advice is… NEVER PAY RETAIL!
Below are 6 ways to slash the cost.
6 TIPS TO SAVE MONEY ON TRAVEL
Tip #1: Use Points for Flights
If you drive to your destination – great.
But you may be faced with the same dilemma we had about travelling from Columbus to Naples.
In the end, we decided that a 2-hour direct flight sounded better than a 20-hour drive with young kids. A LOT better.
For years, we’ve been using Southwest airlines for nearly all our domestic and Caribbean travel.
The points go a long way – AND allow us to cancel up to 10 minutes before departure!
Here’s how we squeezed the most juice from our Southwest points.
We got a 50,000 point bonus for a personal Southwest credit card from Chase, and a 50,000 bonus for a Southwest small business credit card.
They’re not very strict on the kind of business you have – even if it’s just mowing lawns in your neighborhood – as long as you’re a great customer.
With each card, we had to spend $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.
Aaargh! That’s a lot of money!
But no worries – it’s easily solved.
We bought gift cards to grocery stores we normally shop at, and used those throughout the year.
And now for the really juicy part.
We combined these 106,000 points (two 50,000 point bonuses and 6,000 points earned from spending the required $6,000 on the two cards) with another 4,000 points we earned at 1 point per dollar.
This got us to 110,000 points, where the real magic happens (as of the time of writing).
Fireworks start going off, and unicorns start doing cartwheels in the sky while our favorite band is playing.
We become eligible for a companion pass so that our companion flies free for the rest of that year – and all of the following year! FREE! FREEEE!
Ok, so I may be a little excited about this.
It’s best to get the cards as early in the year as possible to maximize the time we can use this award.
And of course, if we’re travelling internationally, United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines and others offers credit card bonuses of their own.
But here’s a caveat: NEVER pay a dime of interest to a bank. If you can’t pay your balance in full each month, DON’T DO THIS! And if you know yourself and have a tendency to overspend – this won’t be helpful.
Retail cost of the three flights (kids under 2 fly free): $1,200
What we paid: $30 in airport taxes and fees
Tip #2: Use Points for Other Travel Expenses, such as Car Rental
Using the American Express Gold Card, we received a $500 travel bonus for spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.
Retail cost of car rental for a week: $200
We paid: $0
Tip #3: Use Your Social Network
Just asking around can bring opportunities to knock the price down.
A local retired couple mentioned to Mark that they have a condo in Naples, Florida. They only use it from January until early April – and it sits vacant the rest of the year.
We were already planning to travel to Naples, so Mark asked if they’d be interested in renting the condo.
It was a 2-bdrm, 2-bath condo with a full kitchen, and close to the beach.
They said yes, for $400.
It worked out well for us, but to be totally honest, I found the experience more stressful than renting an AirBnB from strangers.
I was a bit on edge about kids breaking something in this beautifully decorated place set up for people in their 70’s (not toddlers).
While moving a glass flamingo out of the kids’ reach, I ended up breaking its beak. After the rhinoplasty, it looked more like a pigeon!
Thankfully it turned out to only cost $15.
So social networking may be a great way to save money – but if you’re with young kids, you may be less relaxed than you normally would be.
Retail cost of the rental: $1,000
We paid: $400
Tip #5: Make Your Own Food
We like getting a place with a kitchen – and preferably an outdoor grill – so we can make our own food. Not getting over-charged for food at tourist-traps is a great way to save.
It depends on why you’re travelling.
If you’re in an exotic country and the culinary experience is a big part of your trip – of course you’ll sample the local foods.
But in many places in America, I find restaurant food to be somewhat generic (and yes, I know there may be exceptions like fresh lobster in Maine or crawfish etouffee in Louisiana).
Depending on your situation, a kitchen and a cooler can be your great friends – especially with a family. We typically spend the same amount on food on vacation as we would at home.
But you have to decide what makes sense for you.
For example, if you get a free hotel room with points – but no kitchen – your room savings may outweigh the food savings. (Be smart about what you buy, of course).
Tip #6: Did We Really Come Here to Shop?
For some of us, it seems like our money gets a low self-esteem on vacation, and sadly whispers to us, “I’m worthless…get rid of me.”
I’m talking $20 t-shirts with the name of the place we’re visiting, all sorts of trinkets – and even generic clothes and jewelry.
“But it’s to remind me of the trip!”
Okay. How about…Taking some photos? Making memories? Collecting shells (or whatever) and making crafts out of them?
This brings us back to the question of “why we’re travelling”.
Did we take this trip to go shopping?
If not, we may re-evaluate where our hard-earned money is going. Let’s give it some self-esteem!
Being present in the moment doesn’t require spending money. We can appreciate the simple joys – togetherness, the sunset, beauty, excitement, and the joy of being alive.
Let us know your questions/comments!
And happy travels!
*Disclaimer: We’re not professional financial advisers, nor do we don’t know your specific situation. We try to give accurate, general information, entertain you and give you food for thought in exploring new possibilities. This does not constitute professional financial or legal advice.