At long last, I am finally sharing a blog on the question I am asked the most- “How do you afford to travel so often?”. I am going to share some of my tips and tricks that I have learned over the past 15 years of travelling. Contrary to what my Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/scrubs2sweats/) shows, I travel 1-2 times a year but my account is a travel and wellness account, so I often share #latergrams. Many think I am full time travel blogger when in reality I work in Cancer Medicine with 20 days off a year. I treat my Instagram the same way I do Pinterest or a magazine- a hub for inspiration so it’s not in real time.
To date, I am very fortunate to have traveled to 61 countries. I have done a combination of all-inclusive, cruises, cramming in several countries in one holiday (via train or boat or plane) or a staying in one place. My favourite type of travel is to explore 2-3 countries in one trip, off the beaten path and often involving immersion into the culture whilst staying at a small boutique hotel or Airbnb. Doing a variety of trips has taught me a few things which I want to share below.
- Travel Off Season
This sounds like a no brain-er but I am often still surprised that people want to go to set destinations during high season when they don’t need to. If there is a specific reason you want to go then i.e. only available time to travel, a special event or something unique to that destination e.g. Tulips in Holland in Spring, then fine. But if you don’t have to travel during high season, then don’t.
You will find that prices for hotels and flights will be cheaper, the customer service and level of attention you receive much better, and way less crowds so you can actually enjoy your surroundings. I personally struggle to get Summers and Christmas off work so initially used to be annoyed with this, but now it works in my favour. I love to travel during Winter (Jan-Feb) or Fall (Sept-Oct) and I always seem to find the best deals and have the most unique experiences.
2. Plan in advance
I usually plan my trips 2 months in advance. This allows me time to do my research, in addition to being much cheaper. My flights are usually purchased 6-8 weeks prior to departure.
If you are someone who can do last minute deals, then go for it. I have seen some awesome ones but I would say be careful- they tend to be cheaper for a reason and often you get what you pay for when there’s no time to barter or research.
This goes hand in hand with above where I recommend planning in advance. Research the areas you want to go and map out the distance. Look at various modes of transport to get between them- train versus boat versus flights etc, and look to see if there are any promotions. Europe especially is notorious for train specials which include access to museums and other places of interest. Also go to tour websites to have an idea of how much they cost. Often you can do it on your own for much cheaper by taking taxi or public transit. Of course this depends on what you are looking for but I personally like to weigh my options in advance. It isn’t just about price but quality of experience. For myself, I prefer to see more so less likely to spend half a day in a museum; I would rather explore by foot.
In addition to mapping out distance, researching costs of tours, cost of transport, I also like to have an idea of cost of food etc so I look at what various restaurants in the area charge. It can give you an idea for cost of living of the place and what to expect (always budget for extra as there will be things you didn’t anticipate that come up).
4. Use the right travel sites
Don’t fall trap to Kayak and those other websites which claims to provide the cheapest flights. Often you end up paying more as they charge for seat selection, baggage, and additional hidden costs, plus the flights are often delayed and sometimes cancelled last minute. I’ve experienced my fair share of flight failures, but of course this isn’t always the case.
I personally have had much success with Google flights, as well as websites like Skyscanner, which I have linked below.
But my favourite travel site to date would have to be Travelzoo.
I signed up for their email list years ago and I have taken quite a few deals with them. For example, 8 years ago Iceland Tourism launched a promo on Iceland Air to start attracting tourists to the country. I remember my friends and I got a deal for about $800 Canadian that included hotel, flight, a couple tours and car rental for 5 nights, 6 days. We did our research with the company and it was legit. And it ended up being one of my best travel experiences to date. After that, this site has been my go to.
5. Buying flights on the correct day
Another trick I have learned over the years is knowing what days to look for flights. Traditionally Mondays tend to be the most expensive. I am not sure if it has something to do with people jonzing for a holiday after the weekend. Also Saturdays and Sundays can be quite expensive too.
I recommend searching Tuesdays and Wednesdays and in the morning. And if you find a deal you like and want some time to think about it, if you keep going back to the link over and over, the prices will go up. I would say if you find a flight that matches your destination, flight times and price point, then just buy it!
6. Fly out of large cities
When travelling to Europe or Asia whereby connecting flights are needed, I find that flying out of places like London, England or Amsterdam significantly cheaper. For example, I went to Malta recently. I found a round trip from Toronto to London for less than $700 Canadian. I then booked my round trip from Malta to London for less than $200. But when I looked from Toronto to Malta, all the flights, which included connections, was well over $1200 Canadian. In my experience, traveling to Europe often has amazing deals out of London or Amsterdam, and sometimes this works for Asia as well. So if you live in a city like Toronto or NYC, take advantage of the cheaper fares between other major cities.
7. Reward Programs
There are some reward programs out there that are amazing. I would strongly recommend doing your research and finding a credit card that offers a good travel rewards program.
For me, I am a huge fan of Aeroplan. My visa card is linked to them so I get points every month, with more points if I spend on food etc. In addition, if we ever go out in a group setting, I usually put everything on my card and my friends pay me back the cash (sorry guys!). I also look out for promos for points. For example, a few years ago Sobeys (grocery store) was offering 20x the point for 1 set of yogurt. I bought about 10 which costed me less than $20 but I ended up with over 20,000 points. I’m pretty sure it was a mistake on the grocery’s part and I even queried it, but the staff told me to accept it. It is about 75,000 points to get a trip to the other side of the world like Asia. So far, I’ve managed to get enough points to travel every 2 years and this is just based on my household expenses and purchasing during bonus product point times. I have it set up so everything minus my mortgage and hydro bill is paid through my credit card.
8.Staying at Airbnbs
With the immersion of Airbnbs, this has made travelling so much more affordable. But choosing the right kind of Airbnb takes research. Make sure to read the reviews, look at the photos and do an extensive search of the area. There is no point in staying somewhere that is cheaper if it is isolated and then you are spending your money commuting back and forth.
I’ve personally had a harder time with Airbnbs in North America than elsewhere. I found some amazing stays both times I went to Bali, and for some other places like Aruba and Mexico. But I also prefer boutique hotels to franchises so I also luck out with hotels versus Airbnb. Again, do your research.
9. Prioritize and Save
The reality is money does not grow on trees; despite the fact it’s made of paper and one can argue that technically it does. The point is, most of us can’t have it all- the fancy clothes, the house, the car, family, education, extensive travels etc. Most of us have to budget and prioritize. For me travel is a huge priority and it’s where I prefer to spend most my money. I generally aim for 1-2 trips a year using the above methods to help but in addition to making a few sacrifices. Being a minimalist helps as I don’t shop often. I also don’t party and very rarely eat out. When I get together with friends it is usually a tea or smoothie after a fitness class. Not only does cooking at home allow for a healthier lifestyle but one can budget for travel. When I know a trip is coming up, I scale back on financial commitments such as events, splurging at the grocery store and other little things. This approach isn’t for everyone. Some may argue they rather have happiness everyday than sacrifice for a few months just to travel for a week. I get it- you have to do what works for you. And p.s. the one thing I do not scale back on is my daily English Breakfast tea from Tim Horton’s. No one makes it quite like them and it sets my tone for the day. Literally nothing makes me happier than starting my day by sipping my tea.
10. Eat responsibly while travelling
I am not a foodie so for me when I travel I do not feel the need to go overboard; as long as it is while foods, I am happy. I am not the best person to take restaurant advice from as I prefer to go to the grocery store and cook if there is a kitchenette at the accommodations, or have a few healthy grab and go meals/snacks especially if I am out exploring. I also tend to pack some protein bars, nuts and other snacks in my suitcase so I am not spending money unnecessarily especially at the airport.
I hope you find these tips and tricks useful. Please feel free to comment if you have anything to add or have any questions.