Travel Planning

How to Afford Travel When You’re Not Independently Wealthy

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My upcoming trip to Spain has prompted a popular question from friends and family members:

How can you afford to travel so much?

First off, I don’t consider the amount I travel to be terribly often at this point. I’m still far from living the life of a true digital nomad, setting up my “office” in airport lounges and hotel beds.

That being said, I did just return from a honeymoon in Greece four months ago and I’m already actively planning an itinerary for my next adventure.

So, regardless of how I perceive my current situation, I can’t argue the fact that I’ve taken some significant steps toward making travel a real focus in my life.

That being said, nothing in life is free, and travel is certainly no exception.

I also want to point out here that I am, by no stretch of the imagination, independently wealthy. Far from it, in fact.

So, in an effort to dispel any notions that you need to be rich to travel – or that it’s something you can only afford to do once you retire – I thought I’d share some insight into how I currently pay for travel on my freelancer’s salary and how you can do the same with the money you currently earn.

Embrace the Off-Season

From an off-season adventure to Niagara Falls in January 2016
From an off-season adventure to Niagara Falls in January 2016

I recently put together an article on the benefits of off-season travel, which is currently key for me. Traveling to Spain in March is quite different than visiting in the summer months, a.k.a high season.

So what’s the difference?

The most significant differences also happen to be the most significant expenses of travel: flights and accommodations. With less people traveling, airfare is much more reasonable during the off-season (November through March) and arguably in the shoulder season as well (April through mid-June and September through October). The same applies for hotels.

For my trip to Spain, to give you a better idea, my aunt and I are each paying $152.28 (all fees included) for a two-night stay in the beautiful Hotel Príncipe Pío. Located in the heart of Madrid, our hotel is only a nine-minute walk from Madrid’s Royal Palace.

Did I mention that the room has a view of the palace?

In Barcelona, we landed a 5-night stay at the 4-star Aparthotel Hispanos 7 Suiza for $369.25 each (all fees included). 

Did I mention that we each have our own bedroom and a private terrace?

The off-season gives you much greater flexibility as a traveler, as hotels are much more motivated to fill rooms during this time.

In regards to flights, we each paid $627.64 (all fees included) – a pretty incredible deal for international flights to and from Europe.

Get a Travel Rewards Card

Another great way to save on travel – provided your credit is in good standing – is to apply for a travel rewards credit card. You’ll rack up points (often “miles”) each time you use it, which will translate into discounts on flights, hotel stays, baggage fees, rental cars, etc.

PRO TIP: Do NOT go into debt racking up travel miles, as you’ll end up spending more with interest fees. Use your travel rewards card as you would any other credit card.

The best way to approach your new piece of plastic is to adopt the message from Corona’s “Drink Responsibly” campaign. If you spend responsibly, your travel rewards card can quickly become your favorite new travel buddy.

My personal favorite is the Capital One Venture Card (and no, I’m not getting paid to endorse it).

Capital One Venture Card
Capital One Venture Card

With zero foreign transaction fees and the ability to use it toward any airline, hotel, or rental car service, I love the flexibility this card offers.

Not to mention the sweet 50,000 bonus points for spending $3000 or more within your first three months of opening.

However, as much as I love this card, it’s far from the only option. In fact, there are about as many travel cards as there are places to travel to, so you’ll have a sizable pool to select from. So if you’re thinking about scoring your own travel rewards card, I definitely suggest shopping around.

There are cards to suit virtually every traveler at this point – ones for specific hotels, specific airlines, cash back cards, and more. With all of the options out there, you’re bound to find something that suits your specific needs.

Experiment with Expedia’s Bundle & Save Capability

I recently learned about the magic of Expedia’s bundles, where you can package your flights together with specific hotels and/or rental cars to get cheaper rates. These are great for singular destinations, where you fly into one place and then back from that same place.

The only downside is that you’ll have to select from a list of predetermined hotels, as opposed to having your full pick of the litter. However, there’s usually a decent selection of options to choose from if you do a little digging around.

Look for Deals

Great travel deals are out there, you just need to know how to find them.

My personal favorite site for deals is Travelzoo. Their deal experts review thousands of offers in order to find the best ones, and, perhaps more importantly, confirm their actual value. The concept is genius, and it takes all the heavy lifting out of deal hunting.

Covering everything from domestic to international travel, you can find deals on dream destinations, cruises, car rentals, attractions, and even spas!

Cut Back Your Expenses

If you’re ready to make travel a priority in your life, take a look at your current lifestyle and see where you can cut back to save money. Granted, you can’t cut back everything – those college loans aren’t going to pay themselves – but there are almost certainly things you can do here and there to make a difference.

If, for instance, you dine out the majority of the week and spend a lot on food, why not cook more instead?

If you’re a person who needs coffee to get going in the morning, why not brew your own instead of buying it everyday?

Weigh each item and activity you partake in and ask yourself: “Is this something I’m willing to invest my money in?”

If there aren’t obvious lifestyle changes to make, perhaps you have a bunch of stuff you don’t need that you could sell. For me, that “stuff” was clothing.

So…I suffer from being a (former) shopaholic, and up until recently, my closets were packed with items I never wore – let alone even remembered I had. Then I happened upon an online clothing reseller called thredUP. They accept new or like-new items from a crazy number of brands.

I’m obsessed.

They send you a giant bag to fill with items and then mail back. It’s free to ship the bag unless you opt for the insurance option (in that case it’s $10.99). Once they receive the bag, they’ll inspect your items, determine if they’re able to sell them (based on their condition and the season), and set a price.  Every time an item sells, you get a kickback.

You’re definitely not going to get rich doing this by any means, but I’ll admit I get excited every time my phone pings to tell me another one of my items has sold.

Regardless of how you decide to cut expenses, once you start paying attention to all of the places your money is going, you can better allocate it to save for your travels.

Be Flexible

The absolute best way to save on travel is by simply being flexible. In fact, the more flexible you can be, the more opportunities you’ll have to save.

Be open to:

  • Time of year

    Score some incredible off-season deals

  • Travel time

    Save with midweek flights and early or late flight times

  • Layovers

    Add a connection or two to cut costs

  • Location

    The world is your oyster

Travel isn’t a luxury reserved only for the rich and famous. By exercising flexibility and finding an effective way to cut costs, you too can incorporate travel into your life.

After all, you’ll never remember the trips you never took.

2 thoughts on “How to Afford Travel When You’re Not Independently Wealthy

  1. Where/how did you find flights for that amount? Are they just cheap because of the off month? Or did you use a flight aggregator and if so, which one?

  2. Hey Mara! I think it was a combination actually…The airfare is definitely much more reasonable for March, and my aunt physically booked the trip through Expedia (we wanted to do a bundle, but we weren’t able to since we are flying into Madrid but we are going back home from Barcelona).

    But most of what we were finding on Expedia was VERY reasonable for March. She also spoke with an Expedia representative who helped us find the Barcelona room – I think they were very motivated to fill space – we were definitely not expecting to stay in a 4-star with our own bathrooms! We were originally going to do AirBNB, but this ended up being the same amount (or possibly less actually). Hope that long convoluted answer helps!

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