Like most Millennials, I suffer from a severe case of wanderlust. I want to travel everywhere and do everything, burn through my vacation days on one trip after another, hopping around the world the first chance I get.
But given that I’m a Millennial, I’m also totally broke. My vacation budget is pretty small (almost non-existent, really), but I’ve still managed to travel pretty extensively over the past few years, to Argentina and Mexico and Chicago and Las Vegas and Pittsburgh and San Francisco and Los Angeles. How do I do it? By traveling on the cheap. My tips:
Pick non-traditional dates. Flying on a Friday evening or a Sunday will obviously be expensive, and hotels are their priciest on the weekend. Unless you have specific commitments during your trip (like say … a Beyonce concert?), try flying out early on Saturday morning and flying back on Monday or Tuesday.
On a related note, fly early. No one likes to wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight (other than me — I love it) but it has innumerable benefits: the roads are clear, so there’s no traffic to get to the airport, the security lines are empty, the airport is calm and quiet, the staff actually have time to help you, and flights tend to leave on time more frequently, since it’s usually the first flight of the day. Plus, these tickets are usually cheaper because no one wants to be on them. (And you get to your destination early enough that you can actually use that day to explore. Like I said, innumerable benefits.)
Find alternate housing. While staying at a brand-name hotel in the heart of the city has its merits, if you’re looking for a deal, head elsewhere. You can sometimes find deals on smaller boutique hotels online, especially if you’re traveling on non-traditional dates. Also, check different neighborhoods — hotels in less touristy spots can often be cheaper (just make sure the location is safe).
If you really want cheap housing, try an AirBnB. I did this for the first time in Chicago, and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was — our host gave us the keys and a quick walk-through when we “checked in,” and we had full access to her kitchen, laundry, etc. for our stay. Obviously, all AirBnB experiences are different — definitely do some research before you book your room.
Walk. Might seem like a no-brainer, but save money on cabs and even public transportation by walking. It’s the best way to explore a new city — and get your workout in. Plus, walking builds up an appetite, and of course you need to taste all of the great food your destination is known for. Sneakers may not be the most stylish travel accessory, but they’re so necessary.
Speaking of food, it can be pricey to buy breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner every day of your trip. Instead, head to the local grocery store. First, especially if you’re in a foreign country, the supermarket might be a cool way to learn more about the local culture — what they eat, how they cook, even how they shop. And secondly, you can stock up on basics like cereal, granola bars, bananas and other fresh fruit, yogurt and milk (if you have access to a fridge), even a loaf of bread and sandwich fixin’s. It’s a cheaper (and healthier!) alternative to buying everything every day.
Eat your fancy meals at lunch. When you do buy your meals, save the “splurge” places for lunch. It’s easier to get reservations at fancy places on short notice during lunch hours (especially if you’re there on a weekday), and generally lunch at a high-end restaurant is less expensive than dinner. The menus are usually similar, so treat yourself to a nice lunch and save the must-try hole-in-the-wall places for dinner.
Obviously, vacations will never cease to be expensive — it’s hard to remember to try to save money when you’re on vacation wooooo! But these tips will help you save at least a few bucks while on your trip. Happy travels!