It’s everyone’s first question: “you guys don’t work in finance, you didn’t inherit millions, so how do you afford to travel around the world all the time???” Fair question. Here we’ll lay out the answer, and demonstrate how we’d afford a trip to Paris. Hint: travel is NOT as expensive as nearly everyone believes.
A traditional trip
Let’s start with a traditional plan for a trip. First, you need some flights, say for two people. Maybe you live in the US and want to go to Paris for a week in August. Awesome! But then you look at flight prices: $1000/person, round trip. Ouch. But that’s how it is. Next you need a hotel, and since this is a big trip, you need a nice place: $300/night for 7 nights, or $2100 for housing. Big ouch! Sigh. But it’s a nice hotel. With air conditioning even! Now your daily expenses: you’ll eat out a couple times a day, and go to at least one attraction every day. Let’s say that adds up to $100/person/day, or $1200 for the week. Damn!
So where are we at: $2000 for flights, $2100 for housing, $1200 for activities. That’s $5300 FOR A ONE WEEK TRIP. That is CRAZY. No wonder no one can afford to go on vacation!
The above plan is insane. It is crazy expensive, and will probably result in you having an inauthentic, hectic, and did we mention expensive, trip. So how do we fix this? Let’s go through our trip planning process, step by step. We’ll design a trip that is cheaper, more comfortable, and that will make you feel like you had a real Parisian experience, complete with copious wine and fancy cheese plates (probably our two favorite things).
First, how to find cheap flights
Ah, buying flights. We love this task, but perhaps this is not common. Anyway, they’re often the biggest expense on a trip, so it’s worth putting some effort into getting them cheap! Now, we’re not the first to write about this: there are endless, endless guides to finding cheap flights. You must buy on Tuesday. You must use a different web browser. Etc. It’s all nonsense. Really, all of it. There are no magic tricks. But, there is timing. If you can be even slightly flexible in your choice of dates, you can save a ton of money. Take a look:
If you leave just a few days later, on the 6th or 7th instead of the 3rd, you can save $300/person round trip! This is common – prices often fluctuate by hundreds of dollars depending on when you depart. Make sure you’re not giving airlines a friendly donation by flying on the more expensive days!
How did we find this? Google Flights! If you’re not using Google to find and book your trips, you’re making a mistake. This is by far the best tool to find cheaper options, and usually it will link you right to the airline’s website, which is where you should buy your tickets.
And by the way: those cheap flights are not even on random airlines that you’ve never heard of. They’re on Lufthansa! There is often little relationship between the airline “quality” and the ticket price, as the major airlines have to set their prices to be competitive with low-cost alternatives.
Don’t forget to also look at different airports! For example, there are 3 in New York, and Google Flights will search all of them if you set your departure location to be the city instead of a specific airport:
Now you might point out that not everyone lives in NYC. Fair enough! But these strategies work everywhere, except perhaps for small town airports where prices are pretty constant. BUT – most people live within a couple hours of a city. If that’s you, keep in mind that you could save hundreds of dollars per person by driving a little further to the nearest large airport, where there will be more competition among airlines and thus cheaper prices! If you live in a small town, THIS is the way to save money. It will save you more than any other “cheap flights” strategy.
Second, how to afford the housing
After flights, housing is going to be your biggest expense. Remember our example trip above? People pay THOUSANDS of dollars for 1 week of housing in a hotel. Where you have no kitchen. And maybe you have to pay for wifi. And the hallways are long, quiet, and scary. This is normal. But don’t do it! There’s a better way.
On our trips, we stay either in hostel private rooms or in AirBnbs. Hostels are awesome, and we both love them. They’re like a college dorm, but in a different country. A good hostel is a magical place. BUT, maybe you’re not a backpacker. And in that case, we think AirBnb is by far the best option for most travelers. You can get a full apartment for a fraction of the price of a hotel!
But, you might ask, why would that even be possible? Won’t the apartment be filthy? Dangerous? Will I be renting from a psychopath!? Maybe! But, we’ve done this hundreds of times now, and as of yet none of these have happened to us.
Instead, we’ve stayed at beautiful apartments in normal neighborhoods in cities around the world often for under $30/person/night.
There are different types of AirBnbs out there. Some are individuals renting out their apartments while they’re gone. This was the original idea of AirBnb. But these days, in most tourist-heavy locations there are people or companies that own multiple properties that are used solely for AirBnb. This is illegal in some cities (NYC for example), but it’s extremely common regardless – and it’s pretty nice for travelers. These “commercial” AirBnbs — at least the highly rated ones — are usually well-equipped, clean, and provide a seamless experience. And you can spot them pretty easily, often just by looking at the professionalism of the photos.
So is this really cheaper than a hotel? YES! Even in Paris, there are many entire apartments available for under $100/night – some in excellent locations. You’d struggle to find a hotel for that rate anywhere in the city.
AirBnb is our go-to housing option most places in the world, and it has matured to a point that we recommend it for most travelers – whether you’re on a tight budget or not.
For travelers willing to be a bit more creative and flexible, there are even free options available in many locations around the world. They’re worth a look to see if they’re a good fit for your trip.
Last, how to afford the experiences
So you’ve got an awesome AirBnb, and a reasonable flight. You’ve probably cut your costs in half as compared to a traditional vacation already. But just being somewhere on vacation-mode can be really expensive. The food, the activities, the tourist traps. It’s a nightmare. Maybe some people like this style of trip – but based on the number of angry, stressed, and harried tourists that we’ve seen all over the world, we’re skeptical. Maybe people just don’t know how else to travel.
Here’s our strategy to planning a trip. It’s simple.
- Pick one activity a day. Could be a museum (if you actually like them – don’t just go because it’s “the thing to do!”), a hike, or a specific site to see.
- Walk to said activity. If it’s too far, take public transit to the neighborhood. Have a coffee at a cafe every hour. Sit. Read. Make fun of the people walking by. Vacation is supposed to be relaxed, no?
- Go to the grocery store! It’s a great way to see what the “locals” do, and it’s also a great way to cut your food expenses by 90%. Want wine and cheese? (Yes.) Ok, go buy it in the store for
€10 and take it to a park! Since you won’t even get arrested for drinking wine in public in Paris! And, since you’ve got a kitchen in your fancy AirBnb, you can cook. You’ll save tons of money, and avoid ending your trip with the distinct sensation that you’ve entirely clogged your arteries at restaurants.
Walking, simple but tasty food, and a few activities. Not stressful, no tourist checklist, no tour buses or audioguides, just being in a new place and enjoying it.
So that’s how we plan a trip – and that’s how we make it cheap. Cheap doesn’t mean living in filth, either – you would never think that you need tourist guides and activities and restaurants in your own city, so why would you need them abroad?
The answer: you don’t. Break out of the travel tourist trap and you’ll travel more cheaply and have more fun.
How do you plan trips? Let us know in the comments!
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