Me, too. I get regular updates from practically every travel deal internet site. I belong to too many travel forums and hosting sites. I am fan-girly for ChrisMyden, the person behind the fugly but brilliant website YVR Deals. (For people flying out of Vancouver, I cannot recommend his site strongly enough!) I have tried every "hint" from clearing one's history to looking for deals on Tuesdays. I've heard the whispers that the magic time to get a deal is exactly 5 weeks before departure, on a day with a full moon, whilst standing on your left leg, facing south, and whistling "Ode to Joy" in the key of F#... but no one mentions the hidden costs associated with that stunning price. I don't know enough yet (!) about finding campsites, so that's going to be an education once Wanda and I hit the road in the New Year. I do know how to find affordable flights, accomodations, and transportation at prices that work for me, my budget, and my travel style so let's focus on that today.
I am sorry to report that that there is no magic, but patience and research are essential. It also helps if you match your expectations to your budget. If you have a small budget, then your expectations should lean more towards eating more street food than Michelin star meals. Spend your travel dollars according to your travel priorities. If you prioritise nightlife or high-adrenaline activities, your budget will be spent very differently than mine.
It's Gonna Take Time I begin to seriously watch fares and look for creative routing. I need to look at how many connections or stop-overs, where, and how long I have. I don't mind one connection but there's a point where I will consider turning a connection into a stopover. I hate arriving at my final destination needing to sleep for 12 hours straight! I need to get an idea of costs once at a destination. An inexpensive flight might lead to a very expensive destination, suddenly making a trip much less affordable. I need to decide what kind of trip I'm planning. I want to get an idea of my expenditures for food, transportation, and accommodations. I need to consider if I want to stay in hostels or if a campervan or something else would be a better choice. In the beginning, it's a whole lot of questions. (more on my planning process in a future post)
For many years, the only way I could afford to travel was to find less expensive alternatives. As a divorced mother and teacher, money was always tight and I was never able to take advantage of low-season rates. My destinations were, and continue to be, selected based upon cost, time of year, travel time, documentation required, and often a big dose of whimsy. The teaching year schedule used to determine when I could travel. The balance in my travel account always makes the final decision. If there is one simple and quick way of finding the absolutely best deal, I haven't found it, nor has anyone on the ridiculous number of sites that I frequent, no matter what click-baity headline they trumpet. Like most things in life, it's all about knowing yourself and what you want, then making your best decision.
In Search of Cheap Flights
For me, the official first step is buying my ticket. Sometimes one of those travel sites highlights a great price and I jump on it. Decision made easy. Usually, however, I start watching flights of my short-list destinations. I'll go to my favourite aggregate sites to get an idea of the price range and routing around the time I'm considering. I'm currently enjoying Google Flights but I've also used Kayak, Skyscanner, Hopper and Cheapo Air. There are many different sites, which all offer the same deals, routes, and businesses. All offer some sort of email alert and an option to check fares within a date range. Some offer travel insurance of varying quality. Every single site out there has fans and detractors but there is no clear benefit of one over another beyond personal preference.
Aggregate sites offer a very convenient way to compare and book bargain flights, hotels, cars, and, often, travel insurance, day tours, and other travel services. The vast majority of travellers will be very satisfied. There is a warning, however. There is little assistance when a traveller needs to make changes for any reason. The airline/hotel/rental company will send the traveller back to the reseller. The reseller will say the airline refuses to cooperate. The process is often difficult to navigate and ridiculous fees are attached to any changes. It's a risk that you should understand before booking. While the world continues to struggle to contain Covid and flight schedules are less reliable, it seems especially wise to book directly with the airline. The companies will honour valid rates found online.
Once in a while, airlines will publish "error fares". There are sites dedicated to finding great deals and error fares including YVR Deals and Secret Flying. If you suddenly see a stupidly cheap price, it's probably a mistake. Some human entered the number wrong, or missed a zero, or made some other boo-boo. Most airlines will quickly catch and correct the advertised price but will honour tickets bought before the correction. If you happen to score an error fare, hold off on booking anything else. It's very rare but the airline has three days to confirm your ticket -- not to be confused by the purchase confirmation -- that is NOT a ticket. I have twice managed to get error fares, both of which were honoured.
Cheap Sleeps.... This is my "deal"... I don't need a fancy hotel room with daily housekeeping and a posh lobby. I need a clean bed in a private room. I prefer to have a private bathroom but it's not a deal-breaker. I love hostels -- they are approximately half the price of a 4 star hotel. Guesthouses are about 75% of the hotel price.
If I'm going to be touring around, I will consider sleeping in campervans, on boats, or on trains if that saves me money. As a teacher, I was always able to have longer vacation time available so I made a decision long ago that my style of travel would focus on seeing and experiencing things, not luxury and relaxation. I really can't do "sit and chill" for longer than a day. For me, the room is not an important part of my experience, it's just a place to sleep and store my stuff. There are aggregate sites dedicated to the types of accommodations I prefer. Listings will highlight shared amenities such as kitchens, lounges, free WIFI, and laundry facilities that can be used to stretch travel dollars a little further. Shared facilities and open lounges encourage social interactions with fellow travellers.
Hostels are no longer geared exclusively to youth willing to sleep in dormitory rooms with strangers. Nowadays, most hostels cater to a wide age range and have private rooms, usually with a private bathroom. Many offer excellent amenities in great locations but it's important to read the reviews carefully. There are some raucous party-animal hostels, if that's your scene, but it's always stated in the reviews. I look for reviews that mention "quiet, peaceful, and clean" and avoid "fun, exciting, or busy". I want a private room, but there are various dorm rooms if you want to save even more.
The sites I use most often are Booking.com, Hostels.com, and AirBnB. These sites offer different payment plans, some offering discounts for no-change bookings, bonus loyalty discounts, or pre-payment schedules which can be handy in organizing your travel finances. Sometimes I book everything ahead of time, paying in full before departure. (I like to make sure my credit card is completely clear before starting a trip.) When road tripping, I'm more likely to decide where I'm staying the night before. How far in advance I book my rooms depends upon my comfort in the country and my belief in my ability to effectively communicate. Earlier travels were much more tightly planned and pre-booked than my more recent journeys.
My preferred forms of transportation are to drive, walk, bicycle, or use public transportation. When travelling, hiring a driver or taxi can be efficient and easy, therefore it may well be a worthwhile expense, especially when hauling suitcases or backpacks. I almost always hire a car to get to and from unfamiliar airports, unless there is direct shuttle to my digs. Once I'm settled, I tend to do a lot of walking. If I'm in an urban setting, I use the subway or bus system; perhaps rent a moped or bicycle. I rather enjoy finding my way around, getting lost, and slowly discovering the rhythm of life along the way. Local street vendors chat as I pause, children smile, bus drivers and other passengers let me know my stops and point me in the right direction. If travelling between towns, I may use a jitney, bus, collectivo, or train and enjoy a lovely chat with my seatmate or driver. People all over the world are learning to speak English (especially young people) and are delighted to be able to practice.
If I'm roadtripping and don't want the hassle of daily loading/unloading, I may want a camper van. Travel Buddy Mady and I rented older funky painted (budget) vans in Iceland (KuKu Campers) and in the UK (Wicked Campers), a decision that allowed us to explore longer and further than we would have managed using traditional accommodations.
Our KuKu camper in Iceland
yeah, no, I can't help here. There is something on every trip that blows my budget.... The Splurge or The Over The Top Once In A Lifetime Opportunity (OTTOIALO). These extravagant experiences are extraordinary and so are the prices. The Splurge or OTTOIALO is important. Every trip needs one. I will never regret the weekend in an Irish castle, the hot air balloon ride over the Atlas Mountains, the amazing meal aboard the Napa Valley wine train, the small plane ride over the Nazca lines, having a Matsigenka man teach me to spear a papaya, or the expensive dinner at Siena's Osteria Babazuf (twice!) I have forgotten how much each of those cost but I remember every moment of each of those experiences.
Reuben, Matsigenka leader and spear hunting coach
Some things are just too wonderful to pass up, even if it takes a big chunk of the budget. We're each travelling for our own reasons. Travel isn't a vacation for me, it's exploration and discovery. This life is too short and the world is too big to miss an OTTOIALO. I will save money somewhere else.
Worth every penny... yummm
I urge you to invest in yourself. Make your spending match your values. Create your bucket list and start figuring out how you can check off items. I spent a lot of years passionately supporting and empowering youth at work, and raising my own at home. My adult children know I will always be their safety net but it’s time for me to be the center of my world, instead of the scaffolding for their worlds. It’s time. I deserve this.... Putting myself first is always a good deal. Where do you cut corners and where do you splurge? How close do you keep to your travel budget? What was an OTTOIALO experience you've had? Welcome to the new members and followers. My little heart goes all pitter-patter when I see a new name join in. :) Hit the like button, chat in the comments, become a member if you haven't yet, invite others to join in, share the heck out of my link -- help me build an audience, please.
Next post: Flashback Friday :)