Cheap Travel Ideas (When You Don’t Have Points)

As travel hackers, we know the importance of always having a stockpile of credit card points for spontaneous travel or emergencies. However, occasionally you may find yourself low on points or need some ways to travel cheaply. We enlisted the efforts of some fellow bloggers to help us learn about cheap travel ideas. Thanks to everyone who contributed their strategies – many are new to me!

Flight Saving Strategies

Scott’s Cheap Flights

Written by Pamela who writes the blog Directionally Challenged Traveler and after visiting 36 countries over 7 continents, she is showing the good and bad of traveling.  The Directionally Challenged Traveler is all about what’s worth it and what to skip.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just check your email and great flight deals that would be waiting for you to book?  That’s exactly what happens with Scott’s Cheap Flights(SCF)!

Scott & a team of expert flight deal finders do the hard work of finding the cheapest flights available.  There are two levels of membership – free and premium ($49/year). The premium plan brings you more deals and typically a day or two before they go to the free members.   The $49 investment could save you hundreds on flights.

You set your home airports so you only see deals from those airports.  For example, my closest airports are Allentown (ABE) and Newark (EWR). For a great deal, I’d be willing to go to John F. Kennedy (JFK) or Baltimore (BWI), so I included them on the list.

Scott’s Cheap Flights is especially useful if your destination or timeframe is flexible.  If you want to travel somewhere in April, but aren’t particular about a location, wait for a good deal to come!  I’ve seen round trip New York to Rome for under $400, or round trip to Japan for Cherry Blossoms for $600.

Even if you’re a planner, like me, and already booked a trip, SCF may help! We booked our flights from Newark Airport to Tokyo for about $1,000 per person.  Two months later I got an email from SCF for a flight from Allentown airport to Tokyo for $600. Allentown airport would save us a 2-hour drive to Newark! Even with the $120 fee to change a flight, we saved $300 EACH, not including the gas money to get to Newark!

Included in the email are instructions on how to book these flights.  SCF doesn’t book the flights for you, they just find the deals. Since it’s actual humans finding these deals, and not a huge algorithm – the customer service is amazing!  If you’re having a hard time finding the deal or an issue with an airline accepting that price, they’re there to help!

Traveling more starts with getting smart about how to spend your money.  Scott’s Cheap Flights makes sure you’re getting the best deal for your flights.

Cheaper Flights Using a VPN

Written by Sarah Carter who writes about Gen X Travel with a Y Attitude on  ASocialNomad.  She likes to travel slow, eat and drink local.

Our Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the one thing that we ALWAYS pack.  It’s saved us thousands of dollars on flights over the last 5 years. As well as all the other benefits that VPN’s offer in terms of data protection and anonymity, this is one hack that’s saved us the most.

When you book a flight through one of the consolidators, like Expedia, then you’re likely to get the flight for the cheapest price if you are booking in the country that you’re departing from.  So for instance, if you’re flying FROM the UK, then you’ll need to visit the .co.uk site. However, websites today force you to visit their version of the website local to where you are RIGHT NOW.  So if you’re in say Norway, they’ll redirect you to the Norweigan site.

You can easily use a VPN to mask your location to where you want to pretend to be, then you’ll see the rates change for your flight.   The best VPNs for travelers will provide multiple servers in multiple countries so you’ll have lots of options.  You can get free VPN’s which provide a smaller, more limited number of servers.

In the last 5 years of travel, we have saved thousands of dollars by using this hack, all around the world.  We even saved nearly 700 euros on a last-minute emergency flight from Bulgaria to the UK. It’s not just planning in advance that it works for!

Of course, using a VPN also ensures that your credit card and login data aren’t whizzing around the internet unencrypted when you’re booking your next flight too!

Traveling in Shoulder Season and Positioning for Flights

Written by Jeremy Pitton who writes Smiles on Arrival.  Jeremy is an accountant by day, Smiles on Arrival travel blogger by night (kinda like the Batman of travel blogging) and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. He’s married to a beautiful wife and together they have two little travelers who are always looking forward to their next adventure.

We’re a family of four so travel costs can multiply very quickly. At the same time, we love to travel. So that means finding ways to reduce expenses and stay under budget.

We typically travel during our favorite season of the year. That would be shoulder season. It’s pretty easy to get an idea of when the busiest times for a location is. So we plan our travels around when shoulder seasons line up with the dates that we’re available to travel. If it doesn’t fit our calendar it doesn’t make our list. It’s a bit more complicated since both of our kids are in school but we’ve found that June works well for a lot of locations. Not only is there a benefit in flight cost (huge), but the locations are not at peak capacity which means fewer crowds.

We live in Cleveland and love our city, but Cleveland isn’t exactly a hub of international travel. Fortunately for us, my wife’s family lives in Toronto. We kind of stumbled upon the idea of leaving from Toronto for international trips. But we’re very happy that we did because none of our trips would’ve been possible if we had flown out of Cleveland. This is primarily because of flight costs but also because of the difficult flight itineraries. 

If you live relatively near a major city, it could be worth the 2 or 3-hour drive (or more) if it means that you get to see Paris, Rome or some other destination that has always been on your bucket list. If you think outside the box, you’ll probably be surprised at what becomes available to you. For example, this spring we noticed flights to Madrid for $270 per person. The catch is that they’re flying out of New York City. Since we’ve all wanted to go back to New York City, we took this as an opportunity to spend a few days in the city and then fly out to Spain. It wasn’t our first choice and it’s a bit unconventional but it’s shaping up to be a great trip.

(At Travel Hacking Mom we often position ourselves for reward bookings – a similar trick).

Airplane in Sky
Taking a cheap flight to another airport to get a good deal on your main flight can save you money sometimes.

Using Small Airports vs. Large Hubs

Written by Sinead Camplin who writes Map Made Memories.  This blog follows the travels of her family of five through 33 countries. She aims to inspire and promote affordable family adventures across the globe and in your own backyard!

We are a travel-loving family of five who have visited 31 countries with our three children. We recently completed a one year round the world trip but since returning home to the United Kingdom we are currently limited to traveling during the most expensive time of year – the school holidays. In order to continue our travels, we have had to get creative to source budget-friendly, affordable flight deals.

We begin by searching for flights departing from smaller regional airports close to us rather than our closest major hub. This usually reduces the cost of five flights but adds a short train journey onto our trip. However, the savings always outweigh the rail ticket cost and extra time. In addition, applying this method to our chosen destination has resulted in cheaper flights.

For example, rather than flying into Orlando, Florida we flew to nearby Sanford. By adding extra time and drive time to our journey we saved hundreds of pounds. Secondly, we look for flights during the week and at unsociable times of the day. This is not ideal when traveling with children but if a considerable saving can be made which enables us to travel, then it is worth it! Finally, we price compare direct flights with a split ticket option.

This entails searching for the cheapest departure flight to any destination and then searching for the cheapest departure flight from that location to our final destination. For example, we needed to fly from Split to the United Kingdom but ticket prices in peak travel season (August) were not affordable for us. So we bought the cheapest flight from Split we could find which was Split to Geneva. We then sourced the cheapest flight to the United Kingdom from Geneva. We saved over £600 and ended up having a lovely stopover day in Geneva, a city we had not previously visited. By being prepared to add time and inconvenience to our journey, we have been able to continue our family adventures.

Small airport at night
Traveling out of a smaller airport can help you with cheap travel

Skyscanner One-Way Flights

Written by Nina Ragusa who has been abroad and sharing her travels since 2011 on her blog, Where in the World is Nina. She writes about her adventures and how others can work, live, and travel abroad for more than a two-week vacation.

Skyscanner is GOLD when it comes to figuring out where to go for cheap and stringing together a crazy awesome itinerary full of one-way flights. It’s one of my favorite “games” to play. I call like to call it One Way to Everywhere and there are several ways you can “play.”

For those that are totally confused about where they’d like to go and are pretty open to their destination, Skyscanner makes it easy. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you’re too indecisive and you literally just need someone to make a decision for you. That’s where Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” feature comes into play.

Simply enter your home airport/an airport you want to fly out of and then click “Everywhere” as your destination. Boom, there ya go… A simple list of flights in order from cheapest to most expensive is presented to you. Simply scroll, choose a cheap flight to a destination you’re down to go to and pack your bags. It’s just too easy!

Another favorite way of mine to play my little One-Way to Everywhere game is when I have to get somewhere far (Like Florida or South Korea) but I don’t have a certain time I need to be there. So I play with Skyscanner until I find a flight sequence of almost equal cost with stops in between to break up the journey.

This is a real-life example of me going from Florida to Jeju, South Korea in three weeks for the same price as a direct flight:

Tampa > NYC > Copenhagen > Budapest > Beijing > Jeju

The direct cost was $820 USD but this flight sequence was only $721 USD.

In between going to South Korea I got to climb The Great Wall, walk around the streets of chilly Copenhagen, party with friends in NYC, and roam castles in Budapest!

If your schedule is flexible you can have a lot of fun playing around with finding one-way flights to “everywhere” finding the cheapest flights to cool spots on your way to your final destination.

WARNING: This game gets very addictive, I take no responsibility for your future flight habits.

Strategies to Save Money on Lodging

Couchsurfing

Written by Destiny Snyder of Appetite for Adventure.  Destiny Snyder aspires to visit every corner, nook, and cranny of the globe— preferably with a handcrafted latte in one hand and a good book in the other. 

If you are looking for a great way to travel not just cheaply, but for free, then I highly recommend you get acquainted with the Couchsurfing app.  Couchsurfing helps connect you with people all over the world. There are many ways to connect, but let’s focus on connecting with hosts.

You didn’t hear me wrong: I’m talking free accommodations in cities all over the world.  For the most part, the Couchsurfing network is filled with kindhearted fellow travelers who want to help others have the opportunity to see the world.  While you aren’t expected to pay for your stay, you’re encouraged to connect with your hosts, and perhaps even prepare a meal or offer another kind gesture to show your gratitude.

There are a ton of filters you can set when searching for a host.  The filters include:

  • number of travelers (you can use this app even if you’re traveling with other people)
  • type of accommodation (private room, public room, or shared room)
  • if the host has references
  • if the host is a verified member
  • gender
  • languages are spoken
  • age range
  • kid-friendly
  • pet-friendly
  • if the host allows smoking

If you are a solo female traveler and hope to find a female host, I will warn that it can be a difficult task.  There aren’t quite as many female hosts as there are males. However, if your only options seem to be male and you are comfortable with that, make sure you select the option “has references.”  Make sure the hosts have numerous references from female (preferably solo female) travelers that talk positively about their experiences.

You’re probably going to have to message quite a few people before you get some yeses.  Dates don’t always line up, for example, so just know it can be a process. And like any app that connects you with people, take precautions when using Couchsurfing, because you can get in sticky situations if you aren’t careful.  But this app is going to save you quite a bit of money as well as put you in touch with some truly amazing people.

Hotel Tonight App and Corporate Flats/Apartments

Written by Suzanne Wolko of PhilaTravelGirl who was abandoned in Paris by a (former) best friend many years ago and emerged a solo traveler. She shares her experiences and original photography from more than 50 countries on her blog and in the class, she teaches “How to Travel for Less”.

London is one of my favorite cities in the world and can be affordable if you know the right hotels, flats, and apps to use.  I love luxury and boutique properties in London and rarely use points for hotels. The redemption value is so low.   So my idea of “cheap” travel in London won’t include hostels or Couchsurfing.

Hotel Tonight is an app that provides access to accommodation up to 30 days in advance. It is now owned by Airbnb.  You can discover boutique and chain hotels with fantastic discounts around the world. Rates can range from under $100 to over $300, each a discount on the current price. I’ve saved $100 per night in Paris just a short walk from the Eiffel Tower, booked a London hotel the same day and found an unheard rate of $100 in New York City at a 4-star boutique hotel in Times Square.  All rooms were small without views but the savings were too great to worry about a view or extra space. Always check the hotel website to compare prices and promotions.

If you are a fan of boutique hotels, then you will love these London options you’ve never heard of – The Hoxton, Citizen M, The Ace Hotel and SeaContainers.  With special event programming, rooftop bars, and communal working spaces, they offer guests a unique experience.

Corporate Flats/Apartments for longer stays are a wonderful option if you want a kitchen and more space to live/work in the city.  My new favorite in London is Native Bankside. It is just steps from the Thames and a short walk to the Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral in The City. Native properties are centrally managed and located throughout the UK.

Airbnb and Homestay

Written by Jeremy Pitton who writes Smiles on Arrival. Jeremy is an accountant by day, Smiles on Arrival travel blogger by night (kinda like the Batman of travel blogging) and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. He’s married to a beautiful wife and together they have two little travelers who are always looking forward to their next adventure.

We’ve used Airbnb and Homeaway to find some great options when traveling. We love this approach because they’re less expensive than hotels, have more space and provide full kitchens. Using the kitchen combined with shopping at markets for snacks and meals is a great way to save when traveling. Using the home-sharing option helps us save on the cost of accommodations. We then save again with the cost of food by making use of the kitchen.

We also open up our options to stay in residential areas as the costs for accommodations are lower. There are usually great options for markets nearby. And beyond the cost savings, we enjoy the feel of experiencing a city beyond the touristy areas. Being able to temporarily stay where the locals stay adds to the authenticity of the experience.

Staying in an Airbnb and sharing costs is a way to travel cheaply. We loved this flat in Florence, Italy.

Petsitting

Written by Janine Mergler who writes the blog  Families Magazine Blog and has found a unique way to stay for free around the world!

When it comes to saving money when traveling as a small family, my son and I have got it down pat. We joined a pet sitting website (around $100 a year membership) and in 2019 we stayed for free for a total of nearly 3 months (across our 10 months around the world trip!) We estimate that in 2019 we saved over $10, 000 on accommodation with this travel hack.

If you love animals, as we do, then pet sitting might just be a fantastic option for you when visiting places around the world. All you need to do is sign up to a pet sitting website (we used Trusted Housesitters which is specifically for homes with animals). You also have to pay for your annual membership. You create a profile and add photos. Then you can start searching for locations that might suit you and check out who needs a pet sitter. Once you find a place you would like to go (and animals you would like to care for) you can send the home/pet owners a message. It’s a bit like Tinder for pet sitters!

We did our first two sits in our hometown of Brisbane to find out what it was like  and to see if we liked it (we did). After we left Australia we found sits in Bangkok, Berlin, London, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and San Francisco! We cared for dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs, horses and a wild duck we called Quackers. Most of the homeowners have very clear instructions about how to care for their home and animals. It is a responsibility that you must take seriously and following each owner’s unique instructions is paramount.

At the end of each sit, you write a review about your experience. Likewise, they will write a review about you. When you do a great job, this makes it easier to get future sits as these reviews are public for other homes/pet owners to see.  We are now often approached by owners via the website to see if we can come to their home… all around the world! If you love animals and travel and you are looking to save money, pet sitting might just be for you!

Women laying on couch with dogs
Who knew you could pair your love of animals with a free stay at the destination you want to travel to?

House Exchanges  

Written by Aisha Preece.  Aisha is passionate about helping others make and save more money, so they can live life on their terms. Follow her on IG @aishapreece or check out Outandbeyond for unique money tips.

A really useful tip when you are traveling, and you want to stay somewhere for free…… are house exchanges. House exchanges, also known as ‘house swaps’, involve you arranging for someone to occupy your house, while you occupy theirs. There are three main types of house exchanges: A ‘simultaneous exchange’, where you stay in your exchange partner’s house while they stay in yours. The second type is called a ‘non- simultaneous exchange, where you can stay at a home swappers holiday house or second home. Thirdly, there is a hospitality exchange, where you can stay as a guest in the house of a house swapper.

Why would do you a house exchange? 

It is an economical and comfortable way of traveling. You won’t have to pay for hotel costs and sometimes, the use of a car is also included in the exchange. It also allows you to truly embed yourself in the culture of your new country. It is likely you will be introduced to neighbors or friends, which helps you integrate into the community.

What does it cost? 

There are minimal fees associated with signing up to house exchange organizations, which normally charge a yearly or monthly membership fee. For example, Intervac offers a monthly membership plan starting at $8.33 per month. International Vacation Home Exchange charges an annual membership fee of $159. Either way, the membership fees will be significantly less than what you have to pay for accommodation when traveling abroad.

Is it safe?

The chance of theft or vandalism is quite low, as you are staying in their property and vice versa. Either way, always be sure to insure the property and also your car appropriately, if it is also involved in the swap.

Where can I get started? 

Here is a list of house swapping sites:

Tips for success

  1. Start your search early, especially if your house is located in a less popular area. City houses are normally more popular, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t do a house swap. Many travelers look to travel to the countryside, but you just need to find them. Increase your chances by starting your search early
  2. Have clear expectations. You need to be clear on what you expect and make sure all is agreed upon before the swap. Being clear and open will prevent any potential misunderstandings For example:
  • whether they can use your car
  • do they have to feed your pets and water your plants
  • do they need to set a security alarm every time they leave the house
House in London
I’d happily exchange my home in Colorado for a stay at this gorgeous London home!

General Traveling Cheap Strategies

Written by Andrewthe co-founder of Flytrippers, a website specialized in spotting limited-time flight deals from North American airports. He quit his job in management consulting to visit every country in the world… and help others do the same without spending a fortune.

To be able to travel to 50+ countries in the past 3 years as a budget traveler (another way to say a very cheap traveler), I have 5 main travel tips:

1: Travel hacking, of course. I don’t need to go into the details of this one!

2: Finding cheap flights. I have always been obsessed with finding flight deals, which is why I launched Flytrippers. It’s the best way to save money because your plane ticket is the one thing that can vary so much in the price: the same flight can easily be either $300 or $900 (200% more). So I base my choice of destination on the available flight deals, and therefore, before I’ve even taken off, I’ve already saved hundreds compared to most travelers. That way I can focus on earning more hotel points, too!

3: Choosing affordable destinations. This might be the most important factor to travel cheaply. Many people unfortunately only visit the US, the Caribbean, Western and Northern Europe, and Eastern Asia. In other words, the most expensive places in the world. I focus on traveling to the countries with the lowest cost of living, where $10 a night covers lodging and you can eat for less than $10 a day too. In about 40 countries, you can get by with just $25 a day in total (I’ve done it). It’s cheaper to travel than to live back home in North America in some cases!

4: Living like a local. Travel isn’t expensive; it’s wanting to travel to be convenient that can be expensive. By mastering the art of budget-traveling, sacrificing a bit of convenience and comfort, it’s possible to make trips so much cheaper. Whether we like it or not, there is a difference between being a tourist and a traveler. Avoiding touristy spots, eating where the locals eat, using the transportation options that locals use and overall trying to immerse myself in the different cultures has not just saved me thousands, it has also been a way more rewarding and authentic experience.

5: Spending less at home. Like anything in life, your daily decisions must align with your goals. If traveling more is something you want, make traveling more a priority. Most of us in the developed world can easily find a way to spend less in our day-to-day lives to save more money to travel if that’s what we value the most.

Bicyclists in Indonesia

Choosing to travel to Asia is usually cheaper than travel to other countries.

Bottom Line

We love traveling with our points and will never give that up. However, beginning travel hackers have to build up that cache of points. Sometimes you may need to find other ways to find cheap travel. We hope these innovative and interesting ways will help you as you build up your points. Additionally, if you are doing family travel, it takes more points. These ways may help you reduce the costs you still need to pay. Thanks to all of our contributors to this post!

15 ways to save on travel pinterest graphic

 

Santorini, Greece

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