The questions I’m asked the most about travel, more than tips on where to go, what to eat and off the beaten track recommendations, is how do we afford to travel so often and how do we do it with full time jobs? I’ll answer the latter in a separate post, but this article will cover how we make our regular travels so affordable and how you can too.
Some people assume we’re on brilliant salaries, or have huge amount of savings we use, or perhaps that we are living a credit card lifestyle. In fact, we’re living well within our means, still saving for the bigger things in life and simply making travel a priority.
It’s best to break this into a two-part post, the first focussing on how to bag the best bargains for your travels and the second full of tips on how to save so you can travel. So, how exactly have we been taking up to 12 getaways a year?
1. Book early
I can’t stress this enough. We book most of our travel 4-6 months in advance. This means we take advantage of a wider choice of flights and accommodation, before prices are ramped up by the airlines and all the best value hotels/Airbnb/hostels are snapped up. I’m the first person to admit I love being organised, so planning ahead comes naturally to me. If you can plan your travels, then this is a big way to save money. If you are booking more spontaneously, then try to do it as early as you can.
2. Travel off-peak and in shoulder seasons
Planning a Euro-summer? Sure, Greece, Italy, Spain and Croatia are all going to set you back a pretty penny as they’re the summer hotspots. While you can certainly still get a decent deal if you follow the first tip on this list. But don’t overlook some real hidden gems if you are travelling during peak times, or better yet try to visit outside of school holidays. July and August are notoriously expensive and busy, so we love taking our summer holidays in June or September. The weather is still great, prices are lower and the crowds are fewer. All in all, a great time to travel.
3. January is cheap, cheap, cheap
In London, January is a little miserable and usually very grey. The hype of the festive season is done and dusted and the whole year is sprawled out before you, making you feel as if summer will never come. We’ve had some of our cheapest and best travel experience by booking trips for January. After the holidays, the tourism industry needs a way to draw in customers, so you can often secure super cheap flights and accommodation is way more affordable. We usually book our January travels in September or October at the latest.
4. Take advantage of sale fares
Whether you plan to travel by plane or train, fares always go on sale throughout the year. Sign up to airline and rail network newsletters and follow their social media to be in the know when sales pop up. We’ve done a few Eurostar trips with their cheapest fares for £29 each way, and £10 return flights to Germany (in January, see what I said earlier?!). We’ve bagged our best fares by keeping on top of the sales.
5. Use a flight search engine
We use Skyscanner and Google Flights to find the best details. This works even better if you’re flexible with your dates. We’ve booked plenty of weekends and long weekends for under £50 by using this method. We usually just pick a month that we want to travel and choose ‘everywhere’ for the destination to see what pops up for a good price.
6. Book carry on only
We do this for nearly every trip we take these days. The exceptions are usually when we take more than 3 days in an extremely cold climate, like Finnish Lapland. For a weekend, we rarely need more than a backpack each, not even a travel rucksack, I’m talking an everyday backpack you’d take to the gym. If we’re doing a week somewhere in summer, then a 40L rucksack that fits within most airline carry on limits does the trick. We even managed a 40L rucksack for 10 days in December in the German and Austrian alps, snow boots and all! This way, you don’t end up paying for the additional baggage or mid-tier tickets that include checked luggage. Most of us overpack, it’s time to embrace the minimalist life.
7. Take advantage of accommodation member benefits
We use booking.com to book almost all of our travel. They have a free membership called Genius Rewards. We’re now on level 2, which earns us 10% or 15% off a load of properties, free breakfast, welcome drinks and a host of other benefits across a huge range of properties. Hotels.com also offer a free night accommodation every 10th stay. These savings all add up!
*Want 10% off your next stay with booking.com? Sign up for an account using this link to get 10% off your first night and I’ll receive a little bonus at no extra cost to you.
8. Mix cheaper with a little pricier
We try to balance our travels, spreading them across locations that have varying budgets throughout the year. For example Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic all are considerably more affordable than places like Scandinavia, the UK and Japan. We try to mix it up throughout the year by alternating destinations of varying affordability to make it more affordable. It’s also worth noting that just because a flight somewhere is cheap, doesn’t mean it will be once you touch down. The same applies in reverse, sometimes it’s a little more expensive for the flight, but the land costs are really affordable. Do some research into the average costs of things like meals at restaurants, transportation and accommodation before settling on your destination.
9. Research is your best friend
I’m a self-confessed travel addict. I’m not even ashamed to admit some weeks I can spend up to 20+ hours per week researching our travels. From the best areas to stay in a city, great viewpoints or must-have food, it’s all part of what I love. Don’t just book the first thing you find. Spend time looking into the destination, compare prices with competitors and review all your options.
Making regular travel affordable is easier than it seems. Of course, we have the luxury of being based in London which means connections all over Europe with a multitude of budget airlines, the ability to book off-peak and make the most of our weekends. To continue with our travel tips series, I’ll soon be putting together guides on how to save for your travels, how to save money while travelling and how we travel so much with full time jobs.
Are there other tips you want to hear from us about getting the most out of your travels? Let me know in the comments.
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