Going Out of Town on a Budget
My wife and I love to travel. Well, at least back in the pre-Covid and pre-baby days. Things have definitely changed in the last couple years, but the wanderlust remains.
Here are some ways that we’ve been able to make some fun trips without breaking the bank – and how we’ll do it again soon.
Just plan, man
I love my wife for many reasons, but one of the biggest is how well she plans. Whereas I got an English degree in college, she went for a more practical degree in economics. Needless to say, she knows how to budget and she knows how to make a spreadsheet.
The best thing you can do for a trip is to plan in advance. That means lodging, stops you’d like to make, estimation of gas or airfare prices, things like that. The better you plan, the more realistic budget figure you’ll have.
And that budgeting? It doesn’t need to be complicated. Just estimate how much you think you’ll spend, divide that cost by how far away your trip is, and you have a figure to save for every month.
Gotta crash somewhere
If you’re planning an overnight stay, you need a roof over your head.* Thankfully, there are more options now than ever before.
Hotels are obvious, Schitt’s Creek got people thinking about motels, and then there’s the tried and true Airbnb. There are other options, though. I recently learned of a cool site where pet owners rent out their homes – for free – in exchange for you watching their pets. There’s an annual membership, but if you travel a lot, it could justify the cost (and you get to play with animals!)
Don’t discount friends and family in the area, either. Couch surfing with your aunt and uncle might not sound like a ton of fun, but saving a few hundred on lodging is pretty fun.
Regardless of what you do, book in advance to secure lower rates (remember what I said about planning?) and look for discounts. You can often find them just by Googling, or if you call the location and ask for packages, you might be able to bundle and save.
*Yes, I put an asterisk in here. It doesn’t need to be a solid roof – camping’s a great option. If you don’t mind some bug bites, then pitching a tent is a great, affordable way to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of our country’s great park system.
"Pass"-ing the buck
My wife and I took a trip to Philly last year and invested in a city pass. A lot of larger cities have them and they’re basically an all access ticket to the biggest tourist spots. For us, it meant that we could get into museums, aquariums, historical sights, and even go on guided tours. And because it was a one time purchase to all of those spots, we saved big on individual admission costs.
(Want to know what helped? It was also planning.)
Now we're getting somewhere
If you’re going out of town, you need a way to get there. Consider whether you’re taking a plane, train, or automobile and plan accordingly. Gas and plane prices fluctuate with a fair amount of predictability, and this could be another instance where planning in advance could save you big.
The costs don’t stop when you get to your destination, though. If you’re like me, driving in a big city like New York is a no-no. I tend to rely on public transport for a cheap and predictable way around town. There’s also Uber and Lyft, but those costs can really add up after a few trips back and forth.
This is another place where I go back to advocating for a plan. Pull up Google Maps and chart your desired destinations – maybe you can walk to some, maybe there are bus routes nearby. Those little savings can help loosen the budget for what you really want to do.
Go off season
When my wife and I had a Covid wedding, it wasn’t just the big day’s plans that changed – our honeymoon plans changed, too. Rather than doing the big trip out of the country, we booked a discount lodge in a nearby lake town. And, since it was the start of winter, everything had pretty much shut down for the season. That wound up being a blessing in disguise, though, and it taught us a big lesson for the future: traveling in the off season has its perks.For starters, lodging, transportation costs, and just about everything else wound up being a lot cheaper. That’s the monetary lesson. There was a personal lesson, too, though: make the best of what the off season gives you. We were able to go to the local spots that were still open, not the big and expensive tourist spots. So we enjoyed intimate dinners, got to have great conversations with the locals, and took our time around town to find the really cool stuff we may have otherwise missed.
Use your card's rewards
If you have a credit card, now’s the time to cash in on those rewards. My wife likes to save all of her cash back from the year to use on our trips. I like to redeem my points for Uber gift cards and discount flights. You’re using your card a lot every day – make it work for you. Remember: you’ve already earned those points, may as well spend them on something fun, right?
People have written books on traveling, so I’ll spare you all the details and leave you with this: planning is your best friend. See where you can save on lodging, budget for your trips, maximize your rewards – heck, see if your employer’s assistance plan offers discounts!
Above all, though: have fun. Maybe I’ll see you around!