Traveling around 9-5 jobs, our flexibility is limited. We almost always travel over US holidays to take advantage of a bonus vacation day, but are at the disadvantage of increased airline tickets.
1. Research tours for best prices.
We book most of our tours through Viator. Very similar or exact tours are listed at various prices throughout the site. Taking the time to scroll through pages of tours can result in an awesome tour at a fraction of the cost advertised on the first page. Some tour prices are dependent on group size. If travelling with a larger group be sure to book the tour together vs. individually for best pricing.
2. Utilize your tour guide’s knowledge.
We ask our guides A LOT of questions and all have been happy to help. Take advantage of spending the day with a local that knows the best time to visit temples, must eat restaurants, hidden beaches, and how to use local transportation. In Tokyo, our guide happily explained what metro lines and transfers were needed to reach our post tour and next morning destinations.
3. Plan your trip in advance.
Every year we plan a big trip around the end of summer. We will start booking flights, accommodations, and tours as early as February. This allows us to slowly accrue the cost of the trip and have it paid off before we leave for the airport. Booking early, we also take advantage of early bird discounts and having more options available.
4. Prepare food and pack snacks.
If circumstances allow, we purchase snacks, water, and breakfast ingredients from a supermarket or bring them in our luggage. Each morning we make breakfast in our hotel or Airbnb and pack snacks and water in a day bag. We love to indulge in local cuisine, but this allows us to be more selective with our dining instead of making hangry decisions and just eating what’s convenient.
5. Eat local.
Small, locally owned sodas, cafes, and warungs are authentic and less expensive than popular or well advertised restaurants and are just as delicious. Markets and hawkers also offer inexpensive options. Street food has a bad reputation, but with caution it’s a convenient and usually inexpensive way to sample the local cuisine . We only visit vendors with clean areas, avoid meat, eat unpeeled fruit, and only eat food cooked and prepared in front of us.
6. Use public transportation.
We use public transportation whenever possible unless there’s a considerable time difference. Overnight trains are cheaper than flights and eliminate 1 night’s accommodation, but can add on significant travel time. Buses are usually the cheapest option but can take much longer to reach our destination. Metros and trains are more efficient, but it takes time to determine transfers and lines. In a crunch, we compare Uber or Lyft to local taxi prices. Researching cab fares and bus, metro, or train systems prior to our vacation allows us to make a quick, educated decisions on transportation.
7. Invest in a travel credit card.
Scheduling our vacations around holiday schedules means peak flight costs. With Mitch travelling frequently for work, once a year we usually can purchase at least 1 flight by redeeming sky miles. Monitor sites for promotions offering bonus sign up miles.
- We both have the Platinum Delta Sky Miles credit card. We started with a Gold Sky Miles Card, the $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and upgraded to the Platinum Sky Miles Card with a $195 annual fee. We can transfer miles to each other if we don’t have quite enough and take advantage of the companion flights to fly domestically.
- Recently Stephanie began using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The accrued points can be used towards flights, hotels, rental cars, experiences, and more through the Chase travel site. From our experience, flights are the best deal when redeeming points. Card holders can easily earn double points with Shop Through Chase at a wide range of retailers; from Target, Sam’s Club, Groupon, Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and many clothing retailers. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
8. Are your must see places really must see?
We love rooftop bars, but after researching prices and reviews sometimes they no longer make our must see list. Rather than paying the cost of lunch for one drink at a rooftop bar, we find the same view at a fraction of the price across the street at a small restaurant in high-rise. Also, some of these rooftop venues have transformed into chic, tourist attractions and don’t offer the local vibes we prefer.
9. Check the holiday calendar in the country you’re traveling to.
Taking trips over a United States holiday weekend doesn’t mean it’s a holiday where we are traveling. When we visited China over Labor Day weekend, our timing was perfect. Students had just went back to school, the week-long Chinese holiday had just ended, and there were no crowds. We check holiday calendars of countries we are visiting to avoid double holiday flight costs, crowded streets, and increased entrance fees.