One question I always get when people ask me about traveling is "How do you afford it?" Well, let me be really honest with you: WE. ARE. NOT. RICH. We do not have sponsorships. (Although I wouldn't turn them down ;) -- HINT HINT AIRBNB) WE PAY OUT OF POCKET FOR ALL OF OUR LEISURE TRAVEL. We are a military family with two kids living off of ONE paycheck. The only answer I can think of is: Priority. We prioritize traveling. We don't do huge home improvement projects, drive fancy cars, live in huge house, etc. We put our money where our interests are: travel. Here are 8 ways we are able to afford traveling more than once a year:
1) Be Flexible: We have decided trips based on flight prices. We use websites like Scott's Cheap Flights or Google Flights to see where the cheapest place to fly is during the dates we want to go. For our last Europe trip we flew from our regional airport into Prague and home from Budapest for $715 a person. For our upcoming trip in April, we paid $615 per seat WITH upgraded seats on both long hauls. Flights are normally $12-1400 a person from our airport to Europe, but I caught one of the elusive sales by tracking flight prices several times a day. Persistence is key.
2) Stay Local: Since we have two small kids we like to stay in places that have a living area that is separate from the bedroom(s). When we only had one baby we could make a studio style hotel room work easily, but with two kids 2 and under, we aren't in a comfortable stage of life for all of us to be in the same room all night. (AKA We would NEVER sleep because they would take turns waking each other up all night.) So, we choose to use Airbnb and find a local house to stay in. We have consistently been able to stay in 1-3 bedroom apartments for cheaper than a hotel. If you want to save $20 on your first Airbnb Stay, use this link: CLICK HERE
Here is the link to this particular place in DC: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6128050?s=51
3) Airline Miles/Loyalty Reward Programs: I have previously written about how we use the American Express Delta Reserve Credit Card to help us earn airline miles, get into the SkyClub for free and we earn a "Companion Certificate" each year for a BOGO style purchase. We recently went on a trip to Virginia/Maryland/Washington D.C. and we were able to get all three tickets completely free. Otherwise we would have had to pay almost $1200. Since we are military, the annual fees are waived for us, so this card made sense. We don't use our debit card very often and pay off our Credit Card each pay period, so we don't get hit with the interest. I am also a Silver Medallion member with Delta (loyalty program) which allows 2 checked bags for everyone flying with me for free and we are eligible for upgraded seats (which has actually happened once!). There are other ways to accrue miles (AKA flying) and other credit cards with similar programs, so see if one of them would work for you. There are also hotel and car rental loyalty programs that help you earn free stays and discounted or upgrade car rentals!
Apply for your American Express Delta Reserve Card HERE!
4) Make your own food & buy your booze from a grocery store. As I write this I realize that I am the WORST about cooking meals while traveling, but we HAVE done it. It is way cheaper to go to the local grocery store and get stuff for quick breakfasts, snacks, possibly lunch on the go than eating out every single meal. We always buy our wine/beer at the store. You can find amazing brews and local vino for pennies on the dollar compared to buying glasses or bottles at the restaurant. We do love a good meal out on the town, but for some people, this is a huge way to save money. If you stay in an Airbnb, you will likely have access to a kitchen which makes staying at one even more enticing.
5) Travel in non-peak or low season. Every place has high and low seasons. Our first family trip to Europe was in Late October through Early November to Germany, Austria and Italy. Everywhere was on the cusp of closing for the winter. What did that mean for us? Fewer crowds, cheaper lodging (even Airbnb's get cheaper in low season), and cheaper attractions. For instance, we hired a driver to take us along the Amalfi Coast. Not only did we pay significantly less than we would have in peak season, we had the highway, towns and beaches basically to ourselves. It was incredible. Our second family trip to Europe was also a low season; early April. Again, very few crowds and cheaper accommodations.
6) Skip the extras. What I mean is, you don't HAVE to go inside at every single museum, church, or attraction. This probably seems against the grain if you've already traveled across the Earth and are RIGHT THERE, but stick with me on this. A prime example is the Prague Castle. All of the grounds of the castle are free, you can go inside the cathedral for free, BUT you can't get into any of the museums or certain parts of the cathedral without paying for a ticket. The different ticket groupings cost anywhere from CZK 120 - 700 ($5.50-$32). Or you can spend zero dollars and still see so much. We spent half a day there and the only thing we paid to do was go up the cathedral tower (highly recommend). The gardens are vast and gorgeous. The courtyards are amazing and the walk down from the castle to the city is spectacular. My point is, you don't always have to go inside or pay extra to see one more room in a church unless you really want to! I like to google "Free things to do in XYZ" and go off of other's experiences.
7) Be your own tour guide or find a free one. I do lots of research about locations. I do buy travel books, read blogs, map out where everything is, make notes about operating hours/closed dates, and costs. The cost of a travel book is negligible compared to paying a tour guide. I did find a company called who did "Free Walking Tours" in Budapest and they work soley for tips -- this is a GREAT way to see the city for cheap. Unfortunately for us, we have babies and we made it through one stop before they became restless and we had to leave the tour. Instead we did a Rick Steve's walking tour at our own leisure and had an amazing day regardless! You can find all of his Pocket Guides through Amazon HERE.
8) Make trips out of mandatory travel. We visited Tucson, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada because Jimmy was already there for work. AKA - he already had a plane ticket, hotel and rental car. We just flew out and met him there, woke up early and drove him to work, went and toured, then picked him up from work and hung out. He extended his trip by 2-3 days to make a family trip out of it. We save a lot of money and saw some cool places this way. (AKA the Grand Canyon!) Another way? Weddings. We had to go to Vermont for a wedding in May and took an extra 3 days to go up to Montreal. We did the same for a recent wedding in Maryland. If we're already going to be in an area, I like to see what there is to see while we are there instead of paying to go back!
9) Travel with others: Find a friend or family member who wants to travel with you! My mom and Step-dad have gone with us each time to Europe and they stay with us in the same apartment. We typically get a 3-bedroom place. We are able to split the cost of the Airbnb, which actually saves both our families a lot of money in lodging cost. This doesn't mean we have to spend every waking hour together either! We often split up to eat or tour and then meet back up later! Thanks Mom & Ed for sharing our wanderlust!
Overall, travel doesn't have to cost your first born child. You can see some of the far corners of the world for a reasonable cost if you take the time to search and plan. If you ever have any questions about traveling with children or how we do it, feel free to reach out and connect with us!
Fly Brave, Travel Often, See Everything,