This is a guest post from my friend Paula Pant, who writes the blog Afford Anything, which is dedicated to adventure, traveling, and maximizing life. Check out her posts on How to Travel for a Living and Money Doesn’t Buy Stuff, It Buys Choices.
Is it freezing cold outside? Are you feeling antsy to get away? I know, I know.
When it’s negative 16 degrees outside, you probably dream about a beach vacation. Unless you’re a snow-lover, in which case you dream about a ski vacation. Or maybe, since it’s the holidays, you dream of visiting friends or family living across the country.
No matter where you want to travel, there’s a good chance that you’ve got some destination in mind. But you might be afraid that travel is too expensive. Don’t worry. I’ve got great news: Travel can be a lot cheaper than you anticipate.
You just need to learn how to travel cheap on a shoestring.
A couple years ago, some friends and I drove down to Florida for a one-week beach vacation.
Total cost: $260 per person. That includes everything – gasoline, renting a house for a week, plus food and entertainment.
Why was it so cheap? Because we used the following four cost-cutting methods that I’m going to share below.
Anyone – including you – can use these tactics, regardless of whether you want to visit the mountains, beach, city, or anyone else.
#1: Travel During Shoulder Season
Almost everyone travels during a few peak weeks of the year: Around Christmas, New Years, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the summertime when children are out of school.
Travel during the “shoulder season” – late spring (before kids go on summer break) or early fall (after kids go back to school.) You’ll save a bundle on transportation and hotels, since few others are traveling at this time.
What if you have kids? Ask their teachers if you can pull them out for a Friday and a Monday. You might not be able to take a full-week trip with them, but if they can manage to miss two days of school, you can take them on a four-day trip.
Make that trip educational: teach them about the geography and history of the place that you’re visiting. Think of it as taking an unofficial “field trip” – one that they’ll remember for years to come.
Traveling for the holidays? Look for flights on Christmas Day. Few people want to travel that day, so you’ll often find solid deals.
#2: Rent a House
Avoid hotels entirely by staying at someone’s house. If you don’t have friends in the area, use websites like AirBnb.com, VRBO.com or HomeAway.com to find vacation rentals at private residences.
Renting a private person’s home is far cheaper than renting a hotel room, and you’ll often get exclusive use of a much larger and more comfortable space. In other words, you’ll enjoy the best of both worlds: nicer accommodation at a lower cost.
Why? Private people aren’t burdened with the overhead that hotels carry. They don’t have advertising budgets, they don’t pay teams of lawyers, bookkeepers and accountants, and they don’t have to issue Quarterly Earnings reports.
Yes, hotels enjoy some economies of scale. But they also have a ton of overhead, and this gets baked into the price.
Furthermore, many private individuals have an extra apartment or home that’s just sitting empty, anyway. If they can collect a little money by renting their vacant home or apartment to a traveler, that’s just a bonus for them.
#3: Cook at Home
Here’s a second benefit to renting a house or apartment, instead of a hotel: You have access to a kitchen. That means you can prepare meals at home.
Sure, you might occasionally choose to splurge at a fancy restaurant. That’s fine. But you’ll at least have the option to cook meals at home on a “regular” basis, so that the restaurant meal will be a treat, not a daily expense.
#4: Enjoy Free Activities
You know what’s great about traveling to the beach? You don’t need to pay a dime for entertainment. Just being on the beach is enough.
There’s no end to beach entertainment: You can read books, build sandcastles, throw Frisbees, jog, walk, kick soccerballs, play in the waves, make snide comments about the people around you. (Just kidding. Kinda.)
The same is true for traveling to a big city. In a thriving metropolis like New York, you don’t actually need to patron any stores or restaurants. Simply walking up and down the crowded, colorful streets, or strolling through Central Park, or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, is entertainment enough. And it’s free.
Ditto for being in the mountains: What can possibly beat a hike, followed by a cup of tea, coffee or wine while gazing out over the peaks?
You don’t need to spend a dime to enjoy your vacation. Regardless of where you go, enjoy the pure pleasure of being there.
No money required.
FYI: I worked at a dead end cubicle job from 2005-2011 for about $30,000 a year. I went self-employed in July 2011 and make between $80,000-$100,000 through blogging, a rental home, and professional pet sitting. If you’d like to start your own site (link to my free step-by-step guide), I highly suggest checking out Bluehost (my referral link with a nice discount for you). I even have all of my favorite tools on a resource page - I hope they help you too. This all gives me the time to be with my aging family members, the flexibility to stay close with my friends and family, and it should help if we finally get pregnant too! Please contact me any time at budgetingfunstuff*at*gmail*dot*com with questions or just to brainstorm! I’d love to help!