Tips For Traveling On A Budget

Another vacation?

Where are you going, now?

Wow, you’re always going somewhere.

Jon and I get this, a lot. We travel, a lot. California, Oregon, Paris, Italy, DC, NOLA, Florida, Vegas, Mexico and the list keeps growing. Our trip to DC was just over a month ago and we recently just considered leaving again in two weeks!

I think the interest is in how we’re going on another vacation. Well, we don’t spend much on many other things so we can spend more money on more trips. And we don’t spend much on the trips. Our trips usually don’t cost a lot because I research like crazy. Like, crazy-crazy (ask me about my Google sheets). But you don’t have to research like I do because I’m going to share my tips for travelling on the cheap, and I hope they help so you can travel more too!

1). Let price guide the destination

For our anniversary we knew we wanted to travel, but didn’t know where. Neither of us could agree and we weren’t really drawn to any place in particular so I looked for discounted flights. Your favorite airline will typically have the best deals posted right on the home page.

Richmond is the cheapest, but you could argue the Seattle ticket is the best value. Coast to coast for <$400, non stop is a steal.
Richmond is the cheapest, but I’d argue Seattle is the best value. Coast to coast for <$350, non stop is a steal.

I landed on JetBlue offering a deal to DC, but wanted to check our options from Manchester. Tickets ended up being cheapest from MHT straight to Ronald Reagan, which I read was typically more than flying into Baltimore or Dulles so we really lucked out! This trip ended up being one of our favorites even though we went about it completely unplanned (not the norm for us!).

2). Promo codes. All of the promo codes. 

We have never gone to Mexico without a promo code of at least $100 off per person. That’s roughly a 10% savings for most of our all-inclusive stays. One of our first trips to Mexico actually had a promo code for $300 off! Sometimes you may have to go to the second or third search results page(gasp!), but Orbitz almost always has promo codes for vacation packages.

3). Travel off-season

Flying in the winter is definitely a gamble, but can be worth the risk. We flew to Buffalo for around $100/pp R/T and saw Niagara Falls when most don’t. Sure it was really, really, cold, and snowing, but after seeing everything covered in ice, I can’t imagine seeing it any other way and looking as magnificent.

Everything was frozen!
Everything was frozen!

4). Don’t book a hotel

I always get a little sticker shock when I see the price of some hotels. Looking at a Saturday in July in Boston, most hotels are at $400. For a night. For a reservation that is literally only 19 hours. No. No no no. Nope. When booking our west coast road trip, most hotels were around $180-$250, which at 10 nights would have blown any budget.

Enter – AirBnb. FlipKey. HomeAway, etc. We love renting from any of these sites. Just like any site, you can read reviews of the homeowners so risk is greatly minimized and savings can be huge. And while the option to search for a ‘private room’ might be a little scary, we booked a ‘private room’ for two stays in California that ended up being fully detached units from the main house. (And one homeowner greeted us with wine and chocolates for our anniversary!). There’s the added value of getting to know people in your travels with staying in their home. In Portland, we spent almost 2 hours chatting with our hosts, they were awesome! Most hosts are as hands on or hands off as you want them to be.

I will caution though that these aren’t hotels, they’re not even BnBs (though BnBs are starting to utilize these sites to list their properties). They are homeowners renting out all or part of their house. You’re not guaranteed any level of service or satisfaction, and no one in ‘corporate’ to email. We’ve had a few hiccups (like not having a parking spot when the listing included one, a guest from the main house entering (!!!) ours, and a host not showing up for 6 hours to let you in!), but we know that going into it and accept the risk. We still find the value in it and highly recommend it.

5). Take a chance on Priceline or Hotwire

If AirBnB doesn’t seem right for you, you still should never pay full price for a hotel if prices on Orbitz are high. Referring back to the Boston July rates, I am confident I can get the same hotel listed on Orbitz for $400 for just $250 on Priceline or Hotwire. And it’s easy.

Hotwire shows you the amenities the hotel offers, the star rating from TripAdvisor, the % of guests that recommend it, and the general vicinity.

Let's see if we can crack the code to ID one of these hotels :)
Let’s see if we can crack the code to ID one of these hotels 🙂

I want to ID the first hotel. With amenities listed, I go to which has a list of current Priceline and Hotwire hotels based on the same vicinity categories, broken down by star rating. I can see all the hotels that match the amenities and can make an educated guess as to which one I’ll be getting.

BetterBidding shows you all of the possible amenity lists Hotwire uses for each hotel, helping you make an informed guess as to the hotel you might book

There are only two 5* hotels in this vicinity and only one has boutique in the list, so I’m fairly confident the Hotwire hotel is Battery Wharf Hotel. This hotel, for the same night, is listed on Expedia for $389!  

15 minutes of investigation saved over $150!!!
15 minutes of investigation saved over $150!!!

If the amenities listed matches more than one hotel, I look up the ones I’ve narrowed down on TripAdvisor to match the guest rating. If you’re not positive what hotel it would be and one fits the list that you really wouldn’t want, I do not recommend booking with Hotwire.

6). What’s cheaper than free?

Have you ever paid $80, $100 bucks per person for a tour that left you completely underwhelmed? Or spent your vacation checking off all the landmarks feeling like you still don’t know much about the city or the history?

In San Francisco we discovered the magic that is free walking tours. If you’re visiting a major metro, I can almost guarantee there are free tours available. And I’m not talking about boring ones. They are typically run by young adults that grew up in and love their city, their culture, their history. And they want to share it all with you! What’s the catch?

No catch! You make a free reservation online, and at the end of the tour, tip them what you feel the value of the tour was…$10, $15, $20, it’s entirely up to you (though most list the average is $10). So far we’ve done tours in San Francisco, Paris, and DC and got to learn the history of back alleys no one travels, the final days before Lincoln’s assassination, and all of the history behind the National Monuments. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

For San Francisco, we used wildsftours (highly recommend-very entertaining!) Paris – discoverwalks, and DC by foot (the last two have guides around the globe).


Well those are all of my tips! I hope if you made it to the end, you found the information useful. If you’re ever planning a trip, wondering if there’s a bargain out there you haven’t found, feel free to contact me and I’ll help you out. I love this stuff 🙂


    Great job on this blog article ~ very informative and user friendly!

    AP | 3 years ago Reply

    Very good post Kelly :). Love Jon

    Jon Margi | 3 years ago Reply

    Really helpful information and you are definitely a pro at it! Good going Kel.

    Pauline Stone | 3 years ago Reply

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