I’ve made no secret of my love of travelling, and I travel often as a consequence, but it wasn’t always this way. I was a late bloomer in the travel stakes, as I didn’t take my first proper overseas trip until I was 16. My parents didn’t travel and holidays were not on the whole something we experienced. Yes, I’d go and stay in Ireland with my Grandparents during the summer school holidays, but that was more about childcare, although it was good fun (until I hit about 13!). My son on the other hand, at only five years old is a dab hand at the travel lark. My first trip at 16 was a trip to Greece after I finished my GCSE’s with my Mum and Sister and was only made possible as my Dad had been made redundant (and he didn’t even come!). My son’s first overseas trip was to NYC, and I waited (and waited) until he was a year old. Now he’s been to 11 countries and has 44 flights under his belt.
I often get asked how I can afford to take so many trips (not all are overseas btw) since I started the #take12trips challenge almost three years ago. Some of the travel I do is because of the work I do, writing and blogging, these trips I usually have some of my expenses covered by the publication or the trade show. The reality of travelling as a family is that I plan a lot, I budget, and I take advantage of every “hack” I can. I thought I’d share some tips on how I make this work.
RESEARCH, RESEARCH AND RESEARCH SOME MORE
You might think it’ll kill the spontaneity, but solid research is your best friend. Find out about your destination, read online guides, contact the tourist information board and talk to people who’ve been before. You’ll soon find out about free activities, self-guided walking tours and lots of other recommended insider tips. Did you know here in Brighton you can book a FREE two-hour tour and see Brighton through the eyes of a resident who loves the city? You just need to book in advance a slot with a Brighton City Greeter (see here). Also during the Brighton Festival, there are lots of free events from fireworks, street performances to parades – a little planning and research will go a long way. Some Cities have Tourist passes that include museums, attractions AND travel. Sometimes these can offer better value, than a single entry, especially if tickets include travel like the Oslo Pass. So do your research.
Make the most of what is free but also know when the local high season events are, as you might need to book further in advance or for another time of year. No point visiting Milan for example during Milan Design Week, unless you really have to, the hotels are three to five times more expensive. I’m not kidding, I really have to go at that time, so I’m speaking from experience.
Compare, contrast and shop around is the motto for looking at flight prices and hotels. I use price comparisons sites like Kayak, but I also look directly, especially during the post-Christmas travel sales. Also, remember to clear your cache; honestly it makes a difference, the site will know you are coming back, and sometimes the prices are put up.
I know I’ve written about this before, but this is going to save you money and probably a few headaches too. It’s really as simple as can be. The more organised you are, the less money you waste. How this works in action is by organising your flights as far ahead of time as possible, the closer you buy to the date you leave the more likely the cost will increase. Yes, sometimes there are last minute great deals, but most flights open for ticket sales 11 months before the departure date and if it’s a busy time of year you are planning on travelling at, like Christmas, you need to be ON IT. It’s not just flights though; think about your “connecting” travel. Do you need a train from the airport to the centre of the city you are travelling too? You’ll probably find advanced purchased tickets are cheaper.
Being organised with your packing is another cost saver. Can you squeeze everything you need into your hand baggage allowance? Do you need to pre-book extra hold baggage? Make sure you don’t get stung for overweight charges at the airport – I always travel with a travel-sized portable weighing scale, it’s especially useful for the return journey.
Avoid other unexpected packing costs, don’t be a last-minute bung it all in the bag packer, as there’s a fair chance you’ll forget something. Check the weather reports and make sure you do not have to buy extra layers, sunscreen, swimsuits etc. in your destination OR pick up extra (because you forgot) travel adapters at the airport. Become a list maker, because planning ahead and being as organised as possible will save you £££.
Being organised can also make things you really want to achieve happen. You might really want to go to a Broadway show, see a sporting event or have dinner at a specific restaurant – booking ahead means these things happen.
Another organisation point that I’ve been doing more is taking our refillable water bottles with us. Especially if you’re travelling with a child. It cuts costs and is good for the environment. A big tip for those who use Gatwick Airport – There is a refilling station at Gatwick just after security, saves buying airside where the price is so inflated.
JOIN THE REWARDS PROGRAMMES
Join the airline rewards programmes, join the hotel loyalty programmes, become an affiliate, join travel website benefits programmes like booking.com. JOIN THEM ALL. I’ve been a member of both the Virgin Atlantic and British Airways programmes for years, and as a consequence, I can get upgrades, lounge access and so much more, visit the airline sites for more information. Check your credit cards and see which ones offer points like American Express and Virgin Atlantic Mastercard and make sure you connect your other half’s credit card too so they can work together towards your points goal. If you’re going to use a credit card, you may as well earn from it right? Paying for petrol that adds points towards flights, what’s not to love?
COMMUNE WITH NATURE
This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but guess what? Getting outside and up close and personal with nature is more often than not, free. You can check out local natural attractions like beaches, viewpoints, rivers, waterfalls and other beautiful sites. It’s one of my favourite things to do when we travel. Two weeks ago we went to Zurich for the weekend – a notoriously expensive city. We climbed up Uetliberg, Zurich’s very own “mountain”, from which we had beautiful views of the city and lake (and if the weather is on your side you might even get a glimpse of the Alps). This was a free thing to do, it took us about 3 hours, and we had a picnic on the climb (having been to the supermarket in the morning). It was extremely good fun for us all, as the hike up also had a play park, so we had a very happy little boy on our hands. We didn’t meet any tourists doing this – just plenty of locals out on their bikes and out with their dogs. Plus they were all keen to give us other great tips.
I also like to check out the history of a place, another great source of free entertainment often.
DITCH THE VIEW
When I go away hanging out in my hotel room isn’t a priority, but for some people it is. So I always choose the room without the view, as it can be as much as 30% cheaper. It means we get out and see the city, use the pool, go to the beach. Honestly how much time do you spend in your room when you’re on holidays? Make use of the communal areas in the hotel, some offer tea and coffee, or there might be pool treats like ice lollies and fruit. If you’re hanging out on your balcony, you’re going to miss these.
It might sound like common sense because it is. My travel saving tips will make a difference whether you travel all the time, just once a year or only for business travel. In fact, if you do travel for work, it’s a great opportunity to make sure you’re signed up for points that you can then use for your own personal, family or leisure travel. To see my travels take a look here.