Traveling is my passion.
Ever since I was young, I always recognised my desire to go somewhere I’d never been. While most people dreaded packing, I would always get excited about it, viewing it as an exciting task that meant I was on my way to somewhere new.
I grew up in Mississippi, so the most traveling I did was to Florida for our annual family beach trip or to Houston to see my extended family for Christmas. My need to travel was ignited after I was lucky enough to spend five weeks studying abroad in Florence, Italy, with three weeks travelling around Europe after class concluded. The experience I had traveling abroad showed me a new life, and I haven’t been the same since.
When I travel, the most common question I get is, “oh, why are you going there?” and I’ve always been perplexed by the question, as if I need a reason to go somewhere other than just having the desire for new experiences.
In February 2018 I was sitting at work and had a random desire to go to the Caribbean. I tried to brush it off a bit, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I text one of my best friends and said, “Let’s… take a weekend trip to the Caribbean,” and she responded with, “I’m down!”
In April 2018, we went through with it and took our weekend trip to Belize’s smallest island, Caye Caulker. In addition to the travel experience and overwhelming sights this trip brought me, it also gave me an epiphany that shaped the rest of my life.
When planning this trip at first, I had the reservations in my mind along the lines of, “well, we couldn’t really do that. This is Belize! It’s a different country. You don’t just go to Belize for the weekend because you feel like it.” For a while the thought seemed too far-fetched, but then we went and my eyes were opened up to the possibilities of travel. In getting my best friend to tag along and following through with the trip, I came to the realisation that we truly have the power to do whatever our hearts desire, whenever they desire it. This trip gave me a newfound freedom that I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Since this trip, international travel has become my hobby and I’m living the best years of my life in London with plans to make it a permanent home.
Airline loyalty can be a great thing, but when you’re searching for the best deals, keeping your options open is the smartest tactic. My go-to search engine is Google Flights, an incredibly useful tool designed by Google for smarter travel. My dad introduced me to this site in 2011, so I was definitely early to the game on cheap flights. I got to a point in my life where I was checking Google Flights more than my own social media (ask literally anyone who has had to work with or spend time with me). It allows you to play around with dates, destinations, and pricing to help you find the best deal. You’re able to see the history of the flight prices, the range in the current fares from low, normal, and high, the leg room, plane capabilities, and more. If you have a Google account, Google Flights will allow you to track pricing on flights you opt in on so you can watch as the price fluctuates over time to help you decide when to buy. Google Flights provides a plethora of incredible features, but my favourite has to be the Explore feature.
Through Google’s Explore feature, you can choose your home airport and type in any broad destination you’re interested in, such as “Europe” or “Caribbean Sea”. You can then select the duration and time you’d like your trip to be, and Google will show you the lowest fares to popular destinations in your specified area. You can also use their map feature, which will show you the lowest fares from your home airport to destinations all over the world during your time frame. If you have the desire to travel and are open to suggestions, Google Flights will be your most helpful search engine every time.
For deals that require the least amount of work on your end (if you’re based in the states), I highly recommend signing up for emails from Scott’s Cheap Flights. The service is free to anyone with an email address and has taken me all across the world. All you have to do is sign up with your email and watch your for the alerts! Each email contains information for everything you need to know to purchase the ticket: the departure airports, the destination airports, and the estimated time left before the deal expires. In addition to the free subscription, they also offer premium and elite subscriptions that send deals at a higher frequency with lower fares (and more perks). In one cheap flight with them, you’ll make back the money on your paid subscription by five. All subscriptions have access to mistake fares (my personal favourite). Scott’s also publishes guides that help educate you on how to travel affordably, and they’re always a gold mine. I love Scott’s so much that I kept my premium subscription even after I knew I was moving abroad, and still use it to send my friends incentives to come visit and stay up to date on going rates for international travel in the states so I know when I should go home. They’ve grown so much as a company since I started travelling, and I wholeheartedly believe this is the best investment you could make to enhance your travel life.
Once your tickets are purchased, your next job is to secure a place to stay. My two favourite ways to find a home away from home are Booking.com and Airbnb. Depending on the city, sometimes staying in an Airbnb is more affordable than a hotel, and vice versa. If you’ve taken a spur of the moment trip and need a place to stay on short notice, I recommend the app Hotel Tonight. In an effort to fill up their rooms, hotels in contract with Hotel Tonight provide special rates for users at discounted prices for last minute travelers, which is how I ended up staying at a $250 hotel for $80 on the Las Vegas Strip the summer of 2018, but that’s another story. They have a wonderful app, but also have a desktop version.
My best practices I’ve adopted over the years:
Keep an open mind.
The key to travelling cheap is keeping an open mind about where to go. Throughout my years of travelling, one of the most important things I’ve learned is to go with the flow. All it takes is one missed train to throw off an entire day of scheduled plans (from experience), so always be open to see where travelling can take you. We all have bucket list destinations, but don’t base the entirety of your travel plans on specific places; this can create a rigid structure without much wiggle room. There is so much of the world to see; if something strikes you, jump on it, even if you’ve never considered it before. My absolute favourite memories have come from the unexpected, so keep an open mind when choosing travel destinations. Let the deals take you to somewhere you’ve never dreamed of that will end up impacting your life forever. As crazy as it sounds, if you shop the deals correctly, you can find international flights for cheaper than a domestic flight! Going out of the country doesn’t seem like a thing you just do on the whim, but… why not?
Some airports are better to fly out of than others, and that’s something that will never change. My home airport used to be RNO, where TSA took 5 minutes to get through, 15 max; needless to say there weren’t loads of cheap flights flowing through my little airport in Reno, Nevada. But, a short flight away, I had access to LAX, SFO, SMF, OAK, SEA, DEN, and more. If you catch a cheap flight from an airport a little further away, it’s absolutely worth looking into a connecting flight. Let’s say the cheap fare you find is from JFK to FCO, but you live in Houston (true story). Your flight is in 6 months, which means you have 6 months to sit and search for the perfect fare to NYC. Opening up your airport search options will open up your whole world, and can give you a little vacation before your vacation. I’ve done this on nearly every trip I’ve been on; it gives me the freedom to pay for the flight and start a search for cheaper connecting flights while I wait for my big trip. This is how I got my entire family to Rome for $456 total (four tickets) with a 12 hour stopover in NYC to do all the touristy things, spent my favourite Valentines night yet with a complimentary bottle champagne in a Kimpton hotel in Boston before a week in Ireland, and met up with my best friend in Munich for a coffee before setting off to Paris.
Do your research.
Make sure to do your research. Whether you’re headed to a foreign country or across state lines, educate yourself on the town and the trip prior to leaving. Spend time finding a great place to stay, taking into consideration the proximity to the sights you want to see, public transportation, and safety. In international situations, there’s a little more to think about. Look into the vaccines you need, where the best place for money exchange is, and how much money you’ll need for the entirety of your trip (factor in emergencies). Once you’ve researched enough to get a general feel of your destination, set a budget- for food, experiences, souvenirs, and getting around town. Take a look at excursions before you go. When traveling on a budget, you want to know that you’re getting the best deal for your money, and the best way to do that is to stay informed and well-researched. Be sure to check out sites on platforms like Google reviews and Trip Advisor to see what visitors and locals have to say about the best places to visit in town. I also utilise Pinterest any time I’m going to a new destination.
Something that has occurred to me in recent years is the concept of ecotourism, defined as “a form of tourism involving responsible travel to natural areas, conserving the environment, and improving the well-being of the local people,”. This has become more and more important to me as I’ve grown, and especially after living in one of America’s top tourism destinations. It’s worth a thought to see how tourism effects the local population, how to ensure care for the natural areas your visiting, and more.
Budget, but not TOO much.
When figuring out your daily budget, make sure to give yourself leeway to enjoy your time travelling. As a person who revolves her life around budget travelling, I can honestly say that on the times I’ve obsessed over spending the least amount of money possible have ended up on my short list of regrets in my life (spoiler: it was mostly food, and a coffee cup from the gift shop at Musée d’Orsay). Don’t throw your budget out the window, but make sure you’ve allowed yourself enough money to enjoy yourself properly. The only thing you’ll regret more than spending too much money is missing out on experiences because you were too tight pocketed. Keep it within reason, but don’t forget you’re traveling for those new experiences.
If you think you’ve found a great deal, buy! the! tickets! If you see a good deal, take it! As great as it is to do some research beforehand, it can always be done after the tickets are bought. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity because you hesitated and subsequently lost the low fare. What’s better than the adrenaline of diving into the unknown AND scoring a cheap ticket to somewhere you’ve never been?! I missed a low fare once and learned my lesson. Act first, plan later. Some tickets are also available much in advance; my ticket to Barcelona cost $185 and I had an entire year to plan for the trip.
Some places my travels have taken me:
Hawaii | $99
Rome | $114
Barcelona | $185
Peru | $247 (this was after I hesitated and didn’t get the one for $185, seriously, don’t hesitate).
Belize | $250
Paris | $308
Cook Islands | $546 (RIP, cancelled during pandemic).
By doing your research, jumping on deals, keeping an open mind, and remaining flexible on your routes, your world will get a whole lot smaller in the best way.
What I hope you’ll take with you is that you can do the same. You just have to be brave enough to go. Life is too short. You’ll only regret the trips you don’t take.