Money Mindfulness: Tips for Traveling on the Cheap Without Roughing It

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The boss at my day job has started to wonder if she pays me too much. Last year, I was able to make it to three continents without making much of a dent in my bank account. It helps that I’m single and can work remotely, but I make it my goal to keep my checking account balanced without sacrificing an amazing travel experience. Here's how I do it. 

  1. Play host. It may sound weird, but I feel better knowing that someone is taking advantage of my San Francisco apartment while I’m away. It’s the perfect pied-a-terre, located in a great neighborhood, and I will Airbnb it on occasion. I go with singles or couples with good reviews from previous hosts, and I’m partial to thoughtful requests that show they’ll treat my apartment kindly. I've also done swaps during the holidays, since my family is on the east coast. 10 free nights in a NYC apartment? Yes, please.

  2. Travel with buddies. I’ve been lucky to discover friends who I travel really well with and who I can often rope into an adventure. Doubling up makes lodging much cheaper, and you get to enjoy better spaces. I just spent a month in LA with a teacher friend from NY, and we got a sweet pad in Los Feliz, which was one reason we had such an awesome time there.

  3. Use miles. I just bought a ticket to Paris in September using my credit card miles, and have made many domestic and international flights over the years just by using credit card miles and recording travel miles (and canceling them once I’ve used up my miles to avoid annual fees). A friend recently told me that she just let her miles go — that’s just crazy-talk to this frugal flier.

  4. Shop around. My friend and I went to Italy a couple years ago and I got great deals on hotels.com, including $100 nights at 4-star hotels that didn’t disappoint (I joked that I was more impressed by the ceiling in our Florence hotel than the Sistine Chapel). Another friend uses Priceline for similar deals, though they need to be last-minute to get the best deal. Tripadvisor.com is also great for comparisons. If I’m traveling for longer than a week, airbnb.com (or vrbo.com) is nice so I can have a kitchen and not eat out all the time. Either way, I make sure to go with the cheapest option with the best reviews.

  5. Find food deals. The bulk of my travel budget goes toward flights and lodging, and I save quite a bit of money with the tips above, so I try not to be too frugal when it comes to food. After all, it’s one of my favorite parts of traveling. But having a kitchen helps — I consider shopping locally and trying local market foods part of the experience.

    Local bakeries are great for a quick bite while walking around or eating in parks, and then I’ll splurge on dinner (though most cities have great cheap eats so I don't tend to go too fancy). It helps to travel with a partner who likes to share good food. While in LA, we took advantage of restaurant week for prix fixe deals and found a couple of good happy hours and farmer’s markets.

I’m sure you all have plenty more tips. These are the basics, but if you have more ideas, please share below!

(Image: Cinque Terre, by Theresa Gonzalez)

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