I’m truly shocked at how little people know about traveling cheap. Travel is definitely a privilege, yes, and you can’t have an enormous amount of obligations at home to do it longterm or often, sure, but you also do not need to be rich to travel. You just need to be smart.
“But how do you do it?”
After being incessantly bombarded with questions from people on steps they can immediately take to travel more often and for cheaper, I’m ready to share what I’ve learned.
Here are five things I regularly do, that you can also do RIGHT NOW, to access cheap travel.
1. Join frequent flyer programs.
They’re free, and most of them will honor trips taken in the last year.
I have a FF# with a handful of different airlines, Amtrak, and an account with different websites (like Expedia and Hotels.com).
These programs may not be the best choice for people who fly less frequent, and if that’s you, then figure out which airlines you have been loyal to (and travel to places you want to visit), join and try to earn elite status with them.
It’s a slow build up until you can reap the rewards of these programs, and depending on how that particular frequent flyer membership works, but you’re also not losing a damn thing if you do sign up.
Things to note for each program are whether the accumulation of miles is based on distance or money spent, what the lowest tier is for redemption, where they travel to if you’re totally brand new and how long until the miles expire. Here’s a basic (and old) FAQ post to start you off.
Bonus: Even memberships to AAA and Sam’s Club/Costco can help you score discounts on travel.
2. Subscribe to newsletters.
Seriously. You don’t have to even be actively looking to get cheap flights and deals right to your inbox. If I need to pick one, Scott Keyes is my all-time favorite and has helped me get $300 roundtrip tickets to Spain from NYC. He sends deals about 1-3 times a week and it’s free (if you want to become an annual member, you can get even better deals).
Not to mention, if you’re part of FF programs with airlines, you can get emails from them. JetBlue sends a bunch of great domestic deals pretty regularly, and last November they notified me of $190 roundtrip tickets to Cuba — and you bet I bought them and went.
3. Get a travel-focused credit card.
This is honestly the easiest way for new travelers and occasional flyers to start racking up miles towards free travel. And if you’re a frequent traveler and don’t have a travel credit card, I ask, whyyyyyy nottttt?
Of course the stipulations are obvious — you must have good credit for any decent travel credit card, and in order for it to work in your favor, you must be paying off your monthly bills. But note, most cards don’t have miles that expire so you can hold on to them for as long as your card is active and in good standing!
I did months of research before I decided to commit to Capital One Venture. It’s 2 miles per $1 spent on every purchase. I’ve defaulted to using it for everything and have an auto-pay set up for every payment deadline.
I also just recently opened up a second card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus, with similar benefits, but it also has 5% miles back when redeeming and travel accident and cancellation insurance.
Neither of these cards have foreign transaction fees, which is good for international travelers, and between the two I have about $1500 worth of travel credit.
When looking up a card that’s right for you, make sure to check about annual fees (most waiver the first year), how many miles per $ you’re getting, and what the sign up bonus is.
Don’t be impulsive here. Some cards randomly have an amazing sign-up bonus (spend ~$1-3K in first three months and get ~$300-500 worth of travel credit). The Points Guy is a great newsletter and/or website to peruse if you’re just getting started. Otherwise, don’t fret, I’ll write another post doing a deep dive into travel cards.
4. Put your apartment/room up on Airbnb.
If you know when you want to travel, you can put your place up on Airbnb (or other such sites) and literally get paid to not be home. It’s really that simple. When I went to Portugal last year for two weeks, about half of the cost of my flight was paid for just by letting someone stay in my room for four nights. (I can’t stress enough that I don’t let just anyone stay; my housemate and I have some general rules when we do this).
5. Network, network, network.
Whether it’s the people in your circle or branching out, networking is key.
Meeting people from, or who know other people from, around the world can help you reduce the cost of your trip with potential free lodging, local knowledge or other connections. Putting up social media statuses asking who/what/where for a specific place is a really easy step to mapping out how you can potentially save money on a trip.
As a solo traveler, it’s also been easy for me to make friends from all around the world, which has given me instant access to see remote parts of the world with a local.