Traveling may seem like an expensive sport, but it doesn’t have to be.
The semester just started, but it’s never too early to start planning your next trip, especially with spring break right around the corner. While in quarantine, I did much of what everyone else did: watched vlogs and dreamed of being anywhere other than where I was. I didn’t want to just see these places on a computer screen; I wanted to smell them, hear them, dance around them, and make memories there.
Throughout 2021 I visited Atlanta, Boston, Cape Cod, New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tampa, and Miami (twice). It was ambitious – considering I was taking 18 credits and working a part-time job – but overall, my mission was a success and here are some tips that helped me do it.
DISCLAIMER: Covid pricing definitely played a part in the affordability of flights and hotels.
1. Commit to Making it Happen
There are bound to be things that get in the way of going on vacation. With a sum of cash piling up in your bank account, it won’t take long before your mind begins to wonder what else the money could be spent on.
Put down a deposit or book flights/hotels with a lenient but firm cancellation policy (For example: allowing you to cancel up to two weeks before your stay for a 100% refund or flights that offer credit for cancellations). Usually, booking this way is a couple dollars cheaper than the full refund option; companies are learning to charge travelers for their indecisiveness. When my friends and I decided we were going to Rolling Loud Miami last summer, first we bought the tickets (which were non-refundable) then put down a deposit on the hotel. At that point there was no turning back.
2. Create a Budget with Travel in Mind
Calculate your fixed income minus your bills. This is easy to do with a budgeting app like Mint. If you have a lot of monthly bills and not much left after paying them, traveling is still possible, but you should give yourself more time before your trip to save.
Learning to save money where you can will help. A new pair of shoes could pay for a night at a hotel, and the couple extra cents spent on name-brand grocery items vs. the generic brand can really add up.
3. Visit Family
Crashing in your family members’ guest room could save you hundreds of dollars. I visited my Grandma who lives in Boston for two weeks during the summer. With the extra money, I was able to plan more activities, including a day trip to NYC. Staying with a family member can add to the trip if you let it. Someone who lives in the place you’re visiting can put you on to places off the beaten path and tell you what traps to avoid, which is probably more reliable than Google reviews. My uncle took us on a tour of the North East; we ate lobster rolls in Cape Cod, a 5 star Peruvian restaurant that was booked weeks in advance, and got invited to his friend’s son’s 21st birthday bash. Your family might not be your typical crowd, but they’ll likely be down to show you a good time.
4. Understand that Airbnb and Uber Aren’t Always Cheaper
Unless you’re looking for a private room, chances are renting a place to yourself on Airbnb will be just as expensive as a hotel. Landlords are listing their properties on Airbnb rather than renting to long-term tenants because they can make more money on Airbnb. Always compare the prices of Airbnbs to hotels unless you’re looking for a specific staying arrangement or traveling in a big group (like a cabin trip). Also, Airbnbs tend to be further from the city which will make your transportation costs go up. Calculate the prices before you visit to decide if it’s whether to use a rideshare app or rent a car. If the places you plan to visit aren’t walking-friendly or don’t have a good public transportation system, renting a car may save you more money in the long run.
5. Decide Splurges and Compromises Beforehand
Outline what’s most important to you to make the trip a success. For me, it’s the sleeping arrangements. My friends and I made some bad decisions on hotels when in Vegas and Miami. We walked into a dark, old hotel room right off the Vegas strip. This was a last minute plan and one of my friends didn’t want to spend over a certain amount. We were catfished by the photos from Hotels.com and didn’t check the Google reviews (ALWAYS check the Google reviews and set photo preferences to ‘posted by visitors’). It was a huge waste of money; we bought blankets to put over the sheets and didn’t shower there. From that point on I knew hotels were something I couldn’t compromise on.
Determine where you’re willing to compromise to have more money for the areas you won’t compromise on. For example, If you want a nice hotel, decide to spend less on food and drinks or pick the flight with a layover that’s cheaper than a direct. Put more money towards the parts of the trip that are most important to you, but make sure to start with the necessities (hotel, flight, transportation).
6. Forget Social Media
It’s important to remember that you aren’t your favorite influencer. Most college students who travel aren’t going to be flying first class and stopping at the Gucci store for a new bag (if you are, I’m jealous). Comparing your trip to what you see on social media is either A) going to disappoint you or B) become tiring to keep up the facade. It’s ok to stay at Best Western instead of the Ritz and rent a Nissan rather than a Tesla (spoken from experience). Spend your money on the experience rather than flexing; the memories will be worth it in the long run.
Traveling is so important, especially for creatives. To see and experience a place yourself is completely different than experiencing it through someone else’s content. Talking to people, navigating a new place, or trying new restaurants gives you a glimpse of how diverse the United States really is. Exiting the pandemic (or trying to), people need to obtain information beyond what their algorithms or media platforms deem newsworthy. Traveling exposes people to the possibility of different lifestyles. That’s why as a young adult you should travel, even when you’re broke and busy.