Holly Johnson, author of Club Thrifty, travels 16 weeks per year with her husband and two kids. Without a smart budget, this amount of travel would be impossible for a middle-class family.
Here are her top tips for traveling by plane, train and cruise across Europe and the Caribbean.
- Be flexible about destinations. One of the questions she gets the most from readers is, “How do I save for a Christmas trip to Hawaii?” The answer is generally, you don’t. Have a list of five destinations you’re considering. Then, you have options to find the best deals on flights and hotels when the time comes to book your trip.
- Be flexible about dates. Changing travel dates by a couple of days can significantly cut costs. When Johnson’s kids had two weeks off for Christmas, she purchased flights on Dec. 27 returning on Jan. 5 for half the price of leaving on Christmas Eve.
- Have an annual travel budget. If you want to take multiple trips throughout the year, have a budget that encompasses all the trips you’re planning so you can save up accordingly.
- Designate what you want to pay for with cash instead of points and mileage. For instance, Johnson pays for some flights with mileage. She’ll always pay cash for trains, food, entertainment and Airbnbs.
- Create a loose itinerary of what you’re doing. Knowing approximately what you’ll be doing on each day helps limit overspending.
- Create your own cruise excursions. Planning activities at cruise ports often saves money compared to what you would pay directly from cruise lines. Also, you may not want to do the activities they offer at each port. Often Johnson’s kids just want to go the beach, so she looks up the best beaches on TripAdvisor, chair rental prices, where to eat and how much transportation is to get there from the dock.
- Budget for sightseeing breaks. Especially when traveling with children, you’ll want to take breaks from tours and sightseeing. Work the expense of grabbing a coffee or a snack into your budget.
- Don’t avoid international travel. European travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Johnson uses frequent flyer miles from Air France. Food is affordable and Airbnb can be cheap. When paying for flights, she waits for flight sales; she paid around $500 per ticket to go to Scotland and England, for instance.
- Book flights in advance. Johnson says she saves thousands per year by booking flight six to nine months in advance. She advises booking spring break in October. Christmas vacation should be booked as early as March.
- Choose smaller restaurants that aren’t in the main tourist areas. Johnson doesn’t use discount websites for restaurant coupons. Instead, she finds smaller restaurants that aren’t up-charged for the neighborhoods tourists visit. The bonus is you’ll experience more local culture.
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Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
How to find cheap activities in any city
NerdWallet’s top travel credit cards
How to set a budget when traveling with friends