Last week I explained how a big part of Thom and my ability to travel frequently comes from living a rightsized life. Yet although that’s the starting point, the successful details of our vacations usually boil down to a few simple tips—or hacks as they are often called these days. While these certainly won’t apply to everyone, they do work for us. And because a number of people seem curious, I decided to share them with you. If I can inspire just one of you to explore your options, not to mention save money, then I’ll consider it worth my time.
So in no particular order, are a few things I’ve learned to do through the years:
*Plan as far ahead as possible. Now I know there are some among you who are already shaking your heads at this one. I know this because when I’ve mentioned it before I’ve heard the objections loud and clear. But if I had to list just one thing that has led to the success of my travel it would have to be this—plan and research your options as much as possible.
Some people hate the idea of planning. The arguments I’ve heard include, “If I plan I lose spontaneity.” Or, “Planning ties you down to a set régime.” I get that planning does take time that some people don’t always feel they have. But the other arguments just aren’t true. Just because I know where I want to go and stay before I get there—that doesn’t mean that I can’t make spontaneous choices moment by moment. In fact, in some case I have more freedom because I’m not wasting a big portion of my day trying to fill in necessary details (like running around like a crazy person trying to find a place to sleep tonight—or eating crap food at any old restaurant because I’m starving to death, or being stuck in the middle seat of the airplane, etc.) By having an idea of where I am going, and what I would like to do, in advance, I am more aware of my options along the way.
For example, we went to Paris one year with some friends who told us that Paris was their favorite city in the world. Because of that, I resisted my urge to research and plan in advance and when we got there we waited for our friends to suggest places to go, things to do and where to eat. Nope. They just wanted to wander around. Now maybe that’s fine for some people, or for anyone who had been there numerous times before, but I wanted to see the Wows and they just didn’t care about them. We had an okay time, but I told myself “Never again.” But make no mistake, we do wander and explore too. Just not about the big things and our trips are filled with rich and rewarding experiences.
And perhaps for the biggest reasons, I LOVE planning in advance is because I get to enjoy the journey for the months preceding the actual travel time. Why wait until you are in the midst of it when you can maximize the experience by planning and research? There is actually scientific proof that the experience of planning a vacation is actually as big a boost to happiness as the vacation itself.
*Use Airbnb’s or VRBO if you stay somewhere for 3 or more days. We are big fans of Airbnb. That’s because when we travel we like to have a bit of space to live AND a kitchen where we can eat many of our meals. Once I know when we will be traveling I begin looking at available places and almost always book them out as far as possible. If you haven’t had much luck on Airbnb or VRBO, chances are you wait until you are almost ready to travel and then can’t find anything decent in your price range. That’s because people like me look early and gobble up all the good and best-priced places in advance. The truth is, it is rare for the best places to be available within a month or two of your travel plans. And unless you want to eat all of your meals out (expensive) or rely on a dinky hotel room coffee pot for your morning coffee, you need to plan this in advance. (Click here for a discount and I get a benefit too!)
If staying less than three nights I usually look for B & B’s and/or hotels. Price wise this usually works out best because of the fees and cleaning fees to rent an apartment or entire home. But again, the best and most affordable places book up early.
*Use Pet sitting services like Trusted Housesitters.com. Most people who know us know we have a dog named Kloe. We love her dearly but it is usually very difficult to travel with a pet—especially if going overseas or traveling in warm summer months. And as most pet owners know, it can be very expensive to hire a sitter during a longer vacation and you nearly always have to pay extra for your hotel and/or apartment rental if you bring a pet.
Instead, a couple of years ago we were introduced to a pet-sitting service. We were definitely apprehensive in the beginning. After all, you are allowing a relative stranger free access to your home AND your beloved pet for all the time you are away. But now, after a total of five different sitters in the last couple of years, we highly recommend the service.
Sure there have been a couple of minor issues around the house that needed to be dealt with upon our return (a dead plant, a dirty hot tub, a scratch on the stove) but other than that, Kloe was well taken care of the entire time. And remember, it cost us nothing for these highly reviewed people to stay in our home. We do check references as well as talk to them by phone and email in advance. But their character and concerns have all been commendable. (We recommend trustedhousesitters.com. Click on link for a 25% discount for signing up & I get a benefit too!)
*Try to make your travel as “slow travel” as possible. As I explained in my last post, I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the moments and that makes our trips much better. Again, a big part of that is only including the “Wows!” After all, it is impossible to see and do everything anyway, so make sure you just spend your precious time, money and energy seeing and experiencing the best possible choices.
And try to include some down time. One thing Thom loves doing is just sitting in little outdoor restaurants or coffee shop watching people and chatting—both with me and complete strangers. And when I think back to some of our most memorable experiences—those were some of them! I can clearly recall sitting in a little tiny bar in Edinburgh, talking with (or at least trying to communicate) with two students from Spain. While they knew more English than we knew Spanish, we spent over an hour chatting with them about their lives and current events.
Another reason to include downtime AND planning into the equation is that research shows that those who had a “very relaxing time” during travel benefited the most on return—both planning and high-relaxation offer the most advantages.
*Research where to eat if you want the best food for your money. Once I know where I am going to be traveling I use apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor so I know where the good restaurants are in advance. When we travel we do our best to only eat out one meal a day. We seldom pick the most expensive place and often eat out during lunch when prices are more reasonable. In each destination I usually find five to ten of the most recommended places to eat and then when it comes time to decide we have somewhere to go that is not only noteworthy, but worthy of our money. Now I know some people think this is too big a hassle and they would rather be spontaneous, but why waste your money on mediocre food if you don’t have to? Plus, you very often might be missing out on experiencing a very special and unique place (not to mention incredible food) that you would never “spontaneously” find otherwise.
For example, two of our friends went to Italy one year. When they returned we asked them what they thought of the food. (On a previous trip there we enjoyed some of the most amazing meals of our lives.) Instead, our friends told us that what they ate wasn’t anything special. In fact, they said that the pizza was pretty bad. WTH? It turned out that they ended up just eating wherever they found themselves, and never ate anywhere special or notable because of it. To me there is nothing worse than wasting money on a mediocre food when there are exceptional meals to be had!
Use local currency and an ATM card with no transaction fees. This seems obvious to me but I know many who don’t, and then end up paying costs they don’t need to. Even if the business (hotel, restaurant, shop) says they will take USD, or you can charge using USD, it always works out better financially to use local currency.
Use an old Iphone and change the SIM Card for free wifi and calls. I was chatting with a friend who is heading overseas this week and he told me that he was using his Verizon travel plan. Just know that if you have an old Iphone you can take it to a Phone store in whatever country you are traveling to and they will change the SIM Card for you for very low cost. That SIM Card allows you to make international calls and use wifi practically everywhere. Trust me. You will save a LOT of money doing this!
Shop prices as much as possible. When traveling I spend a lot of time shopping costs such as airline prices, car rentals, hotels, etc. well in advance. It am convinced that the time I spend shopping saves us a considerable amount of money. Whether you are traveling in the US, in Mexico, Canada or anywhere overseas, prices vary widely. If you aren’t checking you might not even realize that you are throwing money away. I actually have a list of go-to websites that I check before making any big purchase or reservation. I believe I get to travel more often because I am such a good “shopper”. Plus, who needs to shop for “stuff” when you can shop for the best and most affordable travel?
A few of my favorite travel planning websites are:
- Forums and reviews on Tripadvisor.com
- Yelp.com mainly for restaurants and hotels.
- CruiseCritic.com. We aren’t big cruisers but this site has LOTS of helpful info about destinations and excursions if you are.
- Google, Google, Google! Search every possible keyword you can for where you want to go.
Okay, I could probably go on and on about travel. I love it AND I love to plan for it. Again, while I realize that some people don’t have the time, or even the desire to travel that much, I think it is one of the more enjoyable things we can do during our lives. When I’m travel planning, I don’t think of it as work. Instead, I see it as another way to use my creative talents to design something special for my future. Like a big, elaborate puzzle, I start with the framework and one-by-one add pieces. Eventually I’m able to stand back and view my creation. But that’s really just the beginning because I then get to “live” the experience as well. What other hobbies offer such a before, during and after opportunity?
So what about you? Do you love to plan your travel too, or do you prefer to just “wing it?” Or do you just like to go on cruises which pretty much takes care of the majority of pre-planning? Also, I’m sure that those who like to camp or RV also have a lot of tips they could share. If you have ideas you’d like to share with all of us that can make the experience better, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. As usual, travel isn’t a one-size fits all. But if you love to travel, then it is SMART to first rightsize your life and then find your travel-style and stick with it as much as possible.