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FAQ: Keys to Affordable Travel #2 – Little Things Matter (At Home)

How To Afford Travel Part 2: Little Things at Home | Stroller Packing

Welcome to the second post in our series that answers the forever asked question:

How do you afford to travel so much?

Our first post was about creating a mindset where travel is a priority.  If travel is a priority, you’ll be more willing to spend some money and, more importantly, some time into making it happen.  In this post, we’ll dive a little deeper into what you should be spending time and mental energy on before you travel in order to make your travel more affordable.

Key #1 – Make Travel a Life Priority
Key #2 – The Little Things Matter (At Home)
Key #3 – The Little Things Matter (On the Road)
Key #4 – Be Infinitely Flexible
Key #5 – Play Games

Key #2 – The Little Things Matter (At Home)

There are really two, mostly unrelated parts to this key, but I’m still going to cram them into the same blog post.  You’re welcome.

The Little Things Matter When Spending Money

The first part ties in very tightly with the first key about making travel a priority.  If you make having travel experiences a priority for your family, you should be willing to spend money on travel.  In order to be able to spend the money on travel, you should be willing to spend less on other things.

The specific actions to accomplish this are the same types of things that you might encounter when you are trying to achieve any financial goal from getting out of debt to buying a house.  Spend less.  Analyze before you buy.  Buy used.  Cut frivolous expenses.  Here are some specific examples of things we do to save money in general, so that we have the disposable income that we need to travel freely:

  • Drive used vehicles (ours are 14-18 years old at this point)
  • Buy kids’ clothes from resale shops (most of their clothes end up messy, so who wants to pay full price anyway?)
  • Minimize dining out, and use coupons when we do
  • Analyze purchases for value, weighing cost vs. quality
  • Seeking out alternative vendors (Amazon, ebay, craigslist, discount stores) instead of making impulse purchases in high end stores.
  • Earn miles and points by always making purchases with miles or points-earning credit cards (and of course paying them in full each month).  More on this in Key #5.

Those are a few examples, but you get the idea: if travel is a priority, other things you could spend money on are less of a priority.  If you’d rather spend more on those other things than travel, maybe those other things are higher priority.  Which is cool, too.

The Little Things Matter When Planning Travel

The second part of this key is where we get down to details about actual travel buying decisions.  The pieces of your travel that you put into place before you ever leave home are the pieces that are the most expensive – airfare, major hotel nights, major ground transportation – and so the big pieces are where you can see the most impact of getting good value.  Here’s my big tip for you:

Research, research, research.  And then research some more.

You might not believe the amount of thinking we do about every single aspect of our travel.  We think about it all the time.  Whatever you do, don’t take the default hotel option just because someone told you to.  Do your own due diligence.  Make sure that the money that you are spending is going to get you what you want.

The more careful thought you put into your travel during the planning stages, the more bang for your buck you are going to get when you are on the road.  It’s not incredibly spontaneous and sexy, but (a) you can plan in some spontaneity if you get the big wins and (b) being able to travel a bunch because you saved money is sexy, too.

Here are some things we obsess about during the planning phases of travel:

Air travel

  • Monitoring Flyertalk and various travel deal blogs for the airfare deal of the moment (and sometimes the hotel deal of the moment)
  • Can we use the routing rules to take a longer routing and earn more miles?
  • If there is a schedule change on our trip, what alternate flights can we request to earn more miles or make our trip better (or both)?
  • How should we strategize our reserved seats on the airplane in order to maximize our comfort without having to buy up to a more expensive class of service?
  • What aircraft are flying this route?  Which flights are more likely to result in upgrades/bumps/empty seats in coach/on-demand in-flight entertainment (IFE)/etc?

Hotels/Lodging

  • Does this hotel have breakfast included?  If not is there a restaurant and what would the cost be?  If not is there a grocery store nearby where we could self-cater?
  • Will we earn points at this hotel?  Are there any points bonuses going on that make this hotel a better deal because of the points we’ll earn back?
  • Can we use points or cash-and-points to book this hotel?  How do we value our points – is it really a good deal to use them vs. cash?
  • Would a vacation rental (AirBnB, VRBO, etc) be a better value for us in this situation?
  • Can we earn points or free nights by staying at a hotel local to our home and then using the points/nights on our trip (i.e. mattress running)?

Transportation

  • Is there public transit?  If so do they charge for children?  Is it a better deal to buy individual tickets or get a pass?
  • What is the cost of renting a car?  Putting a family of four in a car can often save money over train tickets.
  • If we’re going to drive, are there any insurance or special considerations about safety we should be aware of?

Sightseeing

  • What are our top priorities for sights to see?  How much is admission?
  • If a sight has an expensive admission, will the kids get anything out of it at this age?  If not, let’s save it for next time.
  • Are there any discount passes (a la the Paris Museum Pass) that allow unlimited or discount admissions if purchased as a package?

So those are a few of the details we go over with a fine tooth comb.  It sounds like a lot, and it is.  And there’s more than what I have listed here, but hopefully these kinds of questions will get you thinking about what kinds of questions to ask yourself.  My dad always says that the best part of a trip is the anticipation, and thinking this hard about the details of your trip will certainly help up your anticipation factor.

Click here for:
Key #1 – Make Travel a Life Priority
Key #3 – The Little Things Matter (On the Road)
Key #4 – Be Infinitely Flexible
Key #5 – Play Games

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