How I Book Cheap Trips
Updated: Apr 3, 2018
I get asked pretty often about which website or apps I use to book my trips. So I thought I'd go ahead and write it all down for others to reference. Keep in mind, I am always finding new resources and learning new tricks from other travelers. So I encourage you to also ask around. Traveling is a lot about personal preference. What works for me may not work for you. The beautiful thing about the internet is that there is a plethora of travel bloggers out there for you to get information from. That's how I get a lot of my information about specific trips.
Most of my trips begin by finding the flight. This will depend on whether or not you have a flexible schedule or if you have specific dates in mind. If I have a specific location and date in mind, I will watch the flight prices on an app called Hopper. This app will send me notifications on my phone about the price of a flight, such as "you should keep waiting" or "you should buy now." Once the app tells me that I should go ahead and buy the tickets, I go to Kayak.com and look for flights.
If you do not have a specific location or date in mind, which is often the case for me, I use Scott's Cheap Flights. You simply sign up for their emails and then get inundated with flight deals every other day. Following flight-tracking companies on Twitter is another great option, if you frequent Twitter regularly. My favorites include @TheFlightDeal, @airfarewatchdog, and @scottsflights.
2. Hotels, AirBnB, and Work Exchange
After the flights are set, the next step is booking your accomodations. I look at hotel prices on Kayak first to get a sense of the averge room rates in that city. Then I head over to AirBnB to see how those rates compare. In general, AirBnB will be cheaper than hotels, but that's not always the case.
If you're really adventurous or just on a very tight budget, you have other options. I have used Couchsurfing extensively on my travels through Europe. You basically sleep in strangers' homes and that could mean crashing on a couch, getting a large, beautiful room all to yourself, or snuggling into a sleeping bag on a kitchen floor. But it's free so it's sometimes worth it. Also, you get to know locals and that is one of the best ways to learn about new places. Each host is different and sometimes you'll get along fantastically, and sometimes you'll be looking forward to leaving them. Just be sure to read through the reviews.
Other options for cheap travel include hostels, WWOOFing (working on an organic farm) and work exchange. I did HelpX work exhange in Sweden picking wild berries and mushrooms and it was one of the highlights of my trip through Europe. We originally planned to stay and work for only one week, but loved our hosts and the "work" so much that we stayed for three weeks in total.
Your transportation options vary greatly by the location you're traveling to. This simply requires research. You can request a travel guide book from your local library and see what they suggest, or do a Google search and read blogs. My number one tip is to just walk, if you're able. I have found that the best way to really see a city is to by walking through it. You get a close up view of life for the locals, burn off all of the extra calories you've consumed from trying the new cuisine, and it's FREE!
When walking isn't an option, I suggest using public transportation. This is another way to get a close-up view of life as a local. Learning new metro systems can feel daunting, but once you've learned one, you get the gist of the others. I also highly suggest having internet connection on a phone to do this. Even if you don't speak the language of the locals, Google Maps will have your back and tell you when to get off the metro or where to stand for the bus. Trust me, Google Maps is a game-changer for getting around foreign places.
I learned how to enjoy a city for almost free out of necessity when I backpacked through Europe for four months. I had just graduated from college and had very little money to spend. Now that I actually have the funds to do whatever I want, I still choose to do the free/cheap things. That's because there are so many great options.
Free walking tours are a great way to be introduced to a city. You reserve a spot online, show up to a meeting point, walk around and learn a lot for three hours, and then tip the guide what you think the tour was worth. I usually give them $5 per person, but others give a lot more, and some pay nothing. The beauty is that it's based on your budget. You can also ask the guide any questions you have about the city and get recommendations for where to go or what to eat.
Another cheap thing I love doing is getting snacks and wine from a grocery store to share with my companion(s). Then find a park or beautiful overlook and have a picnic. This is a cheap and satisfying alternative to eating at restaurants, especially if you're in a more touristy area. I also just love checking out grocery stores in different countries.