In October, Kelly and I went on a quick super frugal six-day, five-night journey to Porto, Portugal. The trip was a bit of an experiment as we’ve never done a “quick trip” to Europe together. Usually, due to the cost of airfare and traveling with the family, trips to Europe in the past were generally two weeks long, even before we had kids.
This time, because it was just us traveling, and we were able to find some good quality low-cost flights to Europe ($342 each on United) we decided to give it a shot. These low airfares were the first travel hack we used on the trip. Since airfare is usually the most expensive part of the trip, we use the best-priced tickets in helping us decide where to go.
Here’s how we did it:
Getting low airfare to a place you’d like to visit. The first thing I do is let others do the searching for me. I sign up for free email updates from Scott’s Cheap Flights and Dollar Flight Club. Both of these services scour the web to find low prices on flights from your home airports. They both offer premium versions of the free service but I’ve been able to find some great deals without signing up for premium. For instance, just today I saw flights to Paris and London for as low as $400. In shoulder seasons.
Shoulder seasons. This is where the best deals on airfare are but that’s not to say you can’t find some good ones during prime months. By avoiding summer months in Europe we’ve gotten much better deals. If you have a specific week or month in mind you can also use Kayak Explore or Google Flights Explore. Just put in your dates to see the cheapest places to fly. Currently we are looking at some spring break destinations and Cartagena, Colombia showed up with some sub $300 fares. You can also limit the number of stops and layover times which are very important when looking at discounted airfares. If you find a destination with great fare and you’re not ready to purchase right away, simply click on “watch this fare” and you’ll get email updates.
Be open to new cities and experiences. The cool thing about Kayak and Google Explore features is that they open up destinations that we may have never thought of. Like, for instance visiting Porto, Portugal, or Cartagena, Colombia. So, by letting the airfare gods select your destination, you’re going to naturally find some fascinating places.
Fly while you sleep. From many cities, especially on the East Coast, you can fly out in the evening and arrive at your European destination first thing in the morning. If you’re flying from out west to Europe, try to get your connection in the US so that you can sleep on the overnight flight and land at your final destination.
Use business and personal credit cards to create a credit cards points machine. I combine points from Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Business cards then use all three cards from Chase to maximize three-point categories like dining, travel, advertising, and select business expenses. Then I get a 50% point bump when I use them to book travel through Chase. Chase utilizes Expedia for their travel booking so the prices are very competitive and you can use points to fully pay or partially pay your travel costs. I found this is vastly more efficient than dealing with hotel and airline points. Our hotel and flights where fully covered on this trip.
|Airfare United 2 Tickets IAD to OPO $685.00 used with 45,716 Chase Reserve Points and $0||cost $0|
|Hotel The Editory House Riberia, Steps to the Riberia Walk on the Duro 5 Nights $716 used 47,256 Chase Reserve Points||$0|
|Bars, Restaurants, Museums, UBERS, leggy seat upgrades, Misc. AKA Party Cash||$780|
|We were also able to use Chase Reserve Priority Club for 2 Meals at airports. No Charge|
Look for locations that are known to be affordable and favor them over their more expensive neighbors. For instance, Prague instead of Paris, Lisbon instead of Rome. You can get a good idea of the costs in any location by looking at hotel prices on Google maps or using Trip Advisor.
Exchange rates can also impact costs in a location. The US dollar is pushing new highs in our next two destinations Mexico and Colombia. Check out the website XE.com or the app. Also, if you travel much, make sure your credit card doesn’t have international fees and you have an ATM card that reimburses international withdrawal fees. Always avoid sketchy local ATMs and cash exchange places at airports. I’m always amazed when I see people waiting in line at these places to get ripped off. Do a quick Google search of large banks in the city you are visiting then use ATMs at those branches. Avoid the non-bank ATMs like Euronet that are everywhere. We use Chase Sapphire Reserve and a Fidelity ATM card for fee free travel.
Hotels are much more competitive and easier to book than airfare so always book your flights 6 to 12 weeks in advance and you can worry about the hotel once you’ve lined up your flights. Once you select your affordable destination, use a site like Trip Advisor or Culture Trip to find centrally located, very affordable hotels. I usually search for five-star reviewed hotels that are under $200 a night. That will really narrow your search quickly, especially if you want to be centrally located, use the map view. Remember star ratings on many sites skew a little high so a five-star rating may really only mean four stars. You can get a great idea just by scanning some of the good and bad reviews. It’s amazing the things people complain about. Check the traveler pix as well.
Don’t rent a car. I’ve used UBER in at least 10 international cities. It’s so nice not to have to figure out exchange rates, find or pay for parking at the hotel, or drive at all. In many locations, check out the local competition to UBER and download the app while you’re waiting for your luggage. It’ll come in really handy if at certain times of the day or night UBERS are unavailable, which is fairly common in some busy metro areas. During a five or six-day trip you’ll probably spend less on rides than on parking.
For short trips, I recommend staying in just one hotel then hiking around, using UBERs, or public transportation to explore destinations nearby. Google maps is great for seeing the exact subway routes and comparing costs to taxis or car services. The fewer cars and hotels you can have on any trip the better.
Think like a minimalist and pack light.I found a very cool soft-sided North Face Base Camp Voyager bag that has backpack-style shoulder straps hidden and can squeeze into just about any of those bag size check containers. Perfect for up to five nights.
Get out there and go.