At the risk of contradicting our own headline, we’re going to start this off with a simple truth: There is no such thing as a travel hack.
Travel “hacking” is mostly just learning to travel smart, which generally comes more from experience than from reading listicles on the internet (although if you stopped doing this altogether, many a writer—including yours truly—would be out of a job).
That said, as savvy world travelers ourselves, we’ve learned a thing or two about globetrotting without breaking the bank. Below, we’ve put together a quick list of some of the most effective ways to give your bank account a boost when the travel bug bites.
Master the art of booking flights.
There are a huge number of “helpful tips” circulating the internet about the “best” methods for finding dirt-cheap cheap fares. But here are a few we’ve found actually work.
Sign up for flight alerts (on a site like Skyscanner) and newsletters (we’re particularly fond of Scott Keyes) to find flights within a specific time frame. The Points Guy also has a ton of helpful information on credit cards and loyalty programs, with a primary focus on travel.
Book directly through the airline whenever possible, in the event that you have to alter your reservation later. Trying to deal with third-party vendors when you need to change or cancel a reservation is unnecessarily painful.
Play around with your VPN settings and try searching for fares in different currencies (only if you have a no-foreign-free credit card). Some sites offer country-specific fares or give discounts when flights are booked in the airline’s home currency—so in other words, you may have better luck if your computer thinks you’re in Bangkok instead of in Boston.
Carry on only.
“Pack light” might seem like the oldest travel advice in the book, but there’s a good reason it’s pervasive in every outlet from backpacker blogs to luxury magazines. Not only do you get to avoid rage-inducing fees for checked bags, but you also never have to worry about lost luggage—and you save valuable time on either end of your travel experience.
Learn to love off season.
In some parts of the world, off season really is a no-go: Snow, ice, or torrential rain make it simply an unpleasant or impossible time to visit a particular part of the world. But in many places, off season simply means “fewer tourists and slightly chillier weather,” which, for many travelers, is actually more appealing than hot crowds and outrageous airfares. So go ahead: Check out a ski town in summer, head to Europe in February, go to Thailand on the outskirts of monsoon season. You may find yourself surprised at how pleasant it is to be off trend.
It’s surprising how many travel-related costs can be negotiated—or even bartered for. Few costs are set in stone. Airbnb is a big one: If you’re booking a place with no reviews, during off season, or for an extended period of time, there’s a good chance you’ll have the upper hand in price negotiations with your host.
Invest in experiences.
Think back to your top three travel memories of all time. Now, try to recall how much you paid for them—flights, buses, luggage, tickets, whatever. Chances are, you can’t remember—probably not even a ballpark figure.
Ultimately, experiences—which for you might mean an extravagant meal, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, or mastering the tango—pay off in ways that material items or souvenirs simply don’t. If you’re on a travel budget, instead of focusing obsessively on concrete costs, ask yourself about the overall value of an experience—and learn to prioritize the elements of travel you find most rewarding, dollars and cents aside.
Written by Stephanie Walden
VAWAA | Vacation With An Artist is a vacation experience with artists, designers, and creatives around the world inside their studio, learning a new skill.