The best way to travel like a pro is to vacation without spending tons of money. While still having an amazing time. Don't you agree?
Post updated March 2023. This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure page for more information. Thanks!
About This Travel Guide
Nothing gets me more excited than traveling. I get so excited about all of the possibilities - the fun activities, the epic hikes, the gorgeous scenery, the delicious food, and all of the wonderful things we can experience by traveling.
But then the question arises.
How do we pay for it?
Because traveling is expensive, right!?
Or at least, that’s what the media tells us.
For a long time, I used to believe that. The travel industry is notorious for making it appear that traveling is a costly enterprise.
Once I learned a bit more about travel hacks, ways to reduce spending, and how to maximize our traveling, that completely changed. Traveling doesn't have to be that expensive if you know some tips and tricks and are willing to compromise.
The five strategies listed in this post have helped us save over $3,000 dollars in travel expenses in the course of traveling over 3 years time - while still having amazing and fun vacations. And as I type this post updating it in 2023, I continue to use the same strategies here to save money, fly for free, and maximize our vacations.
These aren’t highly classified secrets - anyone can learn these hacks and travel like a pro as often as we do.
Ready to save big and to travel like a pro?
Five Ways to Travel Like A Pro
- About This Travel Guide
- Five Ways to Travel Like A Pro
- Traveling Like A Pro: Learn From the Best
- Tip #1: Vacation in the Off-Season & Off Hours.
- Tip #2: Save Your Money For Travel (& How)
- Tip #3: Travel Hack - The Best Way to Travel Like A Pro
- Tip #4: Try Alternative Travel Lodging.
- Tip #5: Invest in Travel Insurance.
Traveling Like A Pro: Learn From the Best
If you're looking to shift your perspective on traveling both domestically and internationally, I highly recommend this book. It's what helped us plan our six-month trip around the world in 2019 and saved us thousands of dollars.
Tip #1: Vacation in the Off-Season & Off Hours.
Choosing where to vacation can be tricky, and the season you visit can make a big difference in price. Traveling like a pro often includes visiting places in the off-season for lower prices and fewer crowds, but still with plenty of activities to enjoy at your destination.
Planning a vacation or trip during the months right before or after the busiest time is called the shoulder season. This is when you’ll have fewer crowds, cheaper accommodation prices, and most likely save the largest amount of cash!
Dylan and I have personally done this on multiple vacations. We visited the Grand Canyon in winter (not summer) and had zero crowds, explored Croatia in April (not June) for cheaper accommodation prices, and spent February vacation in Montreal, not Florida, for a combination of both low crowds and cheap prices.
Shoulder season can be a great saving option!
But the shoulder season isn't always an option for everyone's schedules. So to help, here are some tips to handle big crowds and avoid higher prices in more popular travel seasons:
- Get there early. Everyone wants to lazily arrive at Yosemite National Park to stroll around the valley at 10 or 11 AM in the summertime. Beat the crowds by going on the early side, so it's more quiet and less busy.
- Plan your activities in advance. This includes tours, excursions, and even dinner reservations. The more you can plan in advance and have set reservations, the less stressful it will be, and the more you can save money by purchasing beforehand. Even our Vatican Musem tickets were cheaper purchasing online the day before.
- Choose off days. Just like the shoulder season can have fewer crowds, the weekdays (as opposed to weekends) can be your best friend. Since most people have off on the weekends, that's when the bulk of travelers tend to travel. Avoid that (and often higher prices!) by going on a weekday instead.
Tip #2: Save Your Money For Travel (& How)
Reducing your daily, weekly, and monthly spending is an excellent way to save money so you can travel like a pro. Here are some great ways to save money for your next trip!
- Cable is expensive these days - get rid of it! Try Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, or even YouTube TV.
- Meal prep so you know exactly what you are eating and when. This will reduce the amount of money you spend eating out, grabbing Chipotle chips & guac when you are hungry (guilty), or late-night grocery runs.
- Always buying a coffee at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks? Get an electric tea kettle (like this one!) to make your own coffee or tea.
- Getting drinks every weekend at a bar with friends? Try having them over to your place. Maybe have a potluck and invite everyone to bring something to share.
- Sell clothing, household items, or anything else you no longer need. Try Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, ThredUp, or Poshmark.
- Reduce your shopping tendencies unless it’s an item that needs replacing. Consider embracing minimalism and reduce what you own in the form of a capsule wardrobe.
- Ride your bike, walk, or jog from place to place. If it’s within a short walking distance, go for it! You’ll exercise to keep yourself healthy and save money on gas.
- As you accumulate change or coins, keep a mason jar and continue adding to it until it gets fairly full. Then, you can roll the coins and bring to the bank, or deposit it to a CoinStar at your local grocery store. Cash money!
- Take the time to put aside money from each paycheck into a savings account, or a specific bank account, just for travel, you’ll be surprised how quickly that accumulates!
- Frustrated by how much you are spending? Track your purchases with an app like Mint.
Tip #3: Travel Hack - The Best Way to Travel Like A Pro
Contrary to popular belief, having more than one credit card isn’t terrible if you are financially responsible. If you have a solid credit score, you can try one of the best money-saving strategies to really travel like a pro - and feel like a boss, too. And that's travel hacking!
Travel hacking is the process of using credit card bonuses to get free flights, accommodations, and other free perks. If you have good credit, pay your credit card bills on time, and don’t have monthly balances, AND a desire to travel, travel hacking could be for you!
If travel hacking is throwing up some red flags in your direction, check out these articles to learn more about it.
Here are the travel hacks I employ to earn us free hotel stays, free flights, free food, and more!
Travel Like A Pro With Chase Sapphire Card + Priority Pass
For any specific travel brand, there's typically a credit card associated with it. The sign-up bonuses can include points that you redeem for travel expenses. I currently use Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card and I absolutely love it. While the membership fee is pricey, the benefits are just too good to deny. Perks include a $350 Travel Credit, reimbursement for TSA Pre-Check, and my favorite, the Priority Pass Membership!
With a Priority Pass Membership, you gain access to hundreds of airport lounges worldwide. The lounges typically have complimentary WiFi, private bathrooms, food, snacks, drinks, alcohol, comfy chairs, and more! The lounges access is for you and one guest. You don’t have to pay extra to bring your significant other/travel partner/friend!
Dylan and I utilized this perk on our trip around the world in 2019. Check out the photos below to get an idea of the amenities (ALL FREE) we were able to enjoy at lounges in South America, Asia, and Europe! (You also have access to lounges here in the US!)
You can earn 60,000 points when you sign up for a Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (which is roughly equivalent to $600 you can then redeem for flights, hotels, rental cars, and other travel expenses!)
Travel Like A Pro With Southwest Airlines
If you fly Southwest Airlines frequently, they have personal and business credit cards with excellent signup bonuses. We've been given Southwest cash vouchers on multiple occasions when the flight is delayed, and always enjoy flying them. Southwest doesn't just fly domestic in the United States - they also fly to Mexico and the Caribbean!
Southwest Airlines is a great cheap flight option, especially if you have a Southwest hub near you or your closest airport flies Southwest. And thanks to Southwest Airlines, Dylan flew with me for FREE for a year and a half on Southwest with their Companion Pass.
I was able to earn the Companion Pass (which is now 135,000 Southwest points) by using my Southwest credit card for regular everyday purchases (cash = points). Coupled with the sign-up bonus I received for getting the credit card in the first place, I surpassed the number of points needed for Dylan's companion pass within 4 months. The pass lasts for the rest of the year when you earn it, plus another year after that. We then had more than a year and a half of Dylan flying free on any flight!
Since 2017, we have saved over $2,500 in flight costs using Southwest Airlines. And in the summer of 2021 used our points to redeem another round trip ticket to visit Berlin, Maryland and a 100% gluten-free place. That's a TON of cash!
You can earn 50,000 bonus points with a Southwest Personal Credit Card here and get started earning that Companion Pass! Having a Southwest credit card (and using it for all of my purchases) helped me quickly get past the threshold so Dylan could fly wiht me for free!
Travel Like A Pro With Hilton Honors Program
If you enjoy staying in hotels, apply for a card where you can redeem points for free stays. Choose a hotel chain that you really love, and sign up for their rewards program. We use the Hilton American Express Card and receive double the benefits just being not only a Hilton Honors Member, but also earn points from having a Hilton Amex Card.
Being an Honors member has multiple perks - room upgrades, free snacks and water, free maps, and other perks. Hilton hotels are worldwide - easy to use here at home or when you need a place to stay by the Milan airport in Italy. Hilton is our go-to hotel and they always take good care of us, including bringing up a microwave to reheat my gluten-free meals, consistent room upgrades to suites or higher floors, water bottles daily, and complimentary breakfast (of which I can usually find something safe to eat).
Tip #4: Try Alternative Travel Lodging.
Rather than staying in a hotel, try something different for a change. Airbnb has been a great option for us during our travels. We’ve stayed in private rooms, private apartments, entire homes, and even a Balinese family compound during our time in Indonesia! We also stayed at a Getaway House location in New Hampshire for a winter weekend. A very COVID-friendly option, and a great way to disconnect.
Camping is another super cheap option if that is something you are comfortable with. You can also look into renting a camper or campervan during your travels. There are free campsites all over the globe, and one of the best ways to explore nature. We personally love camping in Acadia National Park in Maine.
As travel begins to open back up again internationally (post-COVID), other alternative forms of lodging, like hostels, guesthouses, and even Couchsurfing will grow in popularity once again. Hostels were our preferred form of travel when backpacking the globe in 2019, and are still one of our favorite options. Not only is it a great way to meet other travelers, but you can customize your experience to be more private if that's what you prefer. Many hostels have private rooms available, rather than just dorm-style.
Tip #5: Invest in Travel Insurance.
Travel insurance is a very logical and important investment for any big vacation plan. With a travel insurance policy, you can be sure that if something unexpected happens, you won’t be out hundreds of dollars.
We invested in a travel insurance policy with World Nomads for our hiking & backpacking adventures around the world. During our trek to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal, Dylan and I both became sick and had to rearrange our plans. I spent 24 hours in a travel hospital for IV fluids and antibiotics due to a bacterial infection.
Thankfully, our travel insurance policy covered the costs of the helicopter evacuation, tests, medicine, and hospital stay. It also covered us if we were to lose anything, have items stolen, or even have canceled flights.
Travel insurance is there for those unavoidable circumstances, changes in your plans, or times that things don’t go right. We were so glad we made purchased a travel insurance policy - and it’s a way to make sure your travels go smoothly!
Get a free travel insurance quote and be prepared for your next adventure.
By employing these five strategies, you too can travel like a pro and save money on your next vacation!
Do you have any favorite travel hacks or money-saving tips?
Let me know in the comments!