5 Free Ways to Save on Travel

5 Free Ways to Save on Travel

The second time my wife and I went to Europe was just a year after our honeymoon in October 2014, when we were there for three weeks and visited five countries. We came back already thinking about when we could go back again. In January of 2015, we had a friend who we had worked with for a while staying at our house and we ended up talking about traveling and how much we liked Europe – and wanted to go back. In the course of our discussion we decided to look up some flights to see how much they were. Somehow, we ended up looking at flights for that fall (almost the only time for me to travel because of work) and found some that were too good to pass up. We didn’t. We spent the rest of the evening figuring out how we could make it happen and how our friend could join us, and we booked the flights the next evening. By the time we boarded our 787 in Oakland, our group had grown to include 5 people. We paid around $165 for the flight there, and about $200 for the flight back to America.
Since then, I’ve realized these type of flight prices are here to stay. At any given point in time I can get online and find deals at least as good as those, but probably even better. While this post isn’t talking about the actual booking of those type of flights, there are several principles I want to talk about that can save you money on your next vacation, and all five of them won’t cost you anything.

1) Talk About Traveling

If you love to travel, then you probably like thinking about where you want to go next. Don’t stop with just thinking about it – talk about it (especially if you’re married). You’d be surprised to see just how much this helps you to get a good deal. Part of the reason is that it allows you the ability to follow #2 below, but talking about where you want to travel is better than just because it helps to build relationships. First, it helps you to know where you want to go. Sure, you probably have ideas bouncing around in your mind about places you’ve thought would be cool to go, but when you talk about them, it helps you to know which places are actual possibilities. Maybe you think it would be awesome to see the northern lights in winter, but your spouse doesn’t like the cold.

One thing we recently did at our house is put up a world map and stick in pins for places we have been, and the top places my wife and I each want to visit. Some of those places are the same, and some are different – but it helps you to narrow in and mentally prepare for the possibility of going there. We talk about places we want to go, and even look up prices for flights and places to stay a year or more in advance.

2) Be Ready to Book

This is one of the biggest keys to saving on travel – being ready to buy when you come across a good deal. Back in 2009, I was living in southern California, and we had just finished the busiest part of the year for work. A number of friends and I were at a leadership retreat and one of them came across a news report of a travel deal that Jet Blue was offering that fall called All You Can Jet. Maybe you heard about the deal, but the plan was that you could buy the pass for $500 and go anywhere in Jet Blue’s network, unlimited number of flights for one month. You could call and book, change, or cancel a flight as long as it was 3 or more days in advance. It took less than 5 minutes for us to call Jet Blue and see if it was true. One we confirmed it was indeed real, three of us grabbed our wallets and booked it.

One of my friends who was there wasn’t quite as ready to book. He said “let me think about it.” and when he was finally ready to go for it after a couple days, the deal was sold out. The three of us that got in on it enjoyed a lot of flights – to places like Boston, Bermuda, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Orlando, Costa Rica, and Seattle. That friend who waited too long joined us in Costa Rica – and paid the same amount for his single-location trip as we did for the whole pass that took us to all those places. When you have thought about where you want to go, that equips you to have some of the possible objections to booking removed, so you can jump on a deal when it comes up.

3) Bring Friends With You

You probably noticed that the trips I’ve talked about so far had this in common. This is a win-win for everyone because it saves you and it saves them. While it may not save on flights, it can drastically reduce the most significant expenses you’d come across while on a vacation – especially where you stay. It’s easy to do the math – if you can split a $100 hotel room between 4 people, it’s only $25 each instead of an even cheaper room with one or two people. In many countries, you can go to a store and buy food to make yourself for some of the meals, and sharing that cost makes it easy to save money. Nowhere have I seen this work better than in Switzerland. Grocery prices are comparable to the US, but eating out is very expensive. Not only do these shared costs save you money, having friends with you can make the trip more fun and you can make lasting memories.

4) Check Nearby Airports

When I book flights for a trip (even getting to places during a trip before coming home), I check tons of options. If you want to go to Rome, for example, look for flights to get anywhere in Europe and you’ll probably save money. Flight inside of Europe can be found for as low as $20, so once you’re there it’s easy to get around. So instead of paying $400 to get an itinerary directly into Rome, you can go to Stockholm for $150 (spend a day or three there), then hop down to Rome for $35 for a total savings of $215 (using our theoretical, but realistic prices). On our upcoming trip to Japan, we re-booked to fly into Hong Kong with a stop in Seoul instead of going directly into Tokyo. This allowed us to actually save in the end, while we added two locations to our trip.

Doing this can take a lot of time, but I think it’s ultimately worth it in the end. There’s one trick I’ve found to help speed up the process. When you’re searching on Kayak, instead of looking for one location to depart from and arrive to, you can search up to three for each – a total of nine combinations of airports. The screen shot below shows an example of this going from three Washington airports to airports in Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea.

If you check the box for nearby airports, you can get even more possibilities. On the left when you do this type of search, you can use the check boxes to toggle on and off individual airports in your search, as shown in the screen shot.

Even with this trick, I do these searches dozens of times with different dates and locations before I book something.

5) Use Foreign Currency

If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge you foreign transaction fees, this can save you more than you think. We just booked a flight from Hong Kong to Japan, and it gave us two options for payment: one with USD (United States Dollars) and the other with HKD (Hong Kong Dollars), since the airline is based in Hong Kong. Because I used a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, I chose to pay in HKD, and it saved me around $40. I’ve found the same to be true with other airlines – if you pay in their local currency, it can save you anywhere from a few dollars to $20-50 per person per flight.

This saves money because your credit card charges the current conversion rate between USD and whatever currency you’re using at the time of purchase. The airline, on the other hand, usually pads this figure to make sure they aren’t losing money because of conversion rates, which can easily change up or down multiple times a day. To estimate the savings before you buy, you can easily check the conversion rate yourself online or using a currency conversion app on a smartphone. Keep in mind that many countries swap the use of a comma and period for the thousands separator – so instead of 5,000.00 it would look like 5.000,00.


I hope you enjoy these tips to be prepared for booking your next trip – and saving money in the process. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try more things like what I’ve suggested here, and if you find something that works, let me know in the comments below!