Top Money-Saving Travel Tips from a World Traveler

By Marcus Anderson, CFP®, CIMA®, AIF® , Wealth Manager and Partner

After years of pandemic-related travel restrictions, families are looking to experience adventures together this year. A survey from revealed that 54% of travelers want to plan a family reunion or a holiday abroad in 2023.

Unfortunately, due to the increase in demand to see the world, some aspects of travel are reaching record highs. According to the travel app Hopper, round-trip airline tickets are anywhere from 20%-60% more expensive than in 2019.

Luckily, there are ways you can still see the world without breaking the bank or using up all your savings. My wife and two teenage children travel to at least one new country every year, and our trips have consisted of cruises, international flights, road trips, and camping.

Why it is so important to bring your children to a different country

My wife and I wanted to travel before having kids, and we were determined to keep that up once we expanded our family. We just modified our schedule and the type of travel. Babies are complex, and we mainly did domestic travel using a car (plus money was much tighter early in my career), but it already becomes much more doable when they’re toddlers.

Early on, we took a lot of cruises because they made international travel with toddlers a breeze. While we ended up making multiple stops in one trip, we only had to pack and unpack once. Cruises also have built-in babysitters (as long as your children are potty-trained) and some of the best food, which meant my wife and I could sneak in some date nights, too.

Benefits of traveling with your family

My kids’ most significant impact was seeing and understanding that they are incredibly privileged, which means they have a significant amount of empathy. They have had the opportunity to see different cultures, opening their eyes to different ways of living. This has changed the way they think and their view of the world.

It also forced my kids to be ok with change, not to be afraid of the differences in culture, food, and language, and embrace flexibility and learning how to adapt. In addition, it taught them responsibility and instilled a sense of adventure and sparked their curiosity. My daughter, now 19, is hugely excited about her upcoming two-month European backpacking trip. She is not afraid to travel alone for a month, and then she will join a friend for the second month.

At the end of her trip, she will jump to a floating university with a study abroad program where she will visit 11 counties over two and a half months. She is also excited that she will “catch up to us” with the number of different countries she has visited.

Money-saving tips for family travel

This will be the only time you hear a financial advisor advocate using a credit card – as long as you can pay off the balance in full each month. Points, points, and more points are the key. We put everything on an airline and hotel card and as a result, have saved thousands of dollars on hotel and airfare. One time, for a three-week European trip for my family of four, we only spent $5,000 and saved $15,000! We continue earning points and using them on nearly every trip.

When your kids are too young for school, or you don’t have kids, travel on the shoulder seasons whenever possible and not during the summer, which is a peak season for travel. You can save a tremendous amount of money and experience less crowds. Just make sure you know when the dry and wet season is wherever you’re going.

If you must travel during high season, look for countries where your money goes much further but aren’t too far away from the U.S., like Mexico and Colombia, where the airfare is still relatively low.

Coming back to cruises, there are many cost-saving benefits. The price of the cruise includes all your meals, lodging, entertainment, and childcare needs. If you’re organizing a large trip, a cruise is a great option because the trip organizer gets a free room if their group includes more than 10 rooms (varies by cruise line).

My kids loved the teen club, which got them out of our hair, and they got to experience freedom on the boat with other teenagers. As a result, they have friends from all over the world. If you’re flexible on where you want to go and a bit adventurous, look for last-minute cruise deals. You can potentially save half the cost on them.

Be bold and use Airbnb or Vrbo; our best experiences were with Airbnb, not necessarily in a fancy hotel. I remember unbelievable views in our Airbnb in Costa Rica, and we found a spot on the old wall of the ancient city of Dubrovnik, Croatia overlooking the Adriatic Sea. If you look early enough, you can find affordable rates that fit any budget, with unique locations and features that can be better than a bland hotel.

Tips for finding the best airfare

There used to be some truth in looking for and booking flights on certain days and times of the week that mattered to find a deal. This is not the case anymore.

According to Hopper, it is still true that flying on Tuesday followed closely by Wednesday is the cheapest option. Sunday is the most expensive domestically but Wednesday and Thursday are the cheapest days internationally.

The best way to find more affordable flights is to plan early. Book one to three months in advance for domestic travel and three to six months for international flights. Sign up for alerts on Google flights, Hopper, Skyscanner, FareDrop, and Kayak for places you want to go to, and use “Going”  to get emails and newsletters to find incredible deals for you.

Advice for families cutting back on travel this year

If you’re cutting back on air travel, the good old American road trip is always an option. Depending on the city, it takes me anywhere between six to 12 hours to get to Florida. We drove to the beach during the pandemic, when international flights were limited.

If you like to camp, even better, since you can save quite a bit on hotel costs, and cooking your food will be less expensive than eating at a restaurant.

Other areas can you cut back on during a trip

Do not buy food at the airport; plan ahead and pack a sandwich and snacks. If you have a kitchen in your hotel/Airbnb, cook your food and pack lunches out. It will save you a lot of money.

Many cities will have walking tours; some in Europe work only off discretionary tips. See if there’s a walking tour app for the city you’re visiting and do a self-walking tour. Go to the famous parks and river walks; many times it costs nothing.

Some national museums are free, like the Smithsonian in D.C., and the British Museum are great examples. Google “free museums” and then the city. Walking along the Seine River in Paris is free, and if you’re there in mid-summer, you can go to the Plages for free, a temporary beach in Paris.

Once, we had a five-hour layover in Rome, and my son and I took the train in from the airport, rented scooters and electric bikes, and toured Rome and saw almost all the main attractions in two hours, including the Colosseum, Trevi fountain, and the Vatican. We didn’t go inside them but got to see them from the outside. So, if you want to avoid walking, ride a bike or use a scooter. It’s so fun and fast!

Planning and travel apps to help with costs and efficiency

There are several planning and travel apps I use. Hopper shows you when is the best time to go on a trip with price prediction tools. It also finds hotels and shows them when the costs are the lowest.

TripIt is a great app that organizes a trip by keeping your itineraries and documents in one place. You can add your flights, tickets, hotels, Airbnb booking information, rental car reservations, and even driving directions, and you can share it with those you’re traveling with or your emergency contacts.

Roadtrippers is an app for finding exciting and off-the-beaten-path roadside attractions, unique restaurants, and things you shouldn’t miss along the way.

You must have an XE Currency Converter; I use this all the time. I was just in the Dominican Republic and couldn’t get my head around the conversion, and during the first few days, I used it all the time until I got used to converting their pesos to dollars.

Globe Tips helps show you the appropriate tip in over 200 counties. Type in the amount in the foreign currency, and it auto-detects the county you are in.

It’s not an app, but another way to save money on a vacation is to plan ahead. I start planning over a year in advance and sometimes two years. We have an idea of what countries we want to visit, and we start to place them on the calendar. It changes over time, but it gives us a rough plan.

My favorite memory from a summer vacation overseas

There are SO many wonderful memories from our family travel over the years. But if I had to pick one, it was staying at a Buddhist temple in Japan for two days, in an area called Mount Koya or Koya-san, during the week of Obon.

During Obon, Japan commemorates one’s ancestors whose spirits are believed to return to this world to visit their relatives temporarily. Getting up super early and sitting in and listening to their morning chanting was incredibly peaceful. It was just so different and authentic and a profound experience.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to saving money for vacations and international travel, but the benefits are tenfold. Experiences, especially those with family and friends, are cherished for years to come. No matter what your travel goals are, you can start small and plan ahead to have the adventure of a lifetime.

For professional help with planning for those exceptional experiences or planning and reaching other financial goals, contact Merit Financial Advisors today!