27-year-old Who Saves 65% of His Income Shares His 7 Best Tips for Traveling on a Budget
This story originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com on May 4th, 2017.
By the time he was 16, the blogger behind the Money Wizard — who goes by the pen name Sean online — had already started saving for retirement.
He's currently earning a salary of $80,000 as a financial analyst in Minneapolis and saving about 65% of his take-home pay to contribute to his 401(k), IRA, and index funds. Still, thanks to smart spending habits, Sean says he lives comfortably and travels at least once a month.
In 2016, he took a dozen round-trip flights in the US, which included skiing in Lake Tahoe and Utah, a weekend trip to Cape Cod, and a summer national park trip out West.
Below, the Money Wizard shares with Business Insider his best tips for saving money on travel.
Fly on slower travel days
There's a reason you've heard this advice ad infinitum: It's nearly foolproof.
"If possible, I arrange my vacations around the cheapest days of the week to fly — Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday," Sean said. "Choosing to fly on these slower travel days often saves up to 50% on tickets, compared to the usual Monday, Friday, Sunday travel times. Comparison websites like Google Flights are my favorite for quickly comparing the cost differences between travel days and airlines."
Build travel into your budget
Travel is important to Sean, so he's cut down fixed expenses to make vacationing a part of his permanent budget. "Far and away the easiest way to budget for travel is to save money without trying," he said.
"Choosing an apartment with rent a couple hundred dollars cheaper is enough to fund a round trip plane ticket once a month. In 2016, the average car payment was $503 per month — that's nearly enough for a week of hotel stays."
Skip the fancy hotel
Unless you're going on a vacation strictly to experience an epic hotel or resort, Sean suggests sticking to value hotels, Airbnbs, hostels, and even places with shared bathrooms.
"A hotel is a place to sleep, and your vacation will be similar no matter how fancy the downstairs lobby. I've found the expensive hotels to be overrated, and their price tags can often fund another vacation entirely," he said.
That said, if you're someone who enjoys a little more luxury in your accommodations, consider setting up a rewards account with a major hotel chain. If you travel frequently for work or don't mind spending more up front, you could rack up a few free nights a year in a more luxurious hotel, Sean said.
Always opt for the free breakfast
"All else being equal, I choose the hotel with a free breakfast," says Sean. "Starting the day with a huge breakfast can save lots of money on breakfast and lunch, which can really add up over a few days."
Take advantage of credit card perks
The travel credit card space is becoming increasingly competitive and major banks are releasing new perks and benefits regularly to capture loyal customers — and that's good news for travelers.
"Periodically signing up for credit card bonus offers and responsibly using the card is a great way to rack up free flights and hotels," Sean said. "I wrote about the now expired 100,000 point offer for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which was enough to fund a few reasonable vacations outright."
Look for dining deals
It's no secret that dining out for every meal can add up.
"I check Groupon.com for deals wherever I'm traveling to, which can save big while still providing the dinning out experience," Sean said. "Many cities also have local coupon books, which can be a good source for cheap dinners and activities."
Pass on the tourist traps
A free hike, museum, or public landmark is almost always a better experience than the high-priced tourist trap, Sean said.
"I always check Tripadvisor.com's 'Things to do' or talk to locals once I arrive, in order to brainstorm ideas of fun, cheap activities. Beware of guided tours. They're usually a way to charge lots of money for something that is otherwise free," he said.