10 Tips for Budget Travel: Planning and Packing
How to prepare for your next adventure–without breaking the bank!
Planning—and then packing—for any trip can be exceptionally stressful and challenging, especially if it involves flying.
I was inspired recently to compile some of my most handy tips for efficient pre-travel planning after doing some planning of my own: the last few weeks of my life have been largely dedicated to planning a week-long trip to Los Angeles, and just a few days ago, I pulled the trigger and bought my tickets!
Being a savvy flight-finder and suitcase-packer can be hard at first, but all it takes to become an expert are some good practice and some useful tips!
1. Plan far in advance:
Unless you want to really cut it close and opt for a cheap last-minute flight (exciting but risky!), try to plan your trip as early as possible. The earlier you work out the details and decide when you want to travel, the cheaper your flight will be. As the departure date gets closer and closer, the price of the flight will increase until the very last minute when airlines are desperate to sell those last few seats. But to ensure that you get to travel when you want, and to save yourself some stress and anxiety: plan ahead!
2. Be flexible with dates:
It’s a good idea to have an idea of when you want to leave and return, but it’s actually beneficial if you don’t plan exact dates. Perhaps you want to leave mid-August and return at the very end of August—this is a wise travel plan! If your travel dates are too structured, you may miss out on really good deals and cheaper flights. Flight prices actually fluctuate a lot, practicallyup until the minute the plane takes off, so try not to be tied down to specific days.
Of course, sometimes you have to be a little strict with which day or week you travel. In my case, while planning my trip to LA, I knew I should leave sometime during the week of August 10th, and come back sometime during the week of August 17th, so that I would have enough time to pack up and return to school at the end of the month! This wasn’t such a bad setback, because I was still flexible with exactly which day I flew out and returned home.
3. Fly on Tuesday or Wednesday:
Research (both outside research and my own personal experience!) has shown that Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly, followed closely by Tuesday, and then Saturday. It sounds random, but it actually kind of makes sense:
A lot of people fly out for a single weekend. These people are probably going to want to fly on Thursday or Friday, and then Sunday or Monday. And for people who are traveling for business, it is most common to leave at the beginning of the week—Monday. That leaves Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday as the least desirable days to travel—which means the most desirable price!
4. Don’t shoot for direct flights:
This goes along with being flexible with your traveling—direct flights are easier, shorter, and less stressful, but they are also usually far more expensive. Don’t hesitate to book flights with one or more stops. It may be a bit more of a hassle, but it can save you a lot of money!
5. Check every airline/flight finding service:
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be super diligent about doing your research and using every single resource available to you. If I had gone with one of the first few round-trip flights between Philly and LA that I had found, I would have probably paid double what I am paying now!
I started out by doing a simple Google search for “cheap flights.” I opened up a bunch of websites, plugged in my departure city and destination, and looked for which websites offered the most extensive results. I found that Airfare Watchdog was the best—it allowed you to open up several different tabs of different travel sites so that you could compare prices. You could edit the dates, specify what time you wanted to leave if you had a preference, and more. I ended up buying my tickets through LatinoFares, which offered the best individual prices—even with the $10 service fee, it was the cheapest option I found after several days of searching!
6. Check every nearby airport:
If there is more than one airport nearby your departure/arrival city, make sure you check out flights to those other airports—they might be cheaper! For example, I usually fly from Philadelphia International, since it is the closest. But I always check flights to and from Newark International, and sometimes even New York airports, just in case the price is a lot better. Don’t assume every airport and every airline will be the same.
7. Sign up for cheap flight alerts with Airfare Watchdog:
Airfare Watchdog is especially useful when you are flexible with your travel dates. It is best used a few months in advance to see what time frames are the cheapest to travel in. And the best feature is that you can sign up for alerts that will let you know when there are new deals and discounts on trips from your hometown to any specific destination.
8. Buy tickets on Tuesday afternoons:
Here’s an important tip to remember if you’re ready to pay up for your tickets: buy your tickets on Tuesday! Most airlines will post discounted prices very late Monday/very early Tuesday (as in 3 AM on Tuesday), and these prices generally last about 3 days. However, if you don’t snag them early enough, the cheap tickets may be gone by day 3 of the sale.
9. Don’t check a bag—unless it’s free:
The first time I flew, I assumed you had to check a suitcase since they are so much bigger than a backpack or purse. But you can use a standard small-medium sized suitcase as a carry-on to stow in the overhead compartments, which is awesome if you are able to fit all your belongings in that size luggage. A lot of airlines (though not all, so be sure to check with your airline) charge for even just one checked bag, so to be super cost-efficient, just pack light! Check out our packing guides here.
10. Pull out all the clothes you want to pack. Then put back half of that pile. And then maybe break it in half again:
Seriously, you never need as much as you think you need. Think essentials. What will you really need?
Consider when and where you are travelling—what is the weather generally like at that destination at that time of the year? If it going to be hot the entire time, don’t bother packing more than one light jacket for cool nights, and opt for more shorts over jeans. I am the queen of over-packing, so learn from my mistakes: don’t bring more than you need. That way, all of your clothing will fit in one small suitcase, and you won’t have to pay extra to check a bag! (See #9)