So, you want to go on vacation huh? With SO much information out there, planning a trip can get expensive and overwhelming. But we have so many tips and tricks to help with everything from flights, accommodations, researching destinations, budgeting, and more. We are creating a travel series where we will go into depth on all of these topics.. keep checking back over the next few weeks. This is one of our most highly requested blog series ever and we’re so excited to jump right in.
Let me start at the beginning – I caught the travel bug back in 2017 when my boyfriend and I were able to take a free flight on Southwest anywhere. We decided to go Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where we stayed at a gorgeous resort and ate the most delicious food and explored the beautiful area. We spent almost a week there, and we only spent around $1000 together. Can you believe that? I realized then that traveling was way more attainable than I ever realized, and that if I planned out trips in a smart way and budgeted for them.. I could travel internationally way more often. Only a couple months later, my boyfriend and I ended up backpacking Europe for 3 weeks and we traveled to 6 different countries. Later that year, I traveled to China with my family and we were able to find flights at an amazing price. Overall, visiting 8 countries in 1 year was definitely a whirlwind experience and it encouraged me to prioritize traveling. Through this process, I have learned that I’m a great planner and I love to organize trips. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my tips and tricks that I have discovered with all of you.
First – Plan out Dates
Decide when you can take a trip. This is the number one step that I always follow because you can’t help when you can take off work/other obligations. I think it’s easiest to look at your schedule and decide what week/month works for you and go from there.
Before you start looking at flights, decide which area of the world you would like to go to based on the dates that you would be visiting. Important things I note for destination wise:
- Weather (You might not want to go to Sweden in December.. unless a cold vacation is what you’re after!)
- Holidays (I avoided Thailand in February because of Chinese New Year.. makes accomodations & flights 10x more expensive)
- Be aware of World News & Country Conflict – In some regions more than others, before purchasing a flight make sure to check your country’s advisory list. This site also shares everything from vaccination information, restriction, visa info, and more! (For U.S. click here)
After you’ve researched a bit – the dates are set! Now it’s time to pick out your flight.
Use the Best Flight Search Engines
There are tons of different flight search engines out there.. but it’s important to check a few while researching flight options. The following are some of my favorites:
- Skyscanner – more on this tool below. My #1 travel tool and I’ve found many amazing deals on flights through this website.
- Hopper – I love this app for your iPhone! You plug in the dates you are planning to travel and the airports and it lets you know if it’s time to buy your ticket or wait.. it calculates the timings of flight prices and judges whether or not the price will lower, get higher, or stay the same. It’ll send you an alert to your phone letting you know when it’s time to purchase.
- Airfare Watchdog – This website is great for finding mistake fares.. if you’re a little more easygoing with dates the prices will excite you.
- Kiwi.com – Another great tool to use when trying to find an inexpensive flight. I like this website because it combines multiple airlines to find the cheapest roundtrip flight. (vs. just flying with one airline during the trip.. sometimes this can be way cheaper.) I usually don’t book through Kiwi though because then you’re dealing with a 3rd party website. More on that later.
- Kayak – I use this website to see what deals are being offered.. I almost never book through a third party like Kayak/Expedia/others though because if something goes wrong with your flight.. the airline can’t help you because you booked outside of them. (Even though the prices are inexpensive and tempting!) But it’s helpful to use this tool to see different prices/options.
More on Skyscanner:
Once you know the dates of your trip, you can use one of my favorite travel tools – Skyscanner. This website is AMAZING and I think everyone should use it as a reference. Skyscanner looks like your traditional Expedia/kayak on first glance, but it has a tool that I am a huge fan of. It COMPARES all of the different flight websites out there to give you the BEST deals. For example – My boyfriend and I have 1 week in March that we knew that we could take off. We didn’t have a location in mind specifically but we knew that we wanted to travel internationally. Through Skyscanner, we were able to fill in that we wanted to fly from San Francisco to “Everywhere” during the dates we could take off. (Skyscanner will show you a dropdown menu with the least expensive flights from your starting location to anywhere in the world!). Luckily for us, Skyscanner showed that flights to Barcelona from San Francisco were only $350 roundtrip on American Airlines. We couldn’t believe it and booked the tickets directly through the American Airlines website. You never have to book through Skyscanner or a third party, they just provide the details of what airline sales are going on at that moment and once you find a flight you like.. you can directly book with that airline. SO convenient! I’ve shared some screenshots of what these pages look like below.
The front home screen of Skyscanner looks like this – where you can plug in your home airport & where you’d like to go/dates or choose “Everywhere!”
Once you click “everywhere” – It’ll show all the least expensive locations you can visit during your specific dates through the most expensive!
Once you click on a specific place, you can see that there are roundtrip flights available to Barcelona for $328 in April.. pretty amazing!
When picking your destination, there are many factors in where/what/and why you would choose that specific place. It’s extremely important when picking a destination that you have a general idea of what kind of vibe the country has/what type of vacation you are looking for. When I booked my Puerto Vallarta trip, I knew I wanted to lay on the beach at the resort everyday.. but when I visit Belize and Guatemala this summer, it’ll be more of a adventurous and backpacker type of trip.
Some examples of my trips this year booked using these tools:
- January – Thailand trip. I bought roundtrip tickets from San Francisco to Bangkok using Singapore Airlines (Consistently ranked one of the top airlines in the world and the best economy flight in the world) for only $600 roundtrip during peak season. (Skyscanner)
- March – Barcelona trip. Using Skyscanner we found roundtrip flights from SFO-Barcelona for only $350 on American Airlines. (Skycanner)
- May – SFO to Portland for the weekend was less than $100 using Southwest.
- July-August: SFO to Cancun one way and then 3 weeks later booked a Guatemala City to SFO one way using a multi-city plan, booked the Cancun flight using Southwest and booking the Guatemala City flight using American Airlines (and going on Business!) for only $500 roundtrip. (Kayak, Skyscanner, and Southwest!)
All of these flight search engines have saved me hundreds of dollars on my trips, and I’ve only booked through the designated airlines so I never had to deal with 3rd parties. Incredible and easy!
Another way to travel on the cheap is with budget airlines. There are so many incredible budget airlines all over the world.. and I use them constantly when I’m traveling between cities.
Something I’ve done (especially easy for Europe) is saving money by booking the cheapest flight to Europe from my airport, and then booking a budget flight to the country/city that I actually want to visit. When Zach and I backpacked Europe, Ireland was the cheapest place to fly into.. by hundreds of dollars. We flew to Ireland, and then took a budget flight to Paris to save money! The flight to Paris was only $30 vs. flying directly to Paris from SFO was around $400-500 more expensive per person. Easy choice!
I’ve gotten flights for less than $20 in some places using budget airlines.. so it’s a great tool to use! However, it’s important to read the fine print and check all of the extra fees. (Some of these airlines charge to pick your seat, to check a bag, printing a boarding pass fee, and more.. so definitely check on that before booking.) Also please check safety ratings before booking as well.
Some of my favorites include:
- Southwest in the U.S. (They have an incredible rewards program and a great credit card to earn mileage.. more info below!) They also include 2 free checked bags, and are very easy-going when it comes to changes.
- RyanAir in Europe. (Thousands of flights within Europe for extremely low prices.. I always use them.)
- AirAsia in Southeast Asia. (I bought numerous flights while in Thailand the day before and most of them were under $40. Insane!)
- EasyJet in Europe. (Similar to RyanAir)
- and many many more!
Miles and Points
This is another way to book flights inexpensively and save money in the long run. Basically, you can sign up for travel credit cards, get rewards for signing up and different perks and then by spending money on those cards.. you get mileage earned for specific airlines or points for hotels!
For signing up for the Southwest Credit Card, he earned over 150,000 free miles.. and we earned many free flights basically anywhere through that alone. Plus, when he spends money on this card, he accumulates airline miles.
Zach’s Hilton Card is great because of the incredible perks that come along with it – he received a priority pass (He can use basically any lounge in any airport in the world), 150,000 bonus points for signing up, diamond status for a year, a couple of free weekend nights at any Hilton property, $250 Hilton Resort credit, annual free weekend night reward at any Hilton property, and more. (Plus no foreign transaction fees and earns SO many points when you spend money at Hiltons, on flights, hotels and restaurants abroad!)
I recommend using your credit card for everyday purchases and to treat it like cash (only spend money that you have in the bank!) and pay off your balance each month to avoid any fees/interest.
Travel hacking is so interesting and there are is SO much more to it – Zach and I have barely scratched the surface on finding ways to travel hack & save money. Click here for a fun video talking about Travel Hacking on ABC. Also click here for an interesting deep dive on travel hacking 101.
Now on to booking!
It’s important to note that even though some flights may be super inexpensive… some may not be worth it in the end. When you’re connecting 2-3 times and flying a full day from SFO-NYC.. you might want to rethink how much savings is worth your time and energy.
Also – many airlines are now featuring “basic economy” but I NEVER take basic economy. I love a good deal however I won’t sacrifice my comfort for a cheap flight. I’ve provided a screenshot below of what isn’t included in basic economy fares:
I personally don’t like flying this way, I’d rather spend a little more to check a bag and sit with someone I know but it’s completely up to you. Read the fine print!
Now that you found the flight you want…
I would book as soon as possible. In most cases the flight will only get more and more expensive as time goes on. Especially if you’ve already found a great deal.. just settle and buy it. I usually look for flights 6-9 months in advance of a trip.
Last Minute Tips & Tricks When Flying
- Bring a reusable water bottle (empty through security) and ask flight attendants to fill your bottle when you get on the plane. Such a time saver and it’s important to stay hydrated while flying. (Or buy a water bottle at the airport.)
- Bring an extra set of clothes along with small toiletries and medicines in your carry-on if you’re checking your bag. Just in case they lose your bag. This is so helpful!
- If you’re on a flight with a meal, and would like to be a little healthier – prebook the vegetarian option. Usually these meals are less greasy/less sodium!
- Bring earplugs/eyemask/neck pillow and a travel throw. It’s gross to use the airplane blankets because they may not be washed and it’s nice to block out the world and sleeeeep.
- Get Travel Insurance – I’m going to be writing a post all about this soon but I never travel internationally without coverage. It’s so little for the protection that you get in case of medical emergency, in flight/cancellation issues, losing luggage and more. My favorite company is World Nomads! I’ve used them for numerous trips over the years, and thankfully nothing has happened to me.. but I just read a story about a guy who got bit by a shark while surfing in the galapagos islands and World Nomads covered everything for him. Even adventure activities like trekking, bungee jumping, and skydiving! Crazy.
- Sign up for TSA PreCheck, Clear, or Global Entry. These babies are incredible.. you don’t have to take off your shoes, you get to skip the lines, and you can glide through customs. My entire family has this and it has made traveling a breeze.
- Bring Powerbanks on the flight. (Transportable Chargers) – I charged my iPad Mini 2x and my phone once just using 1 powerbank charger on my long travel day to Thailand! (which was over 23 hours of travel).
Hope these flight tips and booking tips have helped you with future travel plans! I am currently writing the next post in this travel tips series all about accommodations and that should be up next week. Let me know if you have any questions below and I’ll try to answer them as soon as possible. I love talking about travel! I really think I may have been a travel agent in my past life so if you need help with booking anything just comment and I’ll try to help you!
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