Cheapest Ways to Travel, Part One: The Journey

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The shortest route between two points is always a straight line. But is it always the cheapest?

Ah, the open road, sky, and water. All different ways to travel, all of which can get pretty expensive. Everyone needs a vacation, but not everyone can afford it. That’s why it’s important to save money wherever you can.

We talked to the experts to find out what the cheapest ways to travel are and how you can cut down the cost of each method even further. In this post, we’ll be talking about the journey, or the cheapest ways to get where you’re going, and then we’ll have another post later this week about how you can save money once you get there.


Going public.

In general, the cheapest form of travel is walking. But if you’re planning to go anywhere beyond a mile or two, you should probably consider something more… efficient. And, when possible, public transportation is likely to be one of your most affordable choices.

“If you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel—short of sticking out your thumb on the side of the road—public transportation is the way to go,” Alex Reynolds of the Lost With Purpose (@lostwpurpose) travel blog told us.

“Which mode you choose depends on where you are; Amtrak operates some routes through California at subsidized rates, while Megabus rides are a budget traveler’s best friend in the eastern United States.”

But public transit may not be enough to get you where you need to go in every situation.

IIIIIIIIIIIIII just want to fly.

Flying is one of the most effective, and, unfortunately, expensive ways to travel. But there are a lot of ways you can cut down on costs.

Kathy James, who writes about her travels at Walkabout Wanderer (@KathyWanderer), wrote a whole article about how you can save on flights. One tip she offers? Be sneaky in your searches: “When I am researching flights I always clear my cookies. Ever wonder why the price of your flight has gone up on your second/third search for a particular route? Clear your cookies and reduce the risk of this. See how to click your cookies.” She suggests using your browser’s incognito mode if it has one.

James also recommends being “flexible” about when and where you decide to fly, and she’s not the only one!

Sean Potter, the writer behind My Money Wizard (@moneywizardblog), also stressed the importance of being flexible with your flight days: “Where possible, fly on the slower travel days. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday are the cheapest days of the week to fly, and flying on these less busy days can save up to 50% on airfare compared to the usual Sunday/Monday/Friday choices.”

Your destination also matters. Brett Graff (@BrettGraff), writer at The Home Economist and author of Not Buying It: Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids, suggests going to a place when others aren’t: “The cheapest way to travel by far is by choosing locations at off-season times. Sure, Miami is known for its tropical weather in winter but that’s only one of the local offerings. You’ve never had Cuban food like this, plus the museums and bars are open year-round. And water sports are more available. Aspen peaks in winter and summer, but those hiking trails are gorgeous with fall foliage. Go against the grain and get great deals.”

Jessica Bisesto, senior editor for Travel Pirates (@TravelPiratesUS), also advised flying on less popular days: “Traveling over holiday weekends and during the summer months are much more expensive than vacationing other times of the year. Whenever possible, explore alternative dates to save money when planning your next trip. Often times, it’s cheapest to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and staying at hotels is also less expensive during the week. If you normally work a Monday-Friday schedule, you can add a few days to your trip by incorporating the weekend—this also allows you to save two whole vacation days for your next trip!”

Although if you don’t need to fly there, Bisesto suggests looking into alternatives: “Depending on where you’re traveling, taking a 3-hour train ride may be cheaper than taking a 1-hour flight. Airports can be a hassle and are often times located outside of their respective cities. Trains, on the other hand, provide more space, different views of the city, and might even drop you in the heart of town.”

Expert tips for flying on a budget.

But perhaps you do need to fly wherever you’re going. Which means you might need a huge list of flying budget tips. Well then you’re in luck, because Grainne Kelly, inventor of the BubbleBum (@BubbleBumUSA) inflatable booster seat, gave us a whole lot of tips on how you can save on flights:

“Today’s travelers expect to score low-cost plane tickets whenever and wherever they fly. Budget carriers willingly offer more routes around the world with the lowest prices. We can also compare the prices of flights with the many different websites available to travelers. With a discounted flight, we assume there will be less perks and passenger services, and we’re typically fine with that for the reduced fare. But did you know that there are tons of hidden costs behind cheap plane tickets? Below are a few insider secrets and the hidden costs behind these discounted tickets:

  • Fly.com recommends booking flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, as those are the days of the week airlines release sale prices. Traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will also provide the best prices. As always, the longer out you book the flight, the better deal you will find. Don’t sit on a good deal if you find it. Take advantage of ‘too good to be true’ prices the airline might have made when posting flights.
  • Poise yourself for an upgrade by dressing in business casual. If your flight is oversold, you could potentially get upgraded to first-class, but your attire will play a part in the airline’s decision. If you’re on your honeymoon, show proof of your status and if there is space to upgrade, you might just get a boost into first-class seats. If you’re a doctor or medic, airlines like Lufthansa will offer upgrades. Late check-ins can also increase your chances of getting upgraded. Avoid asking for an upgrade at the ticket counter, as service staff are bombarded with upgrade requests and this might actually hurt your chances.
  • Print your boarding passes at home. Some airlines now charge to print boarding passes at the airport. Save yourself the fees and print them at home. Confirm every letter is correct and reconfirm the travel dates. Changing even the smallest item can result in an additional charge.
  • Confirm that the rate includes taxes. It’s never fun to realize the quoted online price does not include taxes until after you hit the purchase button. Taxes can tack on several hundred dollars, resulting in your ‘discounted’ ticket not being as discounted as you assumed.
  • Bring along snacks. Most discounted carriers no longer include meals in their flights and expect you to pay for them onboard. The standard soft drink and bag of pretzels will most likely not be included either. Plan ahead and pack yourself plenty of snacks and other food to tide you over until you reach your destination. Remember that you can’t bring liquids through security, so you’ll need to purchase them near your gate or onboard the flight.
  • Seat assignments not guaranteed. Not seeing a seat assignment on your ticket? Most discount carriers do not offer seat assignments, but rather operate on a first come, first serve basis. So plan to be at the gate early to queue up for a decent seat next to your family or travel companion.
  • Prepare for a long route. Many discounted flights include at least one layover, sometimes two (depending on the destination). So it will take longer to get to your end point and may include layovers that are lengthy. Many discounted flights are also offered at off-peak times, departing at a very early hour or late at night.
  • Always read the fine print. Always read the fine print for the terms and conditions for your carrier. There could be charges for baggage, carry-ons, dimensions/weight of your baggage, snacks/meals, and more. Be prepared ahead of time so you’re not hit with sticker shock at the airport. This is how the airlines make up for missing revenue. Try to just travel with a carry-on bag so you don’t have to pay for a checked bag.
  • Travel on the off-season, as you can get better deals for flights and hotels. Excursions and local sites also offer cheaper prices. Another perk is that you don’t have to fight as many tourists and can experience a private beach or more entertainment options.
  • When to book and fly: The best time to buy domestic airfare is on Tuesdays around lunchtime. The airline sales typically only last three days or less and tend to publish on Tuesdays. Also, the best days to travel are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. You’ll almost always pay less if you accept a connecting flight.
  • Try to get a bag checked for free. If you have a larger carry-on and later decide after you go through security that you would rather check it, try to get it checked for free at the gate. Wait until everyone else boards the flight with their carry-ons, as the plane will likely run out of room for bags and the attendant will then check your carry-on suitcase for free for you. Always ask at the gate if there is a room or if they should check your bag, as they are usually happy to check it. It makes it easier for them to ensure everything else fits in cabin storage.”

Finally, the experts at Priceline.com (@Priceline) offered us some secret tips to help you get the best flight deals:

  • “Thanksgiving travel is cheaper than Christmas travel based on average ticket price.”
  • “The cheapest day of the week to book holiday travel is Friday followed by Thursday, despite the majority of tickets being purchased on a Tuesday.”
  • “The initial descent in price begins around September and continues to decline as the holidays become closer.”
  • “Mobile has the cheapest prices by approximately $75 compared to desktop”

Let’s make a deal

No matter what form of travel you’re taking, it’s important to keep your eye out for deals. Sites like Priceline will offer deals on not just flights, but cruises and entire vacation packages. You can also check out Groupon (@Groupon) for “Getaway deals” deals that can include both travel and lodging, and sometimes even more. There’s also the aforementioned Travel Pirates, which lets you search and book travel deals using technology from Kayak and the Priceline Partners Network.

The deals can be worth waiting for, as Roni Faida, of RoniTheTravelGuru (@RoniTravelGuru), advises: “Wait for the travel deals before you book. There are always travel deals that can get you around the world or across the USA for extremely reasonable prices. Wait until the deals come out and base your plans on those destinations. This will help save money and still allow you to travel.”

But it’s not just about the journey. Now it’s time to start planning for your destination, so keep an eye out for our next “Cheapest Ways to Travel” post!

*Note: When you’re looking to travel, always start by saving! According to a LearnVest study, 74 percent of Americans borrow money to travel. Needless to say, this can be risky! If you are going to borrow money to travel, be certain to avoid dangerous bad credit loans and no credit check loans. Before you borrow money, check out the OppLoans Guide How to Protect Yourself from Payday Loans and Predatory Lenders for your financial safety tips!

Do you have any great tips for traveling on the cheap? We want to hear about them! You can email us by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

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Contributors
J_BisestoJessica Bisesto is a senior editor at the travel deals and inspiration hub TravelPirates.com (@TravelPiratesUS), where she hunts for the best travel deals available online and educates readers about how to see the world on a budget. She’s an avid traveler herself, and has recently backpacked through Southeast Asia, Central America, Iceland and Australia.
R_FaidaRoni Faida (@RoniTravelGuru): Some people travel. Roni  IS travel.  For over 25 years she has been traveling the world and now shares her unique travel lifestyle and insight with her worldwide audience on her blog, www.RoniTheTravelGuru.com . Whether you have never gotten on a plane or are a seasoned traveler, the expertise and insider knowledge she shares on her blog will help you see how to turn your vacations into a lifestyle.
PIGBrett Graff (@BrettGraffhas been seen writing and reporting on money and personal finance in The LA Times, Yahoo! Finance, Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and the Fiscal Policy Institute, to name a few. Brett also provides her insight in the column, The Home Economist, which is nationally syndicated and published in newspapers all over the country. Her book “NOT BUYING IT: Raising Happier, Healthier & More Successful Kids” is now available!
K_JamesLast year, Kathy James (@KathyWanderer) quit her job as a nurse to set off on a trip to discover more of the world as she hated ending her trips to go back home to work. She discovered her passion for writing and loves helping other people pursue their dreams of traveling. Her travel blog, Walkabout Wanderer, was born.
G_KellyTravel Expert Grainne Kelly is a Child Passenger Safety Technician and the founder of BubbleBum (@BubbleBumUSA), the world’s first inflatable booster seat. BubbleBum is a fantastic alternative to the bulky and inconvenient plastic booster seat and is perfect for everyday carpooling, school drop offs and pick-ups, road trips, fly in’s with car rentals, and taxi cabs. Weighing in at less than one pound, BubbleBum can deflate in minutes, making it simple to throw in a backpack or large purse when not in use.
Money_WizardSean Potter is the 20-something writer behind MyMoneyWizard.com (@moneywizardblog), a website where he shares his plans for reaching complete financial independence by his late 30s. His approach to saving over half of his income has been featured in several publications, including Forbes, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. When he’s not writing, Sean can be found cycling, skiing or traveling the country.
A_ReynoldsAlex Reynolds (@lostwpurpose) is an American travel writer, photographer, and full-time backpacker whose work has been featured on the likes of the BBC and Lonely Planet. She’s scrambled up dusty fortresses in Afghanistan, watched gods dance in South India, followed spirit dogs through the Caucasus mountains, and called fairies with a shaman in Pakistan. Her travel blog, Lost With Purpose, helps others do the same.