It’s been a whirlwind couple of months where I’ve had the opportunity to revisit a lot of my favorite travel destinations! In December, I went to Las Vegas (which is, don’t judge me, my favorite place in the whole world); last month I went to NYC; tomorrow I’ll be in Honolulu, Hawaii; later this month I’ll get to visit Washington, D.C. for the first time! So naturally, the question is…how can I afford to travel so much? In this post, I’ll discuss my some of my tips on saving money and scoring the best travel deals.

1. Make friends

The number one reason I can travel cheap is because I have free places to stay (and free tour guides!) thanks to friends and family all over the country. Not having to pay for a hotel is a huge savings, since — depending on where you stay, of course — a couple nights stay at a hotel could be the same as a month’s rent! So keep in touch with those college or childhood friends that no longer live close enough for a coffee date. Your next weekend getaway could mean a free place to stay and an opportunity to catch up with an old friend, which in my opinion are two of the ingredients for an amazing trip. Throw in a couple yoga classes, some locals breweries, and an outdoor adventure, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect vacation.

If your friends and family are all super close by (which may be a blessing or a curse depending on your family…), there’s always opportunities to make friends. I’ve met people all across the country on solo travels that I’ve really connected with and have made lifelong friendships that way, and now I have people and places to visit! I travel a lot to go see metal shows (for some reason, lots of bands I love tend to skip over Minneapolis) and the metal community is a really unique one where I’ve found it’s so easy to bond with like minded people. Some of my best friends in other states I’ve met and befriended thanks to good old heavy metal! The next time you’re on vacay, put away that phone and talk to the people around you. You never know, the next conversation you strike up might be your new bff or the love of your life. I met my wonderful partner of a year and half while we were both vacationing in Las Vegas, and we lived on opposite sides of the country at the time!

2. Gotta Work, Work, Work

Sorry, y’all, one of the secrets is that there is no secret: I work A LOT. The way I manage a work life balance is not necessarily by allowing myself free time and fun time during the average week, but by working a ton and then balancing it with a fun vacation. I have learned recently that I do need more downtime at home now than I have in the past, and I’m accepting that. On the whole, however, I’d rather my R&R be somewhere fun and far away than on my own couch. Granted, this doesn’t work with all jobs (like, if you’re salaried, for example), but if you’ve got a job where you can pick up hours and cover shifts, it’s much easier to make the money you need. Let’s say I’m taking a week off, leaving Thursday and returning the following Tuesday. I attempt to pack a full 30-40 hour work week into the days of the week leading up to and returning from vacation, essentially canceling out the time I was gone. So I’d work Monday-Wednesday the week before a Thursday departure (and make one of those days a double shift if I can), and then I’d work Wednesday through Sunday upon returning. Once again, it’s dependent on your industry and you ability to sweet talk your coworkers into giving up shifts for you, but the basic principle is working as much as you can when you’re not on vacation so when that time comes, you’ve got the income as if you didn’t take time off. That’s the way to a guilt-free and much deserved vacay!

Also, if you have one of those jobs that gives you a lot of PTO or unlimited vacation but then makes you feel guilty about taking time off so you feel like you can’t use your vacations day anyway, fuck them. It’s your vacation time to take and that’s a big part of the reason we all work — to be able to do what we want with our free time and hard-earned cash!

3. Be Flexible

Planning trips on the cheap sometimes requires a flexible schedule. Traveling at non-peak times will almost always save you money. For example: avoid tropical vacations during spring break, fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays rather than Fridays or Sundays, and book weekday rather than weekend hotel stays. If possible (and once again, I get that sometimes it’s not if you’re coordinating schedules with work or family, etc.), be open to several different travel dates. Sometimes returning or departing one or two days sooner or later can mean noticeable differences in flight prices. Though, while staying an extra day may save you money on flights, it can mean an extra day of hotel, dining out, etc. Weigh the benefits. Better yet, if you have a destination in mind and don’t have a specific time you need to be there, looking at a fare calendar that helps you look at a whole month of prices at a time is your best bet. Being flexible with your travel plans by having options for several different weeks versus just a few different days will make it even easier to find the best deal. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Utilize The Right Websites!

I have several go-to websites for when I’m looking to travel that cover flights, hotels, and rental cars. While I do have memberships on most of these sites, I’m not a affiliate in anyway and am not being paid to write this post. These are just my honest opinions! Here’s what they’re all about.

This site is by far my number one favorite website to search for cheap flights (especially if I know Spirit Airlines doesn’t fly to my destination, otherwise I usually book through them). I love it because you can look at a flexible calendar of fares to your destination for a flexible number of days. For example, say you’re looking to go to NYC in April for a short getaway. You input the destination (you can search for a specific airport or all within an area), the number of nights you’d like to say (let’s say 3-5), and then it will pull up the cheapest options for a full month starting on that date. You can enter other specifications, too, but obviously the more you specify, the more it limits you. It then searches all flights from all airlines to find the cheapest deals! You can’t book through Matrix, but it gives you pretty clear info to then find flights on the specific airplane’s website.

Look on any review website, and Spirit definitely gets a bad rap. But I fucking love this airline. And as long as you know how to read (after working in a restaurant for 3 years, I’m starting to be convinced a lot of people don’t…) and don’t mind being a bit of a minimalist when you travel, Spirit is the bomb. Wait, can I say that about an airline? If you’re an overpacker who can’t follow directions, this might not be the airline for you.

Spirit’s great for the quick weekend getaway. If you can fit all the stuff you need for 2-3 days into a small backpack, you are good to go (both regular sized carry on bags and checked bags are an extra fee, about $60 round trip). A lot of people feel like Spirit “nickel and dimes” you, but I look at it as not having to pay for shit you don’t need. The base fares are usually so cheap, anyway, that paying the extra money to bring a bag or buy a beverage is often still way cheaper than flying through another airline. Just make sure you read the prompts and pay for what you need in advance as you’re booking online and there won’t be a problem. You’ll read lots of horrible reviews about this airline about people being charged $100 at the gate to bring their carry on bag on the plane and are surprised about the fee. THE WEBSITE TELLS YOU THIS IN ADVANCE. And so do the check-in kiosks at the airport. And so do the email reminders for your flight. Pay attention, people! Also, there are no complimentary drinks in those horrible, wasteful cups. You’ve gotta pay if you want something. Better for the environment, and the cost of something you don’t need isn’t built into the cost of the ticket.

Also, if you fly more than once a year (or you’re booking a flight for both yourself and another person), I’d highly recommend joining Spirit’s “$9 Fare Club.” It’s $59/year but usually pays for itself in one flight. The $9 Fare Club flight prices, in my experience, are usually anywhere between $10 and $90 cheaper for each leg of your journey (when they’re available), and bags are also $9 cheaper each way. Totally worth it, especially if you’re a frequent flyer or book trips for yourself and your fam/friends/significant other.

Warning: the planes can be a little small and the seats don’t recline so they’re not the most comfortable flights. But when I’ve found a flight for $76 round trip (true story, Minneapolis to Dallas a couple winters ago!), I can deal with being a little cramped for a couple of hours!

Not as much of a secret since a lot of people already use this site, but it’s still one of my go to travel sites, especially if my travel plans aren’t as flexible. Kayak is great at looking at specific dates, or dates that are flexible within a few days for flights. They also have the option to set price alerts if there’s a place you’re keeping your eye on that you’d like to fly to! Where Kayak saves me the most money, though, is rental cars! I find I can usually get the best rental car deals through Kayak, and then once I find which rental car company has the best deals, I’ll try searching the web for promo codes for that specific company to see if I can score any additional discounts and then book through the company’s website. Also, in my experience, the daily rate for a rental car drops significantly if you rent for a whole week.

This is by far my favorite website for searching hotels when I don’t have friends I can stay with on my travels. Their prices for me have been consistently lower than others, and they run a lot of deals and sales. Last time I went to Vegas, I was able to score a Saturday night at a boutique hotel in Vegas for the same price as the Motel 6 thanks to a random half off deal on Hotels.com! Also, if you register for the site, you get a free night’s stay for every 10 nights you book through them. The free night is an average of the cost of your 10 previous stays, so if you’re scoring really good deals on the site it won’t necessarily mean a stay somewhere fancy, but even saving $100 or so is nice! They also have access to “secret prices” and coupons for their members (mostly for 10% off), which you’ll get plenty of emails about. And becoming a member is free, it just involves making an account on the site!

So there you have it! My tips and tricks for getting to and staying at your destination in the most cost effective way possible. And the more you save on your flight and hotels, the more money you’ll have to — as they say on Parks and Recreation — “treat yo’self!”

Do you have any other favorite travel websites or money saving tips for your travels? Let me know below in the comments! Cheers and safe travels on your next adventure!