Boujie on a Budget: Achieving Your Travel Dreams
In this piece, I’ll show you how to find the cheapest and best times to fly to your next vacation spot using a couple of easy-to-use resources.
EDIT: Because of the length of this post, I’ve divided my travel tips into sections. This first section focuses entirely on flights.
There are very few people in the world who decidedly hate traveling. I mean, if you like food, music, architecture, art, beaches, relaxation, and exploring diverse cultures, it’s pretty hard not to love traveling. But, for a lot of us, traveling just isn’t a luxury we can afford. It’d be nice, but, alas, bills/loans/family just have to come first.
That was the attitude I had about traveling up until about a year and a half ago. Growing up in Flint, MI, I’d been privileged to have even stepped foot on a plane. And with the reality of adulthood hitting me like a train (groceries/phone bills/rent), even domestic travel seemed out of the question.
But then, I fell in love, and fantasizing about traveling the world together became more and more a topic of conversation. What’s more romantic than stepping out of your comfort zone with the person you’re most comfortable with? And so, after enough fantasy-talk, we decided to really sit down and see what our options were. We knew we wanted to travel cheap, but comfortably. How expensive could that really be?
The answer was, in short: expensive.
But, after long hours of research and little discoveries here and there, we had a few solutions. That summer, we traveled to Jamaica and stayed at an all-inclusive resort for 4 days, for about $250/person (flights/stay/food/fun included). We would go on to travel to South Korea/Tokyo for a week for about $1000/person (flights/stay/food/fun included).
So, after being asked time and time again “how can I travel for that cheap?” I decided to lay out some of the tips we’ve accumulated over the last year or so. But first, there are a few points worth discussing.
Traveling on a low-budget requires you to approach the process with a few qualities in mind. Here are the most important three.
You’ll see this tip on any travel blog. In order to get the most bang for your buck, you have to be flexible. The more flexible you are, the less you’ll spend. For us, there are hundreds of places in the world we’d like to go, and in no particular order. If you can’t be flexible about locations/flights/dates/etc, then these tips will not help you much.
- ***Note: This generally includes being flexible about the amount of luggage you bring with you on a trip. Because we often switch between airlines during flights (to save money, obviously), 1 carry-on item and a backpack is the best move. If you’re worried about storage, there’s tons of videos like this one that show you how to fit more in your suitcase!
If you do have specifics in mind, as far as locations go, be patient. There may not be a deal that fits your budget around for a while. But if you don’t mind sitting back and letting the deals come to you, you’ll save big.
If good deals were blatantly obvious, you’d be on a beach somewhere instead of reading this. You have to be willing to put in some work and do some digging to find the cheapest prices.
- **Final Note: The amount of work/time people are willing to put into travel is a spectrum. There are loads of resources for how to travel for little to no cost out there (it generally involves credit cards), but, like extreme coupon-ing, can take a lot of work. If you are interested in that, I suggest heading over here. But, these tips/tricks are for the people who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, for those of us who want to travel as cheaply as possible, at the nicest places possible, but only have so much time to devote to finding deals.
Generally the most expensive part of any trip, finding affordable flights is our first concern when planning a trip. In order to get the best deal, we use a combination of resources, some of which you may have heard of.
In order to give you an idea of how we typically make use of various programs, let’s pretend we want to plan a trip from Detroit to the Dominican Republic.
Our all-time favorite resource for finding affordable flights. Through hopper, we were able to find $475 flights to Tokyo (we ended up opting with $800 flights for comfort reasons), $300 flights to Costa Rica, and more recently, $375 flights to Iceland.
The app allows you to search for flights, finds you the cheapest options, and then predicts whether or not you should wait to book. I’ll give you an example of how we use the app.
We start by simply inputting the itinerary information:
A screen pops up showing us potential dates and prices. This is one of the best features of Hopper. Green dates are always the cheapest, red are always the most expensive. We can scroll through an extensive calendar and see what season is the cheapest time to go.
If we then choose a set of dates (keeping in mind again that green dates indicate cheaper flights), May 5th to May 10th, prices for that roundtrip set of flights will appear.
According to Hopper, this price of $545 isn’t that great of a price, but one that won’t last long. But, before we go crazy and book the flight, we still have some tricks to try in hopes of bringing that price down.
First, we need to go to Hopper’s website and track down an area of the site called “Flight Explorer.” Weirdly enough it’s a hard webpage to find, and for that reason, I’ll link it here. On this page, we can input the airport in the Dominican Republic that we’re looking to travel to (PUJ). Once we input this information, we can see the cheapest airport to get to PUJ from.
Upon putting PUJ in the input box, this page appears:
In Hopper-fashion, the cheapest destinations to travel to PUJ from are color-coded in blue/green. The more expensive options are orange/red. From the looks of it, it’s cheapest to travel to PUJ from Florida. We’ll zoom in to get a closer look.
The green dot near Miami seems to be the cheapest location from which we can fly. If we click on that dot, it is revealed to us that this location is Fort Lauderdale (FLL).
We are also informed that the best time for us to travel to PUJ from FLL is in early May. Since we’ve chosen May 5th to May 10th, this works inour favor.
Going back to the Hopper app, we can now see how cheap flights are from FLL-PUJ for our dates.
Turns out, this is a really cheap option. “But we still have get to Fort Lauderdale from Detroit!” Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. Let’s see how cheap it is to get to FLL from DTW on our desired dates.
$182 isn’t bad at all. And together, for the flight from DTW to FLL and then FLL to PUJ, we’ll be paying $444. Just by doing taking these simple steps, we’re already saving $100 on the original flights!
We still haven’t exhausted all of our resources however, and doing so could save us even more money.
Kayak is a good resource to use as a baseline for the prices people are paying for flights. Sometimes the site has better deals than anywhere else we search, other times, the most expensive options. Though Kayak offers price prediction as well, I generally don’t trust their system and rely on Hopper.
So, our best option so far for our May 5th to May 10th trip to the Dominican Republic is $444 roundtrip with 1 stop in Fort Lauderdale. If we input our original flight from DTW to PUJ into Kayak, we get this information.
So, with 1 stop in Fort Lauderdale (as already planned) Kayak has saved us an additional $7. However, looking at the length of the flights/layovers (18h and 20h), we probably don’t want to book these flights.
So, we make our way back to Hopper to check and make sure the times of our flights work out. It’s ill-advised to have flights closer than 1 hour apart from arrival to departure.
Uh oh. We’ve run into a problem. In order for these flights to line up, our flight from Detroit would have to arrive in FLL before 10:00am (at the latest). It doesn’t arrive in FLL until 9pm.
This is where the importance of flexibility comes into play. If we decide to spend 1 night in Fort Lauderdale, and then the rest of our nights in the Dominican Republic, our itinerary may work, and we might save even more money.
So, we need find a flight from DTW to FLL for May 5th to May 11th. Luckily, the price doesn’t change from the price for our previous dates.
Next, we need to check the price on a set of flights from FLL to PUJ for May 6th to May 10th.
Nice! Now our total price is even cheaper, totaling $424. Of course, it’s also important to consider that if we cannot find places to stay for a low price (we definitely can), it may not be worth it to change our dates. For us, the longer the vacation the better, which generally means we’re willing to roll out a little more cash in order to extend our travel. You might feel differently.
And finally, the last major resource we use to find affordable flights. Skiplagged has an interesting history, one full of lawsuits and successes alike. The app/site work similarly to Hopper, but sometimes find even cheaper prices.
If we input our flight data into Skiplagged, we find prices for both sets of flights.
And we’re in luck! The final, cheapest itinerary we can find is:
Detroit (DTW) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
6:47pm — 9:44pm
Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
10:38am — 12:57pm
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
1:37pm — 4:08pm
Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Detroit (DTW)
8:10pm — 11:10pm
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
What started as a $545 now totals $389. That’s $156 cheaper than our original price!
There are still loads of tips and tricks we have and use, but these are the basic principles we tend to follow. I’ll be uploading a second piece about how to save money on hotels/resorts/vacation spots, but for now, that’s all I have. I hope you find this helpful!