Travel can be a reality.
You probably already know that Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days to fly—even more so if it’s the off season. Saturdays are a good third choice day to fly. Set up fare alerts through Airfarewatchdog and follow Secret Flying on Facebook.
Go where the US dollar is the strongest.
Right now, $1 USD is worth $1.43 in Canada. Currencies in Japan, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Australia, Argentina, Thailand, Sweden, Russia, and South Africa all represent favorable exchanges for Americans right now. But remember—just because a local economy has tanked doesn’t mean the cost of goods and services went with it. International hoteliers, for instance, often increase their rates to cover a drop in value. In these cases, it pays to look closely at mom-and-pop operators.
Be ATM Savvy.
If you travel frequently, set up an online debit/checking account through Charles Schwab Bank. There are no monthly service fees and no ATM withdrawal fees anywhere in the world. And get this: Schwab will even reimburse you at the end of every cycle for ATM fees charged by outside vendors. Pretty sweet. Wells Fargo also has a reasonable $5 transaction fee at an international ATM.
Invest in a phone plan that travels with you.
Just “internationalize” your phone plan? T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan is a hit. Pay a modest monthly rate to get normal usage of your phone in the States, plus free international data and text messaging in more than 140 countries. Phone calls abroad cost 20 cents a minute, but you can save those for Skype, which is zero cents a minute when dialing another Skype user. With T-Mobile, there’s no million-year contract to sign nor hidden fees, and the overseas service is reliable enough—rarely 4G or LTE, more often 3G or 2G, and occasionally the dreaded E. (But whatever, E is still better than the alternative, which is dragging around a city looking for WiFi to steal.)
Earn travel points.
Don’t pass up freebies!. Your goal is to find a card with a large sign-up bonus, no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, and good rental car coverage. Chase Sapphire Preferred is my favorite; I earned 50,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first three months and continue to earn double the points on travel and dining (and one point for every dollar spent on everything else). You are not stuck with only one airline to choose from It’s not the only card out there. Other cards are Capital One Venture Rewards Card, Barclay Arrival Plus Card, and Citi. To compare perks, fees, and other minutiae in the land of plastic, check out CreditCards.com.
Use Travel Search Engines.
Kayak and Google Flights are popular. ITA Matrix is the MIT-developed software that powers both of those search engines. And while you can’t book tickets directly through it, the easy user interface is probably the most powerful tool on the internet for unearthing the greatest variety of fares, including from no-name budget carriers you won’t find on Orbitz and Expedia
Instead of booking a round trip ticket, book two one-way tickets.
While you’re looking at Kayak, keep your eyes peeled for so-called “hacker fares,” which piece together two one-way flights—often operated by separate airlines or originating from different airports—in lieu of a pricier round trip fare. Skiplagged is a popular app for searching one-way combos.
Call a supplier directly.
I know, I know—it’s painful. But calling the property directly can land you spectacular last-minute hotel deals you won’t find online, especially as more brands offer incentives for direct booking.
Embrace the “second city.”
Hamburg, not Berlin. Busan, not Seoul. Pittsburgh, not Philadelphia. The goal is to go where all of the other tourists aren’t—and reap savings because of it. Not only do hotels, transportation, and the cost of goods and services tend to be lower outside of the biggest city, the locals are sometimes tickled that you’re even there. Embrace the "second city," such as Busan, South Korea instead of Seoul.
Ask for travel gift cards for your birthday.
You have enough stuff. What you should be asking for on birthdays and holidays are experiences, (gift certificates that count toward experiences, like those from Hotels.com, Airbnb, and high-end tour operators.) Passes are another smart thing to request—a CityPASS booklet grants you discounted access to the biggest tourist attractions in a dozen North American cities, while an annual National Park Service Pass is the perfect thing for a road-tripping type. You could also set up a vacation drive on a personal-fundraising site like GoFundMe.
Once the plane or hotel starts getting full, fares go up. You can save a lot by booking early.