ARE YOU EVER HOME (I.E. TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL CHEAPLY)

That’s a question that get’s posed to me a lot these days – and, yes, while I’ve traveled a lot in 2011, I’m also not on the road a great majority of the time.

I work full time, five days a week. I’ve missed one day (due to a rather epic – and stupid – sunburn I succumbed to at Assateague Island in July). So I’m obviously busy earning a modest living. My girlfriend fortunately gets more time off with a frantically-paced three-night nursing work week (though that is usually bookended by major sleep catch-up).

Still, since May of this year, we’ve managed to take at least 17 “trips”. Five of those were day excursions (usually Saturday or Sunday), six were weekends with overnights (one via Amtrak), three were multiple night overnights and three were flights.

Since we got back from Puerto Rico on Oct. 24, there have been 170 days since trip #1 and trip #17. 42 of those have been dedicated to travel. 24.7%, that’s a pretty amazing stat! Put that against a whole year, and you’d be traveling for 90 days or at least 7 1/2 days a month. So, yes, I’ve been on the road a lot this year. If I factor in every day I’ll be allotted in 2012 (counting holidays, vacation and weekends), I’d get 37.4% of the year off – so, yes, I’ve been traveling more than staying put on my days off.

So how have I been able to afford to travel this much…I can’t really nail down a good answer to that one, but there are many variables. Here’s a list I compiled that may or may not help you in getting out under that tight budget and hitting the road yourself…

  • Drive! Yes, gas costs a bit, and rental cars (for longer trips) can tax the pocket book, but if you want to see a lot of sites (or even a handful), you’ll do better by this route. Airfares can be found relatively cheap sometimes but can leave you with difficult (and pricey) transportation options once at your destination.
  • Day trips. Duh. Seems obvious but everything counts as travel – whether its to nearby destinations or overseas.
  • Leave Friday after work! A weekend starts the moment you clock out on Friday (or your last day of the week). I once took a Friday Evening/Saturday overnight trip and it felt like a full weekend to me. If you don’t mind night driving, and still have a clear head and energy after work – you can make up good time for whatever you want to do on Saturday (my record Friday night drive is a 6.5 hour, 375-mile jaunt to Bristol, VA, arriving at 11:30 pm). I’ve turned what should be a 4-day trip into a weekend outing this way. You’ll have a lot of driving to do on Sunday, but enjoy the road!
  • If you have to fly to get there, then do your research. Set aside time, mid-week, well in advance of your flight to research fares at their (usually) lowest prices. Compare those to fares advertised on the other days of the week. As you get closer to travel, you’ll recognize a good price when you see one. Grab it while it’s there!
  • Priceline. I can’t tell you how much Priceline has saved me – though one must be patient. Research the towns you’ll be driving through if you need an overnight stop. Then research your destination. Make sure when you use the Name Your Own Price feature that Priceline doesn’t slip in a poorly reviewed hotel into a higher star rating thn it should have by searching Priceline for hotels in the area. If you see a bunch of solid 3-star options but a miserable 2.5 star option, then just try bidding on 3-star hotels and see what you get. Give yourself time – I spent three weeks bidding on a hotel near the Atlanta airport to finally get a nice one for $35. I’ve also found great success naming prices for rental cars, and have never had to drive away with one for more than $15 a day (three times I’ve done this, twice in DC and once in Puerto Rico).
  • Don’t cut your hair! Seriously. If you can get away with managing a longer hairstyle – go for it. I’m happy with mine and I’ve saved a good deal of $$$ on not cutting my hair for 7 1/2 months. Girls have it easier I suppose.
  • Offseason/Shoulder season travel. Don’t hit up a place right in the middle of the tourist deluge. Breeah and I saved at least 60% on our long weekend in San Juan last week because we hit it up in the offseason. Bunking at beach resorts in the east coast is dirt cheap right now. If you’ve always wanted to see Cape Cod, the Outer Banks or Myrtle Beach and don’t care when, now’s the time.
  • Don’t do anything expensive. I still travel for sporting events, but that doesn’t necessitate all my trips. Go see a few landmarks, monuments, national/state parks or historic sites. Grab lunch or dinner at a cool place in a neat town (you have to eat anyway). Take a ton of photos. A trip doesn’t have to be riddled with lavish expenses.

All that said, I’ve taken to saving a little more for some further off destinations in the coming months (and years). That doesn’t mean my trips are going to slow to a crawl, in fact I still have some good ones waiting in the wings this year (a long with catching up this blog on the excursions I took this past spring and summer).

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