“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de St. Exupery
I have been a traveler since I was a newborn. Traveling has always been part of my life. Because my family was spread out over the country*, we often traveled during the holidays to see different family members. We always took family vacations and road trips for long weekends. In high school and college, I did not need much of an excuse to drive two to five hours to a neighboring city for a weekend or even a night. Now that I am in graduate school (and an adult), I don’t have as much “free time” or “fun money” as I did in college. I still travel often, but now I have to budget my time and money.
Lindsey shared a great article from The Everyday Minimalist: 10 Days in a Carry-On. I loved the article because I identified with the flight attendant’s packing habits. Over the years, I learned how to pack light and how to pinch pennies while on long** vacation. In the last two years, I have rarely checked a bag at an airport. I have honed my light packing skills and figured out ways to cut back on spending money while traveling. I am about to go on a ten day vacation to three different states. I’m going on a graduate student’s budget with only a carry-on and a messenger bag. Did I mention I’m going to Scotland for six days with only a backpack?
Here are some things I do to pack light, save money and enjoy an extended vacation. There are countless websites outlining the what, where, how and why of packing light for leisure and business travel. I understand this is all common sense, but sometimes it’s nice to hear again from someone you know.
My twelve tips for a lighter, cheaper & happier vacation
- All you need is a carry-on and a messenger bag or laptop bag. If you check a bag, you will probably end up spending $20 each way to check that bag. Why not save that $40, a wait at baggage claim and the potential stress of a lost bag? Carry-on instead. Put your purse in your messenger bag. If it doesn’t fit, find one that does. Make it work.
- I know it may be hard to believe, but you really do not need ALL of your toiletries. Ladies, you don’t need to bring ALL of your makeup with you on vacation. Downsize. Buy travel containers. Buy travel sizes of your skin care and hair care and refill them. Bring only what you need. Use an Intuition razor for travel so you don’t have to bring shave gel. Make it work.
- Wear the same thing multiple days. You really do not need to bring a different outfit for every day. Pick two pairs of shoes (one dressy and one comfortable for walking) and plan outfits around those shoes. There is no need to bring a suitcase full of shoes. You will still look fabulous. If you are weird about wearing a shirt or dress or jeans two days in a row, bring a little bag of detergent and hand wash your clothes in a bathtub in a hotel. Hotels have irons for a reason. If you stay with friends, I bet they will let you use their washer and drier if you ask really nicely.
- But what about my HAIR?! I have wavy hair that requires blow drying and flat ironing. I bring my flat-iron and hair dryer and put them in my messenger bag with my laptop. I make it work because I prioritize. I find room for some things by not packing other things. Figure out what you consider an essential travel item and sacrifice bringing something else.
- Sign up for frequent flier miles with some major airlines. Don’t wait until you get that dream job. Sign up now because you might be surprised how many flights you will take in any given year for work and leisure. I fly US Airways, Delta and Southwest depending on my destination. Because I signed up for frequent flyer miles in college, I’ve already been able to use miles to pay for flights.
- Be flexible with your flight schedule. Thursday night to Monday morning round trip flights are often substantially cheaper than peak flight times.
- When you can, stay with friends and family. This is a self-explanatory money saver. Sacrificing a little privacy and control can go a long way when you are on a budget, but always remember to be a low maintenance house guest.
- If you have to stay in a hotel, stick to one or two brands. Sign up for those brands’ rewards programs so you accumulate points. It may be a better deal to stay a cheap motel if you are alone on vacation, but often a name brand hotel comes with amenities that a motel does not offer (including but not limited to your personal safety). If multiple people can stay in a room, I highly recommend staying in a name brand hotel. I stay with Hilton properties if I can help it. I worked for Hilton for two years and am now partial to the brand. My preferred Hilton property is Embassy Suites for three reasons: 1) Free happy hour (drinks and food; 2) Free cook to order breakfast; 3) Suites equal a pull out sofa for extra guests.
- When you arrive at your destination, make a trip to a grocery store, a drug store and/or a liquor store. If you are visiting a big city or tourist trap, there will be one on every corner. Buy a case of water bottles. Buy some snacks. You can keep snacks and water in your bag with you at all times so you don’t have to spend $2 on water every time you are thirsty. You will be less likely to spend money on junk food that will make you feel lethargic. If you know you will go out drinking after Happy Hour is over, a $10 of pregame wine will go a long way. You will not have to spend $10 for a glass of wine later.
- If you’re really up for being as neurotic as I am, pack your own snacks. For long trips, I always pack oatmeal, power bars, whey protein and hot tea bags. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved on vacation by bringing these items. I have some dietary restrictions. One of the worst things that can happen on vacation is to be hungry without anything to eat.
- Create a budget. Stick to your budget. Duh, right? Sadly, a lot of people don’t plan out their vacation before they go and they end up spending more than they anticipated. Calculate the maximum you are willing to spend and stick with it. Include things like lattes, souvenirs, alcohol and local transportation. If you know you cannot stick to a budget, withdraw cash. I know, “cash is so 1997,” but some of us cannot spend $200 a day while on vacation. If you are one of us, use cash so you stick to your budget.
- Bring a bag of disinfecting wipes. I worked in a hotel for two years. Housekeeping has fifteen minutes to clean your room before you arrive. Your room is not clean. Trust me. People get sick on vacation because of other people’s germs. If you get sick while on vacation, it is waste of your time and money. If you get sick after vacation, you will have to take sick leave from work or will be unproductive. Your vacation ends up costing you twice what it should when you get sick. As soon as you check in to your hotel, wipe down everything in the room. I’m talking the phone, the remote, the clock, the sink… everything. When you are on a plane and in an airport, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands with hot water. Being neurotic by taking your vitamins and keeping your hands clean will go a long way in making your vacation worthwhile.
How do you stick to your budget on vacation? Do you pack light or carry your house with you on vacation? How do you avoid getting sick after vacation?
*I was an Army brat. We moved every few years until I was in high school. We traveled out of necessity if we wanted to see family. Once I started college, I took road trips constantly to visit friends and family in other cities. My family also instilled in me a love of travel for leisure. We took short trips out of town all the time to go camping, shopping, sight seeing, etc. I don’t really have roots like many of my friends. I have wings instead.
**This post does not apply to road trips. Packing for a road trip is much easier than packing for a vacation that requires air travel.