I’m a baby boomer on a shoestring, so I'm always budgeting. Thank goodness I was born practical, so I’m pretty sensible about travel spending.
I’ve also been known to sell off a few old kitchen appliances and unused crockery and clothes etc to fund various things!
While I was still working full-time, as soon as I decided when I wanted to head off on another adventure, the first thing I did (and still do) was suss out airfares, playing around with dates and whether to fly into (and out of) A, B or C first – and in which order, as that can make a whopping difference in airfares.
Then onto the accommodation, booking things according to my price range and availability. I also try to book accommodation that includes breakfast – it makes life much easier when you’re in an area you’re not familiar with. Ditto free Wi-Fi included.
Once I figured out all the costs, I'd sort out anything that needed to be paid for upfront (airfares, mostly), so I wouldn’t have to find that money later. I'd then look at how many paydays there were until my approximate departure date, and how much I needed to save out of every pay to fund my trip. And then I'd stick to it. I'd also start a trip list so I could keep track of what I'd spent and needed to pay for, as well as who not to use, or where not to go etc.
Nowadays I work from home as a freelance copy editor/proofreader, so I'm even more careful with my budgeting.
The most creative use of my travel budget to date though, was the trip from Australia to Greece for my daughter’s wedding four years ago. I was lucky to have months to research, and boy did I make the most of that time!
I decided to visit Chinese friends on the way to and from Greece. I always book the shortest and cheapest legs possible (on good, but not expensive, airlines), and wanted the most direct route in both directions – so I pulled out my old atlas! Travelling via Turkey made the most sense, plus I’d never been there and had always wanted to. So once I had decided on my definite route, for the next couple of months I kept an eye out for cheap flights to and from all points on my trip.
(Note: Once you’ve figured out the fare range vs flight dates, fare alerts are a brilliant way to jump on the cheapest fares – and sometimes the best seats – as soon as they’re available.)
I found absolute bargain airfares on every leg! A promo Air Asia fare out of and back to Australia, via Bali and mainland China. A crazy-cheap ($650) “return” fare from Beijing to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Shanghai with a good Chinese airline. And I scored a Turkish Airways promo fare for the dates and times I needed from Istanbul to Thessaloniki return, for just $160. Fantastic!
I was away for a month. Australia (Coolangatta) to Bali, China, Turkey and Greece, and then back via Turkey and China before finally returning home to Australia. I ate really well, stayed in decent accommodation all the way and travelled on high-speed trains, planes, automobiles and pushbikes! I went on a few fantastic tours in Turkey and bought some great souvenirs – who could resist gorgeous scarves in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar?! The whole trip was amazing and inexpensive.
The bottom line is this: I research, research, research. I never pay booking fees and always log in to websites of airlines I’m a frequent flyer of, to book flights, so my bookings are in there if I need to change anything.
I’m sensible and practical with travel and accommodation plans. I triple-check dates and times – EVERY time – before I hit that "book" or "pay" button! I send everything to TripCase (a free app that lets you organise all of your trip details and travel plans into one itinerary), so I have a detailed record available no matter where I am. I also share it with my family.
I use Google Maps (free) to look up and see the location of places I’m going to and staying in, to make sure I go where I need to go, and don’t end up wasting money on taxis etc.
I'm not sure how ‘creative’ that all sounds, but I’m all about saving money as much as possible on flights and accommodation, while making sure it’s all safe and comfy. It’s easier to do it yourself than a lot of people assume, if you have the time for online research, and if you’re sensible, do comparisons, and are careful which websites you use. I always take reviews with a grain of salt. It’s easy enough to weed out the “It’s better in Australia” whingers, and the paid reviews, and besides, reviews are subjective. What’s fantastic to me, might be the opposite for someone else.
Lastly, I own and use digital luggage scales, plus a good-quality, good-sized wheeled duffel bag which has been everywhere with me, and is still in perfect nick! It's lightweight, so I don’t waste valuable weight on a heavy – empty – bag! I also check the checked baggage and carry-on allowances on every airline I use, no matter which country.
So many tips, so little space ;)