Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Penny-Pinching Traveling Style

---My travel style is simple, really.---

I Heart Penny-Pinching

My biggest rule when traveling: Penny pinch where you can! My friends & family & co-workers & all those in between always are very curious on how I manage to swing these trips all the time. Do her parents pay for her trips? Does James pay for her trips? Does she put all her expenses on a credit card & wallow in debt? No, no, & no. Here's the short answer: I put my heart & soul & tons of my spare time into planning trips. And all my pennies.

Here are some places I've been recently:

  • Florida : Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Jensen Beach...
  • Puerto Rico : all over!
  • Minnesota : Duluth, Park Rapids, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Lake City, and a bunch more places in Minnesota - duh, I live here!
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Omaha, NE
  • Some small towns in Wisconsin : Ellsworth, Arcadia, Hager City...

James (my travel partner/boyfriend) and I usually think the same way about trips. Before I met him, I thought you needed to plan every inch, minute, move, & detail. He's taught me to just book the essentials: plane, stay, and rental car, I agree on that now. (Unless you're talking about our first trip together to Florida, but I'll write about that one, later.)

We book those 3 major things ahead of time, and the rest when we get there. We are such laid-back people that we pretty much just want to sit on the beach or drive the whole time. We don't book the jet skiing or sunset sails or ATV tours ahead of time. We wait til we are at our destination and the first thing we do when we step off the plane is gallop to the tourist desk. Grab those brochures - they are filled with coupons & ideas on things to do! We grab them every chance we see them.
And sometimes we get lucky... we were in St. Croix & we heard, from locals, about some hermit crab races. We went to one and we ended up winning a sunset sail for 2, a kayaking tour for 2, free meals at local restaurants, and more! All because we waited & were patient. AND LUCKY.

---> Flights <---

My main focus starts with the flights. I always, ALWAYS, have alerts coming to my inbox fromKayak. I just enter some destinations I think could be a possibility for our next trip, and sign up to get daily alerts on their prices. Once I get the email, I save it to a folder to keep track of when prices are up or down.
 My alerts range from Flagstaff, to Vegas, to Peru for our 2015 trip. The great thing about doing this is that I can set them all to have a home airport of MSP (Minneapolis). Each day I get a new Email from Kayak, I take notice of the ones with green lettering. Those are the ones whose prices changed since the day before. Then I drag my email to my VACATION folder for my records.

This is such an easy thing to do, I recommend it to all.

I also look at SkyscannerHotwireOrbitzSpirit Airlines, and more. I seem to find new ways of booking my flights every year.

A lot of work goes into booking my flights. I'm not kidding. A LOT. I search many travel sites, search many airline sites, search other home airports around Minnesota (like South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin), and I even cross-book - for example: For St. Croix, I used Spirit to get us from Minnesota to Florida & back, used Orbitz to get us from Charlotte to St. Thomas & back, and used Hotwire to get from St. Thomas to St. Croix & back.

I would NOT recommend this method for travelers with checked bags. I can see that getting quite messy. But James & I only bring carry-ons, so for us, it worked out wonderfully. I used this method because for one segment, Orbitz had the better price. Hotwire had the better price for the other segment, and Spirit had the better price for the other segment. Make sense? No? Yeah, it's complicated.

Doing this method involves a lot of work because:
 1. You're searching dozens of travel sites for the best price.
2. You're having to take into consideration their baggage fees, if they have any.
3. You MUST work around each flights schedule. If one plane is landing in Charlotte at 2pm, you're going to want the outgoing plane to be leaving no sooner than 2:30pm. Timing is key.

But I've booked flights entirley though one website before, and that's so much easier. Do you want easier or cheaper? They don't usually come hand-in-hand. I want cheaper, and I'm willing to stress out over it.

When I was looking at one travel site & only one travel site, if I put in Minnesota to St. Croix, I was getting totals in the thousands for ONE person. By doing my method of cross-booking, all in all, we paid $530.89 each to get us from Minnesota to St. Croix. Cha-Ching!

Some day, I might look into getting a credit card that gives me miles for flights. That, like everything else in my life, takes time to research & figure out what the best option is.

---> Stays <---

I title this one "Stays" because I cannot title it "Hotels" because we don't always use hotels. What?! I know, right.

Lasy year, I discovered this lovely website called Airbnb. It's a site where you stay at someone's personal property like their home, condo, or apartment. You can search with the option to have the entire home to yourself, a private bedroom for youself, or a shared room with the owner.

james & I preffered to have an entire place of our own, so we searched the properties in that category for our trip to St. Croix. We ended up staying at an condo complex, where a man named Duane owned several condos he rented out. We got the entire condo to ourselves!! He provided us with towels, bedding, TV, lawn chairs, plates, silverware, appliances, toiletries, and even some breakfast items like a jug of OJ, some milk, some bread, and a carton of eggs. And booze! And chocolate... we had it made in St. Croix. PLUS, Duane even gave us a deal for booking with him and getting to know him through emails beforehand. That's the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it! Uh huh uh huh.

A friend of ours went to St. Thomas shortly after our trip to St. Croix. They ended up paying over $1200 for 2 people at a hotel near the beach for 5 days. We ended up paying only $335 for 2 people at a condo not far from the beach for 8 days. Bata-bing, bata-boom.

If Airbnb is not an option at my destination, I also look at VRBO, Hotwire, Orbitz, FlipKey,Roomorama, & more. Again, just like flights, this takes TIME & PATIENCE. You have to look at travel sites, look at hotel-alternative sites (like Airbnb), look at the actual hotel website, and maybe look at websites like LivingSocial where you can book your hotel along with some activites.

---> Car Rentals <---

We have gone to destinations where we figured "Let's just rent a car when we get down there..." Don't be like that. Book ahead of time, and you'll get a better deal. Look at travel sites like Hotwire or Orbitz, look at sites like Kayak, look at Airbnb (because some Stays come with a car rental), and look at actual websites of small car rental businesses.

I searched so many websites for the best car rental prices... We ended up finding the best deal at a local car rental place on St. Croix island. We had everything filled out online, and my mouse clicked "Book." It was too late. All their cars were already taken. Dang it! But we ended up finding a good deal on

If we had gotten our crap together sooner, we could have rented from a small business on the island & got a better deal, all the while supporting a local business! I guess booking a major trip only 39 days out isn't always the best idea. But we still managed to get a great deal as long as we were willing to put in the work to do some research.

                                                                                    - - -

There are so many methods I use when booking trips, it's insane. And I cannot simply write them all out on one blog post, but I think I gave the general gist. Soon, I will write about some of my trips, including the one I mentioned a bunch of times in this post - St. Croix. I will even begin to write on my progress on booking our 2015 trip! You can see the process I go through when booking & planning trips. Here goes nothing! - - -

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