The Broke Girl's Guide To Traveling On A Small Budget

by Niki McGloster

I'm a writer with limited funds, living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

You can imagine how much traveling I don't do. When I do finally get to explore a new city (or country), I like to get the most out of every penny. Traveling is an investment. For many us, it's not often we dish out hundreds of dollars for a weekend abroad.

Desperate for ways to make my money stretch, I reached out to travel expert Rondel Holder of the travel, food and culture blog Soul Society.

Whether you travel abroad or explore every inch of US soil, make the most of your money while jet-setting.

Make Google Flights your new bae.

Immediately, Holder advises two main things: Be flexible with your travel dates and use Google Flights. Both can help you maximize your money.

"Google flights loads many of the international airlines that don’t appear in more well-known flight search engines, giving you even more options," Holder says. "Its calendar view will even show how much you can save by going to your destination a week after you originally planned."

That is, unless you're heading to a wedding or music festival. Then you better plan in advance.

Stay loyal to one airline and hotel chain.

Sticking with just one can help you rack up frequent flyer miles, capitalizing on free flights and seat upgrades. Even though choosing between Jetblue and Virgin America will be tough, pick one and boost your overall travel budget.

Hotels are the same in terms of loyalty programs.

"For example, Starwoods Hotels uses a points system," Holder says. "If you stay at The Westin, A Loft, W Hotel or Le Meridien, you can collect points and eventually use them for free nights at any one of the hotels under the Starwoods brand."

Who doesn't like free things?

Don't always rely on the almighty American dollar.

We feel secure when we have a ton of green in our hands (or bank account), but in most cases it's better to exchange your US dollars for the country's currency. When you're a rookie to the travel game, some vendors or local business owners will take advantage of your financial naivete.

"Sometimes vendors will round up to the nearest almighty American dollar or nearest 10 US dollars, if you catch my drift," Holder explains. "If they are given the power, [they will] do the currency exchange rates in their heads."

In some instances, you can spend less on that bag you've been coveting when you switch to a different currency.

Act like a tourist, think like a local.

Look, be safe. Don't stray too far from where you're staying. However, sticking only to what your concierge says is fun could blow your travel budget.

Instead, talk to people from the city or fellow vacationers who know the area. They can point you towards activities that cost less than half of what a hotel would quote.

"Always be mindful of your safety first," Holder says. "But if a great, inexpensive opportunity arises, be open to it!"

Take advantage of your good credit.

Much like airline and hotel deals, travel credit cards can help you gain major perks on any trip, such as discount hotel stays and tickets to local shows.

Holder says top-rated plastic includes the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Barclay Arrival Card and the Capital One Venture Card, which all have an array of financial benefits and perks for booking any travel-related expenses. You don't have to tote around a 700 credit score to have a shot at credit card rewards.

Still, Holder stresses the importance of giving your bank a heads up before you take off.

"Remember to call your bank before you leave the country to let them know the dates and locations of your travel," he advises, as a way to avoid embarrassment. "If you don't, your bank suspects someone else is using your card and [declines] your transaction."

Seek freebies.

Similarly, stand by and wait for "glitch fares," says Holder. Seasonal low fares and sales from airlines often hit the Internet without warning. Prices can be more than half off their typical costs.

To take up the "first come, first serve" offers, sign up for newsletters and social media alerts from all your favorite hotels, airlines and travel sites.

Your trip doesn't need to be on-trend like your wardrobe.

You don't have to jet off to Mexico just because celebrities make it their winter vacation spot. Head to an off-the-beaten-path location instead to ensure your money is maximized to its fullest potential.

No need to starve yourself for weeks just to afford a vacay, right?

"Destinations like the Caribbean are in 'peak season,'" Holder says. "Everyone is rushing to escape the cold and sip a piña colada or Bob Marley beverage on the beach."

Holder also suggests keeping an eye on major events in your desired destination. Trying to hit Toronto? Avoid the weekend of the NBA All-Star game, obviously.

"Do your research," he says. "The chances of finding a flight deal to Rio De Janeiro during their carnival is highly unlikely."