Do you think travel is only a privilege for the rich? Well, let me tell you about my winter trip.
I love traveling, often for months at a time. Because I don’t live in the U.S., I can’t travel hack with a rewards credit card. However, with bargain hunting and a little planning, my holidays (or “vacations,” for you U.S.-based folks) remain budget-friendly.
I started planning this trip in the spring, about six months ahead. I first booked a two-week long, transatlantic cruise from Spain to Brazil. As the cruise ships spend the summer in the Mediterranean and the winter in the Caribbean, they do a one-way ocean crossing in-between. Companies often offer a very attractive rate, since the ship is pretty empty.
Taking Advantage of All-Inclusive Deals
My deal with Pullmantur includes a double cabin, all meals and alcohol, tax and tips, for around $1,300 — or about $50 per person, per day. We’ll stop on a few islands, where I plan on taking a local bus and hiking.
Packing My Own Meal
To get to Europe, I booked a one-way ticket from Denver to Paris with Norwegian for $180. It only includes hand luggage, but I pack light. Onboard dinner is an extra $35, so we will pack a meal.
Negotiating With Airlines
A month later, Norwegian announced the flight was canceled and offered to discuss options. I asked them to fly me to London instead and then to Paris. They agreed! I booked a $5 airport transfer with Easybus, so we’ll spend the day walking around town and sightseeing.
Luck has it that a similar thing happened with the Brazil-to-U.S. flight. For $280, I had booked a flight from Recife back to Orlando, Florida. They changed the dates and times, and I asked to be flown to Rio for 48 hours instead then to Orlando. That worked.
You might not be aware, but whenever an airline changes your schedule by more than two hours, you can change your ticket for free. They didn’t pay for my Rio hotel, but going there for free is exciting. December is high season in Brazil, so I booked a hotel in Ipanema for $40 a night. I love Airbnb, but for just a night, I’d rather have a 24/7 lobby to check into than coordinate with my host.
More on Airline Tips: 40 Airport Secrets Only Insiders Know
Avoiding Pricey Attractions and Restaurants
Regarding Europe, Paris is my hometown, so we will be staying with family. Many attractions, like the Louvre Museum or the Palace of Versailles, are free on the first Sunday of the month, and because this is my boyfriend’s first trip, we will pick a couple and visit then. If you just do a little research, you’ll find that in most major cities you can visit affordable, must-see attractions.
Paris is a foodies’ paradise, but there is no need to spend hundreds on a three-star Michelin meal to experience it. You can buy ham, cheese, a baguette and a bottle of wine, and have a wonderful $10 picnic by the Eiffel Tower — or have a $1.20 croissant for breakfast. If we go out to eat somewhere special, we will go at lunchtime, when most restaurants have a set menu that is half the price of a la carte dinners.
Knowing My Transit Options
Then we will go to Provence for a few days. The three-hour high-speed train to go there is usually $75-150, but I booked the low-cost alternative with Ouigo for $15. It leaves from Euro Disney instead of downtown Paris, so you have to take a train to get there but the savings are worth it. As bookings open three months in advance, I had a phone reminder to book on that day before the cheap tickets were gone.
From Provence, I booked a Flixbus to Barcelona for $20. It was cheaper than flying for about the same travel time when you factor in airport transit. The bus has WiFi and routes all over Europe. It is a good solution if you missed train and flight promotions, or to save on hotel nights with overnight buses.
Sharing an Airbnb
We will spend a week in Barcelona, so I rented a four-bedroom apartment on Airbnb to share with friends. Since I get Airbnb credit all year long for referring friends, my share will be free.
Once we get to Recife in Brazil, we will also stay with Airbnb thanks to my credit. The cruise ship brings over 2,000 people, most of whom will need accommodation in Recife for the same dates, so I booked mine well in advance to secure the best rates.
My Phone Is Travel-Ready
I will have free texts and data abroad on my phone, thanks to T-Mobile. The free data is super convenient when I get to a new country to get to my accommodation or when I am out and about and need to meet with friends. If your company charges for roaming, get a local SIM card to save money.
Picking the Right Credit Card
I will also pay with a credit card that has zero foreign transaction fees, which is something everyone going abroad should have.
So far, I have spent about $1,250 per person, and all of our travel and accommodation costs are covered, except for local bus fares. That leaves me with a $750 budget each to cover food and incidentals for four weeks, which is rather generous if you eat most meals at home, walk around the cities and visit free attractions.
There you have it: three weeks in Europe, two weeks on a cruise and almost two weeks in Brazil for under $2,000. If you have good credit and can pay off your balance in full every month, consider applying for a rewards credit card a year or so before your trip to get discounted or free flights and hotels. That leaves even more money to do fun things once you are there.
Click to read more about costly travel mistakes you need to avoid.
More From Our Smart Money Squad
- How Carry-On Bags Save Me Major Money
- The Money Mistakes I Made on a Cruise — and How to Avoid Them
- How I Paid $1,200 for a 10-Day Vacation in Italy (Without Using Points)
- Watch: How This Travel Blogger Saves Big During ‘Shoulder Season’
We make money easy. Get weekly email updates, including expert advice to help you Live Richer™.