Traveling on a Dime…OK, 2!

Many people have asked how it is that I can travel so cheaply…you know, besides the obvious of the free flight perks my job allows me.  If you have been reading here awhile you know that it helps that I am more frugal than most, but I also take a fair amount of time to prepare for my trips in advance.  Here are some tips I have learned over the years to get the most bang for my buck while globetrotting this big round orb…

FullSizeRender (14).jpg
Just a Bit of Money I found While Hiking Lamma Island, Hong Kong

As an avid traveler (both on the job and off), one of the largest expenses while on the road is…wait for it…

FOOD!!  Are you surprised that topic is first on my mind??  As usual, the Italian in me comes crying out!!  So, back to food…  Travel can be hard – navigating new cities, lines at car rentals, crappy weather, travel delays and all this after having to deal with TSA if you chose to fly to your destination.  Now, add in being hangry and travel can quickly become a nightmare.  I try to eliminate this factor by always being prepared.  For work trips, I am a BIG fan of carrying my own food.  I pack all my breakfasts/lunches/dinners/snacks and keep them on ice for the 2-3 days I am flying.  While this sounds like a colossal pain in the ass, I learned early on in my career that eating at airports and hotels is a giant pain in my wallet (oh, and my ass when in 2001 I ate Cinnabon for 3 months straight – seriously).

* PRO TIP * Bring a Water Bottle & Pack Your Own Snacks…DON’T BUY THEM!   Especially NOT at an Airport!

I know packing your food isn’t the most appealing thing to do on a vacation, but I have slowly found myself doing it more – not for all meals, but for a few quick bites on the first day and a few nibbles throughout the trip.  On vacations, I either bring my packed travel cooler and replenish the ice at hotels, or I buy food from various grocery stores while on the road.  I am one of those people who always needs food at my side, even if I am not eating it.  It’s weird but comforting…

FullSizeRender (15).jpg
Evening Hotel Room Snack of Truffle Cheese, Crackers, Smoked Salmon, Olives, and Vino.  I Used My Insurance Card as a Cheese Slicer…Genius.

For those who like to indulge I can almost hear you berating my cheapness and, yes, I totally get it!  This type of travel is certainly not for everyone.  Believe me, I too like to indulge at times…just not on hot wings and pizza when your flight is 4 hours delayed and all the hotel has to offer is the late night menu.  Gasp!!  So, for the still frugal but more indulgent moments,  I am a BIG fan of Groupon and LivingSocial.  Check the local cities you are traveling to in advance (or even when you are there!) and see what restaurants are available.  You will spend 50% less (sometimes more when they offer discounts) for the same food everyone else is paying full price for.  Those websites even offer discounts to places with fancy tasting menus!  If you dig a little deeper you will find many great options not only for food but also for things to do.  Which brings me to my next point…Activities!

Image result for snoqualmie tunnel
Snoqualmie Tunnel, John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Hyak, WA  ~via~

One of my favorite things to do is hike.  It’s cheap (often free) and preparation is minimal. You can find all sorts of trail maps from the National Parks Service HERE.  Another favorite of mine is the Rails to Trails Conservancy – they have converted old railway trails into walking and bike paths.  One particular trail on my list to hike/bike is the Snoqualmie Tunnel (above) – a 2.3 mile long (cold and dark!) 100-year-old converted railway tunnel on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.  These websites are a wealth of knowledge not only on the area and the trails surrounding them but also the history.

* PRO TIP * When hiking/biking, make sure to bring water, snacks, layers, a headlamp or flashlight, and a let someone know where you are before taking off.  Don’t rely solely on your phone – while super handy, once you are out of range it is mostly useless.

But, again, this outdoorsy type of adventure is not everyone’s cup of tea.  When we are ready to shake things up, I again consult with my trusty friend, Groupon (and, no, they are not paying me for this post!).  In the “Things To Do” section I have found winery tours, balloon rides, bowling, zip lining, pottery painting for the kids, movie tickets for rainy vacation days, them park tickets, concerts, massages (heck, full spa days!), comedy shows, surf lessons, and the list goes on!!  Be careful with the fine print and make sure the dates work out with your travel.  🙂

FullSizeRender (13).jpg
Mom Celebrating Her First Zip Line Experience Courtesy of Yours Truly via Groupon!

As for car rentals, flights, hotels – I can not stress this next point enough – PLAN AHEAD.  While it’s true I use my free flying perks for a majority of US travel, I also deal search quite a bit.  Look for coupons and call in person to see if they have any deals coming up.  I once rented a car in Portland for $7 a day…including the fees!!!  Last year I flew to Hong Kong for $461 round trip…on a real ticket (not standby)!  While time is on your side when it comes to travel arrangements, flexibility is also key.  Research shows that flying on Tuesdays and Wednesdays gets you the cheapest fares.  Flying internationally is best done on US-based holidays such as Thanksgiving.  Other options?  Think about when all the kiddos are in school and there are no holidays in sight – January and February many airline flights are WIIIIDDDEEE open!  In fact, I just worked a flight from Cancun to Chicago with only 80 people on it.  That’s 95 open seats!  If the flights are empty, you better believe the resorts are too.

* PRO TIP * When an airline announces a new destination buy your tickets stat!!  The flights won’t be full and the fares will be cheap (see below).

While using vacation days or taking your kids out of school isn’t ideal, living with a ton of debt due to vacationing in the high season isn’t either.  Take a few days and relax.  That is what vacation days are there for!  Let’s face it, you considered those days a perk when you took the job…how many of those perks you are letting slide away each year without using them.  Free gym?  Free tuition reimbursement?  FREE VACATION DAYS?!!  According to an article in The Chicago Tribune, the average amount of days left on the table are 19!!  Almost 3 weeks of sheer bliss going unaccounted for.  Bummer.  Get out there and LIVE your life!!

Speaking of living, I have a couple of plans in the works for this year.  Cuba is on the docket for April – flights from Ft. Lauderdale to Havana are as low as $145 round trip!!  The visa process is scary but ultimately easy if you just read through it.  Once there, I plan to Airbnb to stay away from the government-run hotels which seem to be quite costly.  I also plan to do another volunteer trip (currently looking into Peru) and possibly a long distance hike if my mom (Hi Mom!) is keen on watching my pup.  Oh, and maybe I can hit up Snoqualmie Pass this year…it’s currently closed until May but with how quick this year has been passing that’s just around the corner!

So what are your plans for travel this year?  Are you going luxury, frugal, or just plain cheap?  If you have any tips to share please do!!  🙂

Until next time…

54 thoughts on “Traveling on a Dime…OK, 2!

  1. Pingback: Viajando con poco presupuesto – PARADISE JOURNEY

    1. Oh my, Japan!! I am dying to go there… Mrs. ONL just came back and had such awesome food pics it made me want to bag a bag and be on my way! I can only imagine what a month surrounded with such an amazing culture would do for an adult let alone kids. Such an experience!

      There is a long distance hike on the island of Shikoku. It is similar to the Camino De Santiago in Spain wherein it is a pilgrimage of sorts and follows a trail taking you hut to hut (88 in total) for 680 miles and about 45 days. This is on my bucket list and most likely will be my main focus when I get the chance to visit Japan. 🙂


  2. Pingback: The Sunday Best (3/26/2017) - Physician on FIRE

  3. You sound exactly like us! Haha. We love planning ahead – which makes everything organised plus you can be excited what you’re going to do. Also bringing water – great tip, it’s essentially free, why pay for something expensive otherwise?



  4. Physician on FIRE

    Cuba? Exciting!

    I know people who spend more money on a one week trip than we would spend on a year’s worth of travel. I am really looking forward to traveling as an early retiree, when we can easily leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday and take our time. The whole slow travel thing, if you will.


    p.s. I’ve used a credit card to slice cheese before. Works like a charm.


  5. Good tips. We usually bring a little snack too. That’s because an unhappy 5 year old won’t be good for anybody on the flight.
    This year, we’ll probably visit Cancun in November. I think we have enough points for the flight and a couple of free nights at the Hyatt. Should be a cheap trip this year. 🙂


  6. Sorry I’m so late to the party! I’m with you on bringing my own snacks. It saves money but also keeps me from eating crap, especially on a road trip. And I love those coupons for fun stuff like wineries except I have to be careful when they make you post something on FaceBook to get the coupon. I don’t like to advertise when we’re away.

    A car in Portland for $7 a day? Me-thinks you could make a lot of money as a travel consultant.


    1. No such thing as late to this party! I am so behind on reading (and writing) that I constantly feel I am catching up. 🙂

      I haven’t run across any that require a FB post but that would definitely be a no go for me. I don’t like FB anyway but, you’re right, posting while away is silly. As for travel consultant – that’s one hat I won’t be wearing! I HATE making travel plans because I fret over every decision thinking I will pay less if I wait. “Fear of Trigger Pull” – I think it’s an illness. 🙂


  7. My wife and I have plans to go to Toronto this year and hopefully a North Carolina beach. As well as I hope to get down to Dallas for FinCon. So while not super exotic it should be a fun filled year. Although I was really hoping to get to Iceland this year 😦


    1. I have never been to Canada and would love to go! Hopefully I can plan something this year with the National Parks being free. 🙂 Dallas will be awesome and I just signed up for Lola Retreat in Portland and Camp Mustache in Seattle. I’m going to be a busy girl and it sounds like you guys will be as well!! Our paths will definitely cross come October… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for posting the Trail Rail link! There are apparently 18 walking trails in Albuquerque. I will definitely be checking out some of these trails. 😀


  9. You know, I’ve never considered using Groupon at a destination – that is a great tip.

    Travel this year? I’m in New Orleans right now, and loving it. In September of this year we’ll be in Europe – my very first travel miles booking. I spent less than $250 on three round trip tickets to Europe. So pumped about that! And then Fincon in October – have my room lined up, but still need to buy my air tickets.


    1. Love New Orleans!! I haven’t been there in a few years but I always look back to the time I was there for Halloween…let’s just say the costumes were VERY creative. And then there were some that were just…well, not. Like the naked guy who that went as a “Naked Guy”.

      Congrats on the AWESOME rates! Europe on the cheap isn’t always easy. FinCon I got a room but figured I would buddy up and haven’t started looking for a roomie yet. Im hoping to get to know some people better before committing to shacking up for the weekend. 😉 Looking forward to it, though. Can’t wait to meet everyone in person!!!


  10. fierymillennials

    Travel hacking is a way for me to keep travel costs low, but I’m not afraid to spend on what matters. Proper English afternoon tea (and was gluten free!?!) Glad to spend $150 for 3 people. A place to stay? Happy to crash on a mattress on the floor of my sister’s flat for £10/night.

    This year I’m returning to Ecuador for my second Chautauqua and going to Dallas for FinCon! I might do a trip over Christmas with my sister and a trip this time next year to go skiing in Canada but that’s a while away yet.


    1. Shoot – I forgot to mention FinCon! I too will be in attendance most likely staying in a hotel room…in my tent! 🙂 I agree, I am all about pending money on experiences but I could care less where I stay. Some things just mean more to me. $6 on a thai massage ? Yes, please – Ill take two! 😉


  11. Love this! I always pack my own food, at least whenever possible when we travel. I even go so far as to buy gallon jugs of water to refill water bottles. Is that cheap or frugal?! And hiking/biking is one of our favorite things to do. We’ve spent the majority of our family vacations exploring the national parks!


    1. Yes! We buy the jugs too – I figure its less plastic bottles and it forces us to drink more. 🙂 I am dying to go on a nice long tour of the national parks. I imagine you guys have made some great memories there and many more to come!!


  12. Great info! As you know I bought my plane ticket to Europe and hopefully I got a good deal, but always looking for other helpful tips! I brought tons of food to Iceland with me before because food and drink is so expensive there.


    1. Yeah, girl! I can’t remember if it was you or someone else that told me that about Iceland but it definitely stuck. I really want to go and see the northern lights…did you see them??


  13. ChooseBetterLife

    Tell me more about Cuba! We saw that Southwest is starting flights there, but I thought we still needed an ‘official’ reason to go if we didn’t have family there.


    1. Yes – there are 12 official reasons to visit. The one most commonly used is “Support of the Cuban people” which essentially means tourism. A friend of mine recently returned. They booked a cooking class and a dance class and stayed at an Airbnb. They want/need our money so, from what I heard, they are quite lenient within the categories…just remember , “tourism” is not a reason. You must interact with the people. I did a quick google search to get the list: – some good info here! Let me know what you think!


  14. I love that we’re not the only ones who bring foods/drinks (water bottles) everywhere we go! I have some food intolerances and we just in general don’t really enjoy eating out. It’s amazing how much money you save too! Thanks for all of the tips too. We hope to take a few of those seats next year when everyone else is at work & school!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh girl, I always have the snacks handy! People tease me but I don’t care. Better to be over prepared for some things than under prepared. And, yes, the savings are a bonus!


  15. We are planning to take 4 vacations this year (2 mini getaways and 2 week long). We are definitely wanting to play it frugal. We are driving almost everywhere since we’ll be able to stop along the way and see the scenery as well as stop and play. The kiddos are 4 and 2, short attention span. We have been looking for deals and trying to cut costs by driving, staying with relatives/friends when possible, and bringing our own food along the way instead of eating out. Thanks for the tips! I’ll have to check on the groupons available for them as well!


    1. Awww – you guys will have a blast! I still remember our road trips down to Florida in a 2 door VW Scirocco. 3 kids, two parents, and luggage tied to the top. Yup…those were the days!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes they are going to be awesome! I can’t wait to make more memories with them this year! This will be the last year before my older daughter starts full day kindergarten too!


  16. Thanks for the tips Miss Mazuma! Traveling w/ kids is hard and expensive, so anything we can do to shave a few bucks off our bill is great.

    And by the way, I might live extremely close to the Snoqualmie Pass. LMK if and when you’re in the area. I’ll make you some sweet potato fries w/ my amazing french fry cutter! 😛


    1. Nice!!! Have you done that ride? I think I am too scared to walk it…at least by myself. I imagine there are many bats in that tunnel as well as other creepy crawlies! I will definitely take you up on your offer of sweet potato fries. In fact, if you stand at one end of the tunnel with them it may help guide me through the darkness! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  17. We’re not major travel hackers but I make it a point to turn around 2 credit cards for the bonuses every year. This year, we’re working on our first Chase Sapphire Reserve for the 100K points, and I’m hoping we can get the second one before that promo goes away entirely. We’re hoping that the political climate settles down enough for us to safely travel internationally.

    I’m not a fan of the current possibility that our social media and personal private phones will be up for searching by customs, or that we’ll be interrogated based on our nationalities, even though we’re citizens. :/

    I didn’t use my vacation in the past, but I’ve since learned my lesson – we’re taking more vacations now while our schedule is still more flexible. It turns out that unlike when we were young, pulling your kid out of school for vacation is considered an unexcused absence and impacts their record. We have a couple more years before JuggerBaby’s old enough for that to matter.


    1. 2 cards seems way more manageable than the 20 some people have!! I heard the Chasee one is great…maybe I can open a business account for this here blog? Hmmmm….

      As for international travel, it can definitely be scary in this particular climate. Privacy is a concern as is safety in general. Then again, I just watched a YouTube video of a German woman that ran across Iran and the impact it had on the locals. She was worried for her safety but felt the need to do this particular trip. She was surprised with how welcoming everyone was. People ran with her, cooked for her, gave her water and shelter. It is truly awe inspiring to see other parts of the world embrace a foreigner…I wish we were able to do the same as a country.

      Bummer about the unexcused absence issue. We have high school kids so I can imagine that would impact a record more than a grade school kid. Either way, quality of life means more to me than most other things. It’s silly that an educational experience such as travel would count against anything but that is the system for ya! Good thing you guys got time!! Get out there and crush it! 🙂


  18. Smart Provisions

    Great tips, Miss Mazuma!

    I agree that airports have super expensive snacks, but they can also be a place where you can get free snacks! Especially if you can get into a lounge as they have free snacks you can get!


    1. Oh yes – Lounges!! I dont belong to any and always feel like I am going to get caught. I did sneak into a Marriott Lounge where they had a candy bar set up…pure joy! Oh, and at the airport when flights are delayed sometimes the other airlines bring out snack boxes. I saw it in ATL the other day – Delta, maybe? Im sure if I was bold enough to approach the gate agent he would have given me one but I was in uniform! Im glad to see I have certain frugal boundaries I won’t cross – apparently the one that pushes me to being cheap! 🙂


      1. Smart Provisions

        🙂 There are also the hotel lounges if you stay at some hotels.

        Some credit cards also offer access into lounges, so maybe having one of those would help too!

        Liked by 2 people

  19. Oh man, I have Cuba on my bucket list, although don’t know why, just fascinated by it and want to go check it out. Soon, soon… Our big travel this year is our 2 week trip to ID/MT to do some vacationing and pseudo recon for our post Houston landing towns/areas. Mrs. SSC and the kids are leaving the week before and driving up there with her parents bouncing along the Rockies and Yellowstone and more. I’m jealous in some ways, but kinda glad I’m skipping that zoo of a car ride too. 🙂

    We also have a short weekend/wedding in SC to attend for Mrs. SSC’s brother. Should be a fun long weekend. It seems like we also have a Florida trip in there too. Yipe! We are doing a lot of traveling. We generally do it fairly frugally by using VRBO to get a house and then don’t eat out much if at all.

    Great tips on your post! We generally follow most of them, especially the food ones. We also look out fo free activities in and around where we’re going and research all that ahead of time. I joke that Mrs. SSC is actually “Cruise Director SSC” because of all the prep and pre-planning that goes into these vacations. Oh and Ia ctually didn’t use 4.5 days of vacation last year, but unlike my alst company I got to roll them over. Since I didn’t feel like I needed them (loving your job goes a long way towards that) I figured they’d come in handy more this year than jsut burning them to burn them around the holidays.


    1. Fun… road trip!! Though you are skipping the road it I am sure you will hear all the stories. 🙂 Beyond that you have a few others lined up…it’s sure nice to have those trips to look forward to. I love the idea of VRBO and Airbnb but have yet to actually use either. I love to search on them and check out all the listings but so far no reservations! Mrs. SSC sounds like me – entertainment committee. Nothing worse than showing up and having to take precious vacation time to figure out a plan. I like a plan of attack from the get go – even if we don’t follow a schedule at least I have a list of things we want to do all prepared beforehand.

      Good call on keeping those days if they let you. My BF has to use his but with the kids and crazy schedules he usually takes the last week of the year off with the leftover days. I wish they had the same policy as your company!!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I can’t get enough of cheap travel hacks from a pro! We are not travel-savvy people. I tend to have the “I’m on vacation!” attitude. But, that’s mostly due to the fact that we don’t take many vacations.

    I have warmed to the idea of taking our little girl out of school for a vacation, though. As you mentioned, it’s not ideal, but it’s an experience and she won’t fall behind as long as she keeps up with her work. And it’s a helluva lot cheaper!

    BTW, that hotel snack looks delicious! Nom Nom Nom. 🙂


    1. Haha – I do the same thing in cheap countries! I was thinking about the ticket I purchased for the Ngong Ping cable car. I sprang for the 360 car that has a glass bottom so I could see all around me and down. Had I been in the states I probably wouldn’t have paid extra…then again, it was my first day there and I had no idea the currency conversion! It was a great experience regardless and I learned I do tighten up the purse strings quite a bit when in a foreign land. I just don’t know when I will be there again so I want to make sure and take full advantage. Your daughter will be grateful for those experiences. I see kids doing homework on the plane all the time – It’s the price they have to pay! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Epic Quiver

    great tips! I’ve also found Priceline’s name your own price tool useful for booking cheap rental cars. Since they always have inventory on hand I wait 10 to 24 hours before I need the car and then bid my own price. Most of the time my rentals range from $5 to $14 a day and I’ve often gotten free upgrades for no reason at all.

    For travel by train check out I’ve used his blog for over 12 years to plan my trips by train all across the globe.


    1. Yes! Good point. I have yet to use them but I have heard really good things. Thanks for the tip on seat61 – Ive never heard of it but will definitely look into it. In Europe it seems the best way to travel…though I am often the lost soul on the platform looking for the correct train! 😉


  22. TheRetirementManifesto

    Hey Cuz! I’ve never understood folks who don’t use all of their vacation time. Now, you’ve taught them how to do so, on the cheap!!

    3 months of Cinnabons….hurts just thinking about it! Great post, I also try to hike and/or run when I’m on the road. Great way to see new areas.

    Finally, I’m jealous about Cuba, I’ve always been intrigued! Enjoy!


    1. Oh my goodness – it’s a miracle I still have my teeth! Thank God I had a fast metabolism then – if I did that now I wouldn’t fit in the uniform!! 🙂

      And, yes, people need to be using their vacations days – what a waste!! Once you are done working you will have all sorts of time to take advantage of off peak flying. You also live in a nice area with good hiking which is awesome that it is part of your current lifestyle. Everything here is flat but I take advantage when I am on the road…my knees are pretty shot anyway so the low impact is probably better for my daily activities! Come on down to Cuba – Primal Prosperity may be there at the same time as us. We can have a RSF reunion!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  23. I’m excited to take a few trips this spring to both the east and west coasts. Tagging a fun trip on to a work trip while I’m on the west coast is saving me serious airfare costs! Great tips – and I think I need to be more bold in choosing my travel destinations!


    1. Yes – great idea to add a few days to a work trip!! My BF does that and I just meet him out there for the free days. I haven’t gotten into rewards points stuff yet but if we could get some free hotels then all would be right with the world!! 😉

      Choosing where to go is one of the hardest things. Despite the amount of foreign travel I have done, I am a bit of a chicken! Last year, a few weeks before I left for Hong Kong, I almost cancelled my trip. I had never been to Asia and was nervous about going alone. Once I was there I felt so silly for having doubted myself. I had an awesome time and never felt unsafe…even when I was hiking on my own. I often repeat to myself what I have often heard at the climax of action movies “This is not the day I die”. Maybe not for everyone but it totally puts me at ease! 🙂


  24. Funny… We are thinking of Cuba in April or May also.

    I’m definitely not frugal by intent, in just about any part of my life. I never have been, but my minimalist personality just seems to automatically have me living a lower cost life than most people. I just find that I happen to enjoy experiences over luxury and stuff.

    Fancy, high priced, luxury resorts? Boring as heck to me! Hostels, walking everywhere, meeting cool people, staying away from touristy attractions, going during the off-times… all heaven to my ears.

    I also carry food with me, but not to be frugal. I usually only like to sit down for dinner when I’m traveling, because I like to walk and explore. I usually get fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds from a grocery store, because they don’t have to be refrigerated and they keep for a few days.


    1. Fun – maybe we will you guys down there?!

      I realize the word “frugal” tends to have some negative connotations but I don’t aim to be frugal. That is the word some people call it – I just call it smart. 😉

      As for eating out, I tend to do lunches out more than dinner only because I am early to bed early to rise and in many countries dinner doesn’t start until 9pm (ahem, Spain, I’m talking to you!). That totally wreaks havoc on my body. At night I just eat something small like the snacks you mentioned or an app with a glass of wine. Isn’t it nice that we have the ability to choose these things? A lot of my habits come from not eating meat. It used to paralyze my ideas of travel because I always thought I wouldn’t be able to find something for me to eat. In fact, people have warned me about going to certain countries because I won’t be able to eat…that’s so silly. There is ALWAYS something. 🙂


  25. Evangelina07

    I really liked your post. You had good tips, even for somebody as well traveled as me, good reminders and you have a fun writing style. Looking forward reading more from you.
    Safe travels!


    1. Thanks, Evangelina! That means a lot coming from a fellow traveler. 🙂 I just popped over to your blog. Amazing photos!! I love photography as well but have yet to dive a little deeper into it. I bought a nice Nikon a few years back but was instantly overwhelmed by the instruction manual and returned it! Haha…

      I can’t wait to read more of your travels and if you ever make it over to Chicago let me know!! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I love to see new faces around here! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s