Saving Money While Traveling And Some Mistakes We’ve Made

Sunset Plane


This week’s topic is about saving money while traveling.  I’m super excited, to say the least.  As you may know, I love traveling, but have limited opportunity given that we have 4 little ones at home. That said, I also love saving money while traveling, so this is an ode to saving money while traveling.

Things to know about our specific situation:

Some of these may or may not be different for your own travels.  Luckily, many of the strategies we’ve been trying to utilize in our own adventure can scale to trips of any length.

  1. We are treating our trip as though it may be a permanent move. Of course, we are going to treat some thing differently than if we were leaving for a weekend getaway.  Regardless, most of the methods we are trying to utilize are scalable to any length of trip.
  2. We’ve been planning our trip for well over a year. This gives us several advantages over other “getaways” that we’ve planned days before leaving.  In general, if you can plan ahead and you can exchange your time to save some additional money.  At this point in our lives, we are very willing to spend extra time researching in order to save a few bucks here and there.
  3. We are traveling with a 1 year old. This automatically increases our need for preparation, our need for stability, and the impact on our pocketbook.  However, we’ve been inspired by stories of much larger families frugally traveling for extremely long periods of time.  If others can take 3, 4, and 5 kids along, we should be able to survive with 1 baby girl!

How we are saving money (and plan to save money) on our trip!

  • Deals On Airfare: With a lot of time to plan, we started studying the price of flights almost a year in advance.  Australia is a long way away, and we saw round-trip flights ranging from $425-$2000 depending on when, where, and what you flew on.  Every couple weeks throughout the summer we rechecked prices to see if there were any specials available.  Eventually, we got an e-mail from Qantas advertising a special they were selling for the release of a brand new type of plane, which was going to be unleashed just at the time we wanted to travel.  When all was said and done, we were able to get 2.5 round-trip fares for right at $2000 (all taxes, fees, insurance, bags, etc…), but we had to buy before the end of October.  At the time, this was around 60%-70% of the best deals we were able to find on a regular basis, so we decided to pull the trigger.  Recently, the continued global recession has brought the average prices down a bit.  Tonight, I was able to find several “specials” where we could pay $2300-$2400 for everything, which makes our deal a little less amazing.  There’s no way to predict the future though.  With airfare, I’ve always heard to either buy really early or at the very last second.
  • Public Transportation: For Australia, we plan on purchasing bikes once we arrive and familiarizing ourselves with the public transportation.  Buying and registering a car, especially in a foreign country, can be a very time intensive and expensive endeavor.  Even on our honeymoon, my wife and I forewent renting a car and instead utilized different modes of public transportation.  Actually, some of the most memorable times were spent at random bus, train, and rail stations.  Plotting our course and getting to know the best way was like a mini-adventure.  Of course, this will be location dependent, but don’t automatically head to the rental car booth.  Considering all of our options saved us money and really enriched our experiences.
  • Packing Light: Our rule of thumb when traveling before our daughter was born was to only take carry-on bags.  I can’t stress enough how big a difference this made in how we traveled.  Not only do you avoid sneaky baggage fees on airlines, but taking less helps with the first two bullets.  For example, it’s easier to take public transportation, and it saves you time/stress at the airport (they can’t lose a bag that’s in your hands)!  For Australia, we have been aggressively eliminating our possessions.  We hope to be able to fit everything into two backpacks.  Courtney’s has one with a really cool baby seat packs, and mine is an over-sized camping pack.  I’ve heard some travel “experts” tell you to pull out everything you want to take the day before and then take half of that.  Sounds like good advice to me!
  • Frugal Accommodation: Since I have a background in real estate rentals, I’ve been passionately monitoring the local real estate situation in Cairns for many months.  With the wealth of information avaiable on the internet and programs like Google Maps, I feel fairly comfortable with the city even though I’ve never been there.  For the first few days, we are connecting with some potential hosts on sites like CouchSurfing and GlobalFreeloaders.  If we are able to line up a dependable host, this will give us a couple free days to explore the rental market in person and secure a very cheap, furnished 2-bedroom apartment. If your trip is a shorter one and you love connecting with new people check out the two sites listed above. In addition, you can tap into hostels, motels, modern rentals such as these apartments for rent in Macon, and we’ve even heard of people contacting local churches, which sometimes rent out extra rooms very cheaply.
  • Skype Vs. Cell Phone: We made the decision several months ago that we would use Skype instead of trying to get new cell phones or use phone cards, at least initially.  With Skype, you can get incredibly cheap unlimited calling plans to and from most countries in the world.  We were able to secure a local U.S. number for a couple dollars a month and set-up a voicemail, as well.  This will allow people to call and leave us messages even when we are without internet.  I believe our unlimited AUS plan is currently $9.95 a month.  We’ve also researched long-range walky-talkies for communicating with each other on errands, but haven’t bought anything yet.  Another service that I’m eagerly watching is Google Voice.  It’s not officially released yet, but looks extremely promising for those looking to save money while traveling.
  • Kid’s Habits: For those people traveling with kids, establishing a few early habits is essential for maximizing the child’s comfort.  The more comfortable a child is, the less stressful traveling becomes.  The less stressful traveling is, the less it ends up costing.  Since Milligan was a few months old she’s been sleeping in a “pack-n-play.”  She sleeps there each night, at Grandma’s, at the sitters, everywhere.  While this might be weird to some, she absolutely loves it.  This will allow us to be mobile, but still let her sleep in her usual surroundings.  It may seem like a small difference, but when you are dealing with a 12 month old, you will take all the small victories you can get.
  • Exchange Rates: While I’d never advocate trying to time any market, your money can go a lot further in some countries than in others.  If you were making a choice between traveling to France or Japan in the next few months, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to look at the exchange rate of each currency. In our situation, we struck lucky. Within the last year the AUS dollar has dropped significantly in value, from nearly a 1:1 ratio to now every $1 USD gets about $1.40 AUS.  In our case, we’d be going either way, but we certainly aren’t complaining about our newfound buying power!
  • Sponsored Visa: Because of a mistake in researching visas (read below), we have switched our current strategy.  Rather than pay a sum of money up front to establish a permanent visa, we have decided to attempt to get an employer-sponsored visa.  This would mean that we would need to line up employment before achieving permanent residency.  In the event that we can’t line up employment, well…  to be honest we wouldn’t be staying in Australia past a couple months anyway.  In addition, with my wife being a teacher, it’s not completely impossible that a school district might pay for her visa process.  If you are traveling for an extended amount of time, be sure to check out all of your potential visa options.

Mistakes we’ve made that could end up costing us more!

Right now, there are only a few mistakes that are obvious to us.  I’m sure this list will explode once we actually end up arriving in Australia.  Hindsight is always 20/20!

  • Arriving In Peak Season: Unfortunately, June is the beginning of the peak tourism season for north-eastern Australia.  In the off-season, temperatures are much hotter, weather is very unpredictable (cyclones), and beaches fill up with tiny stinging jellyfish.  Let’s just say that it’s a little cheaper to travel in the off-season.  However, this is really the only time that works well for us.  Be sure to research your destination enough to know which type of economic “season” you are coming into.  Even if you can’t save money by traveling the “off” season, at least you will be informed enough to budget more for your trip!
  • Purchasing In Season: For our trip we are just now researching backpacking backpacks.  See anything wrong with this picture?  We’ve been planning the trip for over a year and even purchased our plane tickets back in October.  Late fall or even right after Christmas would have been a much better time to buy camping-type gear.  Don’t make the same mistake we did!  If you know your plans ahead of time, be sure to buy things like outdoor gear, swim suits, and even winter coats in the appropriate off-season.
  • Bad Visa Research: Initially it was our plan to get “Working-Holiday” visas.  These would allow us to work and travel for up to one-year.  If we enjoyed the area, it would be much easier to transition onto a permanent visa and/or to get an employment sponsor having worked for a year.  In our haste, though, we overlooked that you aren’t allowed to bring dependents on this visa.  While I contemplated leaving Milli behind (just kidding), we had waited too long to apply for any other types of visas.   We have tried to make the best of it (read Sponsored Visas above), however we backed ourselves into a corner that could end up costing us more money in the long-run.  Thoroughly check all visa options available to you and if you have any doubts contact a professional migrations agent.  We wish we would have!
  • Selling Potential Essentials: This is the counter-part to packing too lightly.  We know that if we choose to hunker down in one location there might be several purchases that we will have to re-buy.  However, the important part is that we aren’t sure we will be hunkering down at all.  For us, we gain a lot more benefit up front from selling most of our possessions and traveling very minimally.  In some long-term outcomes, we’ve conceded that this could cost us more over time.  It probably isn’t a huge deal if you aren’t traveling for an extended amount of time.  Sure, you might have to buy a toothbrush or shaving cream at your destination, but your overall expenses will be minimal.  If you are desiring travel for an extended time, you will have to try to find a balance between the benefits of traveling lightly and the drawbacks of potentially selling (or not bringing) some essentials.

How we feel overall?

Overall, I’m really proud of how we’ve planned the trip.  Early planning has saved us some money, but the far majority of saved money will come from lifestyle adjustments.  Not having a car, renting very cheap, packing super-light, and giving up cell phones are all lifestyle sacrifices to save money.  Although you can’t put a price on flexibility, it is obviously something that is very important to us, as well.  Some think you have to spend more money to obtain more flexibility.  For us, we’ve found just the opposite to be true.

I’m excited for this week’s show and hope you’ll come join all of us in the chat room.  With the variety of people that turn out for the show, I’m sure there will be a good amount of specific information on which individual websites are better than others.  Courtney and I love traveling and are always excited to hear about other experiences!

How do you save money while traveling?  Do you have any tips or suggestions for our journey?  Have you traveled for an extended amount of time (or thought about it)?  I’d love to hear from you!  You can enhance this topic by commenting below!

20 thoughts on “Saving Money While Traveling And Some Mistakes We’ve Made”

  1. Holy cow. Only two backpacks of possessions? No storage cache in the US somewhere? That would be pretty impressive.

    I’m anxiously awaiting Google voice as well. I can think of a lot of uses of this service (including some that Google might not advertise :). I’m going to review it on my blog once they open it up (and once I have some time to play around with it a bit)

    If there is a decent public transportation infrastructure, you’re probably making the right call with regards to a car. You can take a lot of bus and taxi rides for the cost of a car payment, gas, maintenance, and insurance – and it’s not as if you need the flexibility of jumping in the car at a moment’s notice to visit Grandma. I suspect that gas also costs more in Australia than in the US, since it always seems that the US has one of the lower prices for gas in the world (as hard as that is to believe)

    I hope your daughter travels well. That could be a looooooooooooooong plane ride if she decides to blow a gasket.

    kosmo @ The Casual Observer’s last blog post..Draftermath

    1. We are keeping our fireproof safe, which will be full of our important documents and small keepsakes (wedding pictures, legal documents, etc…). This will be at a family member’s house, but other than that everything’s got to go!

      We are a little worried about the 16-hour flight. However, for the past several months, my wife has been rocking our daughter to sleep on Sunday nights. She has gotten semi-used to this routine and we hope it’ll pay off (we fly overnight on a Sunday). We will just have to wait and see!

  2. You’ve done some great planning! I have just a few tips for you. Check craigslist and ebay for backpacks. I sold my Gregory pack for half of what I paid for it on Craigslist and it was in near perfect condition. It was taking up too much space and I didn’t want it anymore. That being said, since you are going to be living out of it for a while, I recommend NOT getting a top loading pack. They are a total pain in the bum to get things out of. That is why I sold mine.

    If you do end up needing to buy a car while you are in Oz, check the backpackers hostels in Cairns. There are a million of them and many backpackers buy cars in Melbourne or Sydney, drive up the coast and sell them in Cairns. It’s very common, so you could get a better deal doing this.

    Packing clothes – it will still be hot in Cairns, even in winter, so you will probably only need summer clothes. But, you will need a collared shirt (like a polo), long pants and close-toed shoes however to get into many restaurants and bars. Australia is funny like that. It’s very laid back, but they have dress requirements, particularly for men. No shorts or t-shirts or sandals/flip flops are allowed on men in many restaurants/bars. Women, however, can wear pretty much anything. 🙂

    Oh yeah, and make sure a fridge comes with the flat you look at. Many times they don’t there. Strange. We had a furnished flat too though and it did. But I had a friend who was surprised at this, so apparently it doesn’t always come with one and you would have to get one.

    That’s all I can think of based on this post. 🙂 I love giving tips about going to Australia! It makes me jealous and want to pack my bags when people move overseas!! Crazy, I know…sometimes I think I should just go back.

    1. Thanks for all the helpful tips!

      Our first objective is to find a backpack that fits me well. I’m about 6′, but I have very wide shoulders. We will definitely look on craigslist, though I’m still kicking myself for not doing this in the fall!

      The tip on the car is very helpful. I’ve heard of this practice before, but haven’t connected the dots. If we do end up having to buy one, we will gladly take this advice! Thank you.

      I’m super glad you told me about this semi-dress code. We were planning on taking 99.9% all summer clothes. I’ll make sure to get one pair of dockers, now that you’ve pointed this out! I think I have two decent shirts on the agenda, as well.

      That’s weird with fridges not coming with furnished apartments, thanks again for the pointer. There is no way we could have known this!

      Instead of being jealous… just come visit us in Cairns this summer! Thanks again.

  3. Oh, and in response to the cost of gas in Australia (from the first comment)…YES, it’s very expensive there.

    BUT, if you can buy a car that switches from petrol to natural gas, then you can save lots. Natural gas is a lot cheaper than petrol (and cleaner burning!) and you can fill up on it at most gas stations.

    They are streaks ahead in this area compared to America. I traveled a guy down the west coast and he had a car like this. We ran on natural gas most of the time, then when it was getting low, we just flipped a switch under the steering wheel and the car started running on petrol. It was so cool.

    That being said, we didn’t have a car for the first 18 months we were there, but Cairn’s public transport isn’t as extensive as Brisbane’s, so it probably depends on where you end up living/working.

    MB’s last blog post..Carrying Backup Money While Traveling

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  5. One thing I noticed while flying interstate around Australia (for work all the time) is that all the babies on the planes tend to cry as we are coming into landing (change of air pressure in the cabins). It seems to hurt their ears. Not sure if there is anything to help alleviate this but you might want to check it out with your doctor prior to travel.

    Also regarding dress code: Although I live in Melbourne I would agree with most of those comments re clothing (although t-shirts will be okay most of the time, but probably good to have at least one collared shirt.).

    Regarding gas (petrol as it’s known over here, gas is LPG), price goes for anywhere between $1.15 and $1.40 per Litre (Usually floats around the median, but always bank on a little over the high figure in your budget… probably budget $1.50-$1.60 to be safe and a gallon= 3.78 Litres according to

    Also, so you don’t get confused at the pump, cars that are not diesel engines that are made after 1986 run on unleaded petrol (unless they’re duel fuel, which is unleaded and gas/lpg).

    Hope this helps. If I’m up in Cairns while you’re over I’ll give you a shout.

    All the best mate.


    Josh Moore’s last blog post..Finance 101: How to budget

    1. Yeah, we’ve gotten some suggestions for making sure the are taking a bottle or eating during take off and landing. The swallowing helps. We are definitely going to be looking into this.

      Thanks so much for all the other suggestions. I would appear that gas is like 3x as expensive! Even more glad we’ll be doing public transportation at first.

      I really hope you will drop a line if you are in Cairns. It would be awesome to meet up!

  6. I really enjoyed this article. Our family loves to travel, and more often than not we shell out so much. What we like doing to save during roadtrips & travels is to use one van for all 8 of us (yes, we and all our stuff fit in it, haha). We also try not to eat out much, and we normally stay in a maximum of three bedrooms.

    Imee’s last blog post..Using Credit Cards to Your Advantage

    1. Thanks for the support! I admire your ability to travel with 8 people! Wow, I can’t even imagine that… 3 is a handful itself. I’ll be looking for more guidance from you in the coming years as our family grows, as well!

  7. I am the self proclaimed carry on Queen! I’ve traveled to Europe, Asia, and the Carribean all with one backpack of clothes and toiletries! Never had to deal with lost luggage or waiting around for slow, underpaid baggage handlers. I grab my pack, and get started the minute I land!

    Tips for packing: If you can, get a compression sack. You can stuff an insane amount of clothes in there and it saves mega room for shoes or toiletries. Just be sure you have an iron where you are landing!

    Cathy’s last blog post..Philanthropy in Tough Times

    1. My wife and I love this too. Whenever we took trips anywhere, we’d always find a way to shove everything into a carry-on bag. It just makes everything more simple!

  8. Wow – what a great post. Found you through Probloggers 31dbbb.

    I love the tips on planning ahead and the peak season travel. I always make sure I do those things.

    When we planned for our Disney Trip – I planned and saved for a year. We did go the day after Christmas and stay through the new year but having talked about the parks, what was there and what to do – we were able to navigate through it with little effort.

    We also saved for vacation for a year and gave each child money as a Christmas gift so they could have a little extra spending money.

    Marie’s last blog post..The 30 Day Spreading Joy Challenge for May 2009

  9. Thanks for stopping by, Marie! Isn’t the 31DBBB awesome?

    It’s awesome to hear yet another example of how planning and saving really does pay off. I know for us the vacations have just really felt different when they were paid for ahead of time. It’s cliche, but it’s so true.

  10. WOW I read a lot I can relate to!
    Traveling with a one year old: Just made the journey from Brisbane to Canada within in the last two weeks. Had my 32 week pregnant wife, 3 year old daughter, and 1 year old son. I bet you can do it. FYI: You might need to avoid a few nasty looks. Infants and international air travel don’t mix in some people’s minds.

    Baggage: I’m jealous. Traveled here with three bags. The trip home in five months will require a pick up truck to get us to the airport (there will be five of us).

    Deals on Airfare: Got burned the same way. Found great rates, but didn’t know that two months later could fly the family of four round trip for $2,500 total. I suspect V-Australia will keep the prices low for some time.

    Frugal Accommodations: SIL (Summer Institute for Linguistics) a church affiliated organization has a nice guest house. Just Google Tree Tops Lodge Cairns for more info.

    Enjoy your stay.

    Craig’s last blog post..Deciding What Points Program is Best For You

    1. It’s nice to get another response from an Aussie! By the way, I can’t imagine moving with that young of family. One is going to be a handful for us!

      We are definitely going to be checking out the Tree Tops Lodge, at least right when we get there. Thank you so much for the suggestion. I’ll have to call and get some of the going rates from them for sure.

      When you get back to AUS, if you ever find yourself in Cairns let me know!

  11. Best of luck on your trip/move to Cairns. I’m just down the road in Townsville (or Brownsville as the people in Cairns like to call us).

    Here are a few more things that might be important regarding traveling with a baby:

    Restaurants close early, like 8 pm. I’m not kidding. Stuff in Cairns may stay open a bit later because of all the tourists, but its hard to find eats after that time.

    Many shops are closed on Sunday. Its only been in the last couple of months that the big grocery stores like Woolies and Coles have been open on Sunday, and its only for 4 hours or so.

    If you enjoy a drink now and then, its ok to bring your kid with you to the pub. All of the pubs in Queensland are non-smoking, and many of them serve pretty filling meals at a decent price.

    Expect to be horrified at the high price of prepared food here. An average Caesar salad with chicken will be at least $18, and steaks are between $25-30.

    Lots of things are more expensive here, including vegetables. Most veggies have to be shipped up from down south, and that adds a lot to the cost. On the flip-side, bananas will be dirt cheap and taste better than anything you’ve ever had in the states.

    It may be harder to find a baby-sitter in Cairns than in the U.S. Many people won’t trust their kid to anyone else to watch, so teenagers don’t do this as much. However, the corollary of this is that kids are welcome almost anywhere as long as they aren’t a complete nuisance.

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