To say that Tanja Hester and her husband Mark have wanderlust is an understatement. They traveled to Mexico, Monaco, Taiwan and France in a single year. And, thanks to careful budgeting and frugal habits, Hester, the author of Work Optional and the blog OurNextLife.com, is confident they won’t have to put aside their passports anytime soon.
In November 2018, the couple spent nearly a month traveling through France. Here’s a guide to how Hester and her husband trim financial fat on the daily while maximizing their big adventures.
Be Destination (and Calendar) Agnostic
Hester didn’t have her heart set on France when she and her husband started planning their next big trip. Instead, she turned to Google Flights to figure out the best place—and season—to travel on a tight budget. The site lets you enter a broad destination (say, “Europe”) so you can cast a wide net for cheap tickets. Two round-trip tickets to Paris only cost them about $700, a fraction of what they might have spent during peak travel season.
Flex Your Accommodations
When she’s traveling solo, Hester doesn’t mind booking a hostel. “I have no trouble sleeping in a bunk bed, and I feel safer with more people around,” she says. In Paris, though, she traded in some of the many loyalty points she’d racked up while traveling for work for free stays. For those without loyalty points, Hester recommends staying flexible and comparing prices on various online vacation rentals. On the same trip, she headed out of the city and spent just $70 a night to rent out an entire stone house in Provence. “Staying slightly outside a city center can lead to big savings on lodging,” Hester says.
“Sometimes conventional wisdom isn’t right,” says Hester. “It’s not always cheaper to travel by public transportation.” For November, car rental rates were already reasonable. But a half hour of comparison shopping uncovered a real steal: a rental car for 15 days of the 22-day trip, with a price tag of just $300. During peak season, she estimates, the same two-plus week rental might have topped $1,000.
Pick Your Priorities
One surefire way to sour a trip (and blow through your budget) is to overcram the itinerary. “You can get such a sense of a place just from wandering around,” she says. To soak in their destination, the couple opted for long, leisurely walks—which can often lead to rich discoveries at no cost. And rather than zip from attraction to attraction, Tanja and Mark picked just a few things they really wanted to do: sample their favorite regional wine and take in the views that inspired Van Gogh’s paintings during his year-long stay in St. Remy-en-Provence (entrance tickets are less than $5).
Adventure Starts at Home
Although the couple enjoys traveling, their adventures don’t stop when they’re at home. Living near the mountains, Hester and her husband enjoy hitting the ski slopes as much as possible. To keep costs at bay, Hester opted to invest in a pair of skis instead of paying a rental fee every time she goes out. Skis, boots, poles and bindings for recreational adventurers typically cost an average of $753. Average rental costs are about $40 each outing. For an avid skier like Hester, buying was a no-brainer.1 For expensive purchases like skis, individuals might consider implementing a savings plan to automatically stash money away for the purchase, if it makes financial sense for them.
In her everyday life, Hester also practices simple money-saving habits like making coffee at home, avoiding stores that cater to tourists (and their wallets), and shopping sales at the grocery store.
Once in a lifetime adventures don’t have to break the bank. Individuals yearning for a life of adventure can put their dreams within closer reach through proper planning, careful research and making use of travel hacks that make trips more affordable.