If you've ever seen me out and about you know I don't spend much money on clothes(see Smile Don't Stockpile). Nor do I have an expensive car, watch, or television. In fact, if someone broke into my apartment, they would be sorely disappointed unless they wanted outdoor equipment, shoes of various states of wear or dogeared books.
While things don't excite me much, experiences do. I absolutely love to travel and do so whenever I can. I'm always looking for new places to go. The 50 state marathon challenge has been a blessing because I don't know if I would have gone to places like Cincinnati or Jackson, Mississippi if I didn't have an excuse. But each and every place has had some memorable moment that made the trip worthwhile.
Even though I spend minimal amounts of money on "stuff", costs do tend to add up quickly. I've compiled a list of some pretty easy ways to help reduce costs and get out and explore. You may think you cannot afford to travel, but I would argue you can't afford not to.
Join Airline Loyalty Programs. Seriously. Even if you don't think you fly enough on one airline to make it worthwhile, it is. You'd be surprised how many airlines collaborate so that you fly US Airways and get credit on American or Lufthansa and credit on United. Minimally, I'd do the big three: United, American and Delta and you'd be fairly well-covered. Since joining, I've already gotten a one way flight to HI, Alaska, Vegas and my round trip to Ireland paid for with miles. Well worth it.
Consider 2 One Way Tickets. When looking for flights to Aruba, the cheapest flight was over $600. However, I was able to go there this past week for about $400 because I flew out of Boston on United and returned into Manchester on Southwest. Yeah, it took a little more Internet surfing but was definitely worth it.
Bundle. I'm not sure how this works but for some reason if you bundle a hotel and flight on some websites your costs go down. A lot. Best example was the first time I flew to Kona. A round trip ticket was $975. However, on expedia when combined with a 2 night hotel stay(we weren't staying for just two nights I was just playing with ALL of the variables), I was able to get the entire thing at $700! Yes $275 less including a two night hotel stay. Like I said, I don't know how this works but I usually can save over $50 by bundling a hotel with a flight although this usually only works with the more expensive flights for some reason.
Don't be too picky where you stay. It is really easy to want to stay at the Four Seasons on every trip, but you need to evaluate how much time you'll really be spending at the hotel. A good trip for me means that the hotel will be used only for sleeping and the occasional shower. I'd recommend finding out what you cannot tolerate and then pick the next cheapest place. A good way to cut costs(besides couch surfing or camping) is to look at multiple sites like Priceline, Homeaway, AirBnB etc. to find the place the best matches your budget and pickiness.
Carry-on. Not checking a bag saves you money with the airlines, but also means you're more likely able to rent a smaller car, not be charged for excess fees with a cab and will be able to immediately start exploring when you land. Very rarely do I end up running out of clothes by the end of the trip and if you have access to laundry then you need to pack even less. Even if you really do run out, you will likely still be saving money as compared to having to check a bag. When we got "stuck" in Miami for two extra nights, I went to Marshalls and was able to buy myself a full outfit for under $30. Granted it resulted in Amber querying: "Did you just rob that homeless man and take his clothes?" But you get the point.
Stay Local. When I first started racing in and around New England, I was amazed with how many places, cool places, I'd never been to. I soon realized that I didn't have to travel far to see new things. I just went to the Salem Witch Museum a couple of weeks ago even though my brother has, for years now, lived ten minutes away. It's easy to overlook things close by but you've got to think every tourist destination is close to someone. I now try to make a point of finding a new activity or sight every time I travel(even locally) to a race. I've done New Bedford 3 or 4 times and I still haven't been to the Whaling museum but plan to do that this time.
Eat the Local Food-At Lunch. I love exploring new places and eating a lot of new and delicious foods. Whether it was in Shanghai or New Orleans the lunch menu is almost always the same as the dinner but cheaper. This is a great way to sample local foods without being hit with as large of a bill.
Take up running. What does running have to do with traveling in expensively? Do I expect you to eschew motorized transportation and run everywhere? No, but... The times I've felt I've really seen and explored an area has been when I've been able to run it. You see the intricacies of the city, the slight changes of neighborhoods, and experience the smells(both good and bad) that you cannot in a car and which take too long walking. Plus, you have the opportunity to find yourself. Lost. Like when I was in Munich and wanted to run a large loop thinking that the road I was on ran parallel to the road my hotel was on. However, it turned out that the two were diverging lines and only were getting further apart rather than parallel. After taking the turn thinking I'd come across the street in a block or two, I realized how far off I was. So instead of backtracking(which I hate), I just continued to plug along trying to find my street. 45 minutes later and still not finding it, I finally stopped, in very broken German how to get back. Apparently the only way was to walk about 10 minutes and then hop a train back to the correct station which resulted in my planned 60 minute run to turn into an 120 minute run with a 20 minute illegal train ride. Bottom line? Always carry some local currency when running and backtrack if needed.
Pick A Few Destinations. For my last trip, I knew I wanted to go somewhere warm to escape this endless barrage of frigid weather. I didn't have a particular place in mind so I had the freedom to check out flights and rates at a few locations and found the best deal. That's my plan for my winter marathons. I have several warm weather states I haven't done yet and I'll price them out and pick the best option.
For a Long Weekend-Fly Direct. If you're going for a long weekend trip, don't skimp on a flight with several layovers. This just is an invitation for flight delays and missing connections which surely will end up costing more in the long run. Beyond the extra money you spend eating crappy food at the airport, the opportunity cost of not being experiencing your destination is not worth it. Flying from Paris to Washington to Boston saved us $100 off the flight but when our flight was canceled and we had to rent a car to drive from DC to Boston our rental car and gas ended up costing us significantly more.
Bring a friend. Having a travel companion won't halve all of your expenses but will markedly reduce some. Hotel and car rentals drop by 50% but even things like eating out where you split an appetizer all help out. Downside? You need to realize that their goals for the trip are similar to yours. Otherwise you may find yourself not enjoying your trip at all or missing out on things you really wanted to do. Research your destination but also research your friends to making sure you're compatible. A good co-pilot is imperative to a good trip.
Find Free Activities. There are a lot of cities that offer free walking tours, admission into certain museums, and free live music. A little research before you go will usually result in some fun free experiences.
Sucker Someone Else into Paying. Okay so this hasn't happened since I was taking family vacations, but if you can get your company to pay for a business excursion, take advantage! Or maybe a wealthy friend who wants you to pace them?
Grab a Groupon. This works really well after marathons. I get a discounted massage by buying a groupon ahead of time. Sight-seeing tours are another good thing to buy in advance. Also works well with restaurants but I wouldn't do too many because you also want to explore.
But Don't Hesitate to Spend On the Important Things. Remember why you're traveling in the first place. Don't skimp on the things that are important. It's easy when you're on a tight budget to think that you cannot afford some things but if you're in New York, you need to see a show, like if you're in Colorado, you need to ski. At least I do. Find what works for you.