Believe it or not, travelling to a far off land doesn’t have to be a “once in a lifetime” experience!
Don’t worry, this post is not about couch surfing, cheap hostels or even Air BnB (although the latter in particular should not be poo poo’d!)
I’ve always said I’m more duvet than sleeping bag, so this post is my tips and tricks on how to travel well without it costing you a fortune – so you can do it every year!
Let’s start with a scenario I am working on right now…
How much do I need for two weeks in the US?
I love the States and try to get there a couple of times a year. This week I bought my flight for a trip in November.
Here are my top tips: I watch the prices like a hawk. I load destination alerts into Skyscanner. I subscribe to Air New Zealand‘s emails … and when the flights are at their cheapest I pounce on them like a vulture to a mouse.
I’ve just paid about $2200 to fly from Auckland to Los Angeles then across to Washington DC the following day (more on the next legs below) then home from LA to Auckland.
Last year my husband got a flight from Auckland to Los Angeles via Sydney on Delta and Virgin for NZ$800 RETURN! That’s less than a one-way trip on a normal day. And last year the exchange rate was so good that it was almost worth buying a fare like that just to go shopping!
How to find cheap domestic fares in the US:
If I want to venture beyond LA or San Francisco (Air New Zealand’s gateway airports into the US), I turn again to Skyscanner. Southwest Airlines are usually the best all round I find. They offer two bags each for free and they have a cheap class of fare that is non flexi for about half the price of others out there. They don’t allocate seating, so 24 hours before the flight you’ll get an email to check in online. Do that without delay! This denotes your numbered place in the line, then when you get on board you have the pick of all the seats (if you’re the first on, that is).
With Skyscanner you’ll be able to see all the airlines and their fares in one place. Another tip is if you don’t mind non-direct flights you can pick up domestic US fares for a song and just kill time in a transit airport reading a magazine or drinking dreadful coffee!
How much should I allow for accommodation?
I work on about $200-250 per room per night (that means two people can stay for this price, in case you were unsure!). Give or take a dollar, staying with friends for a couple of nights and using sites like Expedia, this is a realistic price for my tastes. Not for New York City or Santa Monica mind, but in Santa Barbara, New Orleans, Houston or Miami Beach, for example, you can stay in 3 to 4 star accommodation for this price.
Look for free add-ons too like WiFi, breakfast, laundry facilities as that makes a difference to the bottom line.
Start with Expedia for your accommodation searches. And I’m also treading warily into Air BnB, so far with good results.
How much should I allow for food?
Don’t tut, but breakfast for me is neither here nor there. If it’s included in my room rate, that’s a bonus, but when I’m travelling I’m more inclined to just be looking for a coffee (preferably not Starbucks!), and go for an early lunch or brunch. These range from salads or wraps in food halls or tapas or antipasto plates in restaurants. I plan to spend around $10-$15. For dinner I’m happy with a burger and a beer. In fact I’ll go out of my way to find that! In LA I actually did a story on where to find the best said dinners. I know, it was arduous 😉
But don’t forget the trap for young players when it comes to tips and tax. Your $15 burger will have sales tax of about 8-9% added, then you need to add a tip (usually double the tax). Plan to spend up to 30% more than the advertised price on the menu!
My daily food budget is around $50. But I also like to splash out once or twice a week at a posh restaurant and drink great wine 🙂
How much will I spend getting around?
Good question! Thanks to Uber, this cost has been cut remarkably. A typical $60 fare to the airport will be under $30, a $15 fare to a nearby restaurant will be around $7. And the tips are included! I’m an Uber fan, and here’s my post on 5 reasons why>>
But for car rental for a few days I use RentalCars.com and have liked them so much over the years because they show prices for all the brands in one search, I’m now affiliated to them, so you can click on this link for a free quote>>
As I write this the US dollar is about 20% higher against the NZ dollar than this time last year. That makes a big difference, but still you’ll find bargains shopping in America. For example Mac makeup: mascara is US$25 vs NZ$70, eyeshadows are US$16-$22 vs NZ$40-$70, StudioFix powder US$27 vs NZ$80.
Oh and I love to shop at the outlets and pretty much every US city has them! Expect to pay around US$30 for a pair of Levis vs well over $100 in NZ.