Social media has turned all of us into armchair travelers. It used to be that the adventures of faraway places could be contained to the occasional skim of a publication or a flip through a scrapbook—there were always stories, of course, but it never felt as ever-present as it does now.
A simple scroll through Instagram can conjure up the landmarks of Paris and Thailand, the food of Japan and Brazil, and the sights of Mexico and South Africa. It makes us all get itchy feet to see, taste, and feel these sights for ourselves, but then we look at our bank accounts and reconsider. All too often, the choice to be an armchair traveler comes as a response to thinking that the real thing has to come at a steep cost.
"There's a big misconception that travel has to be expensive," Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, says. "For much of the history of flight, it has been the case that international travel is pricey, but in the past few years, international airfare has dropped precipitously."
In other words, the height of armchair traveling might be happening this very moment, but so is the opportunity to trade that seat in for one by a plane’s window.
"We're all lucky enough to be living in the golden age of cheap flights, right now," Keyes continues. "It's a shame when people's lasting impressions of average airfare from five or 10 years ago prevents them from taking advantage of the plethora of deals that pop up these days."
Other than good walking shoes and a sturdy carry-on bag, Keyes says that the average wanderluster can make the most of these deals with two other travel must-haves: the patience to book when flights are at their cheapest and the flexibility to go wherever those flights land. Since airfare will likely take up most of your budget, it’s important to spend the majority of your efforts on getting the lowest round-trip ticket.
"When someone is paying $1200 to get to Europe and $1500 to get to Asia, it makes complete sense that they don't have the money to travel. That's why you shouldn't pay that much for flights," he says. "Instead, with a modicum of patience and flexibility, it's not difficult to find flights to Europe or Asia for $400 round trip. Much like the stock market, where buying low is advisable, so too with constantly fluctuating airfare."
Employ a Savings Mentality
"Don't set a budget of $2,000, scrimp and save to get there, and then start spending indiscriminately on a trip because you have a couple thousand bucks set aside," he says. "It's all your money, regardless of what it's budgeted for. If you spend reasonably rather than lavishly, you'll be able to take two trips with that $2,000 rather than one."
Fly to Sale Destinations
"Don't spend $1,200 on flights to Europe just because that's the price Expedia gave you on the day you searched," Keyes continues. "Instead, be flexible on your cities, and fly to whichever place is on sale. Flights to Paris are sometimes cheaper than flights to Rome, for instance, but sometimes they're more expensive. Similarly, don't lock your dates in stone and then find airfare to fit them—more flexibility on dates gives you much a greater chance of finding cheap flights."
Be Smart When Booking Accommodation
“Airbnb is a great way to get cheaper accommodations in central parts of a city,” he says. “And if you're going the hotel route, be sure to check the rate when booking directly on a hotel's site rather than through a hotel search engine because often times it's cheaper.”
Sign Up for a Free Walking Tour
"They're 'free' in name only, since you're expected to tip, but a standard tip of $10 per person or so for a two-hour walking tour is far cheaper than other formal tour options,” he adds. “Plus, it's a great way to orient yourself to a city once you've arrived and have any initial questions answered.”
Eat Meals From Grocery Stores
"Eating out for every meal while on the road can add up quickly," Keyes says. "Instead, I like popping into a local grocery store for a simple and easy breakfast or lunch."
Don't be Loyal to Airlines
"For most people, I actually strongly recommend against being loyal to any one airline," he says. "The entire notion of loyalty to an airline means you're willing to spend more money to fly with it than others. Instead, be loyal to your own money. Be loyal to a deal. Be loyal to cheap flights, whether they're on Delta or Lufthansa or British Airways."
Be Patient When Booking Flights
"Airfare is both irrational and unpredictable, so don't stress if it seems like it doesn't make much sense to you why a flight price is very different yesterday than what’s available today," he says. Instead, just be patient with when you book and flexible about where you go in order to spend way less on flights."