Black Friday is coming up, and while I’m sure some of you are amped to slug it out for electronics or whatever, I think people should be MOST hype on potential travel deals. Example: last year I ended up booking a nonstop round trip flight to Dublin for about $300; while you can certainly find deals any day of the week, I’d definitely recommend scoping out the Black Friday situation in the event something budget-friendly catches your eye.
BIGGEST TIP – BE FLEXIBLE!
If you have a specific destination during a specific set of dates in mind, that’s obviously fine, and Black Friday just might give you a great hookup on that front. But the more flexible you can be, the better! Clearly certain times of the week and year are going to be more affordable than others, and certain destinations are going to be cheaper than others, and when you’re open to a broader travel portfolio, you’re much more likely to be able to take advantage of those cheaper windows.
Searching For Your Flight
I know there are a ton of different travel sites and search engines that aim to find you a great deal, but I consistently swear by Google Flights. (Shout-out to my pal Rich Nardo for telling me about it a few years back!) It’s great for finding the cheapest flights available on any given day or set of dates, and you can also create price alerts if you feel like tracking anything in particular. I’ve found loads of round trip flights to Europe in the $200-$400 range, and that’s allowed me to free up more money for accommodations, experiences, etc. (Although I usually just try to keep as much money in my pocket as possible because YA GURL LIKES 2 SAVE.)
Here’s a screenshot of how great the calendar function is // this is a $289 nonstop round trip flight to Amsterdam from JFK next month:
You can also explore the cheapest flights around the globe! You can input specific dates, but I usually just leave it on the flexible setting. There are also a bunch of filters you can use to help find something that suits your needs if you wanna get particular:
Choosing Your Flight (Things To Consider)
Budget Airlines – Worth It?
Budget airlines were my gateway drug into traveling solo internationally, and they still very much have a seat at the table when it comes to me choosing a flight. However, they’re not always far and away the best option. For example, some budget airlines will try to “trick” you by offering a low baseline price, but then requiring you to fork over extra money for seats, luggage, etc. On top of that, you often have to pay out of pocket for food and beverages, and there’s often no in-flight entertainment available, even on international/long-haul flights. If you’re not the type of person who’s interested in those things in the first place, maybe that’s not such a big deal, but I find that sometimes an airline that does offer these sorts of amenities can end up exceeding the value of the budget airline price tag.
For instance, I recently flew to Madrid via United; there was a slightly cheaper option available via a budget airline, but when I did the math for how much added value I got with the United flight, it definitely outweighed the competition; I watched a couple of movies I’d otherwise have paid to rent (example: Booksmart, which I missed while it was in theaters), plus I drank a couple of beers each way (beer and wine are free). Already that’s like at least around $50 “saved” considering what the entertainment would have cost to download/rent and what the beers would have cost had I purchased them in-flight elsewhere.
Luggage restrictions are often much more lenient on non-budget airlines, too, and even though I personally don’t benefit from that (more on that in the bonus tip section below), it’s definitely worth considering if you’re not into packing light.
Basically, just do a little research to find out what you’re getting (or not getting), because sometimes the price tag can be misleading.
Cost of Living
It can be tempting to automatically say “HECK YES!” to a cheap round trip, especially if it’s an international one, but definitely do a quick scan of what it’s gonna cost you while you’re actually there. I usually Google “cost of living [insert city name here]”, or I’ll check out their local supermarket or restaurant websites to get an idea for how much food and basics will run me. For instance, I went to Oslo and Copenhagen in 2018, and the price differential for food and dining out was MASSIVE. I basically ate toast the entire time I was in Oslo, but Copenhagen allowed me to splash out way more at the supermarket and in nice restaurants.
I also scope out the Airbnb situation, because sometimes it’s insanely expensive when compared with other cities. Reykjavik is a great example – the price to rent a spot is (at least the last time I checked, anyway) pretty up there, whereas in Madrid (where I was in October) I was able to find some incredibly reasonable prices. This doesn’t mean you have to book your spot immediately, but just get a feel for the going rate during the dates your flight would take you there so you can have a better idea of the real cost of your trip.
Basically, just make sure you’re going to be able to afford to have a good time where you go once you get there. Usually there are ways of making it work no matter the location, but it’s nice to be at least a little comfortable, y’know? Otherwise what’s the point?
Getting To/From the Airport
This is another thing that I think feels to most people like an after-thought, but I always consider the ease (and cost) with which I can get to and from an airport before I book a flight. For example, I like to fly out of JFK when possible because it’s cheaper and more convenient for me than having to go to EWR (or LGA), but if the flight is drastically cheaper out of EWR (or LGA) than JFK, I’ll consider making the trek elsewhere. If you’re based in DC, DCA is probably the most convenient option, but it’s actually super easy (and cheap) to get to BWI via the MARC, so you might want to think about adding it into your consideration mix.
On the flip side, once you land at your destination, is there public transit that’s safe and affordable to get you from the airport to the city center quickly? And from there, can you get to your accommodation safely through more public transit and/or walking? Do taxis have a flat rate to and from the airport, and if so, what is it? Do they use Uber there, and what does an example fare look like? And are hired cars even safe or reputable here? (I tend to travel alone, so safety and reputation are usually pretty high on my list of priorities.)
I also always consider the timing of the flight, because there are certain hours late at night or very early in the morning where I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking public transit to the airport. In those instances, is it even worth the cheap flight if you’re going to have to pay an arm and a leg for an Uber or taxi?
This all might sound boring or annoying to calculate when you’re about to book a flight, but it can honestly mean the difference between an extra hundred (or more) bucks that you might be able to save by choosing a different destination that looks like it’s a pricier airfare, but actually works out to be cheaper in the long run with more affordable transit to and from the airport.
Bonus Tip: Luggage! Packing! Etc.!
Like I just said, I know that not everyone is in the market for packing light. And that’s fine! But I personally have found it very freeing to travel with just a backpack that fits under the seat in front of me, not to mention I don’t have to pay like $40+ extra to check a bag and wait for 300 years at the carousel once we land. (Less panic re: overhead compartment real estate, too.)
So how does cramming your life into one bag work?
- First, here’s the backpack I use // unpacked it’s slightly taller than the 40cm-ish baggage regulations for certain budget airlines, but it gets less tall as you pack it, I’ve found. (So far haven’t had a problem with counting it as my one free “small” carry-on item.) And it’s nice because it has a divider for your laptop so you’re not undoing a bunch of folding when you have to inevitably pull that thing out in the security line. (Not an affiliate link, I just feel really great about this backpack.)
- It helps if you focus on packing things that can mix and match well. (I admittedly have it pretty easy in this department since I almost exclusively wear all black.)
- Also always layer the chunkier stuff to wear to the airport! Example: I flew to New Orleans a few weeks ago and wore a shirt with a sweatshirt over it plus my coat, and then tied a sweater with another shirt layered inside it around my waist. Winter is really great for this, you guys! (You won’t even look like a weirdo!)
- And wear the clunkiest pair of shoes you intend to bring along // I try to only have one pair of shoes for the journey in the first place, but in the event I bring more than one pair, usually I’ll wear boots to the airport and pack either sandals or a more compact closed-toe pair of shoes at the bottom of my backpack.
- If I’m going to be someplace for longer than a few days to a week, I try to find an Airbnb that has laundry, but it’s also usually pretty easy to find a local laundromat to refresh the stuff you’ve packed.
- Usually I keep the cosmetics/toiletries to a minimum, and tend to just bring a toothbrush, travel toothpaste, deodorant, face wipes and hand sanitizer. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed someplace where there wasn’t shampoo and other basics available in the accommodation itself, and there has usually been a supermarket or pharmacy if I think of anything else I need. (I also don’t wear much makeup, but if you do, obviously try to stick with just the essentials. Also, Duty Free usually has a pretty bangin’ cosmetics department!)
- OR you can pack ultra-light and use this as the ultimate excuse to buy new clothes/cosmetics/etc. where you travel!
If you’re still absolutely a hard-line “NO!” in this arena, then the case for non-budget air travel (obviously prioritizing the more lenient baggage policy airlines) just got stronger. But scaling down your stuff can greatly reduce your hassle re: schlepping, and it can really make an impact in terms of what you’ll end up paying for airfare.
Travel (especially air travel) doesn’t have to be astronomically expensive, you guys! But also don’t get fooled by bargain basement price tags, because there are often a bunch of other factors that could end up costing you way more than if you decided to fly someplace else. If you do a quick scan of the factors I mentioned above, you should be able to determine if something is indeed the deal of a lifetime! And there are absolutely deals of a lifetime out there to be had, so godspeed and happy sky scanning!