Like traveling ladies of yore, we daintily but enthusiastically wave our kerchiefs to our Patreon supporters. They selected this week’s topic in our monthly donor polls, and I’m thrilled. Because I have some things to get off my chest. Other than my bra, which has already had its ceremonial end-of-day removal and flinging.
Gentle readers, I come to you straight from my biannual trip back home for Christmas.
It fucking suuuuucked.
It’s not that I hate spending time with my family (though the inclusion of the Commander in Chief in this year’s Christmas dinner prayer was more than enough to ruin my appetite). But visiting them during the holidays is an expensive logistical nightmare.
We have to buy our flights, get to and from the airport four times, feed ourselves during a long day of travel, arrange for pet care while we’re away, and even pay for lodgings and transportation once we’re there if my in-laws are inexplicably remodeling the house again during our visit.
Again: it sucks. And I’ve realized that traveling to visit family is the thing that most often puts me at risk of overspending my budget.
Fortunately, this cheap bitch has learned a few tricks along the way to cling to my hard-earned pennies.
Spend time to save money
My family lives in a rural area about two thousand miles away from me (which is just where I like them). To visit them, I can fly into a Small City Airport thirty minutes from their house, or a Big City Airport about an hour and a half away.
It always costs about $200 more to fly into the Small City Airport, and there are vanishingly few direct flights there.
Whereas if I fly into the Big City Airport, I can catch a direct flight and a $9 bus ride from the airport to their town.
I spend a little more time on the road once I arrive, but I save about $191. So if you’re flying, check the prices at nearby airports and see if public transit is an option once you’re on the ground. You might be able to get a better deal with a slightly more circuitous trip.
When possible, be flexible with your itinerary
Airlines know when you’re most likely to travel, and you best believe those capitalist motherfuckers price flights accordingly.
Same goes for ride shares like Uber and Lyft. (Fucking prime time and surge pricing. WOULD YOU RATHER I DRIVE MY DRUNK ASS HOME MYSELF?)
But if you know about this opportunistic pricing, you can avoid it. Airlines like Southwest have a low fare calendar, so if your travel dates are flexible within a few days, you can fly a little cheaper. And there’s always Google Flights, which helps you to find the cheapest flight on any airline on any date.
There are also several ways to beat Uber and Lyft’s surge pricing. You can wait a bit or leave early, walk to a different location, check the ride-hailing tab in Google Maps, order a Lyft in advance, or download a sneaky app like SurgeProtector.
Airport food is highway robbery
Ever pay $60 for lukewarm beer and shitty burgers? For that is the price of a sit-down meal at an airport. And no matter how travel weary and grumpy you are, that shit ain’t worth it.
Avoiding the jacked-up prices of airport food just requires a bit of preparation. Hit your local grocery store the day before a flight and stock up on cheap, filling snacks to take with you: granola bars, almonds, dried fruit, white cheddar Cheez-Its with the extra cheese dust. (BGR’s dark secret is that Kitty and I have an ongoing feud concerning the best cheese-based cracker snack: Cheez-Its or Cheese Nips. If you prefer somewhat less delicious cheese crackers, I guess you can substitute Cheese Nips here. But we all know I’m right.*)
Pack an empty reusable water bottle as well and fill it up at the airport water fountain once you’re through security. It’s cheaper than the $5 Evian you’ll otherwise buy to avoid dying of thirst.
And never ever buy food on the plane itself. It’s yet more expensive than the airport, it comes in tiny portions, and it’s barely discernible as food.
Comparison shop for gas before you’re desperate
Gas prices spike in the middle of summer and right around the winter holidays. Which is, y’know, when people are most likely to take a road trip to visit family or go on vacation.
So before you drive anywhere, download one of these apps. They search the surrounding area, no matter where you are, for the cheapest gas. Plan when to fill up along your route accordingly and laugh in the face of our fossil fuel-based economy all the way home.
Always gate check your bag
I’mma let you in on a little secret: airlines are desperate for people to check their bags.
The overhead bins are a war zone of petty opportunism and willful obstruction of justice. No matter how many times the flight attendant says “Listen you selfish motherfuckers, put your damn coats and purses under the seat so roller bags can fit in the overheads,” there’s still Cynthia from Albany who thinks the rules don’t apply to her. (I SEE YOU, CYNTHIA. I FUCKING SEE YOU.)
They want you to check your bag. And if you didn’t bother to pay for it down at check-in, no sweat! They’ll gate check your bag for free.
So if you know you need to check your bag, wait until you get to your gate. It works most of the time, and it’s worth it to try. Sometimes the gate agent will even ask if anyone is willing to gate check their bag, in which case you can look like a selfless hero of the sky peasantry.
Friendship is magic
Sending our dog to the kennel when we travel is expensive. So we always ask a friend to keep the little shithead alive at his place while we’re gone. We drop the dog off along with a handle of decent bourbon and some homemade goodies, which is always significantly cheaper than boarding him at the kennel. Our friend isn’t available every time, but it never hurts to ask.
Similarly, you should ask a friend to get you to the airport or train station rather than hiring a ride, taking public transportation, or—heaven forfend!—paying to park.
But remember: you have to be willing to return the favor. Don’t be a shitty friend just to save money.
Take the train
Traveling by train is one of the best kept secrets of frugal travel. It’s almost always cheaper than flying. The baggage weight limit is significantly higher, you don’t have to arrive early to get through security, it’s way more luxurious than being crammed into a flying cattle car and forced to breathe recycled air, it’s a lot easier to pack your own food and drinks, and it’s much more eco-friendly than flying!
As an added bonus, you can pretend you’re Hercule Poirot and interrogate your fellow passengers about crimes! Fun for the whole train car!
Renting a car doesn’t have to be expensive
Much to my displeasure, some places just don’t have adequate public transportation. Enter the exorbitant pricing of car rentals.
One way to save on rental cars is to rent one at anywhere other than an airport. And before you commit, you should absolutely ask about the “all-in price.” Because surprise! The price you’re quoted on the website often doesn’t include shit like the concession recovery fee, the tourism fee, the airport access fee, the county business license tax, and the good old fashioned sales tax.
In general, you’ll want to go with one of the discount car rental companies. It’s not like you’re sacrificing quality, as they’re all owned by the same companies that run the more respected brands like Hertz and Avis anyway. That’s right: if you choose Avis over Budget you’re literally spending more money to rent the same car from the same company because marketing.
Or you could just tell the big car rental companies to fuck right off and use Turo or HyreCar to rent from a private owner.
Be hella nice
None have seen an uglier side of humanity than transit workers.
Gate agents, flight attendants, bus drivers—they have the dubious honor of getting yelled at by every person who’s ever been mildly inconvenienced while traveling. They have steeled their hearts to the outrage and indignant sense of entitlement of travelers who maybe should have planned a little better. They’re used to being blamed for the weather, for mechanical malfunctions, for traffic, for the behavior of other passengers, for the price of wifi on an airplane (note: never buy wifi on an airplane what the hell do you think you’re doing read a book for fuck’s sake).
They have been through all of this… and they are taking none of your shit. They have no patience for your rude shenanigans and they can make your life a living hell.
These people hold the fate of your travel in their hands. Don’t you want them to be happy to help you? Don’t you want them to go out of their way to make sure you’re comfortable and happy? Or would you rather they throw every fucking fee in the book at you for the mere courtesy of rebooking your canceled flight?
Needless to say, a little bit of honey and a lot of planning ahead can save you a metric buttload when you travel. What are your best tips and tricks for avoiding the hidden costs of travel? Share them in a comment!
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