Our best tips for finding cheap flights and traveling on a budget

Travel is already stressful; here's our advice if you're looking for cheap flights or a vacation that won't break the bank.

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Whether you’re looking to visit relatives, trying to unwind, searching for memories to make with your family or simply wanting to spice things up, travel is always appealing but can be dauntingly expensive. Here are a few tips for finding cheap flights, planning where and when to travel and how to make the most of your trip on a budget.

Choosing a travel destination

If you’re not going to see family or don’t already have a destination picked out, you can save money by researching what vacation spots are cheapest from your home city. Websites like Skyscanner, for example, are specifically built to search for cheap flights to wherever you want to go. You can also sleuth around on sites like Google Flights if you’re still window shopping for vacation spots.

You might have to do a little research to find cheap flights. (Image courtesy of Fotolia)

Cheap flights for international travel

Depending on where you are in the United States, you might be able to find cheap flights to other continents and countries. A quick trip to Canada or Mexico if you live close to the U.S. border, for example, might be more doable than you think! But even longer journeys can be affordable if you put in the legwork.

If you live on the West Coast, for example, Going.com suggests visiting places like Tahiti, with cheap flights available for less than $500 round trip. You can also find cheap flights to Japan from the West Coast, or you might check out Laos, which is connected to every country in Southeast Asia, including China, by rail.

If you’re on the East Coast and looking for cheap flights to Europe, you’re in luck. New York City in particular is a hub for flights to Europe, though you can also leave from Washington, D.C., Miami, or other busy airports. If you can’t find a cheap flight to the specific European city you’re looking to visit, try searching for cheap flights to nearby cities and taking the train.

Travelers walk through terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on April 20, 2020, in Atlanta. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Of course, we can’t recommend traveling to Africa enough. You might try traveling to Ghana and visiting the Cape Coast or to Tanzania for snorkeling. You could also check out one of South Africa’s amazing food markets. If Africa is on your bucket list, try taking advantage of cheap flights to Europe to make a connection there and continue on to Africa.

Wherever you go, if you’re OK with a long travel time, it’s always a good idea to shop around for options that include layovers. You might end up spending a few hours in busy hubs like New York or Paris while you wait for your next flight, but sometimes, sacrificing a speedy trip for a cheap flight to your preferred destination is worth it.

Cheap flights for domestic travel

If you don’t have a destination in mind, you can always shop around within the United States. Since only about 30% of Americans have a passport, you’ll be in good company. You could visit any of the national parks throughout the country, including Paterson’s Great Falls. Or you could go sight-seeing in New York or Washington, D.C.

As long as you don’t mind city-hopping, you can almost certainly get where you want to go with some one-way flights or with the occasional layover. You can also try searching for flights from airports close to your destination, so long as the added expense of a taxi or train doesn’t negate the savings from picking a different airport.

And if you can’t find cheap flights at a convenient time for you, a road trip can also be a fun choice. You won’t have to pay any baggage fees or worry about the size of your suitcase, but you will be traveling for longer periods of time than if you’d flown. Still, if the price of gas and the price of hotels ends up being cheaper than the flights you can find, it might be worth it to take the long, scenic route.

Passengers carry suitcases at Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) on July 1, 2021, in Schoenefeld, Germany. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Choosing when to travel

If you’ve already got a destination in mind, you can find cheap flights by choosing your time instead of the place you’re visiting. If you’re not traveling for an emergency, see if you can go outside of peak travel times; the cheapest flights are usually during the spring or early fall.

Obviously, if you have school-aged children, you’ll have to schedule your trips around their school schedule. That means taking advantage of summer deals, if you can find them, and playing with different dates. Try not to travel on weekends; the cheap flights are usually in the middle of the week.

What to do if you can’t avoid traveling at peak times

Sometimes, you just can’t avoid traveling when everyone else is traveling. Maybe you need to see Grandma for Christmas, or maybe the Fourth of July weekend was the only time everyone in the family could get together for a reunion. Whatever the case, you can still find cheap flights if you know how to bargain hunt.

Use whatever flexibility you can find in your schedule. If you find a cheap flight that leaves late at night, you might be able to make that work, depending on whether you have young kids with you or other considerations that might make a red eye flight harder than the worth of the savings. If you can’t manage a flight at an odd time, try to fly during the week. You might even see if you can take a few days off ahead of a big travel week to get to your destination outside of peak travel times; alternatively, you might find a cheap flight if you stay a little longer past the holidays.

If you have the time, try to buy your tickets between one and three months ahead of when you plan to leave. For international tickets, add on a few months. Keep an eye on travel sites or set a search alert for low fares during that window; that way, you won’t miss good deals.

Plan ahead for your travel on a budget

We all know that finding a cheap flight isn’t the only hard part of traveling on a budget. You also need to price in the cost of food and a place to stay. Thankfully, plenty of travel sites offer hotel and car rental bundles if you book a flight with them. Make sure you look at several different options when you’re looking ahead, and don’t be afraid to book separately if the bundles aren’t as good as other deals you’ve found.

Budgeting can be hard work, but if you can find cheap flights, travel at good times and keep expenses low, you can still travel! (Photo credit: Adobe Stock Images)

Unexpected expenses

Don’t fall for cheap flights or hotels that hit you with a ton of fees after you’ve already booked. Make sure you research your airline or hotel so you can be sure you’re not going to be hit with unexpected baggage fees and other hidden expenses. If you’re looking into a travel group, make sure you do your research about them, too.

Enjoy yourself!

Now that you’ve planned ahead and set your budget, relax! Don’t be afraid to practice some self-care, take a break from the stress of life, and see the world.