7 ridiculously easy ways how I saved $$$$$$$ and time on Budget Adventure Travel | Money Saving Tips

[Prologue: Several readers asked me about the total trip for this travel. I crunched all numbers and the total cost was approximately, CAD $4,500 for two adults. This includes all airfare, ground transportation, lodging, food, tours, and gifts. The trip itinerary was Calgary -> Miami -> Quito – > Amazon Jungle -> Quito -> Bogota -> Miami -> Calgary]

In 2011 I got the urge to do a trip of a lifetime. Adventure trips typically cost a lot of money and time. I do not have a lot of either. I am a corporate employee with a full-time job and standard North American vacation days. In other words I am like YOU! Limited Resources, Unlimited Aspirations.

After months of reading, researching and reviewing print and online publications, I set my heart on a trip to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. At first I researched various tour operators in Canada. I found most way too expensive than I could afford as well as restrictive in choosing and picking the destinations I wanted to visit the most.

So then I turned to self-preparation guides and travel books to learn the tips and tricks of traveling to the South American continent on a budget. With a little planning and some ridiculously innovative tricks that I am about to share with you, I will show you how a life of adventure and mystery is just as much available to you within your time and money constraints.

This post is obviously not about luxury travel. Lot of money can buy luxury. This post is not about backpacker style traveling. Lot of time can allow you to wanderlust. This post is for the middle of the ground road. You may be couple or traveling with kids. You have done the resort/cruise trips but looking for something more authentic without wanting to stretch you comfort zone too far out. Well this post is for you.

What I about to share with you is primarily from a Canadian context; however the basic principles are so ridiculous that they apply almost anyplace you are reading this from. So let’s get started shall we.

Ridiculously Easy Way 1: TIME TIME TIME

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the old saying goes “Time is Money”. Indeed the more time you give yourself for preparation and planning from the intended date of travel, the better likelihood of securing good deals and save money in the long run.

Although some folks swear by last-minute deals, I must add that I have monitored deal sites for over two years, and not once have I secured a last-minute deal that I wanted to go on or could go on at that time. And most of the times, the deals pertain to all-inclusive vacation destinations, so if Adventure Travel is your thing, its best to stick to tried and true method of research and planning ahead.

On my trips I make sure to ask all budget travelers on how much ahead of time they had planned for their trip and I think the average is around 8 months!! The longest I’ve heard is 2 years!! Mine was 9 months!

Also budgeting is very important and planning ahead to save money for a trip is essential. Ramit Sethi is New York Times best-selling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He recommends opening a sub-account under your primary savings account, in to which you transfer a set amount every pay-day automatically. It’s a simple formula that he recommends. Estimate cost of your trip (here I personally suggest to add 15% on top of that for contingency), divide it over the time period left before you want to travel to determine how much to auto-save in to the account.

The amount of last-minute planning and hopes of last second getaway deals that the typical traveler relies on, and then ends up paying more in long run, is just ridiculous!

Ridiculously Easy Way 2. READ READ READ

Image: BrandonSigma / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So many choices and places to research it is maddening. I remember browsing over 200 related sites, 25 books, 12 twitter feeds, travel conference shows, and even those physical stores called travel agents (yup! still exist and flourishing. Ever been to a local mall?)

I have done a bulk of this homework for you, so I will share with you the most critical sources you need to review at a minimum. You will find 80% of your answers from these sources. My top 3 research guide books were from Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s.

The lack of basic local customs knowledge of destination city and simple savings tricks that one could easily have found online and travel review sites such as Tripadvisor preventing a typical traveler to save loads from tourist traps and money traps is just ridiculous!

Ridiculously Easy Way 3. Travel with a partner or in a group

For most traveling, going in a group, or even as a couple, will save you big $$bucks$$ over the entire trip. While there are variable costs per person, it is the savings on the fixed costs that helps. For example, while each person has to pay for a flight ticket in advance, other aspects like lodging, local transportation, food etc. can be shared among the group, thus bringing down the per unit cost.

Ridiculously Easy Way  4. Get yourself a fantastic rewards Credit Card

This will be one of the most critical aspects of your savings plan for adventure travel. Now there is a school of thought that considers the usage of credit cards absolutely blasphemous. All I have to say on this topic is those who are irresponsible with money, they have much bigger issues in life to deal with than a credit card. And if you are one of those people, you definitely need to stop reading this post NOW!

Ok, so back to credit cards. The trick in finding the right rewards card is one that maximizes your reward redemption along with providing a cluster of travel benefit coverages and plans while incurring the lowest annual fee possible. Now beware of those grocery, cash-back, fuel, retail store focus reward cards. If traveling is your thing, then it is IMPERATIVE that you get yourself a good travel rewards card.

1. Do online research for credit card comparison tools and spend some time researching the various brands and offers out there

2. Review the long-term benefits of the card. Skip any introductory benefits offered

3. Find a card that has an annual fee no higher than $120 and no charge for additional card

5. Once you have found the ideal card, go ahead and apply.

4. Close and cut off all other cards EXCEPT for one other backup card. Make sure to choose the card which you have held open for the longest time so as not to affect your credit rating.

5. Now leave a zero balance on the back up card and run every household expense through the travel reward card. If you have other members, get additional cards for them, and have them run all their expenses on the same card.

The key is to maximize the reward earnings fast by running all your potential expenses by all members of household through a single card. Now don’t stupidly go charge stuff you don’t need just to build up reward points. You know better. Essentially, you want to run every expense of the household that you normally would if you didn’t have a credit card through the rewards card. Its THAT SIMPLE.

And then, once you start building reward points, DO NOT EVER EVER NEVER, redeem points for anything like merchandise or cash rewards as your redemption rate is LOWER than on travel rewards. Ok?

Personally, I use the Capital One Aspire Travel World Mastercard. I selected this card after conducting an extensive research on comparable reward cards in Canada and further substantiated this by conducting my spreadsheet calculations on redemption rewards across cards. It also offers a slew of travel benefits such as Trip Cancellation and Interruption policy, flight delay, baggage loss and whole lot more.

I am a bit of an egghead, so for most, simple web research will do. And this article from Moneysense Magazine (Canada’s best credit cards 2011) will help if you are in Canada. Similar principles apply wherever in the world you are.

Notice how I did not specify choice of APR (Annual Percentage Rate or interest rate) on the card at anytime. It does not matter. Because you are going to have to pay the entire balance on your card in FULL EVERY MONTH FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE to make this money savings to work for you. Thus the simplicity of having a primary card to run every charge through it, plus a back up card for emergency.

To not available of freebies, upgrades, and rewards being offered by credit cards and airlines is just ridiculous! However, Caveat Emptor prevails when it comes to credit card usage. All I can advice – Don’t be Stupid!

Ridiculously Easy Way 5. Double up on rewards by using Airlines Frequent Flyer Program

Image: federico stevanin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While you might feel that shopping around different airlines for best price option is the way to go when on budget, remember that sometimes it pays to stick with a preferred airlines to rapidly earn miles rewards that you can redeem for future travel.


For example in Canada, the Aeroplan affinity program offered through national carrier Air Canada, is considered among the best reward programs in the country.

If choosing a single airline for all your travels gives you the creeps at night, you always have the option to select partner airlines from an alliance program such as Star, Skyteam and Oneworld.

I flew with LAN Air for the first time for my trip to Ecuador and back and it was an incredible experience flying with them. Its too bad their network is largely in USA and South America cause these guys still have the old school class of air flying. They offer an incredible South American Pass, which I did not get to purchase as I was only in one destination, but for those looking to traverse this vast continent, this is one affordable way to do it.

Ridiculously Easy Way 6. Redeem your rewards!!!

Did you read the previous point above. Like seriously! Ok. Well then make sure you take this one even more seriously.

From a frugal traveler’s point of view there is only one other thing as blasphemous as getting your wad of local currency you have tugged around town stolen from you – and that is failing to redeem your hard-earned reward miles for travel (or whatever else).

No exact figures on this, but I would guess something like thousands of miles are lost each year simply because people forget that they had earned up so much in reward miles/points. Especially with nearly every retailer offering a loyalty program, it is no wonder that people can’t remember. Do you think this is by accident? Heck no. By offering a loyalty program, the provider is benefiting from collecting your purchasing habits as well knowing that you are likely to buy more than if you were not lured by any loyalty points.

Thus I recommend not having gazillion loyalty cards. Instead limit to no more than 3 if you can. Pick the rewards based on what is important to you and do some research on what is the greatest reward redemption. For example, on the RBC Visa Platinum Avion, which I must add is another excellent rewards credit card I have personally used to travel once around the world, 25,000 points redemption will go farther for a flight purchase (approx. $500 value) than on merchandise from their online store.

And if you still end up finding that you have several loyalty programs that you don’t want to lose track of, I recommend checking out Usingmiles online tracking tool.

Additional travel tip. According to Travel and Fashion Blogger, Lindsay Filomena, always try to fly on a Tuesday. Statistically Tuesdays are the cheapest day to fly. Also try odd hours: early mornings + red-eyes.

Purchasing unnecessary items just to get reward points is stupid and then to lose out all those points simply because you were not paying attention is just ridiculously stupid!

Ridiculously Easy Way 7. Go Local!

Besides your international airfare and medications, try to buy everything  else such as lodging, local transportation, excursion package, food and what not all locally. Of course, this makes sense only if the purchasing power of your home country is stronger than that of the destination country.

One big-ticket item that people end up splurging on is travel package from a home country operator. In most cases you will end up paying a lot more (my experience is almost double amount) for the trip simply because you are paying for the peace of mind of having your whole trip planned out for you and for having the perceived sense of assurance that you going with a reliable operator. While both are valid points, here me out for a second.

The best part of an adventure trip is the planning part. What’s the fun if someone else has decided what you should see and do. And also keep in mind that most cases, the home country operator simply uses a local operator in destination country to arrange for your excursion any case, and had you simply arrived and asked them directly, you would have gotten the same level of service at a lower price!

There are some good international operators that are well-regarded such as Contiki (youth oriented),  G Adventures (mid-market) and Gate1 Travel (upscale). I have personally not used any of them but have generally heard good things about them.

Go back to tips 1 and 2 above. Check out those resources and publications for your destination country. They mostly list local operators and tourist information companies along with ratings and user reviews. Then go to couple of the websites of those companies listed. Check them out. Contact them by email. By phone. Search them online to see if any reviews published by others. After your due diligence, if you feel that the local operator’s package is a safe bet and cheaper than home country’s, then go for it. You are serving a good cause since all your money is going to the local operator and economy!

For example, when I planned my esoteric trip to Amazon rainforest, which indeed sounded scary place to be at for a first timer traveling with a companion, I researched the travel guides, and contacted several local operators in Quito, Ecuador. I finally settled on one – Happy Gringo – for my booking. The reason is it had received high recommendation from other travelers, as well as that I found the e-sales process of working with their team sales member, Daniela Acevedo and incredibly fun process. She always answered to my 38 emails, 5 phone calls, and two in-person visits (when I was in Quito) with courtesy and patience. And I did have an excellent safe trip plus I knew all my money went directly to the local economy. Oh yes, and I saved a ton of money going this route.

Additional local travel tip. According to Travel and Fashion Blogger, Lindsay Filomena, take public transportation to and from the airport. It may take extra time, but you will save the most money. Hostels can be cheaper and nicer than hotels. Do a little research on the hostels in the destination you are planning to see. You’ll be surprised.

I agree with Lindsay’s point on Hostels. When I visited Quito, I skipped their hotels, and searched online for good hostel reviews. I also checked with Happy Gringo on their thougths on the ones I selected. In the end, I picked Bed & Breakfast Villa Nancy. This was not your typical hostel. It had great large rooms, fully renovated, wifi, and friendly owners lived on-site. It was fantastic stay and I saved 50% on lodging!! Go visit their website. They have lovely photos of the place. Plus its great chance to meet other travelers and exchange notes. Hostels have gone upscale these days to stay competitive among various budget hotels that have sprung up everywhere.

Picking an expensive tour package simply because of convenience and perceived sense of assurance is just ridiculous!

So do you, the reader, have your adventure travel saving tip to share? Post a comment. The comment that receives the most likes from other readers will receive a notable mention in this post.

And remember – Safety comes above all else on your travels. And in the end, don’t sweat over too much planning and cost saving. It is the journey and experience that matters. Spend what you think is reasonable and in your comfort zone, get it over with, and don’t look back. Enjoy the journey.

Disclaimer: All company and people mentioned here are based on my own review and/or usage of their product/service. I am not being compensated in any form by anyone for mentioning their names in this post. Reader is strongly adviced to conduct their own review and due diligence of recommended third-party products/services prior to any purchase.

15 thoughts on “7 ridiculously easy ways how I saved $$$$$$$ and time on Budget Adventure Travel | Money Saving Tips

  1. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each
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  4. Splendid concepts! I’ve also found that pooling money and bulk purchases among groups — particularly for living quarters, can save tons!

  5. Hmm you seem a lot better at this than I am. I tried the same thing, got a credit card specifically for travel rewards, but picked a bad card that had brutal redemption restrictions. I ended up having to go to Las Vegas instead of Europe

  6. OK thats a good tip re: going local. We also saved big going to South America that way, for transporation and tour operators.

  7. I also totally check the travel deal sites ALL THE TIME and have only scored once on something good. thanks for these tips

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