If there's one thing I learned after planning for a year of overseas travel, it's that navigating all of the travel sites on the internet can be almost as difficult as saving the money for the trip in the first place.
In case you've missed the first two installments in this series on preparing for a year of travel, we’ve looked at how to save for your trip and how to make money while you're living abroad.
Now it's time to start thinking about where to go and how to find the cheapest plane tickets to get you there.
Prioritize Your Dream and Value Destinations
First, the fun part: choosing your own adventure path. Make a list of your top five or 10 dream destinations. put them in order. Maybe beautiful beaches outweigh historic ruins on your bucket list. Either way, you want to make sure you really spend your money where it matters the most.
Not every destination costs the same amount. A dollar will take you much further in Vietnam than it will in Sweden. The State Department has a helpful tool that calculates per diem rates in different countries, so you can figure out how long you can stay in each dream destination.
It’s definitely important to pick destinations that mean something to you, but remember to be flexible. Long-term travel is all about being adventurous, spontaneous and fun. Plotting every hour of the trip can leave you stuck somewhere you don’t really like or cause you to set unrealistic expectations. Flights get delayed and cancelled all the time, so just take things as they come. You might end up discovering a new favorite destination you never imagined visiting.
Round-the-World Tickets Vs Individual Tickets
Some people save up for a round-the-world plane ticket, while others bounce from place to place -- using individual tickets -- on small, low cost carriers. Compare prices on these two types of tickets for your destinations and travel dates.
Round-the-world tickets are priced according to how many miles are traveled; typically at a 10 cents-per-mile rate. Because these tickets are purchased through major carriers, frequent fliers can also build up bonus points – and upgrades – much more rapidly than they could with individual tickets from various carriers. Round-the-world tickets can also save a lot of time and headache. Instead of constantly comparing fares at home or worse yet -- while on your trip -- everything is planned in advance.
Round-the-world tickets, however, offer less flexibility than individual tickets. You may only use certain carriers, which can limit your flight options. And if you wish to make a destination change, you'll be charged a hefty fee – typically $125-$150.
Individual tickets may offer more flexibility, especially if you want to avoid the hassle of tracking down flights that fit into a round-the-world-ticket plan. Naturally, however, they are more expensive, particularly if you're buying a last-minute ticket.
Be careful when buying individual tickets in foreign countries: Many of the less expensive, foreign airlines don’t have the same safety standards of the mainline U.S. airlines. You might be able to get a cheap ticket, but is it worth a safety risk? You can individually search airlines here to see if they meet IATA safety standards. Additionally, the FAA releases a safety assessment of each country that has flights to the United States. You can find those country ratings here.
When to Buy Individual Tickets for Cheaper Airfare
If you are booking individual tickets on U.S. carriers, there is an ideal time to buy. According to travel expert Peter Greenberg, the best time to book an airline ticket is, 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning in the time zone where the airline is located. The way to take advantage of this is to call, yes call the airline of your choosing and book from there.
If you have flexible travel dates, there are a number of sites including Kayak.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Cheaptickets.com, Orbitz.com and Hotwire.com that allow you to search rates anywhere from 30 to 330 days from a given travel date. Kayak and Expedia also offer fare alerts so you can book a flight as soon as there is a big price drop to get the best deal. Priceline.com lets you book according to a price you set – but again, you have to flexible about dates. If you’re a student or teacher, try STA Travel for discounts.
Stick to a Daily Budget
After you’ve calculated your income and expenses, you can develop a budget for each location. Maybe you want to savor the cuisine at Italy’s finest restaurants, but cook for yourself in London and save for the theater.
Setting a daily budget will allow you to realize and stick to your financial limits, saving money for the top priorities on your list.
From this standpoint a budget should actually be freeing rather than restrictive. As long as you stick to it and use it correctly, you can go wherever you like, whenever you like.
Investing Answer: Take the time to create a loose trip plan, compare your options when it comes to the type of ticket you want to purchase, find a safe airline and stick to a daily budget. Though the planning seems tedious right now, it will go a long way towards a low-hassle, low-cost and highly rewarding trip.