by Mike Daily

Atip to those with wanderlust who are looking to brighten their day in these times of travel restrictions and social distancing—if you are fortunate enough to stay healthy and maintain even a little spending cash, open up your calendar and begin to sketch out a plan for your first trip in the post-coronavirus-world. The despair and isolation brought on by the pandemic may just fade away for a few hours and be replaced with optimism and a sense of adventure.

Would-be travelers with a curious mind and in good health should not be dismayed by a lighter-than-usual wallet. Below is a friendly guide on how those brave enough to reenter the airports can swing a fulfilling trip without breaking the bank.

Tip 1: Plan Ahead
First and foremost, plan ahead. While this is made all the easier in the current climate due to safety reasons, planning ahead is always an effective means of finding the best deals. Whether it’s booking flights, lodging or tickets to a museum, the best prices usually show up well in advance of your date of departure. And where can you find those deals? For flights, try the google flight comparison tool or booking sites such as Kayak that provide various routes and airline options, filtered by price if you so choose, for your preferred destination.

Tip 2: Travel in the Off-Season
While planning ahead, you’ll likely stumble on articles about the best times of year to visit. Finding that sweet spot either just before or after the busy months of the summer tourist season when the weather is still hospitable can save you loads of cash on flights and lodging without interfering with your ability to enjoy your trip. For many western European countries, travel during the fall or early spring allows for comfortable weather and seriously reduced travel bills as the airlines and hotel owners tend to slash prices in the face of lower demand. Traveling during the “low season” or “off-peak” months will get you the most bang for your buck.

Tip 3: Look for Alternatives to Hotels
One of the more rewarding ways to travel can also be the most affordable: avoid hotels and their high, inflexible rates by trying home-sharing sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. From a financial perspective, renting a local’s home usually makes more sense than paying the typically set rates and fees of hotels (which will also likely leave you without a kitchen and spending additional money on restaurants). For example, in most large well traveled European cities, comparisons have found average hotel bookings cost nearly double what you would pay for an Airbnb rental.

But that isn’t the only reason you should consider a home-sharing option instead of a pricey hotel—home rentals are often located in the residential neighborhoods away from business districts or tourist traps, offering a much more authentic experience in a new city. Another refreshing feature of home rentals in the current climate is the reduced exposure to the dozens if not hundreds of other guests you’d encounter in hotel lobbies, food service areas and elevators. Every little bit helps in your quest to stay safe while traveling!

Home-sharing isn’t the only cost-friendly travel choice; most major cities abroad are full of lively hostels that come at a fraction of the price of their larger hotel cousins. Not only are hostels almost always cheaper than hotels, they’re also usually a hub for fun activities and your best bet to meet other travelers. Websites like Lonely Planet are a great resource for finding the favorite and cleanest hotels in a given city.

Tip 4: Make Use of Travel Rewards Points
Finally, for those who simply prefer the convenience (or luxury) of hotels, the best bet for big discounts is by making use of credit card or hotel rewards points. If you are already responsibly using a credit card, you might as well use a card that will give you rewards points in return for your spent dollars. Business travelers have long known the silver lining to so much time spent on the road—rewards points from your favorite hotel chains and airlines. These points, accrued over time, can pay for a full cross-Atlantic flight and even a week in one of your favorite hotels. The key is to stay loyal to an airline or hotel chain with your business bookings so each day away from your family is akin to putting some money in the bank for your future vacation. Online resources such as The Points Guy often have helpful tips on how to collect and use rewards points to, well, reward yourself for your hard-earned road warrior lifestyle!