Traveling to the Sunshine State with $800
As a university student, with all my tuition fees and expenses, when I see social media pictures of other people traveling, especially students, it looks like either they are related to Bill Gates or they are great savers. If one or both of these cases apply to you, congratulations! If not, let me tell you how I managed to travel on a budget to 4 countries, including 5 states in the US, in the past two and a half years. There are two types of travelers: old school travelers who have their ticket in hand months prior and only like five-star hotels, and experimenters who like to ride the wave of fluctuating flight prices to get the best deal and prefer couch surfing and Airbnbs. This article is for everyone: old school travelers, experimenters, beginners, and advanced travelers.
I will share the steps I went through to plan my latest trip to Florida, as well as some unforgettable travel experiences in the sunshine state that I highly recommend.
Booking tickets- Let me bust the biggest travel myth first: “The sooner you book, the cheaper”. Most of my tickets have been last moment purchases and have been much cheaper than booking months in advance. Getting cheap flights is not only a matter of luck but also a great deal of analysis and monitoring. Using applications like Airhopper help you monitor the price of a specific route at a given time so you can book as soon as it is around the price range you want.
There is no better website than kayak. Why?
A. They are the mother of all travel search engines.
B. Their website is simple and user friendly. For example, you can check prices around your flight dates, book multi-city flights, and get price predictions which are accurate most of the time.
C.Their Explore option. Depending on the date, duration, and budget, Kayak’s Explore option tells you the price of flight tickets of places around the world.
D. Has an option to check all airports in the area. Sometimes this ends up making a huge difference in the flight price.
For example, in the Bay Area Oakland Airport sometimes has cheaper tickets than San Francisco Airport. But don’t forget to calculate the rate of commuting to and from the airport because sometimes it’s not worth booking at that airport.
Other affordable (and reliable) airline websites that you should also check:
2. Southwest Airlines
3. Spirit Airlines
Tip: Don’t forget to check the baggage allowance. Some tickets are exceptionally cheap because they don’t include anything, not even hand baggage
How to travel around:
Booking a car to get around: This is probably the cheapest way that allows you the freedom to travel as you please. The best part about Florida is the beautiful drive. Here are some tips about booking:
1. Book at the airport - In case you don’t want to book online, there are lots of rent-a-car service counters. You can compare prices on the spot and sometimes they are eager enough to give you deals. We used a service called Thrifty and ended up paying around $300 for 4 days for a 2018 Toyota Camry including insurance and toll.
2. Online booking - In this case booking in advance helps. Lookout for hidden charges and special discounts for weekly and monthly rentals.
3. If you are under 25 years old - Most companies avoid renting to people under 25 and if they do they have an extra fee ranging from $15-$57 a day along with restrictions on which car you can rent. You must check with individual car rental companies for their exact policy.
Public transportation: There are buses, trains and shuttle services connecting you around Florida, but again you depend on their timing and stops. You can save by using unlimited three-day or weekly bus passes which are $12 and $20 respectively.
Where to stay:
People hesitate to try Airbnb because they worry about feeling uncomfortable sharing space or having to interact with hosts. But there is a way around that. You can:
Choose appropriate filters:
· Choose the entire place to yourself or a private room. Generally, these options refer to a separate portion of the house like the basement or, if you’re lucky, an entire guest house.
· There is a self check-in option. In this option, a code or the location of the key is provided and the host is available only upon request which leads to minimal or no interactions with the host.
What to do?
· Drive to Key West: It is impossible to blink your eyes when you have the most picturesque 4-hour drive from Miami to Key West. The best way to enjoy the drive is to roll down your window and stop at sunset points to enjoy the view the entire sky turns purple. It can be a day trip if you decide to have lunch and drive back, but if the most eclectic pub-hopping scene makes you stay there for the night, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts there which can accommodate you even late in the night. It’s also a great time to use websites like hotelstonight which sometimes ends up giving you motel-like rates for an upscale 5-star hotel.
Kayaking: With fear of water and a clumsy human by nature, kayaking would never have been my first choice. But the beautiful pictures of kayaking across downtown Miami through the Miami river made me feel that it was ok to fall in the river - at least it would be a good view (plus, I had a life jacket). I tried Miami City Lights Night SUP or Kayak on Airbnb experience and trust me, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
· Try the hidden beaches: If you are not into commercial beaches then try something off the tourist map, like the Forgotten Coast. Mind you, all the drives to these beaches are amazing.
· Don’t shy from trying the local cuisine: With no planned food itinerary, we tried every fancy and mom-and-pop restaurant.
· For the love of seafood: You can never go wrong with seafood in Florida. We made sure that we tried fish and chips and oysters wherever we went and there was hardly any place that disappointed.
· Lastly, the night life: The liveliest of all venues are the salsa bars or bars with live music. They generally start playing commercial music at a certain hour, so you can have the best of two kinds of music.
Tip: Yelp and Pinterest should be open on your phone all the time. The key to finding if a place is good or not can be determined by Yelp reviews and Pinterest has articles with so many tips you can use as you go.
I hope this article helps you in some way. In case you need some help booking your trip, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
*$800 is a budget calculated based on sharing expenses like accommodation and food.