Home.

It’s always surprising to me how much I miss the Little House when we’re traveling. No matter where we’re staying, I can’t help but compare it to our cozy little home on our quiet little street. I guess that’s one of the main reasons to travel, though… it makes you appreciative of what you have.

This trip did that and more for us.  It was a wonderful time. We saw some incredibly beautiful and historical things, but we also saw some very difficult ones that made so very grateful for the life God’s given us. But more on that in another post.

For now (since we’re still recovering from jet lag), I thought I’d share just a couple photos from our trip.  I’ll probably share more later on, but I haven’t had the time to edit any more of them  yet.

Wat Arun at Night

Wat Arun , “The Temple of the Dawn,” illuminated from the Chao Phraya River

Koh Samui

A boy and his water buffalo play in the surf of Koh Samui, Thailand at sunset

Hanoi

A Hanoi fruit seller makes her daily rounds

 

We should be back on Friday with an update on our bathroom remodel plans. Until then, have a great week!

This entry was posted in Travel.

Totes My Goats

Sorry. Any time I think about goats, I think about this and I laugh until I cry. Every time.  It’s long, but the first two songs are the best.  Oh, and if you do watch it, I’d suggest headphones.


Okay. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, on with the show.

This week we got a sweet comment from one of our readers on our “How to Pack 2 Weeks in a Carry-On” post.

“I love your tips! This spring, I’m going on a vacation and was looking for a good tote. Where did you get your flowery one from? It’s so cute!”  – Rebecca

She was referring to the tote I got from Target last spring for our trip to Europe.  It is so cute if I do say so myself.

2 weeksSince Target doesn’t carry it anymore I decided to find a few travel totes for Rebecca. They’re at three different price points and would all be perfect for a vacation. Also, they’re all navy… because I love navy.  They come in other colors, but really, who would get anything but navy?

Budget: Overstock.com

I love this tote. It has a study leather bottom, nice wide straps, and isn’t too big to fit under the seat in front of you on a plane. And at only $30.99, it’s a steal.

Middling: Stella & Dot

If I were in the tote market right now this is probably the tote I’d go with.  I LURVE the navy ikat, but I also love that it zips. I’m a bit clumsy and my have dumped my current tote completely upside down a time or two.  At $89 it’s a little pricey, but having seen it in person at a Stella & Dot trunk show, it’s totally worth that much.

Dream: Kate Spade

This is the mother of all carry on totes. It’s gorgeous, it’s functional, it’s… $298.  Le sigh. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Thanks, Rebecca, for stopping by and commenting!  Let us know if you have a question on anything from tote bags to lawnmowers!  We’ll do our best to answer it!

What do you carry when you travel?

Garnering Some R&R

Kevin and I played hookey on Friday and spent the weekend about an hour west of San Antonio at Garner State Park.

We never claim to be hardcore campers, as is evident by our not so rustic setup… a huge air mattress, our down comforter, feather pillows, and a space heater. Garner 1 LHBHWe had a lovely Camp Valentine’s Day dinner complete with grilled ribeyes and asparagus, gooey smores, and a nice bottle of wine we got on our trip to California.

Garner 2 LHBHSaturday we hiked and hiked and hiked. When we finally collapsed back at our campsite our phones (we were running the Adidas MyCoach app to track our distance) reported we’d hiked over 10 miles with over 1800 feet in elevation change. The views were worth it though.

Garner 4 LHBHGarner 5 LHBHGarner 7 LHBHWe even invented a new camp food while we were there: campfire mozzarella sticks. Just take a string cheese, stick it on a hot dog roaster, wrap it in a crescent roll, toast, and viola!

Garner 3 LHBH We had a great time and are already planning our next camping trip for when we get back from Asia!

What did you do for you Valentine’s Day Weekend? Do you camp? What’s your favorite camping treat?

Be Our Guest

Kev and I leave for Thailand in less than a month. I know. I can’t believe its that close either.

20140214-080231.jpg

I love you guys, but I don’t intend to post while we’re there… There’s way too much food to be eaten, massages to be had, and places to explore to take time to post. Instead, we’ll be having guest bloggers just like last year’s trip.

Of course, I panicked when I realized the was that close – I don’t have any guest bloggers lined up yet!

So… If you’re a blogger and would be interested in guest posting on LHBH between March 9-24, let me know!

We try to keep to a MWF post schedule, so we’ll need at least 7 bloggers (if there’s more, that’s great!). We’ll need posts by March 5th in order to be able to get them ready before we take off.

Let us know by email or in the comments below if you’d be willing to help us out!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Doing Stuff

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - SightseeingJess and I travel. A lot.

Since we’ve been married, we’ve visited nine countries and we’ll be visiting at least three more on our big trip in March.  That means by our third wedding anniversary in June, we’ll have visited at least twelve countries together*.  On top of that, we’ve taken several weekend getaways to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Austin, Oklahoma, and more.  You might wonder how we manage to do it all (sometimes even we wonder).  While Jess and I are both blessed to have very good jobs as engineers, we still have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, bills, savings accounts, retirement funds, and home renovation, not to mention a large furry family to take care of.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Sightseeing

Jess and I this January at the Hoover Dam

So how do we do it? This week we’re sharing the tips and tricks that allow us to afford to travel both domestically and internationally year in and year out while still managing to be (mostly) responsible adults. Check out Tip #1: Timing is Everything here, Tip #2: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles here, Tip #3: Hotels and Rentals and B&Bs, Oh My! here, and Tip #4: Wine and Dine on a Dime here!

Tips for Trips: Turn a day of sight-seeing into an adventure!

  1. TripAdvisor…City Guides.  You all know and love TripAdvisor.  So do we!  However, did you know they have an awesome app called City Guides? I recommend their “suggested itineraries” for free walking city guides.  Also look up reviews and save all the places you go in your journal. Built in metro guides and maps help navigate the city.  Best of all: download all of this info at home and you don’t have to use any data abroad.  It’s like having the whole TripAdvisor website downloaded to your phone.
  2. You don’t need to pay for the tour or audio guide for a specific attraction.  Traveling to a top tourist site?  Stream or download the FREE audio guide online to your phone.  Plug some headphones in and listen to an expert guide you through the castle/church/museum at your own pace. Our favorite audio guides for Europe are from Rick Steve found here.  We listened to them in the cathedrals of Rome and found a seat overlooking the Roman Forum, rested our feet, and listened. It was great!

    Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Sightseeing

    We found the perfect spot to listen to our audio guide at the Forum

  3. Find a city card.  When we were in Innsbruck last year, we went to the city tourism office and were offered an Innsbruck Card.  For few Euros each, we got admittance to all of the top attractions in the city, free internet, and discounted food.  We counted our total savings at over 50 Euros each.  Plus, this gave a rather unprepared couple a ready-made itinerary for the day.  What we found out later is that a TON of cities have them.  A lot of times you get FREE bike rental included, which may be the coolest way to see a city.
  4. Look for custom city tours.  In Rome, we took a 5 hour bike tour for 50 Euros.  Can’t beat a local’s knowledge and the customization of a private tour.  One of our best memories of the last trip.

    Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Sightseeing

    We loved our Bike Tour through the streets of Rome!

  5. Know when to book in advance and when to just show up.  Have you ever been to your favorite attraction and waited in line for an hour just to go in? This happened to me on my first trip to Paris.  I was unprepared to visit the Eiffel Tower in July, and I lost 5 lbs waiting in line for 2 hours. It was hot.  It was uncomfortable. It was totally avoidable.  The Eiffel Tower, along with many of the most popular sites in the world, allows you to purchase tickets in advance.  You usually have to specify a date and time, so plan ahead and make sure you allow for travel delays (don’t book an event for 2 hours after your plane lands!).  However, there is another option.  If you really want to see a sight and haven’t booked anything, go during the slow times.  Typically, great times to go are right at opening, during the lunch hour, or right after a rain (this is a favorite of ours, as attractions are oddly empty after a rain).

Last but not least,  don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.  If you wanted to stay comfortable you could have stayed home.  We travel to experience a different slice of life… so experience it!

This only skims the surface of site-seeing’s full potential.  What are your best tips? Have you ever had to wait in line forever like me?

*For the curious, we’ve visited French Polynesia, the UK, Belgium, France, the BahamasGermany, Austria, Italy, and Vatican City and will be visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Japan (and potentially Cambodia) in March.

This entry was posted in Travel.

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Dining

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - DiningKevin and I travel. A lot.

Since we’ve been married, we’ve visited nine countries and we’ll be visiting at least three more on our big trip in March.  That means by our third wedding anniversary in June, we’ll have visited at least twelve countries together*.  On top of that, we’ve taken several weekend getaways to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Austin, Oklahoma, and more.  You might wonder how we manage to do it all (sometimes even we wonder).  While Kevin and I are both blessed to have very good jobs as engineers, we still have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, bills, savings accounts, retirement funds, and home renovation, not to mention a large furry family to take care of.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Dining

Atop the Campanile in Venice

So how do we do it? This week we’re sharing the tips and tricks that allow us to afford to travel both domestically and internationally year in and year out while still managing to be (mostly) responsible adults. Check out Tip #1: Timing is Everything here, Tip #2: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles here, and Tip #3: Hotels and Rentals and B&Bs, Oh My! here!

Wine and Dine on a Dime!

It’s no secret that Kevin and I love to eat – especially when we travel. No matter where we’re visiting you’re sure to find us sampling the best that our destination has to offer.  We’ve put together a system that allows us to afford to eat where we want all while maintaining a budget.  When we’re traveling, we set a daily budget for food for that trip.  We can spend it on breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks, or anything else that tickles our fancy, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Our System

If we’re not staying at a B&B or hotel that provides a free breakfast, one of our first stops on arriving somewhere is to find a market and get a few things for breakfast.  If we have a kitchen we’ll make breakfast ourselves. If not, granola bars, fruit, and yogurts make great on the go breakfasts and are much cheaper than eating out at a cafe or restaurant.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Dining

We even cooked our own breakfast on our honeymoon

What we do for lunch depends on how expensive dinner is going to be.  If it’s not too expensive, we’ll grab lunch from a street vender or small cafe.  If we’re planning on going all out for dinner, we’ll opt for the same grocery store route we took for breakfast. On our honeymoon we took this so far as to have Ramen noodles we bought at a market for lunch (made in the electric kettle of our 5-star hotel) so that we could go all out with wine and dessert at the fabulous French restaurants on Moorea.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Dining

We usually decide where we’re having dinner early in the day (if not the night before) so that we can make reservations and get an idea of what we’ll be spending. Dinner’s the big meal for us, so we like to splurge on it.  Whatever we have left of our budget at the end of the day goes into the dinner budget.  We know what we can spend ahead of time, so it takes away any guilty “I really shouldn’t order this” moments.

We never feel like we’re missing out by going light on breakfast and lunch. It saves us money and allows us to eat at the restaurants we really want to and when you’re as active as we are on vacation,  you don’t want huge meals to slow you down anyway.

Dining Tips

When it comes to choosing where to eat, the first thing to do is research. If we’re traveling internationally this means talking to the locals and finding out where they go for dinner.  Our bed-and-breakfast owners have all had great suggestions on restaurants and some of the best meals we’ve had came from menus without any English on them at all.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Dining

A View of the touristy Mussels shops along the Petite Rue des Bouchers in Brussels

In fact, if you come across a restaurant with a special “tourist menu” in every language imaginable, turn around and walk away.  It’s intimidating to go into a restaurant where you may not speak the language, but if you’re willing to give the menu a go, the waitstaff will probably be more than willing to help you out.  Remember, there’s a huge difference between a tourist and a traveler.  Strive to be the latter.

If we’re traveling in the good ol’ US of A, we might ask the locals where to go, but most likely we’ll pick a genre (ie. sushi, Mexican, pizza, etc) and then hit up Yelp.  Some of our favorite restaurants were found by perusing Yelp (Animal in LA, The Peppermill in Las Vegas, Deanies in New Orleans… I could go on).

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Dining

Barbequed Shrimp at Deanies’ in New Orleans – Unbelievably good.

Do you have any tips on how to eat cheaply on a budget?

Check back tomorrow for our tips on how to see the right sights at the right price!

*For the curious, we’ve visited French Polynesia, the UK, Belgium, France, the BahamasGermany, Austria, Italy, and Vatican City and will be visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Japan (and potentially Cambodia) in March.

 

This entry was posted in Travel.

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Accommodations

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - AccommodationKevin and I travel. A lot.

Since we’ve been married, we’ve visited nine countries and we’ll be visiting at least three more on our big trip in March.  That means by our third wedding anniversary in June, we’ll have visited at least twelve countries together*.  On top of that, we’ve taken several weekend getaways to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Austin, Oklahoma, and more.  You might wonder how we manage to do it all (sometimes even we wonder).  While Kevin and I are both blessed to have very good jobs as engineers, we still have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, bills, savings accounts, retirement funds, and home renovation, not to mention a large furry family to take care of.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Accommodation

Buckingham Palace photobombed our picture!

So how do we do it? This week we’re sharing the tips and tricks that allow us to afford to travel both domestically and internationally year in and year out while still managing to be (mostly) responsible adults. Check out Tip #1: Timing is Everything here and Tip #2: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles here!

Accommodations: Hotels and Rentals and B&Bs, Oh My!

Once you get where you’re going, you’re going to need a place to stay.  We prefer the comfort of hotels, rentals, and bed-and-breakfasts.  I know, I know. We’re forgetting hostels. I’m sure they’re great. I’m sure that some even give you your own bathroom and private bedroom… but we’re not college-age backpackers anymore.  We’re spoiled and like our hot breakfasts, hotel soaps, and not having to tote our own sleeping gear wherever we go.

B&Bs

When Kevin and I travel to Europe, our first choice for a place to stay is always at at bed-and-breakfast.  Typically, they’re a little removed from the heart of things but still within easy walking distance of the main attractions, they’re usually cheaper than a comparable hotel (and they include breakfast!), and B&B owners (or at least, all the ones we’ve met) tend to be ridiculously friendly, knowledgeable, and excited to share everything they can about their city with you.  Our B&B owners in the Loire Valley, France pointed us to some awesome little wineries and lesser know sights we might have missed, while our B&B owners in Rome took the entire B&B out for a picnic breakfast on top of one of Rome’s seven hills (and went out for an amazing dinner with us… but that’s for tomorrow’s post).

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - AccommodationWe’ve found all our B&Bs using TripAdvisor.  We love the ability to find smaller places that TripAdvisor gives you, and the photos and reviews aren’t bad either.  Just remember when reading reviews not to be swayed by a single bad (or good) review – read lots of them.

After finding the perfect place, we usually book through Booking.com or Tingo because they offer refundable rates.  This can be huge if you miss your train (like we did in Munich) or you end up in the emergency room with a dislocated shoulder (like I did in French Polynesia) or the country you’re trying to visit decides to stage protests against its Prime Minister (ahem, looking at you, Thailand).  The point is even the best laid plans sometimes change, so having the flexibility to move your accommodations around can sometimes be a life-and vacation-saver.

Hotels

Internationally, Kevin and I use TripAdvisor to find our hotels (if we’re not staying in a B&B) and Booking.com/Tingo to book them.  We also use TripAdvisor and Fodor’s forum areas to help us find the best areas in a location to stay (this came in really handy when we were booking our Hanoi and Bangkok hotels).

Typically, we stay in smaller, one-off hotels outside the US rather than with a large chain.  They’re usually much more affordable, have more local color, and are often just as nice (or nicer) than a chain you’re familiar with.  And don’t worry… someone at the reception desk nearly always speaks enough English to check you in and point you to where you need to go. Also, don’t be afraid to stay a little bit away from the main attractions in a city.  Not only will the hotels be cheaper farther away (as in a 10-15 minute walk), but you’ll get to see more of the real, less touristy city this way.  Some of our favorite meals, drinks, shops, and encounters happened on the walks to and from our hotels and B&Bs.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Accommodation

We discovered Trattoria Mario just a block from our B&B in Florence – It was AMAZING!

If Kevin and I are staying in the US, we’re most likely staying in a hotel… and it’s probably a Hilton.  Just like we’re loyal to American Airlines for the miles, we’re loyal to Hilton for the points.  Kevin stays at Hiltons for work and gets to keep his points for personal use. It only  makes sense for us to stick with Hilton for our vacations (woo free nights!).  No matter what brand you like though, join their loyalty program.  A few nights here, a few nights there and suddenly you have a weekend’s worth points for a free stay (even if it takes two years to earn it, free is free). Plus, loyalty members sometimes get free perks, depending on the hotel (hello, Hilton HHonors lounges).

If we’re not staying at a Hilton, chances are we booked our hotel using Hotwire‘s Hot Rate.  You can specify where and the star rating, but you won’t know exactly which hotel you’re booking until after.  We’ve not been disappointed yet.

Rentals

Vacation rentals aren’t exactly anything new, but Kevin and I are pretty new to them.  We got our first vacation rental in July 2013 in Siesta Key, Florida for the 4th of July holiday.  We were so pleased with the experience that we’re trying it again, internationally this time.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Accommodation

Baan Pimalai – Our VRBO rental on Koh Samui, Thailand… yes, just for the two of us!

Vacation rentals are usually homes or apartments that the owners rent out (usually through a brokerage company).  For what you get, vacation rentals are often a much cheaper option than either hotels or B&Bs.  We’ve used VRBO for both of our rental bookings and have been really pleased with them.  We’ve also had family use airbnb.com to rent apartments in Paris and Rome (they loved them).

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Accommodation

Kevin’s sister’s view from their vacation rental in Paris

Make sure to research the neighborhoods you want to be in.  Even though a listing may say “a short distance away” you might find yourself in the suburbs taking a commuter train to get where you want to go (this happened to our brother and sister).  Also, make sure to double check what’s provided at your rental – our brother and sister got to their rental in Rome only to discover that toilet paper wasn’t included!

Check back tomorrow for our tips on eating on vacation!

*For the curious, we’ve visited French Polynesia, the UK, Belgium, France, the BahamasGermany, Austria, Italy, and Vatican City and will be visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Japan (and potentially Cambodia) in March.
This entry was posted in Travel.

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Transportation

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - TransportationKevin and I travel. A lot.

Since we’ve been married, we’ve visited nine countries and we’ll be visiting at least three more on our big trip in March.  That means by our third wedding anniversary in June, we’ll have visited at least twelve countries together*.  On top of that, we’ve taken several weekend getaways to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Austin, Oklahoma, and more.  You might wonder how we manage to do it all (sometimes even we wonder).  While Kevin and I are both blessed to have very good jobs as engineers, we still have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, bills, savings accounts, retirement, and home renovation, not to mention a large furry family to take care of.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Transportation

At Redondo Beach on our honeymoon, just before leaving for Tahiti

So how do we do it? This week we’re sharing the tips and tricks that allow us to afford to travel both domestically and internationally year in and year out while still managing to be (mostly) responsible adults. Check out Tip #1: Timing is Everything here!

Transportation: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

As much as we’d like it all to be so, there’s not much vacation in a stay-cation.  To really get away, you have to, well, get away.  That means traveling. How you travel depends on where you’re going and how much you want to spend getting there.

Planes

Depending on where you’re going, getting there might be more than half the cost of your entire trip. For example, the round trip tickets for our trip to Southeast Asia in March would cost over $1,500 a person.  We paid $43.  How? One word.

Miles.

Kev and I are crazy about earning miles. Kevin flies American Airlines for work and is thankfully allowed to keep all the miles he earns for personal use. We have American Airlines credit cards that earn us miles and try to stay in hotels that have a mileage reward when you stay. We even chose a new savings account based on the number of miles we’d earn by opening it.  I’ve filled out surveys, played silly games, and entered contests all for the sake of a few miles.

Basically we’re mile sluts.   We’ll do anything for them – and it pays off.  We’ve not paid more than taxes on any single international flight we’ve taken together. Conservatively, I’d say miles have saved us over $7500 in plane tickets.  Our personal rule is to purchase domestic flights and save our miles for our big international trips.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Transportation

Nice, France from the Air

For our domestic getaways, we let the prices dictate where and when we go. Typically, we use Google Flights to help us find when and where is cheapest to get away. We also usually wait until we have hotel and rental car awards to use to help save on the total cost of the weekend.  The example below is for my birthday weekend. Looking at the map, we’d probably end up going to Denver.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - TransportationAnother trick we use is to buy giftcards from  Giftcard Granny for the airline we’re flying (usually American), then use them to purchase our flights.  If you’ve not used Giftcard Granny, it’s a great resource for buying discounted giftcards.  For example, American Airlines giftcards are 5% off today.  It doesn’t seem like much, but every little bit helps.

We also never check bags, even when they’re free.  After spending two weeks in Europe last year with only a carry on each, we’ve become the Jedi Masters of packing light.  It saves on baggage fees, makes it less likely for your luggage to get lost, makes getting around your destination easier (B&B without an elevator? No problem! Hotel a mile from the train station and the buses have stopped running? No problem!), and overall makes traveling much less stressful.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - TransportationTrains

Booking trains overseas can be a little tricky, but we love to travel that way. Sure, Europe has great discount airlines that offer super-cheap fares, but for us, part of the journey is playing cards and sipping so-so coffee from the dining car as our train winds gently through the countryside.  Our trip through the Alps between Munich and Venice (with an overnight in Innsbruck, Austria) was one of the highlights of our last vacation.

Little House Big Heart 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap Transportation

On the scenic train from Innsbruck, Austria to Venice, Italy

The easiest way to book train tickets in Europe (the only place we’ve taken them) is through RailEurope.  It’s a meta-site, meaning that it sells tickets for many different European railway companies.  They’re not always the cheapest, but they do offer discounts to “youth,” meaning  anyone under 26.  If you’re looking to get the best fares, try booking directly through the rail company you want to travel with.  They usually have better prices than what you can find on RailEurope. Oh, and plan your travel using DB Bahn, a German train company. They have schedules for most major train companies on their website and can help you find the best route for you.

In Asia, we’ll be traveling from city to city by plane only because it seems that air-entry visas seem to be easier than land-entry visas. Go figure.

Automobiles

Kev and I rent cars on most of the trips we take here in the USA.  Sure, most places have some form of public transit, but we love the freedom of really getting out and exploring.

We usually book our rental cars in advance, sometimes as early as when we book our flights.  Normally, we book through Hotwire.com and choose their “Hot Rate.” You won’t know which company you’re booking through until you’ve paid, but since we’re usually picking up/dropping off at the airport, we typically don’t care who the rental is through.

To get the lowest rates on your rental car, make sure that you’re picking up and dropping off from the same location if possible – most companies charge an extra fee if you don’t.  Also, double check your car insurance policy before leaving home. Odds are, it covers you for domestic rental cars. If it does, waive the insurance provided by the rental company – you’re covered already.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Transportation

We rented a car in LA so we could drive a little way up HWY 1 and into the hills around Malibu.

Make sure your rental agreement has unlimited mileage (you don’t want any added fees for driving too far) and make sure to return your car in the 24-hour window.  Rental cars are typically billed on a 24-hour basis, meaning that if you rent at 2:00 pm one day, you should turn the car back in by 2:00 pm on the day it’s due to avoid more fees.  Oh, and opt to fill up the car yourself instead of paying for a fill-up plan. Gas is ALWAYS cheaper elsewhere.

If you’re planning on renting a car internationally, things change a bit.  Some insurance companies don’t cover foreign rentals, so you’ll want to double check with your company before declining the rental company’s insurance (been there, made that mistake).  You may also need an international driver’s license, obtainable through AAA.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Transportation

We got lost driving around Loire Valley, France and ended up in gorgeous mustard fields in 2012

Two last things on international car rentals: manual transmissions are the norm in many international destinations (Europe included), so if you aren’t familiar with how to drive a stick, you’ll probably want to request an automatic transmission. Also, remember that international traffic laws can vary from those of the US, so read up on where you’ll be driving before hitting the road.

Check out all our travel tips here: Tip 1, Tip 2, Tip 3, Tip 4, and Tip 5

*For the curious, we’ve visited French Polynesia, the UK, Belgium, France, the BahamasGermany, Austria, Italy, and Vatican City and will be visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Japan (and potentially Cambodia) in March.

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Timing is Everything

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Timing is EverythingKevin and I travel. A lot.

Since we’ve been married, we’ve visited nine countries and will be visiting at least three more on our big trip in March.  That means by our third wedding anniversary in June, we’ll have visited at least twelve countries together*.  On top of that, we’ve taken several weekend getaways to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Austin, Oklahoma, and more.  You might wonder how we manage to do it all (sometimes we wonder).  While Kevin and I are both blessed to have very good jobs as engineers, we still have a mortgage, car payment, student loans, bills, savings accounts, retirement, and home renovation, not to mention a large furry family to take care of.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Trip Timing

Halfway up the Hafelekarspitze in Innsbruck, Austria

So how do we do it? This week we’re sharing the tips and tricks that allow us to afford to travel both domestically and internationally year in and year out while still managing to be (mostly) responsible adults.

Timing is Everything

The single most important thing to consider when planning a vacation is timing.  This may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. When you travel affects everything from the cost of your plane tickets to the quality of your travel photos (trust me on this one).

So when should you pack up your bags and head into the wild blue yonder?  During the shoulder season – the sweet spot of all travel timing. Conveniently tucked between the high and low seasons, shoulder season weather is still good, but the crowds and prices are typically much, much better.

Shoulder season timing depends largely on where you’re going.  It varies from destination to destination, sometimes even from one part of a country to another.  The key is to research your destination to find out the best travel times. There’s tons of websites out there that list shoulder seasons for popular destinations, but if you can’t find your locale, try checking the average weather. Look for when things start to heat up/cool down – that’s most likely your shoulder season. Make sure to research fully though; things like monsoons or local holidays can really affect cost and crowds regardless of the average weather.

For Europe, we try to time our trips to coincide right with the end of the low season.  This means traveling in late April, early May.  Crowds are smaller, prices are cheaper, and the weather usually cooperates. Usually.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Trip Timing

Rain in London? Who’d have guessed?!

For our Southeast Asia trip, we’re going at the very end of peak season. By traveling mid-March, we’ll miss the monsoons of the low season, but also the crowds of the December/January high season.  If you’re planning a trip to Disney, try September/October. The weather is perfect and the crowds are essentially non-existent.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Trip Timing

We visited the Mouse in September and had the place to ourselves.

Traveling during the shoulder season not only saves us miles and money, but it also makes for an all-around better experience.  Crowds are smaller, tours less crowded, and reservations easier to make.  Personally, I feel like you can get to know a city better when it’s not as full of your fellow tourists. Locals are friendlier without the mad rush of crazy tourists everywhere and you can spend more time getting up close and personal with the things that make each place unique. Plus, you’re more likely to snag that photo you’ve always wanted – without anyone else in it.

Little House. Big Heart. | 5 Essential Tips for Traveling on the Cheap - Trip Timing

A Deserted Eiffel Tower in early May

Of course, you might not be able to pick when you travel. Don’t worry! You can always pick where you travel. If the only time you can take the kids out of school is during Spring Break, don’t assume you’re going to have to pay full peak season prices.  Pick a destination whose shoulder season coincides with your Spring Break (for the record, Ireland is great during the Spring Break season – I know from experience). This article from Travel + Leisure has some great ideas by month on the best shoulder seasons.

Another benefit of traveling on the shoulder season?  You won’t be asking off at the same time as your coworkers who are traveling on-peak… the boss might be more likely to say yes.

Check back tomorrow for our tips on all things transportation: planes, trains, and automobiles!

*For the curious, we’ve visited French Polynesia, the UK, Belgium, France, the BahamasGermany, Austria, Italy, and Vatican City and will be visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Japan (and potentially Cambodia) in March.