Happy Day After Thanksgiving! Black Friday is practically a holiday in the United States. Some stores open before the crack of dawn while others do not open at all. I have been getting Black Friday sale notifications in my inbox since the beginning of the month. Black Friday is here at last, did you buy anything special?
This year, I was very interested in booking a January vacation. Just a few weeks ago, I found out that my tentative plans to Europe this winter had fallen through. Subsequently, I immediately became determined to fill the hole in my schedule with another adventure (more about that here). To book a vacation, I started my Black Friday research on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Some sites start their Black Friday sales days before the event itself, while other sales drag on until early December.
For my January vacation, I was determined to make it a memorable experience…on a tight budget! I wanted to go somewhere international and warm, so I chose Latin America as my general destination. Flights to Latin America in January are relatively cheaper than at other times but can still be expensive depending on the day and route. As a rule of the thumb, the later in January trips are the less expensive they will be (in fact, early February may even be the cheapest option).
When looking at flights to Latin America, I was forced to consider how cheap I was willing to go? For example, I found a roundtrip flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico that was only $192, but that price could only be secured if I was willing to arrive to the island at 2 in the morning, endure two connections each way, as well as one overnight layover each way (not to mention this fair did not include a carry-on bag nor flight insurance). If I wanted something somewhat reasonable to Puerto Rico—say a flight that gets in during the day with no overnight layovers—I would need to pay at least twice as much.
Searching for flights was pretty stressful. I seriously considered three Latin American destinations and spent LITERALLY 7 hours on Thanksgiving searching for different vacation options. Eventually, right before I needed to leave for Thanksgiving dinner (more on that here), I ended up purchasing the flights. I did happen to secure a flight with a 25-hour layover, which sounds horrendous, but actually gives me an amazing opportunity to visit a second Latin American country without paying for an additional flight!
Booking hotels also had me considering what I was willing to sacrifice for the sake of my budget. In the past, I have made reservations at hostels with 8+ beds in a room and shared bathrooms to save money. While I still book shared accommodations occasionally, I really was determined to find a private space for myself for this upcoming trip. To search for accommodations on a budget I immediately looked into 2-star and 3-star options—which are traditionally just hostels, sometimes with private rooms. At Latin American destinations, you can find rates such as $18 per night if your willing to share a co-ed space with 9 others. Typically, if you want to find a private space with a private bath you will have to pay $70+ per night. Because I was booking during a not-so-popular time and because I was able to snag a few Black Friday discounts, I did manage to find a private room for just $52 a night. In this $52 I was able to find a hostel in a good (safe!!) location, a private room/ bath, free breakfast, free AC, and free wifi. I think I did pretty good here.
When booking budget accommodation ALWAYS read the reviews, especially the 2-star ones. Sometimes I do not trust 1-star reviews, or 5-star reviews for that matter. Both super high and super low reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. If people cannot find one negative or one positive thing to say about a place, unless the accommodation is literally the Ritz or a dump, they probably were heavily biased by one element of their stay and, perhaps, overlooked other qualities.
Traveling on a budget can be both scary and exciting. Saving money on travel and accommodation can allow you to spend more on experiences or take trips more frequently. Book in advance; travel on the off-season; use frequent flyer miles; travel on a Monday; travel with companions or travel solo! If you want to travel, then start planning now, Dear Reader, your hard work, research, and saving will pay off.
Happy Black Friday to all!