Finding Affordable Flights – And Getting Inspired In the Process

The biggest financial challenge with any big trip tends to be the flight to get to ones destination. Flights, let’s face it – especially overseas, can be expensive. I get that, I really do. I’m not a person with deep pockets but I still have deep aspirations to take on every adventure I can. So, what’s a girl to do?

There are posts and blogs all over the place dedicated to flight hacking and detailing the best flight membership reward programs around. I’ll leave it to the experts that have dedicated their time with understanding the best credit card and airline membership programs, we won’t go into that here. However, if you are just looking for your initial first trip and aren’t dedicated to a particular airline or rewards program, we found a few ways to get started based on varying needs and desires.

1. When you know where you want to go and when.

If you don’t know kayak already, well, it’s time to get acquainted. This really is step number one! What’s great about this service is it allows you to search multiple days around your destination of choice to find the best deal across all airlines. Just setup an alert feature so you can receive notifications for when flights (or hotels even) reach the price you want! Yes there are multiple services out there like Priceline, Expedia and more, but I like Kayak as it provides the cleanest layout, functionality and it seems to be the most comprehensive source.

2. For traveling within Europe.

Ok, it may be costly to get to Europe – however once you’re there, traveling within the continent is CHEAP. I mean, like $20 cheap. There are a ton of budget airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet that fly throughout the continent at super affordable prices. You may not fly into the larger airports – such as Heathrow – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as smaller airports cut your waiting time and checkin time in half.  Yes you could take the trains in Europe for intercontinental travel but depending on the city, when doing a side-by-side comparison flying is cheaper and takes way less time. Want to hit multiple destinations in Europe? Fly in roundtrip on a deal of your choosing to one city and take a budget airline to your other destination and back. You’ll be surprised at the savings.

One tip – since these budget airlines aren’t always a huge priority for the larger airports – sometimes they are a bit delayed, so don’t schedule a close connecting flight. Also, these budget airlines have some hidden costs if you don’t come prepared. Ryanair for example will charge a ‘printing fee’ if you don’t come to the airport with the your own printed boarding pass. That fee can add up to $90 – so read the fine print and prepare before you go so you can get the best deal.

3. Keep an eye out for new airline acquisitions and route announcements.

This may take a bit more energy, but it doesn’t have to. Just be aware. For example, Alaska Airlines just bought Virgin America and that could equate to new routes, destinations and – you’ve got it- savings. Another airline, Norwegian Air, recently started flying routes to the United States. They’re trying to market this new service and as such, are offering incredible savings. For example, I was able to fly roundtrip to London from New York this past February for just $400 and now they’re offering similar priced flights for trips to Spain. Again, just another travel tip – with budget airlines like Norwegian, they try to makeup for their cheap flights with hidden costs. Norwegian Air for example will serve NO water or food for the entire intercontinental flight – which is a real downer. Especially since the flight attendants were British and seemed extra snobby when telling us this. Yes you can purchase items but it adds up and the food sucks. So know before you go and prepare accordingly. To me, the $400 international flight was worth packing snacks and water bottles for!

4.  Not sure where to go but you want to go somewhere fun?

Ok, here’s the bread and butter. My favorite feature in Kayak. If you don’t know where you want to go – but know you want to go SOMEWHERE – here’s a great way to find some savings and a little inspiration. Go to the Kayak home flight page www.kayak.com/flights and scroll down, you’ll see a bunch of ads like so:

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You can click on any of them really – and you’ll be taken to a navigation flight page, like this:

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If you see the lower right hand corner, you’ll see the ability to browse flight origins and dates. You can select your origin (New York City for me) and then scroll down. If you scroll down even further, you’ll see the destination section. Here you can expand your destination and browse, based on worldwide, continents and of course, countries. It looks like this:

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From here it’s easy to see which countries have affordable flights. In the list above, you’ll see there are flights to France for under $400 and flights to Iceland for $250! When you click on the country, a list of flights and dates will pop up that you can sort through to see if any of the time frames would work for you. Some of them are up and coming and others you’ll find are later in the year – so you can plan accordingly. It changes constantly so make sure to keep checking back – you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. Using this  method, I found roundtrip tickets to Morocco from New York City for a shocking $170 on a reputable airline and many more. Needless to say – this is now my favorite way to find fun destinations I normally wouldn’t think to go to for bargain level prices.

And there you have it! A few quick tips to find affordable flights – for places you know you want to go and to discover new places to fall in love with. Happy flying!

 

 

The Dirty Little Word in Colombia

When we initially made plans to travel to Colombia, I must confess, we really knew very little about the country before we started to research it. When we thought of Colombia, two things came to mind – Coffee & Cocaine.

You can’t mention the country of Colombia without witnessing the widening of peoples eyes and the inevitable question – what about the drug lords?

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You won’t find Narcos in Colombia.

Pablo Escabor and the terrifying grip he had on the country in the 80s is an undeniable and sad part of Colombia’s history. You can’t seem to get away from it and the glamorization of it by the West – just turn on Netflix and watch the success of Narcos if you don’t believe me!

I cannot state it enough – we did not book our trip to Colombia to do drugs. A lot has transpired in the country over the last 2 decades and now it is a much safer place to travel to, so the fear of running into some drug lord territory was quite low. However, we did recognize the fear and misunderstandings that people had about the region that made ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ and the drug fueled disco era of the 80s, possible.

Throughout the 90s, with the fall of Escobar, increased security and the (sometimes misguided) assistance of the U.S. – the country of Colombia has mostly stabilized. I am by no means an expert on politics of the region – but we did have a chance to discuss the history and background of the country with the locals to get their perspective.

The bottom line is this – while there is still political corruption (and that is undeniable) the country is no longer the haven for drug lords that it once was. People feel much safer there. The drug lords that descended to take over the business after Escobars fall have now largely moved north, to Venezuela and Mexico. While sad for them, it has provided relief for the country of Colombia and the people that reside there. They’ve been able to now essentially take back their country and focus on nurturing the many rich assets of the region. In fact, economically speaking they have strong oil reserves, an incredible climate for coffee plantations, bio diversity that enables them to be the world’s largest export of roses and so much more. In fact, people have been moving back to Colombia and investing in the region like never before – even Medellin is turning out to be the next ‘hub’ for start-ups, attracting talent from all over the world.

IMG_3672Locals also rightfully informed us that the Coca plant itself was used (and still is used) for medicinal purposes. Cocaine is a transformed, chemically treated version of the plant and violates its intended use. Coca is used to ease digestive problems, provide energy, help with arthritis, ease pain, help with depression, calm migraines, and so more. In fact, in Colombia you can buy and drink Coca tea, which is the natural form of the plant (and tasty I might add). It does provide a calming effect, we enjoyed it and would even recommend it.

Yet, the scars from Escobar’s reign do still exist. Maybe it’s because we weren’t looking for it, but Cocaine was not something that seemed to be used by the locals there. In fact, the use of it is frowned upon and represents a dark history. If you’re looking to travel to the region and party, I’m sure you’ll find an outlet for it but don’t expect the locals to embrace you. The people themselves don’t want to be known or associated with the painful past of the Cocaine drug trade in the same way Germans don’t want to be known solely for the pain of the Nazi takeover. It’s a shameful and extremely painful time that Colombians don’t even like to talk about. Many of them, I suspect, were impacted personally by that time period and they are still healing from it.

If you do travel to Colombia, be mindful and respectful of this. Do not ask them about Escobar or the illegal drug business unless they bring it up and / or you develop a relationship where you can talk about it respectfully. The people want to be known for the riches and beauty of their country, as well as the beauty and kindness of their people. And believe me, there is plenty of beauty to take in.