5 Ways To Save Big For Travel Abroad

I’ve always wanted to travel and see more of this big, beautiful world, but for many years traveling outside the United States seemed like just a dream, something other folks did but I would never be able to afford.

From movie, Under the Tuscan Sun


After I retired, Wanderlust really set in. The one place I had always wanted to visit more than any place else was Italy. With more free time on my hands, I started researching online for ways to travel that would work with my budget. I was surprised to find that travel doesn’t have to be as ridiculously expensive as I had thought. There are definitely ways to save, especially if you are flexible about when you travel and how soon you leave.


Before I share some of the ways I’ve learned to make travel more affordable, I must acknowledge that travel preferences can be very personal. My expectations, needs, requirements etc… for travel may be completely different from yours.

For example, I prefer small-group travel whenever possible. Other folks don’t mind traveling with a large group. One person may love eating out for every meal, while another person may prefer dining more frugally.

So please take the things I share today and use them in whatever way works best for you. That’s the beauty of travel, there are sooo many ways to do it!

Canal in Amsterdam


Tip 1: If your budget allows, decide on an amount you feel you can spare each month and have that amount automatically deposited into a savings account you’ve set up just for travel. You’ll be amazed how fast that account will grow over the course of a year. Even if it takes 2 or 3 years to reach the amount you need for your dream trip, it will be worth it!


Update: Just wanted to add, if you don’t think there’s room in your budget for travel, look for little ways to save each month. I don’t mean giving up the things you truly love and enjoy…who would want to do that! But perhaps there are things you’re spending on right now that don’t offer any real value or joy to your life.

Recently, I had my cable disconnected because I realized I didn’t enjoy 95% of the programming I was seeing on there. In fact, I hardly ever watched TV at all. I kept my high-speed internet since I do very much enjoy that–and I subscribed to Acorn TV for less than $5 a month. I love Acorn TV…can definitely recommend it!

I could have kicked myself for not making this change years ago. It’s saving me quite a bit each month and that’s money that can go to things I do enjoy…like travel. And handbags. lol

Photo from Giraffe Manor


Tip 2: There are quite a few sites online these days that offer what’s called “Last Minute Travel Deals.” Three sites I regularly check for those are Grand Circle Travel (GCT), Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and Vantage Deluxe World Travel. I’m sure there are other travel companies out there offering last minute deals, as well. Several of the trips I have taken over the last 3 years have been LMTD trips.

How do “Last Minute Travel Deals” work? Often travel companies will have a trip that’s almost completely filled, but still have a handful of rooms/spaces available. You especially see this with river cruises. Rather than have the boat leave with empty rooms, they will discount those, sometimes dramatically.



Sometimes the last minute travel deals really are last-minute, meaning the trip leaves in 2-4 weeks. I once booked a LMTD that left one week later! But often, LMTD offer dates that are a couple of months out. So if you are someone who needs a bit more time preparing/scheduling a trip, look for the LMTD with available openings a few months out.


At the end of this post, I’ll link out to the companies whose last minute trips I’ve taken, along with a discount number that will save you an additional $100 on any trip you book. Hint: Be sure to check the LMTD regularly because most companies update their LMTD page weekly and the best deals go quickly!

Lough Eske Castle after Nightfall


Note: I learned some very disappointing news a few months ago, but it won’t affect you if you always travel with a spouse or a friend who rooms with you. Over the last three years, I’ve booked several LMTD trips with Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel. It’s my understanding that GCT owns OAT, or maybe it’s the other way around.

Recently I called about an awesome LMTD to Japan. The travel advisor with whom I talked informed me that the last minute travel deals are no longer open to people traveling solo…they are only available for couples now. What???

Tulips in Keukenhof Gardens


I asked if they had any single-bed rooms still left for the trip to Japan. He said yes, they did…but that I couldn’t have one at the LMTD rate. He said the single rooms from here out were only open to solo travelers who were willing to pay full price, and only couples were allowed to take advantage of their last minute travel deals. So even though the Japan trip was listed as a Last Minute Travel Deal and they had single rooms available, I couldn’t book a trip at LMTD pricing advertised on the LMTD page.

Though I can no longer take advantage of GCT and OAT’s last minute travel deals, if you are married or always travel with a friend with whom you don’t mind rooming, you can still take advantage of the LMTD you’ll find at the GCT and OAT website.

Camel Ride in Sahara Desert


Tip 3: Since travel is very important to me at this point in my life, I put as many of my monthly and everyday expenses as possible on two credit cards that are travel-themed/oriented cards. The two cards I currently use are a Capital One Venture Card and a Delta American Express card. (I live within 30 minutes of the Atlanta airport so I end up flying Delta almost exclusively.)

Update as of May 2019: I decided to close my Capital One card. The reason I closed it is because it’s the only credit card I have that repeatedly keeps being compromised.

Recently, I noticed a charge that was close to $16,000 on my card. Capital One approved someone going into Sam’s Club (a place I never shop in and don’t even have a membership) in Morrow, GA, a place I’ve never even been, much less shopped in and let them charge almost $16,000 on my card without ever emailing me or texting me to ask if this was me making the charge.

I still had my card in my possession so have no idea how the crook got my number and apparently made a fake card, but this never would have happened if they had just texted me before approving the charge. They credited back the entire amount but since this has happened three times with Capital One over the past 3 years, and it’s the only card I have that has ever had this happen, I closed the account. I don’t have time to keep dealing with that kind of drama. So I can’t recommend a Capital One card after my experiences!

One of the coolest ways to earns points rapidly is to have all your monthly, every-day expenses go on one of your travel credit cards. For example, my cell phone, electric, gas, cable internet, blog hosting fees, car insurance etc… automatically bill straight to my Venture Card, meaning I earn double points for expenses I have every single month.

Ballynahinch Castle, Ireland

Photo from Ballynahinch Website


Stop and think for a moment how much you spend on a monthly basis for your basic needs of life like utilities, food, gas for your car, shopping, doctor’s appointments, etc… Now imagine getting double that amount in points for every $ spent each month, points that can then be used for travel!


That’s one of the things I really like about Capital One is you get double points for everything you put on the card…no limitations. My Delta Amex only gives single points, unless it’s a Delta purchase–then you get double points. So when I pay for a flight, I make sure to use my Amex card for those double points.


Over the years, I’ve been able to “erase” the cost of two trips I’ve taken using Capital One points. Plus, two round-trip, international flights have been paid for in full with Delta Skymiles points earned via my Delta Amex card. So points do add up!


There are many more cards out there that work this way, just Google for credit cards that help pay for travel and you’ll find several from which to choose and compare. So far, I’ve been very happy with my Venture card because there are no limitations on what you need to purchase to earn points and they make using the points so easy.


Tip 4: A friend of mine really enjoys using a service called, Friendship Force. FF was founded in 1977 by Wayne Smith with President Jimmy Carter. They just celebrated their 40th-anniversary last year, so they are still going strong.


I’m not exactly sure how it works but I think the gist of it is…you stay in the home of a person who lives in the country/area where you wish to travel. I believe they act as your travel guide, as well as providing some meals, etc… So you get a real authentic experience…not a “tour” experience.

I think at some point, you reciprocate by opening up your home to someone who wishes to travel to your area, but I’m not sure if that’s a requirement. You can read more about Friendship Force at their website here: Friendship Force. My friend loves it and has used it often over the years!


Tip 5: When booking a flight, I like to use Google Flights to find the best fares. It’s a good starting point since it shows all the fares available at that time. Here’s a great article from Clark Howard, a local consumer advocate, with information about how Google Flights works: Google Flights: How it Works.


I hope these tips are helpful. I not an expert by any means, but these are the ways I save when traveling. My goal is to take at least one trip per year, two if possible. Since I didn’t start traveling to very late in life, I have a very long bucket list!


As promised, here’s a list of the companies with whom I have traveled using their Last Minute Travel Deals.

Note: Between GCT and OAT, I prefer OAT because they keep their groups much smaller. Actually, when it comes to a river cruise, either company is fine with me, it’s just the land trips that I much prefer “small group travel.”

Grand Circle Travel  (When booking, mention my account number (2634289) for an extra $100 off. Both GCT and OAT give $100 off a trip when referred.)

Overseas Adventure Travel (When booking, use my account number (2634289) for an extra $100 off. Both GCT and OAT give $100 off a trip when referred.)

Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Vantage makes their LMTD page difficult to find, have no idea why. So bookmark it to refer to later.)

There are many more companies out there who run travel specials throughout the year. I’ve heard good things about Gate 1, though I’ve never used them.


Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments, happy to answer those if I can. I’m still learning about more ways to save on travel, as well. I’ll continue to share anything I learn that I think you’ll find helpful, appreciate if you do the same!

Happy Travels, dear Friends!

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  1. Cynthia GARRETT says

    Very good points about traveling, Susan! My husband and I have decided to see as much of the world as we can while we still can. We are among those who enjoy groups of any size, so we don’t mind the larger tour groups. We highly recommend Gate 1 Travel, so if anybody wants to learn more about that particular company, just let me know. They offer large and small group tours, river cruises – the works. They also include airfare if you want it.
    I LOVED seeing your fantastic pictures of some of your trips and can’t wait to hear all about Egypt!

    • Thanks, Cynthia! I was thinking about you when I mentioned Gate 1 in this post…I know how much you have enjoyed traveling with them. Now that I can’t take advantage of the last minute travel deals with OAT and GCT, I may as well look elsewhere for group travel. I will start looking at the small group tours with Gate 1.

  2. Great info, Susan. Thanks! I’ve book-marked this page. ~ Your comments about using credit card points intrigued me, as we don’t use credit cards. But if, as you say, you put everything on them and pay them off each month, I would certainly think the points would rack up fast. Hmm. If you get a chance, would you mind explaining how many points you get vs how much you spend and what a typical domestic flight would cost in points? Say from Atlanta to Ohio. 😉 Thanks.

    And phooey on those fatheads for taking away the solo traveler deals. 🙁 That stinks! Makes me not even want to buy through them.

    • Thanks, Pam! Recently when I traveled from Atlanta to Ohio, I used 20,000 points for a round-trip ticket. I used to remember for how points added up to dollars, but I can’t remember now how it works exactly with Delta. When I first started traveling and read about the Venture card, they were giving bonus points when you signed up. I think it was 40,000 bonus points which was worth $400. If you decide to open up one of the travel cards to accumulate points, do it during one of the times when they have a really good bonus offer going.
      One of the websites I like to follow/read is The Points Guy. Check him out because he goes into a lot more detail and discusses which cards offer which benefits.

  3. Diane Hooper says

    Fabulous small group tours, check out
    http://Www.tuscanytours.com (not just Italy) getting ready for my 3rd trip with them, Spain this time.
    Great cooking school on a farm in Umbria

  4. Donna zoltanski says

    Love your pics. Gorgeous animals, cat on window ledge. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Merlin Parde says

    Ooooh, this sounds so fascinating…I do HOPE travel is in our future!! Fly high!! franki

  6. Love your photo of Positano Italy, hubby and I adore that beautiful little town!

    In two days we are heading to Poland and Germany for two weeks. Hubby does the travel planning, I just pack my bag and show up. :0)

    Thanks for sharing your travel tips and beautiful photos!

    • Elena, I would love to go back and actually have some real time to spend there. We were so rushed on our trip. I’m going to make that a bucket list item…and go during the summer so I can see Italy while it’s green and not brown. lol

      Have fun in Poland and Germany! So smart to be going to Germany during NON-flu season, instead how I did it in December. Ha!

  7. Thank you for your helpful hints. I’m with you on travel, I love it. I’ve been to England, Paris, Italy, Ireland and Scotland. In June 2019 I’m going to Germany. Please don’t think I’m wealthy to take so many trips but I’m certainly not. I do what you do, I save money for two years and then take a trip. My husband doesn’t like to travel so several girlfriends join me as well as my grown daughter. Keep traveling and when we can no longer travel we’ll have our pictures and memories.

  8. “Credit card churning” has its risks and rewards but I do it anyway! Recently Southwest airlines had a deal if you signed up for their Premier and Plus Rapid Rewards cards. I already had the cards but my husband did not. He was approved for both, we soon met the minimum spend AND the combination of the points earned on both cards earned us a Companion Pass that we use for our son. Just take Points Guy with a grain of salt as he is considered somewhat of a shill for certain credit cards. Do your research and see what works best for you! BTW I envy those of you who can retire early and travel while relatively young – I have another 11 years to go until age 70.

  9. Sandra D Joliet says

    Very interesting although I’m a homebody and love spending my time in my own back yard. Boring, I know. I think the info will be very useful to those who travel or wish to travel. I think that’s a shame about having to be part of a couple to get the deal but it doesn’t surprise me. Single people get the shaft a lot. Why is a half gallon of milk about 30-40 cents cheaper than a gallon. It should be half or just a little over half. That’s just the beginning so I would down that rabbit hole anymore than I just did. You’ll have to find a Best Friend that loves travel like you do.

  10. My wife and I are in the ATL area as well and have made use of Delta AMEX credit card programs. If I remember correctly, Delta will let you have the sign-up bonus for each card once in a lifetime. So my wife had a Gold AMEX, got the sign-on bonus, then she dropped the Gold and got the Platinum AMEX with sign-on bonus; and I did the same on each; when all of that is exhausted, you can do it for a small business or businesses you own; Delta at various times of the year also offers higher sign-up bonus than the normal, the max I have gotten is 50,000 per Gold card, and I think 70,000 per Platinum card; definitely worth pursuing if you almost always fly Delta out of ATL. I think the big points ‘pop’ are made are the sign-up bonuses esp. when they have promotions. In addition to the points guy, I follow via email Million Mile Secrets, and found several great tips; I will have to check out the Venture card program you mentioned; Thanks always for great content, love to read your posts

    • Thanks so much!
      That’s what I’ve heard about Amex cards, too. I started with the Gold Delta Amex and then moved to the Platinum, closing the Gold at that time.
      Wow, 70,000 is great for the Platinum, the promotion was 60,000 when I got that one.
      Yup, that’s pretty much all I fly, too.
      I will check out Million Mile Secrets…thanks for that tip!

  11. Thanks Susan I will look into the cards. I love to travel.

  12. Great article Susan. We use follow google flights regularly and have made note of good deals all around the world. We stay flexible with our itinerary and when we see a great deal – we book. We prefer to explore on our own and regularly use VRBO, AirNb, Trip Advisor and HomeAway. Sometimes our accommodations are basic, but more often than not, we have been very pleased. We do rely on user reviews and google maps to drill in exactly where the home is located ( how far from a Beach, or public transportation, we check out what the nearby housing looks like to get a flavor of the area. Using the little walking icon, we can stroll around a prospective neighborhood. We mainly use local market for breakfast and lunch and then enjoy dinner out which helps control overeating too. There are so many day tours available through Viatour or local tour agencies that it is easy to select exactly what interests us. We pay attention to credit card fees for exchange rates. And finally we purchased a google fi phone which we only use for travel and makes calling overseas and back home inexpensive in comparison to US phones or SIM cards. Currently I am reading this on a lovely patio to the apartment on a Greek Island that we have rented. From here we will travel to Italy and then onto Malta. Already keeping an eye out for trips to Viet Nam/ Thailand, and the south of France.

  13. I travel to Italy solo often and I’ve never heard of all of these companies. MUST do some homework!!

  14. Cyndi Raines says

    Susan, all of your tips are awesome and thank you for taking the time to share them with us. I especially like how you said to try and tuck something away monthly! How smart is that! I also say any money we get back as a refund from our income tax goes in an account marked Vacation money. I love to travel too and at present want to finish checking off the states I haven’t seen yet. I am pinning this to my travel board so I can refer to it in the future. Loved all of your trip pictures and am so excited to see Egypt with you through the eye of your camera!

  15. I, also, travel solo and am disappointed in the great deals available if traveling as a couple. Viking offers some fabulous rates but no single waivers.
    Uniworld has few weeks which have a solo waiver rate and they are wonderful to travel with. They pick you up at airport and deliver you back to airport at the end of the cruise. Solo weeks are very comfortable because there are other solo travelers and we all seem to find each other and make new friends.
    My husband does not like travel, but my girlfriends are too busy to travel with me, so it makes travel available without feeling alone when you go on a river cruise.
    Does Gate 1 offer solo prices?

    • I’m not sure about Gate 1. I know they offer small group travel but not sure if they have special pricing for solo travel. The last few times I’ve travel, a friend has joined me. She and I will be traveling to Egypt together in a few weeks. The problem is, we want our own rooms…so therefore we are considered traveling solo. So that’s another part of the problem, even if you travel with friends, if you each want your own room, you each have to pay double as if two people are staying in the room. OAT has a few single rooms on every trip, if you’re willing to pay full price for their trips. You just can’t take advantage of any of the last minute travel deals.
      I met so many women on the trips I’ve taken who are traveling alone because their husbands don’t want to go. I met two sisters who travel together for that same reason. I’m not sure if they stay together or get their own rooms, though.
      My experience has been the same when I’ve traveled alone, I made friends very quickly with the other ladies that were traveling alone…so you never feel alone at all.

  16. Thank you so much Susan ! I am close to retirement myself and I’ve wanted to travel for years and honestly I didn’t know where to start. Your tips were so hey and I formative! Thanks again. Arleen

  17. Deborah M Ashe says

    Great travel tips. We just returned last week from our first experience with Gate 1-a tour of Ireland. Dublin, Galway, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Blarney Castle and Waterford. It was amazing, and I can highly recommend Gate 1. The tour was a bit bigger than I really wanted… I think we had 40 on our bus. I do recommend a smaller tour for Ireland. Other than that, the service was wonderful. Our guide (Patrick King) was fantastic. We learned a lot of history, which was our main goal for taking the tour, rather than driving ourselves, and the accommodations were fantastic. Great side trips, including a sheep herding demo, a jaunting cart ride through Killarney National Park, and a Gaelic show that was fantastic.
    We will definitely book with Gate 1 again. I’ve also heard that Globus has a great reputation… I’m like you…I have severe wanderlust at this point in my life! Our next trip may be to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island!

    • I’ve heard good things about Globus, as well. The one I’ve really heard great things about is Tauck, but their prices are really high whenever I have checked them out. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island sounds wonderful! What time of year would you go?

      • Deborah M Ashe says

        About this time next year. We have friends leaving next week for a cruise from New York to Nova Scotia and PEI, and another set of friends who just got back and loved it… I also still want to go to Scotland, Italy and Germany…And my husband wants to see Spain/Portugal.

        Meantime, I also still want to get to Oregon…it’s the only U.S. state I haven’t yet seen! (Military wife-saw a lot in those years)…

  18. lygie pirard says

    bonjour de France!
    you must visit my so beautiful country!

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