I have a confession to make.
I’ve always been addicted to traveling, but with little means to do so. But this year I’ve figured it out! And to prove it, I’m going to tell you two short stories about how we were able to travel from San Diego, CA to France two different times for under $500, round trip, each time. Each trip was very different, but there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.
I hope this personal story motivates you to do this yourself and your family – to travel extremely cheaply to places which are definitely not cheap to travel to.
The first trip: San Diego > London > Antibes + Théule Sur Mer
We moved from the Pacific Northwest to San Diego, California intentionally. Of course there was the sunshine, which is fabulous. But we also made that move because we wanted a place to start over. We needed a reboot.
The plan was, in 2 years time, to save as much as we could and make an attempt at moving to France for at least 1 year, if not permanently. Long story short, we came home early, but the point of this post is that we made it there… for $250 per person flying Air France.
We got lucky on this one. The typical flights I was seeing at the time were in the $1500 per person range (round trip). We only needed a one-way flight, but at the time, they didn’t sell one-way trips for anything less than a round-trip ticket. But, since I’m the kind of person who searches out every nook and cranny and keeps looking regularly, I stumbled upon what’s called a “mistake fare”. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but there was no way that deal should have shown up. The airline made a mistake. Probably missed a zero when they published it as it should have been $1250 each way, but ended up being $125.
I booked it that day, and we were committed.
Now, when we got there, we were lucky (and broke and childless) enough to stay on a stranger’s (now friends) couch for a while, using CouchSurfing.com. They were outstanding hosts, helped us get settled into a place, and became good friends in the process.
Home: Free for 2 weeks, paid rent after that
Status: Married, Childless, Backpack-carrying
Duration: 3 months
The second trip: San Diego > Paris
The next time we flew to France was much different. By now, I realized I’d probably never see a “mistake fare” again unless I was OCD. I’m diligent, but not nutso about finding deals.
But this time I was much better prepared.
We took a red-eye – which I’m now convinced is the best way to reduce jet lag – from San Diego to Paris. Dragging our double stacked kid-laden stroller and 140 lbs of luggage up and down the subway/metro stairs to the flat we were staying in (hint: don’t do this, take the bus in Paris). That was the worst part of our trip. After that it was smooth sailing.
We stayed in a 2 bedroom 1000 square foot flat (huge by Paris standards) with outside views of La Défense, l’Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. Are you kidding me? For free! For almost 4 weeks!
Miles and points.
We planned our travel dates right on the edge of off-peak season to capitalize on the best airfare deals (and lack of tourists). It took 140k in American Airlines points to bring all 4 of us. 2 adults, one 3 year old, and 1 lap infant, which funny enough was why we paid so much in taxes for the flight (tip: you pay taxes on the full rate ticket for a lap infant – don’t get me started on it).
We also used this house swapping service, which was encouraging people to put their homes up on their site by giving them 2 weeks worth of points (useable for non-simultaneous swapping) for simply offering the home – no commitment to actually letting anyone stay in your house. Just put your home on the site. We gave those points to our host in exchange for using his flat. Now, they were kind enough to give us almost a full extra week on either side of our stay just because they didn’t have anyone else coming at the time, so that’s a big bonus. But still. Even if it were just 2 weeks, it would have been amazing enough.
This post is getting a bit long winded. So, I’m going to write more posts on exactly how we earned and used all these points and miles later, along with some tricks on how to get better deals for homes and flights, even if you can’t get them for free. So stay tuned. But you get the picture now, right?
Flight: $500 (all taxes)
Status: Still married, 2 Children under 4 years old, Kid-stuff-toting
Duration: 4 weeks
More to come on the “how to” soon… but in the meantime, ask me any questions you have in the comments below.