Travel Cheap By Being A Thanksgiving Weirdo

Do you want to travel internationally? Do you want to save money doing so? Would you like to see a photo of a windmill? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this post is for you!

I seem to be on a “writing about our hobbies” kick, so I thought I’d continue in this vein by delving into how Mr. Frugalwoods and I manage to travel internationally on our frugal weirdos budget. First of all, why travel? It’s expensive, it’s not revenue generating, and you might have to eat this:

Actual food display Mr. FW saw while in Kyoto, Japan

Actual food display Mr. FW saw while in Kyoto, Japan

Well, Mr. Frugalwoods and I are certified victims of wanderlust. We crave new experiences and enjoy immersing ourselves in other cultures. Exploring the world is one of our great loves and our largest discretionary expense. Plus, how else would we replenish our stockpile of hotel shampoo and air sickness bags?

Glorious view of the Eiffel Tower from our trip to Paris

Glorious view of the Eiffel Tower from our trip to Paris

Mr. FW and I would both rather traverse the streets of Paris than buy a new car or eat at restaurants every week.

We have wonderful memories of our travels and we learn so much about ourselves and the world every time we set foot off US soil. Apologies in advance to our non-American readers, I realize this is heavily USA focused, but I hope you’ll share your frugal travel hacks with us!

Are you ready for the #1, top, absolute best way to save money on international travel?! YES? OK, here it is!:

Be flexible and non-traditional in selecting travel dates and destinations

You guys, I am not kidding. I realize this might sound overly simplistic, but it’s the honest-to-Frugalwoods truth.

Since it’s pretty easy to be frugal once you’re at your destination (post on that forthcoming), our biggest expense–and yours too if you’re doing it right–is getting there. In other words, plane tickets!

Me apparently afraid of some geese in Bruges, Belgium

Me apparently afraid of some geese in Bruges, Belgium

Solution: travel only at off-peak times. For example, flying anywhere the week of Christmas is always going to be extraordinarily expensive. Our solution? Stay home for Christmas and visit family in mid-January instead. Hint: no one flies in mid-January because everyone just spent three times the price to fly the week of Christmas! And if you’re going abroad, choose a time when no one else is.

Additionally, choose a destination no one else is. If you can avoid trying to book flights to say Berlin and rather check for flights to Western Europe generally, you’re guaranteed to snag a better deal. Mr. FW and I actually design our itineraries around inexpensive flights deals.

And now, for the first ever Frugalwoods quiz!

1) At what time is no one in the USA flying to another country?

A) Halloween

B) The second week of August

C) Thanksgiving

D) Groundhog Day

2) What type of animal is Frugal Hound?

A) Deer

B) Greyhound

C) Giraffe

D) Ocelot

And the correct answers are….#1: C, #2: B! If you answered correctly, let us know in the comments section and Frugal Hound will personally congratulate you.

Me investigating a canal in Amsterdam

Me investigating a canal in Amsterdam

Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday, is not a time when typical Americans think, oh hey, let’s go to another country that doesn’t celebrate this uniquely American holiday! Unless of course, they are frugal travel mavens. We’ve found that the week of Thanksgiving is by far the cheapest week for travel from the US to a foreign locale.

While everyone else eats turkey, you can go to Turkey. Yes, yes, you’ll miss cranberry sauce at home, but we’ve had glorious Thanksgivings in England, France, The Netherlands, Slovakia, Poland, Croatia…

Here's your windmill! From our trip to  in the Netherlands

Here’s your windmill! From our trip to Haarlem in The Netherlands.

Bonus of Thanksgiving travel? There are no other Americans traveling and actually very few tourists in general. Since it’s early winter, school groups aren’t terrorizing museums and the fannypack brigade isn’t descending upon every stop of the Rick Steves walking tour you photocopied from a library travel book.

Plus, since Christmas is right around the corner, many European cities have an outdoor Christmas market/fest set-up for the season replete with: wonderful people watching, free music and dancing (by yourself and others), and cheap street food. One of the best ways to feel like a local is blending into these delightful festivals. Mr. Frugalwoods and I became regulars (for the week) at Zagreb, Croatia’s “Christmas Wine & Culture” tent. Think Croatian folk music, meat of indeterminate origin in what looked like a really long corndog bun? (unsure to this day), and mulled wine. Oh the mulled wine. All in all, it’s a good time of the year to be a tourist.

Have you had good luck traveling during an off-peak time?

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60 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    Great post! We always try to travel during off-peak times. I love an empty airport 🙂

  2. I went to Europe back in 2009 over Canadian Thanksgiving, and it was great! It’s a month earlier than yours, but there were still very few tourists. It’s funny, I have a very similar picture in Bruges where I’m eyeing the Canadian geese, and wondering how they got so misplaced 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hah! Those geese were very, umm, assertive. I think I was afraid to turn my back on them! Isn’t Bruges fabulous? Ahhh, vacation…

  3. We used to do this more when FB Hubby had a consulting job, and I could take vacation whenever. We loved traveling at odd times and getting great deals. However, hubby went back to teaching and now has a teacher’s vacation schedule which means he has the same schedule as everyone else and now my son is in school, so now 2 of the 3 family members can only travel during peak travel times. We look forward, though, to the days when we can return to off peak travel times because like you, we would rather live frugally everywhere else, but travel more. It’s part of our financial freedom plans.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Completely agree! Mr. FW and I were just talking about how wonderful it will be once we’re FI and able to capitalize more on last minute flight deals, etc. We definitely hope to travel even more once we’re not beholden to the 9-5 and limited vacation days.

  4. Will L says:

    Wow, flying out on holiday’s is quite a bit less. And Frugal Hound actually does look a bit like a deer! Tricky question! 😀

  5. Boom shakalaka! Congratulate me, Frugal Hound! 🙂

    If you’re ever coming back to Belgium, let me know! I just might make your trip even more frugal by offering a place to stay! Would be fun to meet up!

    And I always travel off-peak time. It’s ridiculously cheap when you book in advance with a low-cost airline (think anywhere from €5 to €30). And since I have a lot of friends who live abroad these days, I can often stay at their place and avoid hotel costs.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Frugal Hound says “roooo,” which is the only noise she makes :). It would be lovely to meet you if we’re ever in Belgium again–thank you for the offer! Likewise if you ever find yourself in the Boston area! I do love those low-cost airlines of which you speak…makes it even more feasible to fly into any airport and then hop around the continent.

  6. ThriftyD says:

    Excellent post, Mrs. F! “Fannypack brigade” made me literally “lol” here at my desk at work on my lunch break.

    I think travel is one area where I’m willing to concede my strong efforts of living a completely frugal life. Yes, it’s certainly possible to travel more cheply than the average American (As you point out) but more costs will still be incurred by travel than by just staying at home and not traveling at all, no matter how or when you travel for vacation. However, I find that minimalism/frugality certainly makes it easier to travel and you’ll never have to say, “sorry [insert spouse, kids, friend, etc], we just don’t have the money to go on vacation this year.” I am shocked when I hear of friends and neighbors saying they’ve never been out of their city, region, state, etc. Travel is necessary for me as it allows me to clear my mind and step away from work obligations, helps me gain a perspective on how others live, and it allows me to have more appreciation for the life and things I do have back home.

    My favorite form of travel is the good old fashion American road trip! In the past 10 years, I’ve been blessed to have been able to have traveled by car to all of the 48 continental United States. My family grew up road tripping so when I was old enough to venture out on my own, I’d call friends, cousins, my now fiancee, etc to see who would be up for a trip somewhere with me. Since I don’t have to go over large bodies of water, I rarely have to consider whether I should get to my destination via plane or car. Off peak travel is just as great on the road as it is by air. No big traffic jams. Less construction. No cluttered national parks and monuments. Cheaper admissions to the things that do cost money.

    Another aspect I enjoy about road trip travel is that it can be completely spontaneous. I’m from Milwaukee, WI and this past February, my girlfriend (now fiancee) and I didn’t make any plans for the weekend and couldn’t think of anything in town to do that particular Friday evening that piqued our interest so we decided to drive to St. Louis for the weekend (about a 6 hour drive for us). We visited the St. Louis Arch and since it was off peak time, there were no lines and admission was very reasonable and hotel rates were cheap. I think we were able to do the entire trip for around $300.00. That included our lodging, fuel, admissions, and one meal out at a restaurant. And since we live a pretty frugal life anyway, the $300 wasn’t a big dent to our budget. If it wasn’t winter, we would have certainly saved even more money on lodging as we could have slept one night in the car or camped for cheap. But since it was pretty cold, sleeping in the car wasn’t really an option for us.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Absolutely!! You’re completely right that it would be cheaper not to travel at all, but it’s such a wonderful part of life! I’m super impressed that you’ve been to all contiguous states–I’m waaaaay far behind you on that one. $300 for your St. Louis trip is awesome–nice! My family lived in St. Louis while I was in high school and it’s a pretty fun place. Did you happen to go to the City Museum while you were there?

      • ThriftyD says:

        And yeah…in addition to the camping or sleeping in the car if it were warmer, we could have als saved more money if we planned our city travel better. We should have researched public transit options and routes. Instead we drove all around town exploring and probably went thorugh an extra tank of gas than we needed had we planned more thoroughly.

        Ooh, no we missed City Museum and I definitely want to get back there to see it. We saw that crazy playground with the airplane from the outside but didn’t go in that time.

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          I think $300 is pretty darn frugal! Next time, you must go to the City Museum–it’s simply awesome.

  7. Very true…my sister got a really good price on a ticket to Germany on Thanksgiving day. Actually she was able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and then fly out…well we just had dinner a little earlier before her flight in the evening. It definitely pays to be flexible.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Perfect! I think flexibility is king in saving on travel–and in being a good traveler in general, now that I think about it. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. E.M. says:

    Of course, last Thanksgiving I spent 14 hours traveling back home from visiting my parents’ since plane tickets were outrageous. I was clearly doing it wrong =). My family has always been big on gathering for holidays, so I’ve never thought about leaving them! Now that we’ve moved away, we can look into this. Unfortunately, my boyfriend doesn’t have much time off this year, so maybe next year!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, it was a tough conversation with our families the first year we made a Thanksgiving trip (without them), but we’ve just time-shifted our holidays. We see them at off-peak times and fortunately, they’ve gotten used to us being the frugal weirdos that we are :). Hope you can take a trip next year!

  9. I had no idea that no one traveled during American Thanksgiving. The sweet part about that is it is long enough to actually go somewhere! That’s an awesome travel hack, thanks for sharing (even if I can’t put it to use :-P).
    Do I get a custom thank you from Frugal Hound?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Of course! Frugal Hound wants to tell you “rooooo” and I interpret that she meant to say “thanks for stopping by, we’re glad to have you!”

      Yes, the travel during Thanksgiving is somewhat counter-intuitive. It’s an expensive time to fly domestically in the US, but so amazingly cheap to fly OUT of the US :)!

  10. Ryan says:

    After being thoroughly depressed seeing your grocery expenses are so much lower than mine, I’m glad to see I have you beat travel-wise. I use credit card sign-up bonuses to rack up insane amounts of frequent flyer miles and hotel points for nothing out of pocket. Our last five trips (some in fancy-pants class), and many hotels, have been free. We just came back from Switzerland and our biggest expense was food! No one should pay cash for flights.

    Frugal Hound, like our greyhound, does have that deery quality. It makes me nervous hiking during hunting season!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Nice! We’ve done various different credit card bonuses over the years as well. Our favorite is Starwood Preferred Guest for hotel stays. What do you use for your flights?

      Glad to hear your hound is also deer-like :). I’ve had more children ask me if she’s a deer…I’m like, kids, she doesn’t have hooves!

      • Ryan says:

        We do a little of everything. American, US Air, and United for international, Southwest for domestic flights, and Chase card points transfer to many of them. We’ve accumulated more points than the famous Pudding Guy at this point.

  11. debt debs says:

    I got both questions right, how’s that Flap Jack, Paddy Wack give the dog a bone? Great travel tips but who looks after Frugal Hound when you go away?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Woo-hoo! Frugal Hound is so proud! She stays at a friend’s house when we travel. We’ve got a good dog-sitting share going with a number of friends with dogs. Sometimes the Frugalwoods home feels like a doggie hotel, but it’s worth it for the free dog watching as well as the peace of mind that she’s safe and happy :).

  12. Hmmm I really wish I could follow this advice or make it fit with our lives right now, but we just can’t. Thanksgiving is a time when we see extended family so going out of the country would be bittersweet. With my corporate finance career we can’t always travel on off-peak times either, but maybe one day!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Maybe some day! I completely understand the work and family time constraint tango–we’re constantly juggling how to allocate our vacation days between visiting family and traveling.

  13. We love traveling off-peak! Traveling over Thanksgiving is a good idea too….I wouldn’t miss the cranberry sauce at all!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I’m not a huge cranberry sauce fan either. But don’t get me started on my love for pumpkin pie… it’s epic.

  14. Interesting!!!! I had no idea out of the country travel would be so cheap during Thanksgiving!! Awesome tips here, Mrs. FW. Can’t wait to read the next post about traveling out of the country!

  15. Josh @ CNA says:

    Aha, I got both the quiz questions right…so proud, so proud! Great post as always guys, keep it up! Ohhh and we finally kind of get to see who Mrs. Frugalwoods is… Awesome! Thanks for the great read!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yay, Josh! Frugal Hound is super excited you did so well on the quiz! Yep, that’s my partial goose-fear face there :). Thanks for the kind words–appreciate it!

  16. Mr. 1500 says:

    OK, you offer a ton of great advice, but the thing that keeps on coming back is this: What on Earth are people eating in Kyoto?!?!?!? BLEH!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Hah! I had _amazing_ food in Japan. This display was not part of that 🙂 These are actually pizzas, I think. For all of their culinary genius in other areas, Japanese pizzas are disgusting.

      This does showcase one great thing about many Japanese restaurants: menus where you can see what you are ordering. Photos are very common, but so are fake plastic food dioramas… like this one! Extremely helpful when all you know how to say is please, thank you, I’m sorry, and bathroom.

  17. MsRichLife says:

    I too am afflicted by wanderlust. It has been nearly 3 years since my last overseas trip and I’m desperate to get moving again….this time with a toddler in tow. Such a good idea to think about when off-peak season is. In Australia, I think it’s February, just after the Summer holidays are over, but I might have to look into this a bit more.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      With a toddler–a whole new adventure! I hope you can get away before too long! Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  18. Lindsay says:

    I tend to think of Thanksgiving as an excuse for a 4-day weekend. We don’t have family around and going to a friend’s house last year was our first ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving in a few years. We usually take the holiday to cook foods that normally take a long time to prepare, but we’ve had some really great (and often spicy) meals as a result.
    We left for our honeymoon on Thanksgiving. Between money savings and the 2 work holidays, we managed to stretch our money and time into a 3 week trip to Africa. Here’s a money saving travel tip: travel to visit friends in the Peace Corp – they think $9/night on a hotel is luxurious, even if it is your honeymoon.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      A 3-week honeymoon in Africa sounds divine! Love your travel tip :). Thanks so much for stopping by, we’re glad to have you!

  19. Eileen says:

    We haven’t traveled anywhere at all for Thanksgiving in a really long time — a 4-day weekend at home is just fine, thanks! — but we did score some really excellent $89 tickets from Portland to San Jose last Halloween. And we’ve definitely flown on Christmas day a time or two! So much better than the normal airport rush.

  20. I got both of your quiz questions right! Haha. I travel around Thanksgiving every year. This year we are going on our honeymoon and saving a ton of money by going to Nepal during the very tail end of monsoon season. We are flying back from Bali the day before Thanksgiving.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Congrats on your wedding and honeymoon! I’ve never been to Nepal–how fabulous! I hope you’ll post lots of photos!
      P.S. Frugal Hound says great job on the quiz 🙂

  21. We like to remain pretty flexible with our travel plans- honestly, we try to book months out so we can get the cheapest deals and then take days off to meet that schedule. But I think I’m going to have to take a look around Thanksgiving. I have no problem being a weirdo if it’s going to save me hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars. Thanks for the tip!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Flexibility is certainly key with the Thanksgiving strategy too–it’s just more flexibility on the destination side of things :). People ask us, “why are you going to ____” and we’re like, uh, because flights were cheapest. We get a blank stare in return :). Yay for weirdos!

  22. I traveled Thanksgiving week one year to go on a cruise. I don’t mind travelling off peak I actually prefer it but if I’m traveling with friends they are not as flexible. Though most of the time it’s just me and my hubby so this strategy works out great.

  23. AE says:

    I AWLAYS travel in the fall. Late October, early November always works well for me. I never take Summer vacations b/c I hate the crowds and everything is so expensive.

    Also, sitting coach I’ve never had anyone sit next to me going to or from Europe, and I’ve gone pretty much for the last 7 years. It’s perfect.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Fall really is the best time to travel. I’m with you on summer crowds–not worth it! Plus, I love all of the cozy and festive winter decorations/activities. Good deal on no seat neighbors! Although I will happily sit next to Mr. FW 🙂

  24. KatkaP says:

    I love your web and your life style, I’m going through your page for 3 days already, still finding new stuff to read. And now I see, you’ve been to Slovakia! And no photos, hm, hm 🙂
    We also love to travel (although last years we had to eliminate it a little bit due to our son), my secret tip is to look for discounted airtickets and fly where-ever it seems appealing. The only problem is, I don’t get nearly as much vacation at work, as I could use 🙂

    Greetings from (you guess it already) Slovakia! And keep the great work with the page, I really love to read it.

    Katka

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hi Katka! Thank you so much for reading–I’m excited to have a reader from Slovakia :)! We had a wonderful time on our trip there and I should definitely include some photos. Finding discounted airfare is a great strategy!

  25. Natalie says:

    Greetings! I just found your blog this morning- and I love it! (And we have a retired racer, too. ;))

    We went to Italy in November- the weather was perfect for lengthy walks without getting over heated, shorter (sometimes non-existent) lines and reduced costs. We’ve always traveled in the shoulder or low seasons and had great success.

  26. Kel says:

    Just found your blog and really enjoy reading through it! My most frugal travel experience was a trip to Disneyland Paris. I was living in France as an exchange student and a friend flew in (budget airline) from Ireland to spend time in France. We wanted to go to Disneyland. We got a huge discount on a package deal– I think it was one nights’ hotel and two days in the park for two people for about 100 Euros. A steal. The reason it was so cheap: it was a Tuesday-Wednesday, the middle of the week. And a few weeks before the end of the academic year. And that Monday was a public holiday so the previous few days must have been busy. Cheap, and no lines– we saw people saying they would come back to Space Mountain later because the wait was 15 minutes. We brought some food in and ate on the cheap, and had a great inexpensive Disney experience.

  27. Jamke says:

    I have been reading a lot of your blog and just read and loved all the travel articles! A few frugal blogs I’ve read talk about giving up international travel, but I have zero interest in doing that. All your ideas on how to do it frugally are amazing ! My fiance and I actually discovered the Thanksgiving savings last year when we managed to book super cheap fights to Japan (a country I lived in for 2 years and couldn’t wait to show him). We will definitely be using that one again!

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