A few years ago, if you told me I would be able to go to Italy for 10 days and spend $1,200 total, I would have laughed. We all know that the cost of a flight to Europe alone is usually more than $1,000, right? Thankfully, my assumptions turned out to be wrong.
Travel has never been more affordable. You just have to know the right places to look. Once you know where to find great deals, you’ll never overpay for a trip again. Here’s how I was able to find great deals for my Italian vacation without using credit card points or “point-hacking.”
Click to read more about how one globe-trotter flies for (almost) free.
Flights go on sale more frequently than you would think, but airlines usually don’t advertise it. You might find the occasional Southwest deal, but roundtrip flights to Europe for less than $500? Yeah, those aren’t going to be front and center.
My roundtrip flight from Boise, Idaho, to Venice, Italy, was $389.90. No, that’s not a typo. It was a really great deal, didn’t have any crazy layovers and only had a few stops.
Keep reading to find the two primary methods I use for finding great deals on flights.
Google Flights allows you to search for inexpensive flights by date or location and helps you identify the lowest price flights. I find the “Explore Destinations” section particularly helpful. It allows you to search a global map to see how much flights cost to various destinations around the world.
Scott's Cheap Flights
Scott’s Cheap Flights is an alert service that sends you notifications (text or email) when flights go on sale. It provides information on how long the deal might go on for and which months of travel the deal is good for. It’s an incredible service if you don’t want to scour Google Flights all day.
With either of these options, you can try flying out of nearby airports and see if that would be a cheaper option.
If you are going to Europe, I find most hotels are reasonably priced on Hotels.com. But always do a comparison between Hotels.com and Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, it’s a useful app that allows individuals to rent out their homes. If you enjoy feeling like a local and getting a great deal for lodging, then check it out.
My Italy trip consisted of really great places booked on Airbnb. I stayed in a charming area of Venice for $75 per night, a fishing village on the Italian Rivera for $65 per night and in the heart of Florence for $80 per night. It’s worth noting that I saved even further because I traveled with two other people, and we split the costs of lodging three ways.
Want to save even more money? Consider alternative lodging methods. Despite Hollywood’s depictions of them, hostels are incredibly safe and fun, and they’re usually located in the center of the action. You can make a lot of new friends at hostels, too.
Getting around Europe is easy and reasonably priced when you go by train. Just make sure you book early to get the best train fares.
I love great budget-friendly places, and thanks to apps like Yelp and Tripadvisor, you can sort restaurants based on cost, distance from your current location and reviews.
Don’t assume because a restaurant is expensive that it will be great. I found a tiny, quaint sandwich shop that sold the most amazing sandwiches I’ve ever had for just 5 euros. This was super budget-friendly and was by far the best thing we ate in Italy.
Most of the larger cities in Europe offer free walking tours that range from 1-3 hours. These tours are a great way to learn about the city and are hosted by very high-quality guides. While the tour itself is coined “free,” it’s expected that you leave a tip based on what you thought of the tour. You will spend much less than you would if you booked a tour with a larger tour company.
That said, be careful about booking too many tours. Most of the large attractions offer a guided audio tour for a fraction of the cost of a walking tour. If you do decide to book a tour, search for unique options that are reasonably priced. In Florence, for instance, I paid for a ghost tour with a company that included gelato at the end. It was around $35 per person and took four hours.
Using these tips, I’ve been on budget-friendly trips to Italy (twice), Paris, Amsterdam and Santorini, Greece. Once you realize how inexpensive travel is, you’ll probably end up like me—never spending more than $500 for a roundtrip flight out of the country.
More From Our Smart Money Squad:
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How I Paid $1,200 for a 10-Day Vacation in Italy (Without Using Points)