Frugal Flying and the Art of Airport Travel

When we’re out of our comfort zone, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold true to our principles.

At the end of last year, my girlfriend and I took a vacation to Hawaii. Naturally, we had to travel through a few airports on our way there and back. As is the case in our lives, we often find ways to save a few bucks when we can. I opt to walk instead of taking a cab or my girlfriend will use coupons when the opportunity presents itself, but when we travel through the airport, we don’t think twice about ordering or buying something. $20 for water and a sandwich doesn’t seem unreasonable when we’re jet lagged and hungry. Our immediate wants supersede our ability to think critically and before we know it, the check has our signature.

One purchase becomes a cascade as our first decision leads to another decision. Snacks, souvenirs, bottles of water — these drive up the costs of travel.

Our frugal habits don’t always help in new environments.

On the first leg of our most recent airport adventure, we started off spending $10 on coffees and a little later $10 on doughnuts as we headed to the airport. We ended up having enough time between our arrival to the airport and the plane’s departure that we ended up eating a $50 breakfast. We forgot to pack anything to use as a pillow so we spent another $80 on neck pillows. During our layover, we spent $50 on lunch.

Altogether we spent $200 before we even got to our vacation destination.

In hindsight, for a combined 20 hours of flight time, the neck pillows (which came with ear plugs) were not entirely unjustified, but I still can’t get over this:

Frugal Flying

$10 on fucking coffee.

Our entire airport experience reminded me of a quote from Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

…It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion;
it is easy in solitude to live after our own;
but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

Why is it easier to be financially disciplined as I ‘live after our own’ when I’m in my typical 9-5 routine? Why does it feel like my default state of mind, despite knowing all the glorious benefits involved when we don’t impede compound interest, why after all of that, I still default to not caring in the moment?

A critical component of spending recklessly is that our emotions begin to drive our decisions. To ease the potential loss, it is wise to have a game plan set up for when those emotions do arise.

So, what’s the solution here?
After spending $200 on the first portion of our trip, I took some time the following day to come up with a few frugal ideas on how we could avoid a similar experience on our way back.

We travelled home without spending a dollar using these three frugal flying tricks:

  1. Isolate our credit cards and carry only a small amount of cash.
  2. Bring snacks/food.
  3. Set up a goal (detailed below).

Number 2 does mean having to buy food and snacks prior to traveling , but controlling what food we bring does mean having the opportunity to purchase healthier food that we could enjoy more at a more reasonable price.

As we travelled home we only had $40 of cash on hand in case we needed to spend our hard earned cash on something. Our credit cards we packed away at the bottom of our carry ons. To retrieve the credit cards would mean a few minutes of opening our suitcases, rummaging through our packed clothes and toiletries, and then repacking everything.

We set a simple goal for ourselves and built in an instant reward; If we held off on buying anything and relied only on eating the snacks and foods we prepared, then we could celebrate with a $50 dinner at a nice restaurant for our upcoming date night.

By implementing a condition and reward system, we spent absolutely zero dollars on our trip home.

This method can save you money, build a better habit, and support your health by encouraging wholesome food options.

Share a comment below if this situation resonated with you or if you have your own situation where you find yourself recklessly spending. Can you think of any other solutions or frugal tricks when travelling?

-Master Distiller

2 comments… add one
  • Martin - Get FIRE'd asap May 3, 2016, 5:51 pm

    What you did at the airport is so typical of travelers, Matt. Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. A little beat up is deserved though. You let your frugality guard down and the big ugly spendy dog bit you on the ass lol. It just goes to show that being frugal is a full time job and it’s so easy to get caught out. The previous time I went away I realised I’d forgotten my own bottle of water. That cost me $4.50 and I had to punch myself in the face for it. When I’m flying low cost airlines I always stop at Subway and get a sub for the trip. I always get looks of jealousy from my fellow passengers as I get that bad boy out when they’re eating their overpriced pot noodles. I’m currently traveling in New Zealand and my frugal travel tips will be the subject of an upcoming article. I do like your idea of locking away the credit cards. Especially helpful when walking past the duty free stores.

    • Distilled Dollar May 3, 2016, 7:31 pm

      Yes! My first comment on one of my favorite articles I wrote so far, so thanks Martin!

      $4.50!! Yeah, its crazy out there! I like your subway idea, especially for longer flights. You can always ask for the mayo/mustard on the side and then prepare your sandwich right at the point where you’ll get maximum jealously from fellow passengers.

      I’m looking forward to that travel post! My girlfriend and I want to increase our travel, responsibly, over the next few years. The biggest hold up so far is the cost, but I’ve started reading a few sites about some travel hacking ideas that can remove the cost obstacle.

Leave a Comment

View the Best Finance Blogs