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Cost optimizing a 22 country trip: Flights

A 22 country, 200 day long trip is exhausting but incredibly fun and rewarding. And it might feel impossible to take your first steps. Here’s the first part of a quick guide on how I got started and prepared myself both psychologically and physically for the adventure of a lifetime. The important factors I considered were cost, weather, travel routes, and progression of difficulty. Today, I’ll discuss how to cost optimize.

Shorter Distances Are Cheaper
Shorter distance trips tend to be cheaper, and so are one-way tickets. I knew I needed to plot a path that involved a lot of short distance hops because not only would flights be cheaper, but it also opens up other options such as trains and long distance buses, which are almost always cheaper than flights and would let me experience more of the countryside from ground level. Saving money while experiencing more is a great optimization.

Compare All Prices Simultaneously
Flight costs are also dependent on supply and demand. Very popular destinations tend to be cheaper because airlines can fill the seats and have regular predictable schedules, which make it more profitable to operate the routes. I used the somewhat hidden “Explore” functions to identify these flights. Google Flights/explore and Kayak.com/explore are the only sites with this feature that I know of. It’s very easy to visually see which routes are most cost effective. I usually repeat the search 2-3 steps deep at each new destination to make sure that I do not get trapped somewhere with an expensive exit. For example, after identifying SFO to Thailand is the cheapest route, I make sure that there is also a standard cheap flights from Thailand to nearby countries.

Know Popular Travel Routes
Knowing which routes are most popular in your area and having a rough idea what each country has to offer will allow you to lay out a larger plan. Some personal examples include:
– Lots of people visit Thailand so a flight from the USA to Thailand will likely be cheaper than to the Philippines even though the Philippines are closer.
– California does a lot of business with Asia’s major economies like Japan, South Korea and China, so there are a lot of business flights.
– The California Bay Area has a lot of South Asians, so flights to India are cheaper.
The first and last cases helped set the starting and ending points for my trip. Had I not previously traveled to Japan and South Korea, I might have started in these countries because those flights are extremely popular. Once, I even got a $179 round trip ticket from San Francisco to Seoul, South Korea, which is significantly cheaper than a regular one-way flight!

Be Flexible
A standard practice is to search for flexible dates on different websites and use the calendar layouts which point out the lowest price dates. Once you spot a great price using the above tricks, buy the ticket and commit yourself to that departure date. You’ll need to be flexible on your start date, but if you can get a great price on the first flight, you’ve already gotten off on a good start with the travel budget. From this starting point, you can begin laying out the rest of the trip.

cost calendar

Advanced Tip:
Airlines and travel websites track you and will charge different prices depending on how much they think you’re willing and able to pay. Ways to get around this are to turn on a VPN, clear cookies, log out of social network websites, log out of online commerce websites, use a cheap phone, use a different web browser, use different apps, etc. Turning on a VPN is probably the quickest and easiest way.

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