Skip to main content
search
Business and marketingTips and techniquesTravel and destinations

Tips for Trips: Saving Money on Photography Travels

By July 5, 2022July 6th, 2022No Comments
Two Tule elk spar at sunset in early July on the hills of Point Reyes National Seashore. © Alyce Bender

No need to butt heads to save money traveling. Here are some tips to make summer travel less costly and stressful. © Alyce Bender

By Alyce Bender

By now, we all probably know that this summer (or longer) is shaping up to be a traveler’s nightmare. Prices are soaring as fast as airlines are cancelling flights and roiling gas prices are not helping the situation. After several years of full to restricted lockdowns due to COVID, it makes sense that everyone wants to stretch their legs and put some fresh material in front of their lenses. And I’m one of those people. However, unless you are lucky enough to have an unlimited budget, it’s potentially going to take a lot more cash for a change in scenery this summer.

That being said, I’d like to offer up a few suggestions on how you might save money while still being able to explore new places this season.

Stay-cations

I know. I know. I know. Most of us are tired of stay-cations by now. However, have you really explored your local area? What about all those great little side roads or small neighborhood parks that might hold a new view of the river or another wonderful ecological niche for songbirds? This might be the time to really flesh out your local knowledge and it is an easy way to save both a bit of money and have an activity the whole family can enjoy.

Personally, because I had to move at the end of 2020, I spent last year building a native plant pollinator and bird garden. This year, the plants are really starting to fill in despite the weeks of 100°F heat with little-to-no rain here in the Texas Hill Country. The number of bees, butterflies, and other macro subjects I have every time I go out in my own backyard now is astounding. Never mind the hummingbirds and sparrows, finches, and songbirds that come for the fresh-water birdbath.

Explore your state

Building on this idea of a stay-cation, let’s cast the net a bit wider. How well do you know your state and all the various municipal and state parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, national monuments and parks that your state encompasses? These areas have all been set aside with a level of protection that takes into account the unique flora and fauna that live in the area.

From a money saving point of view, many of these are only a tank of fuel or two away from your house. No flight or rental car required.

Additionally, by focusing on regional locations, your photography helps connect you with the state where you live. Locals often have a favorite spot they like to visit but are not photographers themselves. Maybe you can help offset some of your photography travel costs by offering prints of iconic locations or common wildlife in your area or state. Double the audience by selling to visitors and locals alike.

Visit lesser-known locations

Yellowstone. Glacier. Yosemite. Grand Canyon. Utah’s Big Five. These are all big names for a reason. They are super popular, especially in the summer, and with good reason. However, because of their popularity it is now becoming more difficult to visit them and, when visiting, you are having to work around many, many other people along with the traffic they bring on roads and trails.

After the devastating flood in June, Yellowstone implemented a limited-entry system based on license plate numbers, meaning if you are visiting for a week, you will only have access to the park every other day. Yosemite, Glacier, and Arches have reservation systems in place for all or parts of the parks. The Grand Canyon, a desert park, is currently experiencing temperatures of 107°F and higher down in the inner canyon, along with an outbreak of norovirus among backcountry campers and river rafting participants.  Back east, in 2021 the Blueridge Parkway (15.9 million visitors) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (14.1 million) rank number one and two on the list of most visited parks in the country[1].

Instead, consider other options that might not have as much visitation. Not only does that keep your costs down but also eliminates the headache of dealing with making reservations just to get into a park or the crowds that an unlimited entry brings. Places like the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan, or Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia, or Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada, or Point Reyes National Seashore in California have tons of natural beauty without a ton of visitors. Don’t get me wrong, these are not secret locations where you’ll have the place to yourself, but there will be far fewer people and much greater chances to have a stretch of trail or an overlook to yourself.

I mentioned that prices can be kept down by visiting these locations. Without the massive crowds, these areas typically have much more reasonable pricing for things like accommodations and dining options. If having to fly into a less visited location, often there is less competition for rental cars which can reduce prices in that area as well. Flights are the biggest unknown for this type of location.

If they happen to be within easy driving distance of a major airport, as in the case of Point Reyes National Seashore for example (just a few hours from SFO, SJC, and OAK), that can work in your favor and you save with a cheaper ticket. In cases like the Hiawatha National Forest in the upper peninsula of Michigan, you would be looking at a longer drive from a main hub airport or higher airfare into a closer, regional airport. Weigh the difference in cost between items like the additional time and fuel it takes to drive from a major airport versus the increase in airfare but lower ground transportation and time costs of the regional airport. It’s a balancing act without one right answer for all situations.

[1] https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/most-visited-us-national-park-sites-2021/index.html

Western burrowing owl, found while exploring my current home state of Texas. © Alyce Bender

Be flexible

Flexibility is key, regardless of when or where you’re traveling but, currently, it has become almost a daily mantra. Being adaptable can save you a lot of money if you are open to it. From being willing to choose cheaper locations in general to being willing to travel mid-week when prices for almost everything travel related are cheaper.

A rule of thumb is that hotels and airfare are usually cheaper Monday through Thursday. Friday and Saturday are more expensive for hotel nights while Friday and Sunday are frequently the most expensive days to fly. Bump your travel to start and end midweek and it can save your wallet from becoming lighter.

Instead of going for four or five days, try to extend your trip to a week. Rental cars and accommodations often offer savings when renting for seven days, so a week can sometimes be cheaper than five or six days. Asking your hotel if they will give you the weekday rate if you stay with them the full week can also shave a bit off your final bill.

If you are itching to travel further than you are willing to drive, consider being flexible with your destination. In many flight finders such as Google Flights or airline specific websites, there is an option to search a range of dates and see what destinations have the cheapest ticket prices for your home airport.

For example, when writing this article I did a Google Flight search for a one-week trip from San Antonio, Texas, in the month of July. A wide array of options came up for flights, such as under $1,300 to Scotland, under $500 to Montreal, and under $200 to Philadelphia.

Two Tule elk spar at sunset in early July on the hills of Point Reyes National Seashore. © Alyce Bender

When looking to fly, another aspect of being flexibile is seeing if you might save a bit of money by driving to a different airport that might be a bit further away, but save you hundreds of dollars on your tickets. This is something I frequently do when traveling back to Monterey, CA. Instead of flying into the regional airport, I will compare prices into San Jose and San Francisco, as those are both within a comfortable drive from my destination.

If changing airports and being flexible with dates isn’t quite enough, consider which carrier best meets your needs. Many of the low-cost carrier (LCC) airlines get a bad rap for service but, if you think of it more as mass transit—much like a city bus—the experience makes a bit more sense. If the goal is to get where you are going while saving money, LCCs are one way to do that. Your seat may not recline and drinks may not be free, but if you are saving a couple hundred dollars round trip, you can afford that $5 bottle of water before take-off. Better yet, bring a refillable bottle and you save both money and plastic throughout your trip!

Make sure to price out the additional fees such as luggage and whether you want to pick your seat when comparing prices with tickets from legacy carriers, but you may be surprised at the cost savings using someone like Allegiant might get you over Delta.

Note: Just because an airline is an LCC, does not mean their safety is compromised. Check out www.airlineratings.com for a comprehensive review of airline safety ratings around the world.

This is an example of what Google Flight Explore looks like. It will change based on your home airport location and the timing and duration of the trip on which you want to embark.

Compare air PLUS car

After the pandemic shutdown travel in 2020, many rental car companies sold off parts of their fleets. Lower inventory, combined with the electronic chip manufacturing shortage causing a shortage of new vehicles, mean that rental car prices have been climbing exponentially. With that it behooves travelers to compare flight costs plus rental car costs at their proposed destination and at nearby options in order to ensure that the car rental doesn’t wipe out all the potential savings from being flexible with your airline ticket.

This was a situation I had crop up for my summer travel to eastern Canada. While it was cheaper to fly into Maine, the rental car was much more than if I flew into Nova Scotia and rented there.

When looking for rental cars to pair with your flights, also consider the cost savings of looking at non-airport-based car rental locations. Rental agencies pay the airport a premium to have a facility there, and often pass on high taxes and fees so, by taking an Uber into town and renting from one of a non-airport location, you can often realize savings, even with the additional cost of the Uber.

Another option in a growing number of locations is vehicle rental through Turo—essentially the AirBnB for cars. Private individuals lease out their spare cars, trucks, or vans at prices that are usually well below traditional rental cars. Often, they have airport pick-up and drop-off, just like a traditional rental company, but with a lower price tag. Once again, make sure to compare apples to apples. If you are used to having your rental car insurance covered through a travel credit card, read the fine print to see if they cover third-party or private-party rentals. For example, the Chase Sapphire cards do not cover it at this time. Turo gives the option to add one of several levels of insurance coverage to the rental, but make sure to factor in that additional cost when calculating actual savings.

Seattle and Portland are commonly served by several LCC airlines allowing for easy and cheap access to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and the various state parks and national forests that surround it. © Alyce Bender

Consider alternate accommodations

We have talked a lot about airfare and car rental, but accommodations eat up a good portion of our travel budgets, too. Thankfully, when it comes to where to stay in an area, there are often more choices at different price points.

Getting back to the traditional roots of the outdoor movement, camping is usually one of the cheapest options (beyond sunk cost of a camping kit) out there in most destinations. If visiting BLM or forestry land, it can even be free! But this comes with the compromise of limited “creature comforts” and may not be suitable for everyone especially if dealing with any kind of physical limitations.

A step up, and sometimes a huge step up, are camping cabins. Offered throughout a wide range of locations from state parks to forestry lands and private campgrounds, cabins can be as simple as a hardened shelter and come with or without electricity. Many go beyond the basics to include typical indoor living supplies such as beds, table and chairs, electricity, and a heater. Still others can include an attached bath or even a kitchenette setup. This really depends on your location, but these cabins are often located within the park itself, meaning that, even if they are about the same price as the economy hotels in the area, you save both time and fuel by not having to drive to your photography locations every day.

Then you have vacation rentals hosted by private individuals through platforms like AirBnB and VRBO. Having rented through AirBnB many, many times in multiple countries across the world, I have to say I really enjoy this option. Especially for solo or couples travelers, AirBnB can be a way to stay in a unique spot, closer to your photography subjects than a traditional hotel, and for less money. For those not comfortable sharing a house with others, renting entire flats or homes is completely doable through both platforms. There, you have the added benefit of having some sort of kitchen, allowing for more home meals rather than eating out. This is also a great choice for groups of friends or families with kids who want to split costs and stay under the same roof.

Here is an example of an AirBnB I stayed at in Washington several years ago. Had the whole place to myself. © Alyce Bender

Look for all-inclusive tours/workshops

For photographers who want a photography-centric trip this summer, consider the cost and stress savings that booking with a reputable photography tour/workshop leader will save you. Depending on the leader/company, all-inclusive means that car rental, lodging, fuel, entry fees, parking fees, driving, activities, photography instruction/guiding, and sometimes even meals are all wrapped up into one fee. This option takes a lot of the logistics off your plate, leaving those decisions with the leader, while you get to spend your time focusing on photography and interacting with others who share the same passion for nature photography that you do.

Bonus: by joining an all-inclusive photography tour, you help decrease the collective impact of visitation to the area through carpooling.

In the end

Sadly, travel this summer is going to make us sweat in more ways than one but I hope these tips will help cool the burn on your pocketbook while still allowing for an array of choices for photography adventures. Safe travels!

A multitude of instructors (including myself), photography locations, tour/workshop packages of various inclusions and exclusions can be found on NANPA’s website under the Events tab and Member-lead workshops and tours. © Alyce Bender

Alyce Bender is a nature photographer, writer, educator, and adventurer. Camera in hand since childhood, her fascination for photography developed into a career after serving in the U.S. Air Force. Her passion for wildlife and the natural environment compels her to connect others with nature through sharing both visual art and in-field experiences that promote conservation, creativity, and ethical photography.

She is a Tamron USA Ambassador, contributing writer for the Journal of Wildlife Photography, and her work has been featured in group and solo gallery shows across the US as well as in international publications from the UK to Japan. Bender leads photography adventures around the world to help beginner through advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision and naturalist skills ethically. When not in the field, she offers a variety of educational programs both in person and virtually for photography organizations large and small.

You can see more of Bender’s work at www.abenderphotography.com.