One of the most common questions I get is how I afford to travel to compete so often. I usually laugh it off, and say something like, “I guess I’m just lucky.” The truth is I typically view my travel not as a vacation, but more of a job. I don’t spend more than is necessary, and save money anywhere I can. Here are five ways to save money while competing you can use to lower the costs of traveling.
1. Bring your own Food
This sounds pretty obvious, but I’m always astounded by how much money people waste going out to eat. Not to mention, when you’re competing your diet should be pretty strict. Trying new foods before you compete sounds like a possible disaster. When I’m packing for a tournament I bring just the amount of food I will need for the trip. I prefer this to buying groceries in the city I’m traveling to, because when grocery shopping you will typically end up buying a lot more than you need. You then either have to bring it back home, or more often than not, you end up wasting it and throwing it away. What is the point saving money by buying groceries if you end up wasting some of it? In addition, a lot of the bigger tournaments are in more expensive areas like SoCal, so groceries are typically more expensive there than where you most likely live. When packing your food, look for single serve portions. Almond butter, hummus, almonds and many other things come in smaller portions which can help when trying to travel light. For bonus points, use reusable bags so you’re not adding more plastic to the oceans ;).
2. Airbnbs not Hotels
Hotels can range from 75 to 200 dollars or more a night depending on where you’re staying. This can really break the bank when you’re trying to compete multiple times a year. Instead check out Airbnb. If you’re not familiar with Airbnb, it’s a site where you can rent rooms, or houses which are rented out by their owners. This can mean you get a place to stay at a fraction of the price of a hotel. In fact, for Pans my room is $25 a night, making it extremely affordable. Airbnbs can also come with amentities that hotels do not have. This $25 a night Airbnb has a yoga room! If you’re worried about credibility and safety, choose places whose hosts have numerous positive reviews. As a personal endorsement, I have been renting Airbnbs for over two years without incident.
3. Uber, Lyft, Rideshare, and Public Transportation
Renting a car can be very expensive, especially for a tournament like Pans or Worlds where you’ll be there for four to five days. Adding a car rental to your budget can add 300 plus dollars. Instead consider using Uber and Lyft, and when possible Rideshare with other riders. While ride sharing isn’t available in all cities, in the cities it is it can save money. The idea behind ride sharing is your driver will pick up other riders who are going around the same area as you so it saves the driver time. The price is much less, but the amount of time it takes is longe, but who knows you might meet someone awesome! If you don’t plan on going very far, Uber and Lyft can save a lot of money. Better yet, the train and bus systems in most cities are great, and can help you get around for a fraction of the price. Many cities will sell a week long unlimited pass; Orange County (Pans) day passes are $4.50 a day, while Long Beach (Worlds) is $4 a day or $18 for 5 days. It might require some walking, but spending $18 to $25 on transportation seems like a good reason to walk a little.
4. Work the Event
Every tournament I have every been to was always looking for people to help make the tournament run smoothly. The options vary from refs to table workers, and ring coordinators to gi checkers; there are numerous places they need people for. By working some of the days you don’t compete on, you can help pay for your tournament fees, and sometimes even more. While this may not work for everyone, it can be an option for those who would be at the tournament anyways.
5. Buy Airfare on Tuesdays and 6 Weeks Out
It’s become a proven, and a somewhat known fact, that airfare is cheapest six weeks out and on Tuesdays versus buying it on the weekend when it is most expensive. Additionally most airlines run their sales on Tuesdays, so this is the best time to look for flights. Another trick is to use Google Flights and have it track your flights your interested in. Google will then email you when the price changes. One thing to note is that Southwest prices are not viewable on Google Flights, so you will have to go to their site directly to view their prices. Also be careful of cheaper airlines that then make you pay for a carry on. You don’t save any money if you have to pay $25 to $40 each way for your gigs to get to the tournament with you.
Here are just a few of the ‘tricks’ I use to help save money while traveling to compete. The biggest takeaway is that I don’t view this as a vacation, so I don’t spend money like it is one. While it might be a vacation for some, for me, I know I want to compete at other expensive tournaments and save as much as possible. I also save money while I’m not traveling. I rarely go out to eat, preferring to make my own food, making my own lunches. I do not drink, so I don’t spend money on alcohol, and my hobbies include training, and more training. While I’m not saying you have to be me, saving money at home is possible, just look at where you’re spending your money.