“You’re so lucky.” “Do you ever work?” “You must be rich.” “How do you have so much time off work?”
These are just a few of the questions I hear every time I jump on a plane, so please, allow me to answer.
Yes, I’m fortunate to have been given certain opportunities, but I also work my ass off and make plenty of sacrifices to put myself in those positions. Yes I work, all the time actually. And when I’m not at work, I’m likely at home working on my blog. I’m far from rich, but I am single and child-free, which means all of my money goes to me (and my least favorite uncle, Sam). And lastly, I guess I’m lucky enough to work for an employer that gives me a decent amount of vacation time, and I take full advantage of those days.
Basically, I’m not making a ton of money that allows me to live lavishly in New York and jet-set around the world every chance I get. It all comes down to the simple fact that I’m selective, decisive, and strategic about how and what I spend money on. And as a result I’ve reached a happy medium where I’m able to pay my bills, work full-time, and travel the world whenever I can.
So maybe some of these tips I use will help you get on the road or in the air a bit more while still working full-time.
Maximize paid time off. That means utilize long weekends, summer Fridays, holiday breaks, personal days, whatever your company gives you. Fly overnight, leave right after work, land two hours before going into the office, do what you’ve got to do. And don’t think that you can’t go some place awesome over a two or three-day weekend. I spent three months taking weekend getaways all over Europe—flying out at 6pm on Friday, and coming back at 8am on Monday morning—and saw so many amazing cities. Just be realistic with how far you can go, and go for it!
Negotiate vacation time. I’ve heard stories of people negotiating extra paid time off upon hiring into a new job, or even when they couldn’t get a raise yet at their current job. And seriously, to hell with employers who don’t give their employees proper paid time off.
Stop taking your job so seriously. I’m not by any means trying to belittle anyone’s career, but sometimes people simply think that their company will crumble or their employer will look down on them if they take a week off of work. If you have vacation time, USE IT. And use it wisely.
Cut out unnecessary expenses. My travel lifestyle certainly has its sacrifices, but I still live comfortably in Manhattan of all places. I spend more time at home, I grocery shop and pack lunch whenever possible, and I’ve really scaled back on how much money I throw away when I do go out. Save money wherever you can and it will all add up. Bike to work to alleviate the cost of transportation AND double as a workout rather than joining a gym. Choose an appetizer rather than a huge entrée. Don’t buy another round of drinks. Stay home once in a while. Don’t buy a bunch of useless shit just because it’s on sale. Stop shopping for clothes every week. Claim 0 on your taxes and spend that hefty tax return on a big trip. Cut down your cell phone plan or join a family share plan. Ditch the TV/cable/Netflix and watch your shows online. Stop being such a lush. Stop smoking. Basically, anything you can cut down on, you should. And it doesn’t mean you have to stop living your day-to-day life, just see where you can cut back a little.
Set up a bank account strictly for travel. If you’re anything like me and have a high rent/mortgage plus several student loans and bills to pay each month, finding spare cash to travel with can seem impossible. That’s why I set up a separate bank account so that $100 from each paycheck automatically gets deposited. Before you know it you’ve got some spare cash to put towards a flight, hotels, or spending money. (Bonus points for an account with a feature like the Bank of America Keep The Change program, that rounds up every purchase you make and puts the change into your account.)
Find a good rewards card and pay for everything you can with it. I’ve got the Capital One Venture Rewards card which gives me 2 points for every dollar I spend. I put most of my purchases on it each month, then I only touch my checking account when it’s time to pay the balance. Put all of your big purchases on there too, especially flights and hotels. Plus when you travel abroad, having a good travel card can keep you from paying foreign transaction fees. Check out thepointsguy.com to compare cards and see which is best for you.
Pay off your credit cards. While we’re on the topic, keep your credit card balance in check. Based on your income and free spending money, develop a plan to rack up points with it while paying it off immediately. That means DON’T CARRY A BALANCE. That also means spending within your means—if you don’t have the cash, don’t do it. You don’t want to be paying down $2,000 on your card and spending $700 on a flight.
Go with your gut. What I mean is don’t go crazy with the planning. I’ve had some pretty great experiences by just booking a random getaway on a whim. Last week I booked a random flight to Istanbul in March knowing nothing about it because my gut was telling me to go for it. So if you see a deal, you can afford it, and you’ve got an inkling to travel there, just go for it. Book it and then figure everything else out later.
Never fly without getting frequent flyer miles. If possible, stick to one airline and their partner airlines just to keep racking up the points. But sometimes plans won’t allow you to do that, so make sure you sign up for whatever new program just in case. For example, my round trip flight to Thailand on Cathay Pacific in 2012 almost gave me enough points to fly NYC to Brazil one-way for free because I signed up for Asia Miles. A year later my flight from London to NYC on Aer Lingus (a partner in the Asia Miles program) gave me enough points to get me to that one-way ticket for free.
Sign up for hotel rewards programs as well. If your rewards program doesn’t let you redeem for hotels, consider joining a hotel rewards program as well. This might not be the best option for everyone, especially considering how often you can find much better deals by booking directly through a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. But I signed up for hotels.com when I was traveling around Europe a lot because I got one free night for every 10 nights booked. Over the course of the year I managed to get two free nights which I just redeemed for that random trip to Istanbul. And I’m only two nights away from my third free night.
Plan wisely and look for money-saving alternatives. Okay stay with me on this one, because explaining my logic is not my strong point. The Galapagos have always been on my “I wish” list because I’d always heard they were so expensive. And yes, they’re a few thousand dollars if you do the traditional week-long island hopping cruise experience. If you actually stay on the islands, however, you can stay in a private room at a hostel for like $15 a night. Then you can barter with the park guides there and go on day trips to the other islands for like $70-$100. So here, the only real expensive part is the flight. And as mentioned above, I’ve been planning a trip to Brazil using my Asia Miles to get me there for free. So I looked up flight prices and realized that what I’d pay to travel ROUND TRIP to the Galapagos was only slightly more than what I’d pay for that ONE WAY flight back from Brazil. On top of that, if I booked a flight to the Galapagos through American Airlines, it’d give me enough AAdvantage points for a one way flight BACK from Brazil to NYC. Since American doesn’t fly to the Galapagos, but LAN, their partner airline in South America does, that’s who I booked through. So once I complete the trip I’ll have enough points to get me to and from Brazil for nearly free.
Choose cheaper places to sleep. Often times hotels are damn expensive. Look into bed and breakfasts, hostels (you can get private room hostels too if you’re beyond that stage in your life), or even couchsurfing. There are tons of people all over the world who love to travel and love to welcome people into their home and country. I’ve stayed in a few Airbnb apartments and met some pretty amazing people who included me in their dinner parties, homemade brunch celebrations, and nights out.
Follow travel deal sites. I’m going to do a proper post on these soon because I’ve been hearing of so many new sites lately, and some that I’ve grown to love have recently started to suck, but The Flight Deal is a good one, as is Airfare Watchdog. I hear Skyscanner is as well, though I’ve never used it.
Search flexible dates. We all know that searching for flights over a couple of days, or even hours can give way to some serious savings. So try out various flight combinations before booking the best deal, and use a site like Kayak and their price trend predictor to get a feel for normal prices. Don’t be afraid of the overnight flights, the early morning flights, the (reasonable) layovers, or shifting your vacation by a few days. So what if you’re tired at work the day you get back? It’s one day of being a bit sleepy in exchange for a great vacation.
Don’t be afraid to go alone. If I passed up every trip that I didn’t have anyone to go with, I’d still be sitting on my ass in Ohio, having never left the States. Traveling alone is truly great, and though some people do prefer to travel with someone, I’ve never met someone who’s regretted traveling alone. If you’ve never done it, you might be surprised at just how enjoyable your experience will be. (And no, it’s not a big deal to eat alone in public, seriously.)
Think local. Don’t have the time or money to take off across the globe just yet? Hit a few places that are close to home to tidy you over, but keep saving for your big adventure.
Just book it. Making the decision to go somewhere can sometimes be the most difficult part. But once you book that flight, you’re going.
I could easily double or triple the size of this list, but the most important thing I can tell you to do is just do research. Don’t assume a place is too expensive and out of reach until you actually look into it for yourself. Travel isn’t nearly as expensive as many people think it is. And more often than not, it’s only as expensive as you make it. You’d be surprised how far your money can go in most places, especially where the exchange rate is favorable. Plus, walking around a new city or town on your own two feet is always free.
What other advice do you have for making travel affordable and doable outside of your 9-5?