In 2013, my husband and I spent three weeks in southern Spain, took a mini vacation to Portugal (where we stayed in a 13th-century convent turned 4-star hotel), enjoyed a week at the Jersey shore, toured a crystal cave in upstate NY, treated my in-laws to a long weekend in Lancaster County (including three nights at a top-rated bed & breakfast), and booked a trip for summer 2014 to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.
My goodness, aren’t we rich and glamorous?!
I’m a public school teacher, and my husband is a doctoral student with a modest assistantship stipend. I drive a secondhand Ford Taurus complete with cigarette burns and a faint mouse-y odor, and Tomás drives my mom’s junky old van with a very stubborn stick figure family still adhered to the back windows. We live comfortably within our means, but those means certainly do not afford romping around the globe, ordering cocktails by the pool at luxury hotels.
Yet, we do just that. How?
We manage to travel so frequently and so enjoyably because we’ve set priorities and formed habits conducive to the travel-filled lifestyle that’s so important to both of us.
All that travel we did last year? We paid cash for very, very little of it. Instead, we were able to get a large part of that travel free of cost.
And you know what? You can do it, too.
So, to my fellow regular, workaday people with a travel bug itching at your heart … if you want 2014 to be the year you finally indulge that wanderlust, behold my five easy tips to travel more (and spend less) in 2014.
- Pay everything you can with credit cards that earn travel points.
This is the single most important thing we do to finance our travel. We use (and adore) the Capital One Venture Card to pay anything and everything that can be paid with a card: gas, groceries, electric, internet, cell phone, monthly nail polish subscriptions (yes, it’s a real thing, and I love it). I dream of a day when we can make our mortgage payment by credit card because, woooo baby, would we roll in the points then!Using our Venture card gets us two travel points to every dollar we spend, and what’s great about that is it’s not like “miles” that are super hard to figure out and take depressingly long to really be good for anything. We can use our points on flights, hotels, restaurants, attractions … anything travel-related. And they have this really cool feature called the Purchase Eraser, which means that if we want to use our points on a fancy-pants hotel, we just book the room with our card, then log in online and use our points to magically take away that transaction. Voila, free room!One urgent piece of advice: pay off your card every month. Don’t use it to get things “on credit.” Use it more with the mindset of a debit card, only buying things that you have the cash to pay off by the time your bill comes around. We want this to be all sunbeams and unicorns, no evil interest or late payment charges allowed.
- Take advantage of sign up bonuses from other cards.
Chris Guillebeau (who has visited all 193 countries of the world) is a master at this and is very generous in sharing his knowledge on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. We followed the (free) advice in his 2012 Frequent Flyer Challenge and earned enough points to book the flight and all of our hotels for our upcoming trip to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. Subscribe to his blog and keep your eyes open for his next FF Challenge so you can do the same.
If you don’t want to wait for the next Challenge or are just really hungry for more ways to get free travel, check out both Chris’s Frequent Flyer Master guide (now available in an amazingly priced bundle with his Travel Ninja program) and his Travel Hacking Cartel.
3) Make sure you’re signed up for frequent flyer miles when you travel.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but call me brainless because I’ve certainly lost out on miles in the past, and I don’t want the same to happen to you.
The thing about miles is they’re usually a pain in the bum to register … a separate log in, getting locked out because of forgotten passwords, generally awful websites … in the past, I would just say forget it and let them go.
As I started to travel more and started to feel a bit guilty about my laziness, I decided to make sure I was getting those miles. The easiest thing I’ve found to handle this is to just ask the attendant to help me out whenever I check in for a flight. He/she can usually just make sure that the frequent flyer points are assigned to my account and will tell me how to log in to see them. Easy peasy!
We used both Groupon and LivingSocial last year for cheap weekend trips. They included amazing discounts on the hotel and fun freebies like nighly bottles of champagne (pop!).
I really recommend subscribing to these newsletters for several reasons. One, you can see how cheap incredible trips can go for, which is good for morale — you see how feasible a dream vacation is and start to realize it’s something realistically possible for you. Two, skimming through these newsletters on a regular basis helps you become familiar with what good deals look like, so you’ll know when to snag and when to wait for the price to drop. Finally, these newsletters are free fuel for serious dreaming. Seeing those gorgeous photos and reading the details on the destinations will fire up the desire in your heart, which ultimately is the most powerful tool for turning those dreams into reality.
5) Do some research and set a measurable, timely savings goal.
Make a travel goal for 2014.
Decide where you want to go and what you want it to include. Now, do some research: figure out an average cost for the flight, hotel, excursions, food, etc. This research will take some time, but it’s way more effective to have an actual dollar amount to work towards instead of a vague idea that usually just leads to assuming you can’t afford it. Travel is often more reasonable than people know, we just have this mindset that only rich people can afford it. As I know firsthand, not true! Also, same as I said in tip #4, keeping yourself informed on going rates will help you recognize a great deal (or a bad one) when you see it.
A really handy tool for setting and tracking that goal is Mint.com. Mint is a free service that will let you set a savings goal, decide when you want to reach it by, and it’ll then tell you how much you need to save each month to make that happen. There’s also this really cool scale thingy that lets you see how much more quickly you can reach your goal by increasing your monthly contribution by $5, $10, etc. You then link that goal to a savings account and Mint will actually track your progress, letting you know if you fall behind or get ahead with a neato savings thermometer. My husband and I use Mint to track all of our finances and our savings goals … it’s an awesome tool!
If you follow even just one of these tips, you will be on an improved track to making your 2014 travel goals happen. Start with one, and as you master that add another … and see how your travel dreams become more and more possible.