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How To Save For Travel

This is probably the number one question I get from inquiring minds. Travel is not always cheap, so how do I afford to do it so much?

The first and most important answer is that I am lucky enough to have a well-paying job that gives me a decent amount of disposable income. I feel that’s important to mention in any discussion about saving for travel. I hate the disingenuous articles from writers who make it seem like saving for travel should be easy for everyone. That’s not always true since people have a variety of incomes and financial responsibilities.

But if you do have some disposable income and you’re wanting to know how to cultivate a travel fund, I’ve got a few tips.

Calculate. Before you can figure out how to save, you have to figure out how you spend. I suggest using a worksheet like this one to figure out exactly how you’re spending your income each month. From there, you can easily see where your disposable income is going, and where you could make some cuts. For me, spending money is like snacking: I had no idea how much I was doing it until I took the time to write it down over the course of several weeks.

Make saving easy. I would never put money aside for travel if I left it up to my already over-extended brain to remember to do. So I’ve set up a number of automatic savings plans that do it for me. I use Capital One 360’s automatic savings plans, which I’ve set up to pull specified dollar amounts from my checking account once a month. I actually have two travel-specific accounts: one for my future “round the world trip” that I don’t touch, and a second “vacation” fund for spending money when I’m on a trip (I just transfer however much I think I’ll need to my checking account a few days prior to a trip).

There are also several apps that allow you to both track your spending and set up automatic savings. I use Digit, which withdraws a few dollars from your bank account every few days, in amounts you can afford (which it calculates based on your balance and spending habits), and puts them into a savings account that you can access any time, with no fee. They have a no-overdraft guarantee, too. Another similar app that I’ve heard of but not personally used is Acorns.

You can also make travel easier on your wallet by earning miles and points through the use of travel rewards credit cards. I always put my flights and lodging on my travel credit card and pay it off the next month, so I can rack up miles, but that topic deserves a post by itself, which I’ll be doing soon.

Consistency is key. The best way to  build your travel savings is to be consistent in adding to it. It might take a while to build up, but you’d be surprised how much money will be in there if you regularly contribute to it over the course of a few years. Even if you contribute just $100 a month, that’s $2400 in two years; enough for two plane tickets to pretty much any destination in the world. Even if you can only put small amounts aside, it’s better than nothing! The key is to actively contribute to it, in whatever amounts and on whatever schedule works for you. Your travel plant won’t grow unless you water it (or some other analogy that is better than that).

Make small adjustments. Saving for travel is different than, say, saving for retirement. For the latter, you’d need to focus big picture on things like tax consequences and investment strategies and diversifying your savings in different types of accounts. Saving for travel, in my experience, comes down to making small adjustments of your daily routine.

Example: I used to buy coffee every day, which worked out to about $4-$6 a day, depending on how #basicwhitegirl I was being that morning. But let’s call it an even $5. That’s $35 a week; $140 a month; or $1,680 A YEAR. For coffee. FOR COFFEE. That amount is more than what I spent on a 12 day trip to Turkey. I started making coffee at home and began putting that money into my travel savings.

And that’s just coffee. I used to buy my lunch almost every day, which cost anywhere from $8-$10 per lunch. That’s about $200 a month, or $2,400 a year. $2,400! A year! For a mediocre lunch that’s not as good as something I could make myself. Start bringing your lunch to work if you don’t already, even just 3 or 4 days a week, and that’s probably around $1,500 you can put into a travel fund.

I don’t know your personal spending habits so I can’t give you specific advice, but I’m positive everyone could look at their spending habits and find a place you could stand to make a cut and devote that money to a travel account.

Prioritize. At the end of the day, it all comes down to priorities. You can save for travel if you prioritize it over other things. That’s what I do. Tax refund and birthday or Christmas money? Straight into the travel account. Shopping? Of course I shop, but I go to places like H&M, TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, or the occasional thrift store, instead of blowing money on costly clothing. Expensive car, designer jewelry, eating out all the time? Nope.

I’ve determined that these things are not very important to me. I’m more interested in collecting experiences, not stuff. The first thing you have to do if you want to save for travel  is to decide it’s a priority and, to quote Captain Picard, Make It So. That means making sacrifices elsewhere in your life, like saying goodbye to your basic bitch coffee habit or committing to cooking meals at home more often.

If you have any specific questions for me, please feel free to ask me directly or in the comments!

 

Budget Friendly Travel Let's Travel Travel Tips

Planning Your Trip: Part 1

This is Part 1 of a multi-part series about planning a trip, from figuring out your destination to choosing a hotel to exploring.

Deciding Where To Go

The world is a big place, so figuring out where to take a vacation if you don’t already have a place in mind can be daunting.  A lot of friends ask me where I think they should go on vacation, and that’s hard to answer because everybody is different and wants different things out of a trip.

Generally speaking, however, if you’re completely undecided and open, I find it helps to figure out the answers to a few basic questions:

  • When will your trip be?
  • How long will your trip be?
  • How far are you willing to travel?
  • Do you want to limit it to one place, or do you want a multi-destination trip?
  • What is your overall budget? Include flights, transportation and hotel costs, meals, and attractions.
  • Do you want an active/adventure oriented vacation? A relaxing vacation? Or some combination of both?

These are the important questions and can help you narrow down your choices. If you’ve only got a week, traveling to Australia from the United States might not be the best use of your time, for example; if your budget is on the lower side but you’ve got some time, a road trip or choosing your destination based on available flight deals might be a good option. If you’re like me and hate the cold, you’ll want to stay away from Helsinki in December.

You also have to decide whether you want to stick to one place or visit multiple places, because this will affect your budget the most. In Europe specifically, getting from one city or country to the next is decidedly easier because there is a great railway system and very cheap budget airlines, so it may be doable to do two or even three cities in the span of 7-10 days without breaking the bank.

Harness the Power of Social Media

There is no shortage of travel information available on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It takes a few minutes of effort, but try to follow some travel accounts online and read some good blogs. Here is a short list of some of my favorites: Travel + Leisure, Budget Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR Media, National Geographic Travel (and its various off-shoots), Matador Network, Jetset Extra, Nomadic Matt, Landlopers, The Frugal Traveler, and Digital Nomad Andrew Evans of “Where’s Andrew?” fame.

If you search the #travel or #destinations hashtags on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll find a bevy of information. Pinterest is also great for travel inspiration. You’ll probably see places you’ve never even dreamed of going. For me, Instagram is where I get most of my inspiration. I browse the photos and can see what travelers are seeing during their trips. It has given me so many ideas in the past and it’s a simple thing you can do, since most of us are on Instagram and browsing photos on there anyway.

Figure out the Logistics

Do you need a Visa from the country to which you’re traveling? What about vaccinations? Is there a State Department Travel Advisory? Figure this stuff out before you go any further. It can take a while to get Visas to certain countries, so start the process immediately if you decide you want to go to a place that requires one.

Also, now is the time to check your passport if you plan on traveling internationally. The general rule is that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months past the date on which you plan to enter your destination country. I almost got burned by this when I went to Turkey, as my passport expired 6 months and 2 weeks after I planned to enter – too close for my comfort. If you’re not sure of requirements, check the government travel website of your destination; it will have visitor information for entering the country. The US State Department also has some information that might be helpful in answering your questions regarding visas, vaccinations, and any movement limitations within the country.

Do Your Research

Once you have it narrowed down to a few places and you’ve ticked off all the government travel requirements, use your resources to help you decide. Ask friends and family via Facebook if they’ve been to any of the places you’re considering. Use the internet to find out what travelers before you thought of your destinations, as sometimes places are very different than they seem and your expectations might need to be adjusted. Sites like TripAdvisor let you search forums for discussions about cities and activities in those cities, including a ranking of attractions, reviews, words of warning, and must-sees. After reading about your choices, one may stand out as the best, or you may decide that they all sound great and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

The travel sites i listed above also have lots of information from fellow travelers. The travel world is full of information on pretty much any destination you can think of, no matter how remote; travel is a multi-billion dollar industry, after all.  Tap into the hard work of hundreds of travelers before you; there’s no need to start from scratch!

So Now You’ve Decided….

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, which will focus on finding and planning flights and transportation, lodging, and activities.

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Travel Hack: Hidden City Ticketing

This is a somewhat lesser known travel hack that many travelers either aren’t aware of or have never used.  I’ve only done this once, a couple of years ago, and as I’ll explain later, it was because I had some miles to burn and I happened upon it by accident.

Hidden City Ticketing is best illustrated through example. Let’s say you need to book a last minute trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, but a one-way ticket is $350. But, you see there’s a one-way ticket to Washington DC with a layover in Charlotte that is only $225. You would book the ticket to DC, but ditch the second leg of your trip. You end up with a ticket that is $125 cheaper, which is a substantial savings.

That’s the gist. Obviously, there’s some “fine print” to keep in mind.

This hack does not work for round-trip tickets, because for all airlines, if you miss one leg of your trip, the rest of your reservation is automatically cancelled. So, understand that you’ll have to buy two one-ways or use miles to book the return leg if that’s what you need (which is what I did the only time I’ve ever done this.) You also cannot check a bag, since your checked bag will be sent through to the final destination, not where you’re skipping off. Also, there’s always the slim chance that your flight could get re-routed through a different destination, though in all my years of flying, such a thing has only ever happened to me once and it was a change from Chicago Midway to O’Hare, so it wouldn’t have made any difference if you were planning on ditching the second half of your flight.

I suppose you could try to do the same hidden city hack for your return trip, but airlines can absolutely catch onto this, and they really don’t like it. It violates most airlines’ ticketing policies. For that reason, don’t include your frequent flyer number when booking; I’ve read stories about airlines revoking passengers’ miles for abusing the practice. Legally, it’s a bit of a grey area. Airline ticketing rules don’t exactly have the force of law, so while the airline could ding you by revoking miles or possibly not allowing you to fly with them anymore, their penalties are pretty limited in scope. I read recently about British Airways cracking down on this, too. So this is a “Do at your own risk” kind of thing.

Finding these kinds of flights is not for those who are uncomfortable doing a lot of research and using advanced search methods on the internet. I happened across my hack by accident because I had seen something on Twitter advertising one-stop flights that happened to have a layover at my destination for a very cheap price.

But if you want to actually search a hidden-city ticket yourself, the best way to do it is by using this flight matrix. A quick how-to (here is a list of airport codes, which you’ll need for this hack):

  • Click on “One-way” then put in your originating airport.
  • Right under “Destination” click on “Advanced Routing Codes” which will open up another search space.
  • In the “Destination” space, put a few airports that might logically have layovers at your intended destination (you wouldn’t put SFO if you’re trying to go to New York from Texas, for example), and are otherwise major hubs (think LAX, ATL, SFO, and the like).
  • Then, in the “Enter outbound routing code” space, put x:[airport code of your actual destination].
  • Fill in your departure date and run the search; it will bring up all the flights to your listed destinations that have stops in your desired destination.

There is also a site called Skiplagged that can run these kinds of searches for you, though I’ve never used it myself so I’m not sure how easy or user friendly it is. United Airlines actually sued Skiplagged for this and lost, so round 1 goes to us cheapskate travelers!

I just did a search using the flight matrix and put in Charlotte as my actual destination, with flights to LaGuardia, Newark, JFK, Washington Reagan, and Philadelphia as my “intended destination”. It turned up a $117 one way ticket to Washington Reagan. A one way flight to Charlotte on Kayak was a $162 ticket, and a round trip ticket to Charlotte beginning on the same date and coming back a week later was $256.  Assuming you had miles for the return ticket or your return date had cheaper one way ticket prices than the ticket out there, it might be a worthwhile savings.   If you were to do something similar over  holiday weekend or during a busy flying time, you might get even larger savings.

Again, this is a lot of research and it doesn’t always yield flights that are cheaper enough to warrant doing it. So use other flight search methods before going this route. I think this method probably only comes in handy if you are extremely strapped for cash, where a $50 or so difference really matters, or if you are booking a very last-minute flight to a major hub city, since ticket prices to these destinations do fluctuate regularly and a last minute ticket could be extremely expensive. Ticket prices to smaller airports tend to have less fluctuation in ticket price, so the savings might not be as great if you’re trying to go to one of these smaller airports.

 

 

*Shout out to my BFF Melanie Donahue, who is the pinchiest of the penny pinchers, and inspires me to attempt budget hacks on the regular.

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Tips for a Great Staycation

Sometimes it’s impossible to get away for a few days, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t escape your life for a little while. In my experience, we tend to overlook the great things our home cities have to offer as we maneuver regular and demanding responsibilities. If you’re in need of a break from the responsibilities of everyday life, a staycation might be your answer. One thing I’ve learned from being sidelined from travel for a while is that it’s not so much the destination that makes for an escape, but just getting away from your normal routine.

You can take a long weekend, or even just a regular weekend, and turn it into a mini-escape by availing yourself of all the cool stuff around you that maybe you’ve seen and wanted to check out, or that you’ve never even heard of.  When I lived in NYC, I tried to make as many weekends as possible a “staycation” and since moving back to Dallas, I’ve done the same thing. Here are a few tips I’ve come up with over the years:

1. Treat Yo Self.

A staycation shouldn’t break your bank (otherwise what’s the point), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t Treat Yo Self. Take your cue from Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle and commit to doing at least one thing that’s considered a splurge. Maybe it’s a nice dinner at a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try or a few hours at a spa, or maybe you spend one night at a B&B nearby. Just do something nice for yourself. It’s your vacation!

2. Forget your home and work responsibilities. 

If you were on vacation, you wouldn’t be doing laundry or scrubbing the bathtub, right? Follow the same rules on your staycation. Let the house get a little messy. There may be some things you can’t ignore (like pool maintenance, picking up after kids, taking care of pets, etc.), but try to at least forego some of the housework duties that can wait a few days.

As for work, if you were on vacation, you probably wouldn’t be answering emails or checking your voicemail. Follow that same rule on your staycation. Unless it’s a life or death situation, I promise that whatever needs your attention can wait. Set an out-of-office reply that says you will not have access to email or voicemail for the duration of your staycation, just as you would if you were leaving town.

3. Try new things.

It may be tempting to do stuff you always do, like swimming or your local park. But try to mix it up for your staycation.  Check the internet for fun, out of the ordinary things going on in your city; movie screenings or concerts at local parks, farmer’s markets, wine tastings, mini golf, museum exhibits….the list is endless! If it’s the holidays or Summer, there should be lots of things going on. You just have to commit to doing some digging a few weeks in advance.  Mashable has a great list of several apps you can use to find events near you. You can also visit Eventful, which lets you search for events by category and dates, or utilize local city guides or magazines. Also, tap into friends and family as a resource. They might have great suggestions!

4. Make plans.

When you go on vacation, you probably at least have a loose itinerary; do the same thing for your staycation. Decide ahead of time the activities you want to do, so that you don’t end up falling back on your “normal” routine. This doesn’t mean you need to plan out every second, but having a set idea of what you will do each day will make it more likely that you’ll branch out. Plus, it’s easier to keep track of your spending if you know how much cash you’ll be shelling out ahead of time; a staycation is supposed to be a cheaper alternative to a vacation, after all.

5.  Search for deals.

I’ve issued caution about Groupon Getaway deals in past posts, but for a staycation, Groupon or similar sites like LivingSocial have great activity deals that can both save you some money and give you ideas of activities you might not have thought to do. Go-karts, small museum tours, flying lessons, kayaking, brewery tours….the list is endless. Groupon has a “Things to Do” category specifically for this purpose.  This can save you money and give you ideas, so it’s a win-win.

 

My final tip: RELAX! It might be tempting to let the everyday stresses of life affect you since you’re still technically “at home,” but try to resist the urge. Give yourself a break – you deserve it.