Travel expands our minds in a way books, movies, and other life experiences cannot. We begin to realize the world is so much bigger than the microcosm we have operated within. We see firsthand hand, there are other ways to do things, other ways to perceive events, and other ways to create conditions conducive to the type of life we want to experience. There is a misperception that in order to reap the benefits of travel, one needs to be independently wealthy, retired, or live in a van. In this post, I’ll provide six tips that will help you to bring your travel dreams to reality!
Article: Life Skills Learned by Traveling
I’m fortunate to be able to say I’ve done a lot of traveling in my lifetime. Between my professional career and personal desire to explore, I’ve been to Canada, England, Dubai, Spain, Italy, Austria, France, and every state within the U.S. As a single mom and middle-class professional, this was only possible because I travel either cheap or free. Here are my top tips on how you can make your travel dreams come true without spending a lot of money.
1. Utilize Credit Cards to Your Advantage
Find a good credit card that pays you back in travel points or dollars. This seems counter-intuitive but stick with me for a minute. There are lots of cards out there that reward usage with travel points. Search for the best one for you, your family, and your unique situation.
I use a Chase Sapphire card. Everything I purchase throughout the month is charged to this card. It’s the only card I use and I use it to pay utilities, car insurance, groceries, gas, haircare, fuel, and anything that needs to be paid for. It’s my go-to method of payment. I’ve even paid my rent with this card.
And then I pay off the card in full each month.
That’s the most important part of this strategy! If you can’t pay off the card each month, don’t use this tip.
I may go several years without traveling, save up all my points, and then take a big international trip. The card I use allows me to use points to pay for airfare, rental cars, hotels, cruises, and various other travel luxuries or I can get a cash check for the points accumulated.
2. Use the Same Airline and Hotel Chain for Travel
This tip won’t work for everyone but if you travel for work, focus your travel on the same airline and hotel chain when possible, sign up for their frequent traveler programs, and rack up those points!
I’ve earned completely paid round-trip international airfares and hotel stays simply by doing this. As a matter of fact, I went to both Rome and Paris on frequent flyer miles.
If you don’t travel for work but do fly periodically for personal reasons, do the same thing. At the time of this writing, most airline points never expire so even if you are traveling just once a year, make sure you sign up for their frequent flyer program and accumulate points.
3. Skip the Convenience Stores & Airport Gift Shops
One of the many ways to save money while traveling is to skip the convenience stores (both in airports and on the highway). Don’t buy anything at a gas station/convenience store except fuel. You would be amazed at how much money is spent by purchasing that bottle of water, soda, candy bar, chips, protein bar, or trinket from Kentucky that you thought was so cute. Gas stations are for gas (and maybe bathrooms) and believe me when I tell you that the trinket you purchased for $10 was only worth $1 and you’ll be sending it to a landfill in a few years. Pass on the urge to buy something every time you stop to use the bathroom or get gas. I usually take a few gallons of water and refill my water bottle along the way. As far as snacks go, check out the next tip.
Related: How to Downsize When Moving
4. Pack Your Own Meals/Snacks
Take your own meals and snacks that were purchased at the grocery store or that you cooked yourself. I know it gets boring driving down the highway. Stopping to eat is one way to break up the monotony. Instead of stopping for fast food off the highway or even finding a restaurant, do a little preparation and pack your own food. Keep snacks handy and stop at a local park to enjoy your healthy and much cheaper meal.
Even if you are flying, there are lots of food items you can take instead of purchasing meals at airports and restaurants. Eating out, even eating fast food, is expensive (and generally disgusting)! I can make a jar of Overnight oats (dry ingredients only on the plane) that will provide 4 days of breakfast for about a dollar a day or spend $10/day eating breakfast somewhere. Over 2 weeks that’s a potential savings of $126 just on breakfast.
5. Be Willing to Be Uncomfortable
We can save a lot of money simply by being just a little uncomfortable. I’m not generally one for camping and much prefer an Airbnb or hotel. That being said when traveling with a dog, hotels are over $100 a night and that can add up crazy fast.
Related: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
You can see all My Favorite Camping & Hiking Items in my Amazon Store.
One way I mitigate this is when on a road trip, I sleep half the time in my vehicle (i.e. car camp). When I’m traveling long distances, I’ll rent a vehicle using travel points (because my Prius isn’t so roomy), and spend every other night sleeping in my vehicle. That saves me over $100 a night (pet fees) and allows me to still have a good shower and a decent night’s sleep every other day. Let me be clear, I don’t enjoy sleeping in my vehicle (or camping) but it’s a small price to pay to be able to travel more. And I invested in a nice cushion and sleeping bag that makes this much more bearable. For a 2-week road trip, that’s an extra $700 which will cover a lot of fuel and adventures.
6. Make Your Own Coffee
I love a good cup of coffee and while many hotels have free coffee, it’s generally lacking in taste and caffeine content. I’m being nice. Hotel coffee generally tastes like dirty water. It’s disgusting.
But a good latte will cost at least $6 a day and honestly, I could drink a few of those. One way I get around this is by taking a French Press, a collapsible tea kettle, and ground coffee beans. I can heat up the water in my vehicle (or hotel), and make my coffee. The spent grounds are great for the soil so I dump the grounds on a plant or tree. Since I have shelf-stable almond milk and plenty of water in the vehicle, I can be assured of a good cup of coffee each and every time.
Check out some of My Favorite Travel Items in my Amazon Store.
I’m sure there are 1000 other tips out there but these have been the biggest bang for the buck in my life. I hope they help you plan your next adventure! If you have any other great tips, please put them in the comments! Let’s all learn from each other.