If you follow me on social media, you already know that my husband and I love to travel. We usually have at least one trip on the calendar per month, even if it's just driving to the mountains for the weekend. I'm one of those people that NEVER traveled until I reached my 20's - and once the travel bug bites you there's no cure (I'm pretty happy about it though). I go a little stir-crazy if I'm stuck at home for more than about 6 weeks. Here's the kicker - more than half of our trips cost us little to nothing, which is how we are able to do it so much!
I want to help everyone see more of the world, so I've put together this handy dandy blog for you to reference back to when you start planning your travels!
Nope, I don't mean you should charge everything to your credit card and go into debt. If you're a millennial like me, you grew up with adults telling you to never ever get a credit card because they are scary and will eat all your money. But if you are still using cash or a debit card to pay for your stuff, you are LITERALLY leaving money on the table. I currently have a few hundred dollars sitting in my Chase account that I could take out if I wanted, but I'm saving it for free flights of course! ;) This is money that a credit card gave to me for signing up (sign-up bonuses are the best!) and spending money on things I would have bought anyway.
The credit cards we currently use are the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. These cards allow us to use our cashback rewards for free flights and hotels. You can read about their long list of benefits here and here. The Reserve card is a favorite of many travelers. Just a few perks - they pay for your TSA pre-check, $300 travel reimbursement each year, free travel insurance, free rental car insurance (which we ended up having to use in Iceland when we popped a tire!), access to airport lounges, no foreign transaction fees....the list goes on. It does have a pretty hefty annual fee of $450, but with the $300 reimbursement, it's very reasonable if you travel a lot! Since most of these perks cover both of us, we don't need to double up on them. So I use the Preferred card, which has an annual fee of only $95 but still builds points fairly quickly. Then I transfer the points to Brad's account because they're worth more with his card! Easy peasy.
As long as you're responsible with money, credit cards are a great way to travel for free. I don't condone using your credit card to pay for things that you don't have the money for! We've never paid interest on a credit card, and we pay everything off immediately!
But not every flight is better free!
Depending on the airline, most miles are worth about $0.015, or 1.5 cents. You can use this information to determine if you would be better off to buy the ticket or use your precious points by dividing the price of the ticket by the number of points a ticket can be purchased for. So the equation looks like this:
Price of Ticket/# of Points Redeemed
If the answer is higher than about 1.4 or 1.5 (again, different airline points are worth different dollar amounts - check the internet for specific airlines), then you should use your points. If it's lower, it's worth it for you to save your points for another day and pay for this flight yourself. Here's an example: say you want to fly to Arizona and the ticket price is $500, OR you can use 30,000 points. You'd plug in $500/30,000 points. This equals 0.016, or 1.6 cents, so it's a slightly better deal to use your points. If the points required were raised to 40,000, the result would be about 1.2 cents. In this case, it's better to just pay $500 if you can.
Take Advantage of Weekends and Holidays
Brad gets 10 days of vacation time off every year. TEN. But in 2016 we spent 55 days traveling, and in 2017 we spent 53 days traveling. A large chunk of that was business trips (more on that in a bit), and the other chunk is traveling on the weekends and holidays. We usually block off Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend for a trip, and New Year's is always a good holiday to travel too! The past couple of years, New Year's Day has fallen on a Sunday and then a Monday, meaning an extra long weekend to explore a new area!
Most bank holidays fall on a Monday, so if you leave after work on Friday, you can go almost anywhere in the US and have a good trip in that timeframe. A lot of conferences that Brad attends end on a Thursday or Friday, so we can usually extend our trip over the weekend. It all comes down to strategy and planning ahead.
If you get two weeks of vacation each year and you add in the weekends, you have 114 potential days of travel. That's not counting holidays either! It's unreasonable to cram a whole Europe trip in one weekend, but looking ahead at your calendar and seeing how holidays line up can help you nail down a game plan.
Save Money Where You Can
A little obvious, but it all comes down to what you value. Brad and I value travel and experiences over material things, so when we first got married, we went to New Zealand for our honeymoon. But because we did that, we ate dinner on the floor every night for MONTHS because we didn't have the money to buy a table! In fact we hardly had any furniture, but we didn't care because we went to New Zealand for our honeymoon!
It can be small things too. Could you cut down on going out to eat? Your grocery bill? Are there unneccessary subscriptions that you pay for every month? What do you value and what are you willing to give up to live a life that inspires you?
Travel for Work
At least half of our trips are business trips. Brad goes to several conferences every year and our flights and hotel rooms are usually covered. Then when it's over, we take a mini vacation to somewhere close by and just cover the cost of an extra hotel and rental car. In the last few years, Brad's business trips have taken us to Arizona, Utah, Washington, Alaska, California, and overseas!
So what if your work doesn't take you on trips?
Are there conferences related to your industry in other parts of the country that you could pitch to your boss and convince them to pay for you to go? Does your company have multiple locations? You could volunteer to go and visit that branch to see how they do things - it's worth a shot! Just make sure it lines up with the weekend or a holiday, or take an extra couple of days off!
And don't be afraid to rent a car and drive a few hours! We love national parks, but these business trips are usually three to six (or more!) hours away from where we'd really like to be. So we just hop in the car and drive! Three to six hours is MUCH closer than the twenty-something hours it would take if we were back home in Tennessee.