Recently, with all the travel I have been doing, every time I chat with someone they ask me the same thing, “I saw you are traveling so much. How can you do it? When do you work?” The answer is simple. I work when I’m not traveling. I can afford to travel because I know how to save and plan.
Weekend travel is magical. If you are working Monday to Friday at a 9-5 job, getting away for a few days can be exhilarating. Most people don’t realize how easy it is to plan a weekend trip and how little it can cost.
Do Your Research
Often times, people believe that travel is an expensive luxury that they couldn’t possibly afford. Traveling isn’t just crossing an ocean to a land completely foreign to you. It includes exploring nearby towns, cities, and states. Travel is exploring the unknown. Even if you travel to a nearby town, stay inside your hotel for one night, and just completely unplug, that is travel.
Here’s a thought: Most US cities can be seen in two days! Many cities around the world can be seen in two days! My suggestion? Stick to your time zone (within an hour or two), but not always your continent.
Your trip is what you make of it!
Research flights from your hometown, using Kayak’s explore tool can allow you to see when and where there are cheap flights from your city. So if you plan far enough in advance, you can save big bucks.
Contact a travel agent for their advice… they will even be able to find you lower prices for hotels and flights than you can see on the internet.
Like I mentioned before, if you plan ahead, you can save more!
Make a list of places you want to go. Make a list of what you want to see in each place. Consider high travel times and avoid them if you are looking to save.
I am notorious for putting together spreadsheets with itineraries laid out by the hour, including costs of everything, and sticking to my budget when traveling. Plan how much you can spend on food, on accommodations, on activities. Going in with an approximate will make you realize that a trip you thought cost $800, only costs $400. You can also consider taking home-cooked food (check recipes from this link) to help you save money and time during your travel.
Personal note: I try to stay in 3 and 4 star hotels when traveling, but if I was staying somewhere for only a night or two, I’d be less likely to look for luxury and more likely to just focus on cleanliness and location.
You don’t even need to fly anywhere! Within the US, a new town or city is just down the highway. Camping in your own backyard or hiking a nearby trail are great day trips.
Mileage Credit Cards, Apps, and Dining Programs
Using mileage credit cards is a great way to earn travel rewards that you can later redeem for flights, hotels, or even rental cars for your weekend travel trips (or extended stays as well)! There are plenty out there, so make sure you pick the card that is right for you.
Many people are not aware of United’s MileagePlusX app. This is my absolute favorite app. Since I tend to use my debit card more than my credit card, this app is a total lifesaver. The app connects to your credit/debit card, and allows you to buy virtual “gift cards” to a number of retailers. Each store offers a different number of miles per dollar spent on gift cards (between 3-5). If you are also a United MileagePlus Credit Card holder, you earn a bonus 25% miles. Confused? So was I. Here’s an example:
If I am at the movies and paying for 2 tickets, a popcorn, and a fountain drink, my total comes out to approximately $45. I sign into the United MileagePlus X app and buy a gift card to AMC Theaters for $45. This retailer is currently offering 3 miles per dollar. If I pay with my debit card, and am a MileagePlus Credit card holder, I would earn (3*45-= 135 miles) plus a bonus of 34 miles. If I made that same transaction with my MileagePlus Credit card, I would have earned two miles per dollar spent just for using my card, so an additional 45 miles!
I also am a big fan of both United and Americans Dining programs. Each of their programs allow you to register your credit cards (but not the same card to both programs) and earn bonus miles for dining at participating restaurants. These programs also offer a bonus (1000 miles, at the time of posting) for joining and dining within the first 30 days. Both programs are free to join.
Some cards offer you straight cash back, like the Chase Freedom Card, which might be the better option for you if you don’t have a preferred airline.
Don’t Stop Shopping – Shop Smarter
I’d be a complete hypocrite if I told you to stop shopping. Anyone that knows me knows I love to shop. But what I love more? A good sale and good savings. There is something so satisfying about shopping at a store and then seeing the amount you saved at the bottom of the receipt.
Shopping smarter can be done in a variety of ways. Maybe for you shopping smarter is putting all your purchases on your mileage credit card so that you can redeem your miles during your weekend (or any) travel. Maybe you prefer coupons… nothing wrong with that. My preference for coupons comes from using websites like MyPoints, that allow you to print the coupons you find relevant & give you points for using them at any store. Plus your points can be redeemed for PayPal credit or gift cards to various retailers. Additionally, they have an awesome program that allows you to buy gift cards and get points back on those purchases!
My favorite source of smarter shopping? Ebates! Using ebates is something I started to do recently, but totally regret not doing earlier. Ebates literally will give you cash back on purchases you already are making online. How it works is simple: You go to ebates and find the site you’re looking for (or you can skip this step after installing the ebates browser button), click on the site, and shop! After a few days, credit will appear in your account. If you have the browser button installed, it will blink when you enter a site that offers cash back, and once you click it- cash back will be activated! Plus you get bonuses for referring family and friends. Plus, they have in-store offers as well!
Otherwise, take advantage of student discounts if you’re a student. Shop the sale racks. Look out for sales. Most importantly, don’t forget most stores have a price adjustment period, where if the item you purchased goes on sale within a time after you purchased it, you can be refunded the difference! There’s an app – Paribus – that will watch for this on all of your online purchases, AND contact the store to request the price adjustment!
Collect your Coins
This one is simple. Loose change adds up… In a year, you can collect over $300 in coins if you don’t spend them. That’s a round-trip ticket to NYC or LA from Chicago and a night in a 3.5* hotel room.
Take Advantage of Opportunities
This one is simple as well. You have a friend who recently moved out of state and keeps encouraging you to visit. Instead of putting it off, take them up on their offer! Plan something right away. More than likely this friend will let you stay with them, saving you money on hotel! There is nothing wrong with staying with friends or family – you get to see them and you get to experience a new place!
I prefer to save- so that I can travel, because I believe that I can learn more from immersing myself in different places than I could from just reading about them or seeing them on a screen… Whatever your reason, get saving and get traveling! There’s so much to see in the world and so little time.