Working in the average North American office job can make travel feel totally unattainable.
Blame limited time off and the expense of traveling. It’s easier to upgrade to the latest iPhone or buy tickets to an upcoming concert.
And hey, I get it. I’m a pretty typical American, with a pretty typical urban lifestyle. I work full time, I love coffee, I watch Netflix – I do everything a 28 year old Chicagoan tends to do. There’s just one exception: I’m on track to take 13 trips this year.
Travel is something I proactively aspire to, and I don’t let my meager non-profit salary and 9-5 schedule stop me from achieving these goals. To date, I’ve visited 44 countries, 12 while I was full-time employed.
A lot of people believe that traveling is expensive and thus not something they can achieve. Although every person’s financial situation is different — student loans, family obligations, healthcare — there are creative ways to make travel work for your budget.
Here’s some hacks that have worked for me:
TIME-SAVING HACKS FOR TRAVEL
Utilize existing holidays
As Americans, we unfortunately don’t get a ton of holidays. Utilizing holidays like Columbus Day or MLK Day to create long weekend trips are the perfect opportunity to explore your home country. You can depart on Friday night after work and then fly home on the Monday off to conserve vacation days. Plan these a few months in advance because waiting until the last minute can drive up prices.
Extend work trips
If you happen to travel for work, extending the trips by a day or two is a great way to fulfill the travel bug. I recently joined my husband’s IT-related work trip to Raleigh to explore the food scene there. These trips might not always be glamorous, but with the urban renaissance that is happening in the USA right now, unconventional cities are making a comeback!
Leave some flexibility
You never know when an amazing flight deal or last-minute discount might present itself so leave built-in flexibility to your schedule. For example, I recently saw a 7-day round trip flight itinerary to Berlin for only $545! Knowing something like this might happen, I left myself a few extra vacation days in 2017, so I could take advantage of this opportunity.
Efficiently plan 1 or 2 big trips annually
10 annual vacation days is standard for Americans so if you use two sets of 5 days with a weekend on either end, you can get two 9 day trips per year. 9 days is a surprisingly convenient length of time for international trips or more far-off destinations.
Consider ‘weird’ seasons
Choosing an odd destination for the time of year is an excellent way to score a great deal on hotels or flights, while also getting to see a city or country without the hordes of seasonal tourists. Think about New York City in February or New Orleans in September.
Going in the off season is a particularly great tip if you want to go on safari. The ‘green’ season (AKA low or rainy season) is a really underrated time to visit Africa because of the lush landscapes and abundance of both birds and newborn animals. It also saves you a ton of money. For example, travel to Botswana on Intrepid’s new Okavango Delta Fly-in Safari in low season and you could save yourself about $1500USD per person (as opposed to during high season).
MONEY-SAVING HACKS FOR TRAVEL
Take advantage of perk programs
For items that you are already paying for (e.g. phone bill, food, pet supplies), perk programs are a great way to extend the impact of your dollar. I am not a financial specialist so can’t advise on your personal finances, but I love airline credit cards and frequent flier programs.
Southwest Airline’s credit card is my favorite for domestic trips, while the Chase Sapphire Visa is my go-to for international travel. In this past year, I accumulated 4 free flights thanks to these programs! If you don’t fly much, cash-back matching programs like the Citi or Discover cards might be a good fit for you.
Set reasonable budgets
Even the cheapest trips require financial planning so document in Excel any upcoming trips for the next 6 months. Set an approximate budget, starting with the fixed costs like accommodation and transportation, then work in costs for variable items like souvenirs, food, and activities. By listing out as many trips as you can ahead of time, you can anticipate certain expenses and start setting aside money now.
It’s also worth noting that though people assume group trips are always pricey, they really don’t have to be. This is partly because you can filter trips to your style of travel. For instance, on Intrepid’s website you can tick the ‘Basix’ box to find trips with simple, good-value accommodation (as opposed to the ‘Comfort’ or ‘Original’ trips that are a little more luxurious).
Always be saving
Ultimately, travel isn’t possible unless you save money — deciding to go abroad is a choice that requires some sacrifice. But not too much sacrifice! Many people make excuses for not saving money, but it isn’t as hard as you might think. By making minor adjustments to your habits, you can save a lot each month.
A few of my favorite routine changes that can save about $100/month include making coffee at home instead of buying a latte, packing a lunch instead of going out, and cutting out cable and opting for Netflix only. As a personal example, I stopped buying newly produced clothing and now purchase only used clothing. This has saved me $1,200 year over year!
With the low price of gas in the US, consider options that are driving distance from your home city. Know anything about Cleveland or Oklahoma City? Maybe consider checking out the food or art scene in these budding US destinations. You might be surprised how a fun (and cheap) long weekend can fulfill your wanderlust.
With these practical tips for saving vacation time and money, it’s time of you to get out there and start planning your next adventure!
Tempted to take the plunge? Check out Intrepid’s range of top destinations and trips (in over 100 countries!).
(Image credits from top to bottom: All c/o Megan Arzbaecher)