I don’t know if I’ve told you this already, but I kind of like to travel. In fact, travel is the budget hole where the vast majority of my expenses wanders into. I think. I don’t actually track my spending, so I don’t know for sure.
I don’t have a really great system on finding deals, but small things make me happy.
I wish I could regale you with tales of my elaborate system of calendar reminders and spreadsheets and the magic day of the week and the special time of day when I buy my tickets, but I just can’t get myself to devote too much time to this. Personally, I just sign up for credit card offers that sound like a good deal as I come across them. Wow, that’s a really unhelpful sentence.
Okay, a bit more specifically, if I see an offer for 30,000 or more miles that only requires a reasonable minimum amount spent in three months (e.g. $3,000) and no annual fee, I would seriously consider it. I know there are a million cards out there. I know there are entire blogs dedicated to telling us about these cards. I know you can set it up on your calendar to remind yourself to cancel and acquire new cards. I know the payoff is really something to brag about. Here are a few tickets I’ve purchased in 2016 (all prices are in U.S. dollars):
- Miami, Florida –> Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: $5.60
- Montevideo, Uruguay –> Miami, Florida: $127.99
- Miami, Florida –> Chicago, Illinois: $5.60
- Sofia, Bulgaria –> New York, New York $87.66
The infrequency of my booking these deals is still rare enough to thrill me. I pay retail price for most of my flights. I use low-cost carriers when I’m traveling within a continent. I pack lightly to avoid baggage fees. I’m flexible on my travel days. I’m also always looking for flights. I spend more time on Kayak.com than you do.
Accommodations example – English House
Recently, I volunteered for a week in Lubach, Germany with a program called English House/Pubelo Ingles/Diverbo. Adults, usually professionals, who want to practice their English and boost their confidence as a non-native speaker pay (or coax their company to pay) a couple of thousand euros to hang out with me.
Okay, other volunteers were there too. We spoke. We drank. We talked. We ate. We conversed. We played games. We chatted. We danced. We prattled. We held mock conference calls. We gabbed. We took walks. We talked some more. You really get to know some awesome native people in the country you’re hanging out in!
As a stupid American, I only know English, so I thought these Germans possessed excellent second language skills from the get-go. By the end of the week, I think most of them agreed with me, finding their moxie, and voicing their thoughts with ease. You’re right Thriftygal, you are a stupid American who only knows English.
In all seriousness though, the program was mostly a blast, but the days were long and scheduled to the brim. I’m more introverted than extroverted so I found the length of the interaction to be a tad bit draining and when I found myself with an hour of free time one day, I may have cha-chaed to my room in joy to recharge with some solo time. An 8 AM daily breakfast start time also shocked my system that’s used to sleeping in as late as I’d like.
But, hey, it was super affordable. The native speaker volunteers all received complimentary accommodations in the hotel, six days and five nights in a lovely small town surrounded by forests and charm if you ignored the ticks. Free breakfast, lunch and dinner. A free drink at lunch and dinner. During my time there, I spent exactly twelve euros on a pair of earrings, a few euros on tips for the staff and a few euros on a bottle of wine I picked up in town.
I guess what I’m trying to say that if you want to travel, you have options. It doesn’t have to be pricey. Here’s a list I made of ways to get cheap accommodations.
Accommodations examples – A list
- Hotel points
- Programs like the English house one I mentioned above
Accommodations example – Helpx.net
After law school and before I started working as a lawyer, I used helpx.net and lived on an alpaca farmlet on the south island of New Zealand for a couple of weeks. The couple had two young sons that I occasionally minded, terrified with the realization that small boys have no sense of danger. In the morning, I would go out and coo to their chickens, pick up fresh eggs and make breakfast. At night, I would occasionally make dinner and every single ingredient came straight from their garden. I also helped sand and paint a shed. For about four hours of work a day, I received free lodging and meals. Not too shabby of a deal.
I especially liked this adventure because the family had a fine appreciation for frugality. They owned two homes outright based on their smart savings and had plans for early retirement. It was a nice reminder that my dreams were possible.
I haven’t tried wwoof.net or workaway.info, but from what I can gather from their websites, it’s a very similar idea.
Commuting example – Hitchhiking
Okay, I’m not seriously suggesting this, but I know it’s pretty common in parts of Europe and South America. One of my favorite tidbits about the former president of Uruguay is that he regularly picked up hitchhikers while he was driving from his farm to the city for work. Can you imagine?!
I hitchhiked exactly once in Ireland from Dublin to Cork as a sort of adventure (sorry, Mom – I don’t plan on doing it again if that makes it better). It ended up being a fun experience, but I shudder now when I think about it. That could have ended badly. But, hey, people do do it and maybe if you know judo, you’d be more comfortable trying it? I don’t know.