I grew up very poor and only took my first plane ride when I was 22 years old. The year after that, I went on my first trip out of the country, to Singapore. So that explains my thirst for travel. After getting bit by the travel bug and after visiting over 50 cities, I can only live a life marked by wanderlust.
I have always been asked how I can afford to travel a lot considering I am earning average middle manager income. We are a regular working class family but somehow we have been able to go places with what we had. I have always been open to friends and colleagues about how we managed to do this so allow me to share some of my favourite travel hacks and best practices we have used over years. Some of the tips we have shared as well in our Travel Hacking article for Revel Magazine.
Prioritize What You Spend On
It’s easy to just spend mindlessly on big and small things so it pays to know what truly matters to you. Travel is important to me so I choose to spend on this. I rarely shop for shoes, bags and clothes and if I do, I never buy anything at full price. Clearance is my best friend. However I would willingly spend on high impact experiences while traveling (culinary tours, off-the-beaten adventures, etc).
It will also help to pack your lunch and refrain from eating out a lot. You may not notice it but the lunch meal tab plus the Starbucks and dessert adds up over time. We love to eat out and enjoy going on dates and dinners with friends. but we try to keep this at a manageable level by employing some money saving techniques. For instance, we have early dinner at home before going out for after dinner drinks or dessert.
Financial blogger Ramit Sethi said, “Spend money extravagantly on the things that you love, and cut costs mercilessly everywhere else.” If you’re a travel hacker, that means optimizing where every peso of your travel budget goes. So this also means that we don’t give each other expensive gifts on our birthdays; instead we go on trips and spend on having memorable experiences.
Set a Travel Budget
It may seem counterintuitive but having a budget set for the year has given us more freedom to make travel decisions. With a set budget you can choose to go on a few major trips or several small ones and not just charge blindly. Since you know your budget, you can plan better and plan ahead. Related to this, its good to have a separate travel savings bucket so you know how much to set aside on a regular basis. Making travel a part of your monthly savings will allow you to build your fund steadily and consistently.
Maximize Mileage Programs
For the past five years we have never paid full price for long haul flights. We have been loyal users of the Platinum Premier Miles card of Citibank and have been able to maximise it’s mileage program. What is good about this card is that you can convert it to miles of most airlines. So we combine miles earned with actual miles flown to get award tickets. We have flown to the US and Europe at very minimal cost. because of this. We also only choose airlines that are part of the same mileage program so we can accumulate miles faster.
Go for Great Deals and Book Early
I am a morning person and am usually asleep by 10PM but I stay awake for seat sales. I can’t count anymore how many times I have booked flights at dawn to get first dibs on these promo fares. I think the best deal I have ever bought was from Cebu Pacific for three Manila-Osaka roundtrip tickets for a total of Php 3,600 including all taxes. These flights are months (or even a year) in advance so it gives you sufficient time to plan for the trip and even take advantage of accommodation deals since you already know when you will travel.
I also go to travel fairs to avail of highly discounted accommodations for flights that we have booked in advance. I usually have a list of hotels/resorts to check out at the fair so I don’t aimlessly walk around and impulsively buy anything just because it is cheap.
Try Alternative Accommodations
When it comes to accommodations while traveling, look for local accommodations instead of a hotel. We discovered AirBNB.com in 2010 while traveling around the US, and staying at locals’ apartments was a very rewarding experience. Our hosts were always very friendly, gave us tips on where to go off the usual tourist path, and the prices were lower than what you’d get for a hotel in the same area. Since you stay where the locals live, you can usually find interesting and cheaper dining places, groceries, markets, etc. It also gives your trip a bit more local flavour.
These tips are nothing fancy nor extraordinary but have worked for us consistently. I will try to share more of these as I build this blog.
BONUS: Join Contests
Airline companies launch promos and contests and the mechanics are usually simple. There’s no harm in joining these. I am believer because last year I won two round-trip tickets to Europe via KLM 🙂