HOW I AFFORD TO TRAVEL WHILE LIVING ON A BUDGET
ORIGINALLY POSTED May 2017 - UPDATED
RELATED POST: 5 Reasons Every Girl Should Travel Solo... At Least Once
"It must be nice to be rich" is something I've been hearing a lot of lately.
I guess I can understand it to a point, I mean I have been to five countries in the past six months. I'd say that's a fair amount. However, I must wholeheartedly assure you - I am definitely NOT rich.
After successfully dispelling that notion, I get asked, "Then how do you do it?"
Well, since you asked...
I MacGyver'ed the hell out of it. Seriously. It's a phrase I'll use over and over because it's true.
Bottom line: money is a resource you need to travel, though when it's a resource you don't have much of, you search until you find one that you do have ample access to and one that works.
For me, there was one resource that reigned supreme.
TRAVEL CREDIT CARD POINTS
If there was a way to surround that heading with angels and a choir, I would. It's that good. It has changed my life. I don't think I can stress that enough. I love them. I've never had a relationship as satisfying as the one I have with my points. Did I mention I love them?
I'm not going to lie to you either - it's complicated as all get out. At first anyway.
Trying to decide which card to get, how much that card's points are worth, what loyalty programs you can transfer points to, how you can use them to make a purchase... it's no wonder a lot of people take a good look at it then run for the hills.
Trouble is, they could have had a free hotel stay in those hills once they arrived.
As with most things in life, nothing good comes easy. So there's no way I'm going to be able to cover this topic in one blog post, and I don't think you'd want me to anyway. Your brain would melt. I like you too much to let that happen.
What I will do, for now, is tell you how to prepare to start this journey and what traits are essential in making sure it's a successful one.
1. GET READY TO PUT ALL PURCHASES ON YOUR CREDIT CARD
This is the bread and butter of the travel points world. (Along with sign-up bonus points, but we'll cover that another time.)
If you don't have the cash to spend on traveling because you have bills to pay, kids to feed, broken down cars to fix, unused gym memberships to cover (there's no shame), then use it to your advantage and earn your way to your next trip by spending money you were going to spend anyway.
To maximize your travel point earnings, you need to pay absolutely everything you can on your travel credit card.
And I mean everything.
Bills, groceries, gas, dinners out, salon appointments, that impulse purchase pack of gum. Nothing is off limits as long as you can put it on a credit card.
I can hear some of you now.. "But Jen, I'm only allowed to pay my car payment and mortgage through my bank account. That's a lot of money I won't be earning points on."
Ok... so? There's nothing you can do about that. Let it go. I have a few bills I can't use my credit cards for either. But does that mean I'm going to NOT earn points on the things I can put on my card? N to the O. I'd rather have some points than no points at all. Some points get me somewhere fun. No points leave me at home. No thank you. That's not my jam.
Besides, you can get creative with it. Is any of your friends or family remodeling their house? Putting cash down for a car? Buying a new computer? See if it's something they would let you purchase on your card and they can pay you back with the money they were going to use anyway.
Or what about at work? Is there some company expenses you could put on your card and have them reimburse you? I did this for a while before my company changed their payment policy, and it worked like a dream.
Like I said before, there is always more than one way around a problem.
Anything you can put on the card will earn you one or two points per dollar spent. And some cards have bonus categories that can give you 3X's the points... or more. Obviously the more you can put on your card, the faster you will build points.
But then that leads us to #2.
2. BE PREPARED TO PAY YOUR BALANCE OFF IN FULL EVERY MONTH
You should be doing this anyway because, well, credit card debt sucks.
If you leave balances on your travel credit cards and pay monthly interest fees, you are chipping away at the entire point of this.
Monthly interest fees rack up fast. If you have a card that you've earned 50,000 points on, which could be worth $500-$750 in travel, but you're paying, say, $100 or more in interest fees every month, that $500-$750 will quickly become worthless.
You have gained nothing.
Remember, you're earning points on money you would be spending anyway. Interest fees do not fall into that category.
So if you spend like a Rockefeller or enjoy "making it rain" in the club on weekends and can't back that up every month, this may not be the game for you.
3. YOU NEED TO HAVE A GOOD CREDIT SCORE
That's pretty self-explanatory.
Credit card companies are not going to open new accounts to you if your credit score is in the toilet. And when I say a good credit score, I mean anything over 700 would likely land you a worthy travel credit card.
Of course there's always an exception to the rule and every credit card company considers different things.
Take Chase for example... you could have a stellar credit rating and sign your checks as Queen Elizabeth, but if you've opened 5 new credit accounts in the past 24 months, they will slam that credit door in your face before you can cry out "reconciliation line!".
But don't worry about that right now. We'll cover that at another time (because I love Chase travel cards!).
For now, just make sure your credit is in good standing. I like using Credit Karma. It really is free... so don't hold their corny TV commercials against them.
If you find your score is less than desirable, work on it. That's what I had to do, so I've totally been through that battle. I let my credit score tank after my divorce and it took so much work to get it back up.
But once I did and got approved for my first travel card, I was over the moon. It felt like such a huge accomplishment.
And now I have travel as my reward.
4. YOU'VE GOT TO WANT IT BAD ENOUGH TO PUT IN THE WORK
This is not a "Wham Bam, I'm off to Spain now, Ma'am" type deal. If it was, everyone and their freakin' brother would be doing it.
This will take research, which I will help you through, but I can't do it all. You've got to put in the time and effort to learn how this will work for YOU.
There are plenty of other websites that cover this exact topic, one of my favorites is The Points Guy. However, I think he's helpful to a point (no pun intended). He goes into way more extensive travel programs and luxury benefits than is feasible for me.
In other posts, I will go into detail about how I've made travel points work for me, which is a much more watered down "Points for Dummies" approach.
Which, if that's your cup of tea, you've come to the right dummy.
IS YOUR BRAIN MELTING YET?
This is a lot, I'm well aware. I'm totally picking up what you're putting down... and you don't even know the half of it yet.
But, trust me... trust me like you've never trusted anyone before in your life. I would NOT be taking the time to present all this information to you if I didn't think it was worth it.
Travel is freedom. Travel is life. You shouldn't have to spend a ton to make it happen, and you don't have to.
P.S. HOW DO YOU AFFORD TO TRAVEL? DO YOU USE TRAVEL POINTS? LET ME KNOW ABOUT ANY TIPS AND TRICKS YOU'VE DISCOVERED TO CUT COSTS!