As you can imagine, I get asked often how I afford to travel so much. Every frequent traveler gets these questions. Often met with skepticism and suspicion. They assume one must be ‘rich’, or have ‘rich parents or spouses’. I don’t have the latter two but I have built wealth through my Real Estate career as well as various investments. I’m also a master at saving money in certain aspects of my life. I budget $30-$50 a night on accomodations. And also look for the best deals on flights, often booked with points and miles at no cost. I don’t spend a lot while traveling which can be achieved by anybody living in the US with some budgeting. The perception that traveling must be VERY EXPENSIVE is a very American way of thinking. Because of all the expensive tour packages advertised and the lack of resources. Are you ready to travel? Here are some ideas on the Cheapest Way to Travel the World.
To afford consistent travel throughout the year, I go the budget to mid-range route. With flexibility in time, I prefer to travel during low to mid season which avoids crowds and high costs. I use credit card points and miles that covers every other international flight that I book. I also get some sponsored press trips through my blog and social media outlets which only account for about 20% of my annual travels.
Cheapest Way to Travel the World
Here is a recent inquiry through Instagram from a new friend who heard me speak at the AREAA National Convention. I spoke at the REDtalk panel session (like a Ted Talk) on the topic of “Work-Life Balance“. She is a successful realtor in her late 40’s living in Seattle. She has traveled the world by herself and wishes to continue doing so but is curious how I finance my travels. I’ve included my full reply which is also tips for all of you.
My Financial Advice to Travel:
Love sharing my travel tips with friends as open and candidly as possible! I tend to travel budget to mid-range and really don’t mind the most basic accommodations and food. That varies with people’s preferences of course. I spend about $8,000-9,000 a year on traveling. This year and last I went to about 10 countries and over a dozen domestic destinations. I don’t exactly keep track of money spent extensively but I charge everything on my credit card so I see what is approximately spent monthly. This breaks down to about $800 one can save in a month.
For example, I turned in my car lease back in June 2016 and have been driving my 2002 Ford Explorer which was just sitting at home. Even if someone didn’t have an old car sitting around, they don’t need to spend X amount on expensive car payments. This saves me at least $500 a month from an extra car payment. I simply do not care how someone may perceive my ‘success or wealth’ by the car brand I drive. Living in LA, that may be a tough thing for many people. Frankly, I don’t care.
It also depends on where I travel. If I go to a less expensive destination, I may end up spending the same amount as I would here in LA. Let’s say I spend $100 a day average in LA on gas, groceries, restaurants, movies, parking, shopping. If I only spend $50 a day abroad on the same things + $50 on accommodation, I will be spending the same amount at the end of the month.
Booking Cheaper Flights During Off-Season
I use Skyscanner.com to search specific days for the cheapest flights around the world. There are more creative ways to do so like google.com/flights but you can’t book directly there. It will just give you an idea of prices and where/when the best time is to book. There are also websites and blogs that show low airfares and daily/weekly emails you can sign up for like scottscheapflights.com. It makes it a lot easier if your schedule is flexible as ours being in the Real Estate field VS someone with only a 2-3 week set vacation time.
You can look at the world map on Skyscanner and various other booking sites for a certain month and dates to see the cheapest cities to fly around the world. I rarely travel during high-season times like December and summertime because flights, hotels and even restaurants can cost double. Plus it is most crowded then which I prefer not to be. So during lower travel season, I can find flights to major cities such as London or Paris for a roundtrip flight for only $450 on average. I also try to take a carry-on so I save money on check-in bag fees.
I did so recently in Europe during a whole month trip through Ireland, England, France, Portugal and Spain! It definitely helps to travel light when the weather is warm!
Play Around while Booking Flights
You may be looking to fly into a less popular route from your departure airport in the US to i.e.: Vienna, Austria. And the flight is showing up at $950, you can look to fly to any other major city in Europe, like London. Same goes for your departure city, maybe you can find it cheaper to fly internationally from LAX or NYC and just book a domestic flight there separately. It may only cost $450-550 roundtrip to fly from/to a major city in Europe. Then a $20 one way flight from London to Vienna. The total cost ends up being less than $600 versus $950.
You will have to take into consideration if you have to switch airports and if saving that money is worth your time. As the case in London which has 3 different airports that are an hour from one another. If you have the time to stay a few days in London (or whichever city for a few days), then it makes it all worthwhile. This flexibility allows you to save some money. There are also trains throughout Europe that make traveling there incredibly accessible.
Other parts of the world also have inexpensive busses and metros you can take. For example, we took an overnight comfortable bus for about $10-13 per person from Yangon to Inle Lake in Myanmar (Burma). This saved us the night cost on hotel as we slept comfortably on that bus overnight. I would eat street food for about $2-3 a person in Southeast Asia.
Booking Inexpensive Accommodations while Traveling
I usually keep my accommodation at an average of $50 per night. Most of the time I’ll stay in Airbnbs. Sometimes it’s renting a room from someone who lives there. I will only book airbnb where they have at minimum ten – 5 star reviews. Sometimes, they are hosts with over 50 or 100 5 star reviews so you feel very safe to book. This also allows you to interact with local hosts who will give you better tips than the guidebooks or websites! And this way you can also save some money by having a kitchen. I may buy eggs or fruits to eat for breakfast then enjoy lunch/dinner out.
I also like to eat locally which means it will cost less for dining. Consider taking leftovers. Even if it’s not common and eat that in another meal. Also, if you travel with a group, you would collectively save more money by renting an Airbnb together with multiple rooms than each getting a hotel. Hotels will also charge ‘resort fees’ and taxes on top of what you’re quoted online. For example, my dad, sister and I went to Taiwan October 2017. We got clean, nice Airbnb’s for about $90 a night. That turns out to $30 a person. We absolutely needed at least 2-3 bedrooms as my dad snores violently loud. And Airbnb gave us this option without spending money on 2 hotel rooms.
Hostels are the Cheapest Way to Travel the World
When traveling alone, Hostels can be a great option as it’s cheap and you can make friends. Hostelworld.com is a great site. For hotel booking websites, all the major ones are good. I’ve liked using Expedia.com‘s interface the most or Agoda.com when traveling in Asia (although they cover the whole world too).
The costs of accommodations also depend on where you travel in the world. Obviously the developing countries will be cheaper. But it also depends on the hotels you stay at and how you travel. Most of Africa is much poorer than the US/Europe/Australia but it can be just as expensive if not more to travel through to and within than anywhere else. This is due to the high cost of fuel and gas there. India is also a country with a high range of travel options. You can stay at $1000 per night luxury hotel, a nice clean hostel or a family guesthouse for $30 a night with breakfast included.
Europe has a reputation of being more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Even in a place like Paris or London, you can get an Airbnb room for $40 a night. With the cheap, easy access of public transportion and the popularity of walking, you’d only spend a couple bucks each day. Here’s a post on how a flight I took on Volotea Airline for $11 one way from Bordeaux, France to Menorca, Spain: https://www.bohemianvagabond.com/cheapest-flights-within-france-and-spain
When given the option, I love to stay at friend’s places around the world if they offer. Since accommodations tend to cost the most when factoring travel costs.
Using Credit Card Points & Miles to Book Travel
I apply for a new credit card every few months. A misconception is that most people are worried about their credit dropping. But opening and closing credit cards really doesn’t affect it much. There may be a 5-10 point drop after you apply but will go back to normal after 2 months as long as you don’t have a balance.
I was at Travelcon, a Travel Blogging conference, and attended a Points & Miles Meetup hosted by Brandon Neth who works for FinanceBuzz.com. It’s a site similar to thepointsguy.com, a very informative blog on everything points and miles. Between Brandon and his wife, they have 80 opened credit cards with a $450,000 credit limit at the moment. He has a credit score of over 800 and have traveled the world for free in the past 2 years. He says he’s never made over $60,000 a year and he’s in his early 30’s. So yes, you can do it too!
Earn as Many Points as Possible on your Credit Cards!
Many credit cards you can apply for, earn the points and then cancel with the points still remaining on your frequent flier airline card. You can then reapply for the same exact card after the time restriction and get the same amount of points. Sometimes the time restriction to reapply is 30 days like the Southwest Credit Card. Chase Sapphire Reserve is a very popular card I recommend but their time restriction to reapply is now to 4 years.
Don’t Be Intimidated by the Annual Charges
Looking at the annual fees of some of these cards may be intimidating. But just do the simple math. Chase Sapphire Reserve will charge a $450 annual fee. But at the time that I got it, it gave you 100,000 points which is equivalent to $1500 in a flight. Today it’s giving 50,000 points, equivalent to $750 but still very well worth it. That in itself covers your annual fee. But in addition, they refund $300 immediately to any of your travel charges. Travel charges include Uber/Lyft, Parking, Flights, basically anything labeled in the category of ‘travel’. Then there’s the annual Priority Pass (worth $100) to major airport lounges around the world. Besides saving money on the cost of the card, you’re also getting free food and drinks while waiting at the airport.
If you are organized and can keep track of your credit cards, I’d highly recommend applying and using as many credit cards as possible. It’s free money and the cheapest way to travel the world. I use a physical calendar planner. So I just write in when I need to cancel my credit card in the back section that shows you the next year.
So.. Start Applying for Credit Cards Today!!
The latest 2 credit cards I got is Barclays Aviator American Airlines Credit Card which currently gives you 60,000 miles after your first purchase. It doesn’t ask you for any minimum spending to get the full miles, like most other credit cards that will ask for a $3000 spending within 2-3 months.
The way to calculate an average way to spend your miles/points is that it should typically purchase you times 0.013 – 0.015 more than the value. So with 60,000 points, a decent deal will allow you to buy a $800-$1000 flight. You really shouldn’t use your miles if the flight costs $600 in this case. I once flown one way LAX to London on American Airlines with 20,000 miles which was a flight that would’ve cost about $380. From London, I paid $60 to fly one way to Marrakech, Morocco on one of the domestic budget airlines like RyanAir or EasyJet.
1 Credit Card Can Equal 1 Roundtrip Ticket Around the World
Essentially, every credit card you apply for can be a roundtrip flight around the world. The other credit card I just got was the United Explorer Card which is also giving about 60,000 miles after $3000 spending in 3 months. Most of us can easily spend that in a month with business, everyday expenses, etc. My car and annual property insurance allows me to pay with a credit card. You can also ask a family member/friend you trust if you can charge a big purchase they need with your card. Then have them pay you back in cash.
I never have a balance and pay off all my credit cards each month. I have had an average of 820 credit score in the past 10 years. And I charge EVERY SINGLE THING that I can on my credit card. This includes a $2 coffee as long as it doesn’t have a credit card charge. Some restaurants will charge a fee like $1 to use a credit card. I will also offer to use my credit card when we dine out with friends. (As long as you are with an accountable group.) Though these ideas are out and open to the world, so many people still do not utilize these tools and wonder why they can’t afford to travel.
As Asian Americans, we are taught not to carry any credit or debt. Even using credit cards is not considered cool. That is an important value that we hold on to for many reasons. Credit card companies start handing out credit cards with high limites to college students in hopes (and oftentimes succeed), in making people go into debt with free spending. But for those savvy enough to capitalize on this phenomenon should definitely utilize this tool. Whether it be through credit card miles/points or through taking out mortgages to leverage buying more properties.
Build a Travel Blog & Social Media Following
Also building my blog audience and Instagram followers gains me access to Press Trips and Restaurant invites regularly. Only about 20% of my travels are through this as I prefer to go on my own dime. This allows me flexibility to wake up, stay out, eat and do whatever I want without having to follow instructions. But some press trips can be fun as you meet other travel journalists. And visit places you wouldn’t have alone discovered.
Of course your income and circumstances will also be a huge factor on how much money you can allocate to traveling annually. Some people I talk to say that now that they have kids, they can only stay in 5 star resorts. They say they can “no longer travel like they use to“. That is completely a misconception and choice. Because many other people, especially Europeans and Australians will stay at Airbnbs or mid-range hotels with their kids just fine. I wouldn’t be able to afford to travel if I stayed at $200 per night hotels every time. Nor do I really care for it as it keeps you farther away from locals and authentic cultural experiences.
Read more on my Savvy Finance Tips, practical on saving for travel and your every day life.