How to afford to travel on a small budget

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate and referral links that might share a percentage of sales with me at no extra cost to you. I use those funds to purchase cheap airline tickets, so thank you in advance for helping me to jaunt.

I used to believe that I couldn’t afford to travel for pleasure. Not only did I believe that I couldn’t afford to travel for pleasure, but I also believed that I didn’t deserve to travel for pleasure. Why would I think such negative thoughts? Well, I have consumer debt and a large student loan repayment plan. I also live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Actually, the only cities I have ever lived in were the most expensive cities, so saving money has been a struggle for me.

I finally decided that the negative self-talk was getting me nowhere fast and I needed to make some serious financial changes. I began researching how to create a budget which led me to watching YouTube videos that described how to increase my credit score. My credit score had been stagnant for ages and I couldn’t figure out why. I later realized that it was because my utilization was too high so I made plans to pay off my high interest credit cards and decrease my credit utilization by getting more credit cards to balance the credit used with the additional credit limits. It worked!

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Around this time last year, I was offered a pre-approved American Express card. I had a negative experience with American Express when I was in college and it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I knew the value of having an American Express card so I applied for it. That decision was one of the best decisions that I’ve made in a long time because between the sign-up bonus, the interest-free period, and the other wonderful benefits that I can’t even begin to list here, having an American Express card offered positive value to my financial portfolio and sure enough my credit score grew.

Don’t get me wrong, having better credit wasn’t the only reason that I was able to afford to travel this year. I also took on two extra jobs that generated a bit of extra income. In addition I paid off my highest interest credit cards by using a personal loan that had a lower interest rate and my tax refund. I began using Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar budget app to plan my spending each month. Since I use credit cards obviously I am not Ramsey enthusiast, however the Everydollar tool is a wonderful resource. As a result of diligent budgeting I was able to cut back on expenses like eating out too often, getting mani-pedis, and other extras that were eating into my savings. I was also able to put my student loans on hold for a while then I negotiated a lower payment plan. Basically I was being strategic about my spending.

As a result of paying off my high interest credit cards, I now have extra money to spend  and pay towards my remaining bills. I am also looking into moving into a less expensive apartment (or city) and I plan to use that money to … you guessed it, travel!

So, let me give you a detailed break down of how I was able to take my trip to Ojo Caliente Spa in New Mexico in April. Note: I am paying off debts charged to credit cards immediately or interest free.

Airfare

I had Luv Vouchers from Southwest Airlines from two trips that I canceled last year due to crippling anxietySouthwest Airlines had one of their amazing sales so I used my expiring vouchers towards the airfare. I also earned points toward future travel by enrolling in the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program.  You might also consider applying for their branded credit card which is currently offering 40,000 reward points.

Accommodations

My hotel was probably the largest expense on this trip. I stayed in the least expensive option at Ojo Caliente for 2 nights. With extra amenities (including meals) added on my final bill was around $500. I used my American Express card because it provides the the best customer support if there is ever a problem on the trip. For example on my trip to Philadelphia last year I bought the wrong ticket and the bus company wouldn’t give me a refund. I paid for the ticket using my American Express card and they were able to credit the money back to my account.  My American Express card was still in the interest-free period, however my interest-free period was expiring soon so American Express sweetened the deal by offering a monthly payment plan called Plan It for large purchases over $100.00. Even though I have already taken my trip to New Mexico, I was still able to break up the payments for that trip into 3 smaller payments with no interest (at that time).

My next trip will be to a destination where I am using Airbnb for my accommodations . My housing expenses will be much cheaper as a result. Use my discount code to say up to $55 on your stay and experience.

Car Rental

I rented a car while I was in New Mexico however when I tried to use my American Express card to check out I was charged more than I was quoted more for my deposit. The agent said something about having extra fees for companies that were not Visa or Mastercard. So, I opted to use my Capital One Spark card. While the Spark card is not interest free, it does offer cash back on all purchases and since the bill was $151.00 it wasn’t a large expense to pay off.

So, there you have it. My tried and true tips and tricks for finagling a well deserved jaunt when you just have to get out of town. I am in no way shape or form advocating going into debt for the sake of travel I am just sharing what worked for me and my budget. As I mentioned earlier, I worked two extra jobs and I had extra money that I received from various sources (including a contract negotiation on my job.) The first step to traveling on a small budget is to create a realistic budget. Once you know how much money you are truly working with then you can go from there. The credit cards that I used were to maximize benefits. I received statement credits, interest-free periods, and in the case of the car rental, a smaller rental deposit. Happy jaunting!

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