Budget Travel, New Mexico, Tips and Tricks

How I can afford to travel on a tight budget

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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 the topic of how to create a budget which lead 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 AMEX when I was in college and it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I knew the value of having an AMEX card so I applied for it anyway. It was one of the best decisions that I 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. As a result of 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 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 anxiety. Southwest 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 should 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 AMEX card and they were able to credit the money back to my account. I highly recommend using American Express for travel insurance as well. My American Express card was still in the interest-free period, however my interest-free period was expiring soon so AMEX 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.

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.

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 the car I was charged than I was quoted more for my deposit. Something about having extra fees for companies that were not Visa or Mastercard. Instead I used my Capital One Spark card. While the Spark card is not interest free, it does offer 1% 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. 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 tight budget is to budget your income. Once you know what you are truly working with you can go from there. The credit cards were used primarily to maximize benefits – statement credits, interest-free periods, and in the case of the car rental, a smaller rental deposit. Happy jaunting!

Share how you manage your travel expenses in the comment section below. Please click like and subscribe. New content is posted every Monday. 

Apply for your own American Express using this link ! You will get the $200 statement credit that I mentioned above, and I will receive a $75 referral bonus to use towards my next trip!

Earn up to $40 in travel credits by signing up for Airbnb using my code and I will receive $20 off of my next trip. 

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Budget Travel, Destinations

Summer Travel in Europe on a Budget

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 
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Photo credit: Stock photo

One of the best gifts that my now deceased mother gave me was the gift of travel. I was her road dawg on spontaneous drives to find the sun on foggy San Francisco days, and her trusty travel companion when we lived overseas. Those memories are treasured and preserved even though she is no longer with me.

Now that graduation season is here, one of the most memorable gifts that you can give an accomplished grad is the gift of travel. Here are a couple of amazing deals for a European holiday that will be easy on your budget and are geared specifically toward younger travelers.

Contiki is one of the oldest travel companies geared toward providing fun filled group travel experiences for 18-35 year olds. They offer 300 trips spanning 6 continents, 8 ways to travel, 5 ways to stay and various options. Right now you can save 20% on Trips & Fly to Europe starting at $549 with Contiki USA. The offer ends June 11, 2018.

If Contiki is not the right fit then take advantage of the Eurostar Youth Promotion with fares starting at $62 USD London to/from Paris/Lille/Calais/Brussels and from $49 USD London to/from Amsterdam/Rotterdam. Tickets are non-refundable, exchangeable for a fee.

Sales Dates

May 2 – 31, 2018 (Euronet)

May 2 – 30, 2018 (Web)

Travel Dates

Jun 4 – August 31, 2018.

Blackout dates: July 7July 20-22July 29August 24-28

Links:

Contiki

Eurostar

 

Budget Travel, Destinations, Tips and Tricks, Washington, DC

What to do when you can’t get tickets to the National Museum of African American History

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Photo credit: Stock photo

Almost two years after opening, The Museum of African American History and Culture still has visitors itching to get their hands on a limited supply of timed tickets. Scoring tickets to the NMAAHC museum is the equivalent of finding the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So what do you do when you have a trip planned to Washington, D.C. but you are unable to get hold of one of the elusive tickets? Below are a couple of alternative African American historical sites in Washington, D.C. that you might consider visiting.

Frederick Douglass National Historical Site Visit the home of Frederick Douglass located on Cedar Hill in the historic neighborhood of Anacostia. Douglass lived in the house from 1878 until his death in 1895. The house is perched atop of a hill at 1411 W Street SE Washington, D.C. Reservations are strongly recommended since only guided tours are offered at the site. Hours are 9-5 seven days a week except major holidays. Visit the website for detailed information and directions: www.nps.gov/frdo/index.htm

Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum The predecessor to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American Museum of African American History and Culture, the Anacostia Community Museum was opened in 1967 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. For the past 50 years the museum has offered free educational programs, exhibits, and tours. For detailed information about visiting the museum click onto anacostia.si.edu
African American Civil War Memorial and Museum Located near the historic U Street Corridor and within walking distance of Howard University, The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum is often an overlooked museum. The museum opened in 1999 and it honors the legacy of Colored soldiers that fought during the Civil War. The museum is located at 1925 Vermont Ave, NW Washington DC, directly across the street from the African American Civil War Memorial, located at 13th and U Streets, NW Washington DC. across from the U Street Cardozo Metro Station. For more information about hours and tours, visit their website at www.afroamcivilwar.org
Budget Travel, Destinations, New Mexico, Reviews

Review: Ojo Caliente Spa and Resort

 

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I had the pleasure of spending a relaxing and rejuventing weekend at the historic Ojo Caliente Resort and Spa in New Mexico. Ojo Caliente is known for it’s healing mineral pools that have been deemed sacred by the Northern Pueblo tribes who discovered the pools thousands of years ago. I went to Ojo Caliente as a mere shell of myself and came back reenergized and refreshed.

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The yoga tent.

Lodging – You have a choice of lodging at Ojo Caliente. I stayed in the historic hotel which has both pros and cons. The building is indeed historic, which basically means that it is very outdated in every way. The rooms are in the style of an SRO (single room occupancy) hotel. There are no showers in the rooms, but there is a toilet with a sink, plus  two additional toilets in the hall.

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The hotel is also a bit noisy since it is connected to the restaurant (a door separates the bar from the rooms) so if you are on the end of the corridor near the bar you will hear all of the noise from the bar every time the door opens. The doors are wooden and for some reason they slam when they are closed.  The floors are also creaky despite being carpeted. I kept my heater/fan on the whole time which created white noise and drowned out most of the sounds, but if you are a very light sleeper (which I am not) you will want to take that into account. There are also porch chairs right outside your window so if people sit outside to chat you will hear them talking quite clearly.

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There are no TVs or phones in the room so it is like stepping back in time. You are forced to relax and unwind. Everything pretty much shuts down by 10:00 P.M. so it definitely quiets down by 11:00 P.M.

Here are the other options for lodging at Ojo Caliente.

Day pass vs. lodging: Day passes are available and range start at $20 depending on the day of week. Weekends are definitely more expensive and more crowded.

Food and drinks (free coffee in the bar area in the morning!) Breakfast isn’t served until 7:30 AM. and dinner is served until 9:30 P.M. Bar closed at 10:00 P.M. The food is very fresh and some of it is grown on-site. I had a standard bacon, eggs, and toast breakfast which was wonderful. For dinner I had the blue corn chicken enchilada. While I waited for my meal I was served mini blue corn muffins that were warm and moist! Everything was fresh and prepared with loved. View the menu here.

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Spa – Opens at 8:00 A.M. and closes at 10:00 P.M. You have a choice of several public or private mineral pools to soak in as well as a steam room and sauna. Each of the pools offers a different mineral composition. Towels are provided free to guests of the resort however a day pass will get you one free towel and $2 to rent additional towels. There are lockers on site where you can lock up your values. Additional services include massages, scrubs, and facials.

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Recreation: Hiking, biking, yoga, and soaking. A total relaxation experience that is perfect for reconnecting with nature and yourself.

Weather: The resort is open year round so dress accordingly. I went in April and while it was beautiful and sunny it was chilly. When I left Washington, D.C. the weather was in the 70s. It was much cooler in New Mexico and I wore a jean jacket (which was much too light) during the chilly morning and evening hours. The temperature toggled between 50-60 degrees during the day. Keep in mind that the resort is located at a higher altitude so it might feel cooler than what you are used to in your area.

Demographics: There was a good mix of locals and tourists. During the weekend there were a lot of families and during the week more of the retiree set. Racially there was not a lot of diversity but there was a very small sprinkling of POC. when I was there.

Customer Service: The team working at the resort is top notch. I would give Ojo Caliente a 4.5 our of 5 stars. If I had a primary complaint it would be the hours of service. The front desk isn’t open until 8 AM and everything pretty much shuts down by 10:00 A.M. I wanted get a head start on my departure and had to wait. A staff member was kind enough to get me checked out a few minutes earlier.

Wifi and cell phones: There is free wifi in the historic hotel. Use of cell phones is limited to rooms and the parking lot. All of the guests were respectful of the cell phone ban.

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Transportation: I drove to Ojo Caliente from Albuquerque. It was a 2 hour drive and I used half a tank of gas in a compact car for the trip to and from. I don’t recommend that you do the same unless you have time to  hit up tourist spots between Santa Fe and Albuquerque or you have someone who will share the driving with you. The woman who recommended the spa said that she stayed at Buffalo Thunder and that a driver drove her to the spa for the day. It is still about a 45 minute to hour drive from Buffalo Thunder.

Final cost: I stayed at Ojo Caliente for 2 nights. The room was $209 for Saturday night and $169 for Sunday night plus tax. I added a private pool for $45 (I mistakenly thought I was getting a private tub for $12) and I ate one breakfast and dinner (including cocktail) in the restaurant (around $45 all together plus tip!) My final bill came up to $521.00 with taxes included.

I wrote a blog series that offers a more indepth review of my stay at Ojo Caliente. Be sure to follow and subscribe to this website in order to read more.

Have you been to the Southwest before? What was your experience? Share it in the comments section.

www.ojospa.com

Budget Travel, New York

A 24 hour jaunt through New York City

IMG_0175The first time I visited New York I instantly feel deep in love with the energy of the city. I developed a fascination with New York through reading books and watching syrupy sweet Rom-Coms about the magic that New York creates. It was my dream to live there at some point in my life. Fortunately, I was able to spend 15 years of my life in New York and I continued to be madly in love with the city for most of that time.

About 5 years ago I packed my bags for good and moved away from the hustle and bustle of New York. The fast pace and expense of living there started to wear on me and I needed a change of scenery. Just because I moved away from New York doesn’t mean that I don’t still consider it one of the most amazing places in the world.

For this quick jaunt, I hopped on an intercity bus between Washington and New York at Union Station. My preferred method of traveling to New York in on the train, but the bus is a lower cost option and you can usually snag a last minute reservation.

I made a reservation at the Hilton Garden Inn near Columbus Circle on the west side. There were several other hotels on the same block so the area was quite touristy. I knew I was only going to be in town for 24-36 hours so I needed a clean and safe place to sleep for less than $200 a night. The Hilton delivered with a price that was reasonable and if you sign up for Hilton Honor points you can save a few extra dollars if you are traveling on a budget as I was. I was stunned by the amazing view from my room on the 35th floor. The nighttime view was breathtaking (see above!) The hotel is also very convenient to the theater district, Lincoln Center, Central Park, and a Times Square.

After I checked into my hotel room I freshened up then quickly hopped on an uptown bound subway to Harlem to get my hair done for my birthday. Another blogger recommended Natural Sisters Salon for a blow out, so that is where I headed. It was as if I had never left New York, but I was amazed at how much the neighborhood had changed since I moved away. The salon did a nice job with replenishing my tresses with in-house custom made conditioners, steam treatment, and what is called a silk press.

I had been traveling all day so I was anxious to head back downtown to my hotel. I didn’t plan my meals, so I suggest you might want to make a reservation for dinner and brunch if you will be staying in a touristy area. Sadly the food that I had was disappointing, so I can’t offer recommendations based upon what I ate on this trip. There are wonderful restaurants in the area including Patsy’s Pizza and Serafina.

The next day I was a bit under the weather so I stayed in my room and relaxed all morning. I opted for the late check out then wandered around Times Square a bit before heading to the bus stop to catch the bus back to Washington, D.C.

Watch the video below which captures the relentless energy and vibrancy of New York and documents my birthday jaunt.

 

Have you ever visited New York City?  What would you recommend as a must do in 24 hours? Share your tips in the comments.