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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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.