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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Airports, Destinations, New Mexico, Spas and resorts, Washington, DC

Day 3: Unavoidable Travel Delays

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Sunrise over the southwest

There is something about living in major cities that causes people to become harsh, detached, and abrupt toward one another. It is most noticeable when you visit places that operate at a slower pace. This was my experience when I traveled back to Washington, D.C. from Albuquerque, New Mexico. TSA is typically the worst part of traveling for me because I tend to make a lot of rookie mistakes. I eventually plan to purchase the TSA pre-check for future travels. I posted earlier about how on the way to New Mexico I was subjected to a body search – twice. Read about that experience here. While I know that Albuquerque isn’t as busy as the airports in D.C. I didn’t want to risk being held up at security yet again. So I woke up early to pack and drive back into Albuquerque.

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Porch of the historic hotel at Ojo Caliente

Once everything was packed I headed into the lobby for my morning cup of coffee. It was quite early so there was only a group of four elderly guests lounging around, presumably for the restaurant to start serving breakfast. After getting my coffee, I headed outside to sit on the porch and sip my coffee.

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Fire pit still lit

The fire from the previous night was still burning and the intoxicating scent of piñon wood hung heavily in the air. I decided to get one last set of pictures of the property.  While snapping my photos I heard a low meow. I thought I was hearing things because I hadn’t seen any animals around the property during my stay. Sure enough, an adorable cat managed to sidle up beside me,  hopeful that I would have something for it to eat. I petted the cat then went back to taking pictures. The cat eventually lost interest and sauntered towards the parking lot.

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My new feline friend

The front desk didn’t open until 8:00 A.M.  I was anxious to get on the road so a helpful staff member offered to see if they could check me out early. They were and I was on the road to Albuquerque by 8:00 A.M.

I arrived in Albuquerque about 2 hours later and pulled into the rental car drop off area. I was greeted by a friendly guy named Harold who informed me that the car would be checked in then he would drop me off at the airport. He caught me off guard since I was expecting to catch the shuttle back to the airport. During the short drive to the airport Harold informed me that he had moved to Albuquerque about 5 years earlier from Los Angeles after he got divorced. He said he enjoyed the change of pace in the New Mexico. He asked if I was considering moving to the area and I gave him a firm, no. We parted ways and I made my way into the  airport terminal.

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I ordered the Ranchito with organge juice

I ate a bland breakfast at the first restaurant that I saw before entering the security gate called Tia Juanitas. I can not recommend it. While it is pretty hard to mess up breakfast the food was basically just edible an overpriced at $15. I got the same breakfast at the resort the day before for a couple of bucks less. The server managed to upcharge me by asking if I wanted avocados. She never mentioned that it was an extra charge and I didn’t think ask if it would cost extra. Well it was an extra $1.50. I didn’t even eat them. The meal did the job though which was to keep my stomach from growling.

The Albuquerque airport is pretty small so there was no need to catch a shuttle and jog along a moving walkway to get from point A to point B. There was a sign at the security checkpoint that stated that no gate is more than 5 minutes away. I decided to dress in loose comfortable work out clothes and I was able to breeze through the body scanner this time. Unfortunately my carry-ons needed to be searched. Never mind the fact that my bags were packed exactly the same as they were on the way into New Mexico. I was glad that I had loads of extra time which kept me from stressing out about the hold up.

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Looking a bit travel worn

Since the charging port in the rental car didn’t work (read more about that here) I needed to find a place to charge my phone. I found a corner nook table with wall outlets behind it in the food court, plugged in, and began tapping out my blog series. If you haven’t yet read the previous two posts go here and here.

My flight to Denver from Albuquerque was bumpy but otherwise uneventful. However, upon arrival in Denver I learned that my flight into D.C. was delayed. I tried to talk the airline staff into getting me on a earlier flight that will land at National airport, to no avail. To top it off, all of the sit down restaurants in the concourse had lines. I wandered to the end of the C concourse and found a table at Vino Volo where a well deserved glass of wine was poured. I also had a delicious warm roasted chicken salad to accompany it.

20180416_163141My flight boarded a little early and we actually made it into D.C. on time. I had booked a Super Shuttle since I was flying back into Dulles. Unfortunately there was a lot of confusion about which exit passengers were to meet at and we spent nearly an hour rounding up the other passengers – all women – all going to different parts of the city. Fortunately, I was the second passenger to be dropped off and I was able to make it home before 2:00 A.M. While it was nice to be home, I really enjoyed my stay in the Southwest and I look forward to going again soon. If you are looking for an amazing spa resort experience I highly recommend checking out Ojo Caliente as a perfect rustic desert retreat.

Missed part 1 and part 2? Click on the links.

Destinations, Hotels, New Mexico, Spas and resorts

Day 2: Enchanted with New Mexico

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I woke up early Sunday morning feeling refreshed and excited. I decided to go for a short walk around the property to get my bearings and take photographs of the high desert landscape. Breakfast at Ojo Caliente isn’t served until 7:30 A.M., but my mind was on coffee first and foremost. I went out into the lobby area where a coffee station set up at the bar, but unfortunately there was only decaf available. The staff was in the process of brewing more regular Iconik Coffee.  I patiently waited for the carafe of coffee to be brought out then eagerly filled my cup with the brown steaming liquid. The coffee was bold and strong, just the way I like it. With my cup in hand I headed up toward the Posi Trail where I enjoyed my coffee while taking photos of nature’s amazing art work. Around 8:00 A.M. I started to get hungry and headed back down the trail for breakfast.

After breakfast, I came out of the hotel and saw a man setting up a table along the main path. I went over and met Vincent, a Santo Domingo Pueblo who was there selling handmade jewelry. His pieces were absolutely beautiful! He even brought the stones and shells that the jewelry was made out of to show customers. He informed us that his signature for each piece is having a small piece of opal at the bottom of his jewelry. Most of his statement pieces were around $75 or $80 so I purchased two pairs of turquoise earrings from him since I had given myself a budget of $40.00 to spend on jewelry.

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Vincent Aguilar makes handmade jewelry from natural stones

After purchasing my earrings I decided to head back to my room since the chilly morning air was starting to warm up. I wanted to enjoy the spa and all four of the mineral baths before it got too busy.  Since it was a weekend, lots of day trippers visit the spa. Most of the pools were pretty full, but I managed to spend a little bit of time in the main pools.

As it got closer to noon, the crowds grew and I decided to reserve a  private pool. I thought the private pools were only $12, but that was actually the cost for a private tub. The private pools are an additional $45 for around 50 minutes. It was worth the money to have the whole pool to myself. At night the staff will light the Kiva fireplace in your pool area for you upon request. When my time was up in the private pool, I decided to take a nap and unwind for the rest of the afternoon.

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Around 5 or 6 PM I got up for dinner and enjoyed enchiladas made with blue corn tortillas, southwest chiles, and a side of fresh veggies and beans at the Artesian Restaurant. I also indulged in a prickly pear mimosa which was my first drink that weekend. While I waited for the food to be served, the waitress brought over a basket of warm mini blue corn muffins. They were delicious and sweet! After dinner, I headed back to my room where I confirmed my flight reservations for my return the next day and went back to sleep.

…continue day 3

Airports, Destinations, Hotels, New Mexico, Spas and resorts, Washington, DC

Day 1: A missed flight and an armrest fight

 

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What do you do when you get a bonus 3 day weekend off of work? You book a trip of course! I had a couple of unused Luv vouchers from Southwest Airlines that were going to expire soon and I needed to get out of town to shake off the deep winter funk that I had fallen into. While scrolling through Facebook one night I saw pictures that a member of a Facebook travel group had posted and I instantly knew I had to go there. In all of my wildest dreams I would not have considered taking a vacation in New Mexico yet I was surprisingly drawn to the natural beauty of the rugged landscape and the tranquility of the natural mineral hot springs. I checked air fares and locked in a fare that was exactly the right price for the 2 Southwest Airline Luv vouchers that I had acquired. I then made a reservation for the hotel and resort and pretty much forgot about the trip until it was almost time to go. I told about 2 people at the most that I was going on this unusual adventure.

I normally get a bit jittery about travel (since the events of September 11) which I wrote about in another post, but I felt really good about this trip. No nerves, no jitters, just pure excitement about embarking on a new adventure. It had been about 4 years since I had been on a “real” vacation, so I was long overdue.

Saturday morning I woke up excited about my first trip to the Southwestern part of the United States. While I hadn’t fixated on it, I had been looking forward to getting out of town for weeks! I got up early, cleaned my apartment, then called an Uber to drive me to Dulles Airport. Well, like I said before it had been years since I last flew so I couldn’t remember which airport was the closest when I booked my ticket. I was a few minutes behind schedule but I was hopeful that it wouldn’t have a big impact on my quest to get out of town. Well it did make an impact but thank God I didn’t try to catch Metro because Metro does not go all the way out to Dulles  so that was travel faux pas number 1 on this trip.

The Uber driver dropped me off in front of the airline and everything seemed to be going well until I got to the security line. It slowly snaked along and at least 5 wheelchairs jumped to the front of the sluggish line. Had I been able to go through the security line without a hitch maybe this post would have a different ending. Alas, it was not be be and as you have probably guessed by now I missed my flight due to security stopping me to give me a full pat down. As you can imagine I was not only annoyed but I felt quite violated.

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I finally made it to my departing gate and it was empty. The plane was sitting on the tarmac, but the doors had been secured. I asked the lone gate agent what I could do and she was able to find another flight at the same price but leaving from DCA. I just had to make my way from Dulles to DCA in time. So, I had to catch a $5 shuttle to the Metro Silver line which would take me directly to DCA.

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When I finally got to DCA I was really short on time and to add insult to injury I entered the wrong security area, walked all the way to the end of it hoping it would lead to the gate that I needed. It didn’t so I had to walk all the way back out of that security area,  down a long corridor and enter security…again. If you are keeping count this was my 3rd security check of the day and I had been stopped at each one. After finally getting through this final security check I didn’t bother putting my shoes on and I half skated, half hobbled to the gate as they were announcing my name for the final boarding call. The gate agent checked me in while I attempting to catch my breath and put on my shoes.

The first leg of flight was pleasant. I had a short layover in Dallas where I ate a light dinner before boarding the second leg of my flight. The second leg from Dallas to ABQ was an hour and some change long but it was an absolute nightmare. Between my hostile seat mate and the turbulence I couldn’t wait to get off of the plane. I was going to share what happened in this post but I decided against it since I eventually reported it to the airline. After the airline investigated the situation they issued me a $150 Luv Voucher. You know what that means…another trip to plan!IMG_20180414_161718_061

Well, you would think that would be the end of my travel whoas, right? Wrong! I still had a 2 hour drive from ABQ to Santa Fe! I didn’t realize that the resort would be so far out. As I drove the sky became blanketed in darkness…on an unfamiliar road…in a state I had never visited before…by myself! I hoped that the car that rented from Dollar would have a GPS. It did not so I had to use Waze. I almost brought my car charger on the trip but then decided against it. I did have the USB cord, but for some reason the USB outlet in the rental would not charge the phone enough to keep Waze going. So I was out on a long, dark, lonely road with no GPS trying to figure out how to get to a resort that was tucked back into the hills of the New Mexico desert. Good times!  I will say that I was mesmerized by the clear black sky that was filled with stars. I hadn’t seen such a clear sky in years. God’s artwork!

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I finally pulled into the parking lot of Ojo Caliente at exactly 9:00 P.M. and checked into my room. Since there are no showers in the historic hotel, I took a shower in the shower room and I still had enough time before closing for a relaxing soak and steam in the bathhouse. I could feel the tension of the day’s travel snaffus melting away. I took another shower and knew that I would have an amazing night’s sleep.

…continue day 2

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