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6 Travel Hacks to Save Money While Traveling

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Traveling is something I never really did as a kid. I remember one sole trip to Disneyworld as a child, but the rest of our vacation time was spent at home playing outside or visiting family. Even in my own early adulthood, there was very little travel. I had no money to travel and then when I finally got a full-time job, I had no time! But with my Dad’s early-onset dementia and my brother’s untimely death at age 39, I’ve really had a lot of life “stuff” shake me and make me realize that I can NOT put off my dream of travel until the kids are older, or until retirement, or until whatever fill-in-the-blank time has come because I may never get the time.

At Arch Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, February 2023

 

Travel does NOT have to cost a fortune

Even though I’m committed to fitting in more travel opportunities and experiences, it doesn’t mean I want to break the bank! I’m only interested in traveling within our means, saving up in advance and paying cash as we go! I don’t consider myself a pro at this point (we’re just really beginning to dip our toes into the travel waters!), but I have learned a few tips I wanted to share and I’d love to learn more tips from others, too! I 100% believe that some travel (when budgeted and done wisely) can co-exist alongside efforts to get out of debt. Life is about balance, folks!

1. Set a budget and stick to it

This seems so simple, but I think so many people plan a trip based around the destination and/or the experiences and don’t think about price until they see their credit card bill at the end of the trip. I do the exact opposite. I set a budget and save up for a trip well in advance. That way when I’m planning everything (places we’ll stay, things we’ll do, places we’ll eat), I have the budget in mind and I know if we splurge on one thing, we’ll need to cut back someplace else. This keeps expenses from spiraling out of control and I’m pretty good about coming in under budget at the end of the trip!

2. Pack your own food

One of the key places where we often try to save is in the food department. When our family went to California in February, I had planned and brought food for 3 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 1 dinner, plus snacks. We still got to eat out some, but we’d pick a good dinner spot and save leftovers for lunches the next day and really stretched our dollars. Sometimes the trip is about food (e.g., when we went to Vegas last year, it revolved around eating at different restaurants), but if the trip is more about the experience, then it’s wise to save money on the food!

 

I splurged on a Mickey Macaroon at Disney (100% worth it!!), but we ate microwavable oatmeal cups packed from home for breakfast, and made PB&J sandwiches to eat for lunch while in the park. Did you know Disney lets you bring in food? They do! Take advantage!

3. Use credit card points to pay for hotel and/or airfare 

Last year I took the plunge to upgrade my normal credit card to a travel rewards credit card. I do NOT recommend credit cards for folks who are drowning in credit card debt. But I like to use them to earn rewards, and then pay it off in full each month. My previous credit card also had rewards, but I’d keep getting these $25 gift cards to Home Goods or Old Navy – nothing that really excited me or pushed the needle too much. But my current travel credit card has been amazing! I used it to book hubby’s flight to Nashville next month (my flight is covered by work), so it cost $0 out of pocket. And for our California trip last month, I used it to pay for 2 nights of our hotel, which helped dramatically with cost-savings. I earned some points just for signing up, and I referred my hubs, and earned points when he signed up as well.

If anyone else is interested, consider signing up with my referral link (I get some extra points, but there’s a huge 75,000 point sign-up bonus for new users right now, too).  I had never leveraged travel rewards cards before, but am really excited about the benefits and plan to keep using it! A hotel or flight is waaaaay better than the occasional $25 gift card, in my opinion!

 4. Purchase through a cost-saving service

I’ve found that sometimes we can get better savings when we book through a serve or agency. For example, my husband and I booked through Costco Travel when we went on our honeymoon and saved compared to the same trip when I’d priced it out myself. Travel agents also often include some type of perks. For example, this summer my mom has generously paid for our family to go on a cruise. She paid the cost of the cruise – which is the bulk – and we are paying our own way for excursions, gratuities, and any add-ons. She booked through a travel agent and even though the price is the same as had she booked through the cruise directly, the travel agent promises upgrades like chocolate covered strawberries and champagne in the room upon arrival, etc. So even if there isn’t a monetary advantage, there may be other perks or advantages for the same price.

5. Learn the art of the carry-on

I’m still working on this one! Last year I went to Peru for work and on the way home I missed a connecting flight due to the added time of having to retrieve my checked bag at customs and re-checking it for the next flight. My travel companions only had carry-ons and made it through on time. I have another international work trip this summer, and even though its 10 days long (!!!) I am committed to somehow fitting everything into a carry-on. Not only will it save time and energy, but learning the art of the carry-on will save me money when I travel for leisure with family. I’m going to practice in April when I travel for a work conference. I’d normally pay the $25 bag fee each way(!!!), but I am going to make it all fit into a carry-on. Any tips for this, leave them in the comments!

 6. Leave the kids at home!

Finally, I know not everyone has the luxury of this, but one last tip is to leave the kids at home! Obviously, the more people you’re paying for, the more costly it’s going to be. We have intentionally planned some trips with kids (like when we went to California last month) and some trips without the kids (like when we go to Nashville next month). I share custody with my ex-husband, so we try to plan adult-only trips when the kids are scheduled to be with their Dad. That saves on childcare and allows us a quick getaway when we’re only paying for 2 instead of 4. More importantly, I think it’s healthy and good for spouses to have time alone together to intentionally re-connect without any distractions. So if you are able, alternate trips with the entire family versus with just the adults.

Last year hubby and I did a quick weekend Vegas trip without kids. That trip was all about the food, and our fanciest dinner was in the Eiffel Tower, which we NEVER would have done if we were also paying for kids! And honestly, the food was just okay. I recommend skipping the fancy dinner and just paying to ride up to the top of the tower for the million dollar views, instead!

Bonus: Double-Dip Business and Pleasure

Again, not possible for everyone, so this is an unofficial bonus, but I’ve talked before about double-dipping business and pleasure travel! My Nashville trip next month is actually for work! I’ll be presenting at and attending a conference from Tues-Fri. Hubby is flying out Thursday night and staying through the weekend, us traveling back together on Sunday. This helps immensely with travel savings because some of my costs are covered by work. And we get a fun weekend get-away with a fraction of the cost!

 

Share all your travel tips! How do you save money and still travel? Also, how do you pack 10 days worth of clothes (and a mix of business and casual) into a carry-on! I need allll the advice!

A Proper Introduction!

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Greetings Blogging Away Debt readers!

I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself before the cross-posting from our sister site Our Debt Free Family started. We began in the middle of my story, so let’s catch up with a proper introduction.

First – my name is Amanda Blankenship! I’ve been writing for a little over 12 years. Most of my writing experience is actually for celebrity tabloid-style sites and personal finance blogs.

I started writing about my own personal finance journey back in 2017. At the time, my boyfriend (now husband) and I were homeless. We didn’t have all that much debt, but we had to do a number of things to get out of the mess we were in.

Why We Were Homeless

My husband and I met over the summer of 2016. At the time, he lived with his grandmother in the Tennessee mountains and I’d recently had a terrible breakup that moved me from rural Pennsylvania back down to Wingate, North Carolina where I went to college. I had an amazing roommate and was paying $500/month to stay there, including all utilities.

After dating long-distance for several months, I asked Drew if he wanted to move in with me. We wound up moving in with my mom in a two-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. She offered us a free place to stay to save up while we found a place to live, etc. At the time, my mom was struggling with substance abuse and addiction, which became evident once we moved in.

Eventually, we got a notice from the person mom was subletting the apartment from that they’d be moving back in and needed the apartment again. We had two weeks to figure out what to do. Upon applying for an apartment, I found out that a fee from a previous rental was on my credit, preventing me from renting anywhere else. This fee was also something my mom had assured me had been paid (it’s okay – all water under the bridge now).

Introduction - me and Drew

So, when the time came for us to leave, we didn’t have anywhere to go because I didn’t have the $2,500 out of pocket to pay what was owed. Drew hadn’t yet gotten a job and things were looking grim for us.

We wound up moving into a motel at $265 per week, staying there for about six months while we saved, paid off debt, and found Drew a job. It was in a really bad location and it didn’t feel safe, but it was better than living in the park.

Our Life Now

In February of 2017, we had enough money saved to pay off the apartment debt as well as deposits for a new place. Luckily, we found an apartment we loved and that we could afford within about a month. It was in a great location where I could walk to a lot of things (which was important because we only had one car). Best of all, they had free rent for the first month, which gave us a chance to stash away a little money.

Oh, and we can’t forget about Enzo being added to our family right around this time too!

Introduce - us with Enzo

We lived there for another two years before we got married and moved to Atlanta (I’ll have to tell you that story another time, it’s worth its own blog post).

Introduction - Wedding Photo

Then, we moved back to North Carolina in December 2020 – right in the middle of the pandemic – and we found out we were expecting our first child, Dahlia. Now, she’s 18 months old and as happy as can be. She’s really brought something special to our little family, but it has certainly changed our financial outlook once again. As you all probably know, babies can be expensive, but they are so worth it.

Introduction - Drew and Dahlia

My Current Debt Outlook

As you saw in the first post, we’ve taken on a little bit more debt recently. Specifically, we purchased a new car last fall. Our Golf was getting up there in miles and had a number of things that needed attention. On top of that, the car seat for our one-year-old barely fit in the back. So, right now, our debt numbers look something like this.

  • Credit cards: $1,108 (up from $0 last year)
  • Collections: $1,205
  • Car loans: $34,640 (up from $16K)
  • Student loans: $24,185

I say “something like this” because I’ve run into some medical issues recently. There are some bills piling up where that is concerned. We pay about $600/month through my husband’s employer for insurance for the family and have about a $3K deductible, which isn’t terrible, but coming up with that out of pocket is difficult with a baby constantly growing out of her clothes, and her needs changing nearly daily.

I’ve managed to flesh out some payment plans but I was in the hospital yesterday for chest x-rays and blood work. So, I can’t wait to see how that adds onto what I already owe (heavy sarcasm).

Additionally, the student loan amount is up in the air still as the Biden Administration seemingly forgave half of debt for people like me who received Pell grants for college. Unfortunately, many states are combating that. So, I’m waiting on the State of N.C. to figure out what’s going to happen with that.

What Will Updates Look Like?

A few folks have already asked about the posting schedule and what updates from me will look like. Some of it will be cross posts from the other site. However, I’ll also be coming straight here to blog and talk about my finances directly on Thursdays.

For now, I hope this introduction helps you all get to know a little more about me! I’d love to read your questions and other comments.

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