I love to travel. (I mean, duh, I’m a millennial). But seriously, as much as I LOVE Atlanta there is something about new scenery that gets me more in the present moment and less in my everyday anxieties.

In 2017, I took an average of 2 trips a month, and saw over 30 new cities. When I get back from these weekend getaways and extended vacays the question I get asked most often is not, “what did you like best?,” but “how on earth do you afford to travel so much?!” I’ve compiled some of my top tips below, and good news, none of them involve being rich, hitch hiking, or staying in hostels (which, I at first spelled hostiles, and that seemed appropriate based on my experiences in them).

1) I almost never have a set destination in mind when I’m planning a trip.

When I’ve got a free weekend, or a break from work, I don’t pick a place and then start planning. I start googling, and then pick a place. Seriously. If it’s a short weekend and I’m taking a road trip I get on hotels.com, priceline.com, or the hotels tonight app and start googling hotel prices in a drivable radius. $300/night hotel in Asheville? Pass. …. $52/night hotel at the beach in Jacksonville, FL. Sold. If I have a longer period of time to get away, I do the same thing with flights. Get on Google flights, set your departure city and dates and just hit explore. I visited Bogota, Colombia for a $247 direct flight on Delta this way and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. Last November I went all the way to Mumbai for less than $700, on Delta, with only one stop. Do I really want to visit Croatia? Heck Yes, but I’d rather cross other locations off my list before I drop two grand on a plane ticket there.

Took this photo in Chicago after I flew there for $49 round trip.

2) Your origin city doesn’t always have to be where you live.

I live in Atlanta, home of the world’s busiest airport- but not always the world’s cheapest flights. If I have a week or longer of vacation time to play around with I’ll search flights from nearby (ish) airports. Last summer the price difference in a flight to Mexico city from Orlando vs. from Atlanta was over $600. It was worth the money for me to drive and park. Most recently, I mega-bussed the two hours to Birmingham to fly to Mexico city for 15,000 skymiles. The same flights was 60,000 skymiles from Atlanta! It’s not always easy or glamorous, but get to calculating and weigh the savings vs. the time spent getting to the alternate airport. May totally be worth it.

3) Cheap flights aren’t always round trip.

A very hot tip when working your search magic is that it is often cheaper to purchase two one way tickets (lots of times on different airlines) than one round trip flight. Sometimes the first leg is in miles, the second leg cash. Sometimes the way there is Delta, the way home is American Airlines. There isn’t an exact science, and it takes a little bit of effort, but for me it’s worth the (often) massive savings.

Enjoying Cabo after I flew there using two one way tickets (and a savings of over $400 from a regular round trip)

4) Camping is your friend.

OK, before you say you’d rather stay in a hostel, hear me out. I used to loathe camping, but with a little hacking, I’ve found a system that makes it totally manageable. I pick drive up campsites (aka car camping) that have facilities like toilets and showers and are never more than about 15 minutes from a starbucks. I blow up my air mattress and then spend my entire day exploring. I have way more camping hacks to share, but I’ll save them for their own article. The tent is just home base and a place to sleep and it costs around $20/night for a nice KOA campsite vs. upwards of $100/night for a hotel. Just be sure where you’re headed has camper friendly weather.

 

4) Travel credit cards are NOT a rip off.

If you are responsible enough to own and use a credit card, I highly recommend getting one that comes with travel benefits. I love my Delta Skymiles, but I’m based out of Atlanta so I can fly virtually anywhere on Delta so it makes sense to earn my miles with them. Get online, there’s lots of websites that’ll compare cards and help you choose the best one for you. You’ll rack up miles (that you can use without a set destination in mind **see tips 1-3) and lot’s of them even offer a free checked bag (more room to pack your camping gear **see tip 4).

5) I don’t always visit the spa (or the fancy restaurant) when I’m on a trip.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good massage. And I really love a good five course dinner, but the reality is I don’t always make these things a priority while I’m travelling. Why? They’re expensive, and I’d rather be able to travel twice a month on a budget than once a year with all the fixings. (You may choose the latter, and that’s fine, I’m just doling out my personal tips). While these things make vacations more relaxing, memorable, or exciting they’re usually not a part of my itinerary. See tip 6 for what I do instead.

6). I do eat well and enjoy myself.

I would never starve myself (those who know me can attest to this). I also would never eat ramen for breakfast lunch and dinner. When I travel, I plan on eating one “bigger” meal (at a place I’m dying to try) spend the rest of my day snacking. For example, when I was in Houston Ninfa’s on Navigation was at the top of my eatery list. So I had coffee with protein powder from home for breakfast, a smoothie bowl and some kale chips from a local place for lunch, and then an early evening feast at Ninfas. I wasn’t too full or too broke to enjoy it. If there are lots of places I want to sample (cough, cough NYC, Mexico City, San Fran) I’ll peep the menus and locations online and spend the day hopping to eateries and munching on appetizers in between my other activities. Cheaper than an entrée and won’t weigh you down as much as you explore.

Enjoying a snack at Starbucks in Mexico.

7) Free is fun.

I’m not sure what exactly people did before the internet, but I am glad I’ve planned the bulk of my travel with it. Once I book a trip I get online and search the name of the place I’m visiting with the dates and the word free. Lots of fun and interesting stuff pops up, and I sift through to find the things that interest me the most. Sometimes it’s a parade, sometimes it’s a festival, sometimes it’s museum passes, sometimes it’s something I never couldn’t have imagined until I found it. If nothing on that list peeks my interest I’ll google the city name with things like “parks, hikes, trails, bikeshare, walking tours, (you get the picture). Still nothing? Dude, you might be sick of Groupon at home, but it works like a charm when searching for quirky fun while traveling.

This hike + view in Bogota, Colombia is completely free. And breathtaking.

8) Plan ahead if you want to get spendy.

Sometimes you visit a place and you absolutely have to buy a dress at the store that’s only in that city, or see Hamilton, or take the private boat tour. And I say do it. Do the thing. Espeically if it’s a far away place that you probably won’t be back to anytime soon. Just plan ahead. Put a little more in of the “manicure money” in the “travel fund” leading up to your trip. And revel in your financial responsible-ness as you enjoy whatever fancy thing that you totally deserve.

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