The most common question I get when talking about my travels is “How do you afford it?” As a 20-something Millennial who is just getting started in my career, time and money aren’t exactly abundant. Travel is priceless, however. With a little creative prioritizing, you CAN make travel in your 20’s affordable. Here are some tips:
1. Cut the crap!
2. Take Advantage of Your Credit Cards
- Earn Free Travel: I almost exclusively use my credit cards to spend money. If you’re self-disciplined enough and can pay them off IN FULL every month, then don’t be afraid to ditch your cash and debit in favor of your credit cards. In addition to building your credit, they are more likely to earn you free stuff. In 2011 I flew at least once a month and was able to cover most of my airfare expenses with rewards points from my Chase Rapid Rewards Credit Card for Southwest Airlines. (Chase Sapphire Preferred & Capital One Venture are other highly rated travel rewards cards. I don’t have either of these yet but I did get to reap the benefits of my friend’s Chase Sapphire card on my trip to Bali)
- Let Other People Earn Your Points For You: If you’re renting, ask your landlord or property management company if you can use your credit card to pay rent. I did this for two years in a $1300/mo house (plus another $400-500 in utilities) and had my roommates reimburse me in cash for their portions. In the end, I earned upwards of 40,000 points for expenses that weren’t even my own. That’s a lot of free flying! (Added bonus? I was able to build superb credit.)
- Let Other People Do Your Work: Many credit cards offer a 24/7 Concierge Service via a 1-800 number listed on your card. Within a reasonable limit, the service representatives will do just about anything for you. I had a long layover in L.A. on my way out to Sydney and wanted to get a massage. I called my credit card concierge to find a nearby spa. I gave her a list of requirements including free transportation services so I didn’t have to spend extra money on a cab. It took a five minute conversation to save me an hour of research and at least $30 in cab fares.
3. Make More Friends
One of the things that really helps me is having a well-established network of adventurous friends. Most of my trips are planned around the cities where various friends live or have relatives that would be willing to accommodate me. Most of the time I don’t even have to ask. I just have to make it known that I want to travel. The greatest part about this is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more I travel to see friends, the more friends I make. Which opens doors for even more travel opportunities.
This money-saving tactic also requires a large degree of open-mindedness. It isn’t always realistic to say “I want to spend three weeks in such and such far away city.” If your goal is simply to travel then you’ll be much more willing to jump at random opportunities that come your way. I’ve ended up loving cities that I had no interest in going to and hating cities that I thought I’d fall in love with. But I’ve never regretted any of those trips. You have your whole life to plan that “dream trip”. Enjoy the spontaneity of your youth and just get out there.
4. Work For It
5. It Never Hurts To Ask
6. Invest in good gear
Buying good travel gear doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. In fact, cheap gear usually WILL because you’ll find yourself having to replace it more often. I buy all of my luggage from third party retailers like Ross or TJ Maxx where I’m able to get high-end, dependable luggage at a fraction of the cost. I bought three good pieces in graduating sizes: a backpack, carry-on and full-size suit case.
- Don’t Be A Pack Rat: Nothing cramps a budget traveler’s wallet like hefty baggage fees. Make sure you’re including these costs in your overall budget when choosing your flights. You can also go one step further and perfect the art of traveling light. Don’t get caught up in “what if” thinking. Your luggage is not a mobile home and traveling inevitably means sacrificing some of the conveniences of being at home. Almost anything you forget can be purchased at your destination IF you need it. Don’t fall into the “outfit for every occasion” trap either. Make sure you’re bringing clothes that are versatile and multi-functional. Since every inch of space counts, I also save room by asking for free sample sizes of my prescriptions when I visit my doctors. I throw them in a bin with the rest of my travel-size collection and they’re ready when I need them.
- Be unique: Buy your gear (especially suit cases) in unique patterns or colors so you’re not wasting time playing the conveyor belt guessing game. A matter of minutes can mean the difference between catching your next flight or missing it.
Your turn! Do you have any tips for affordable travel in your 20’s?