What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I've been traveling for more than a month now. While much of this travel has been for pleasure — I spent three weeks in Turkey with my cousin — there's been plenty of work involved too. While I've been traveling, I've also been writing — and networking with other bloggers. Over the past month, I've attended two conferences, and spent three days meeting with folks in New York.

Note: Some of you have been craving more of my voice around Get Rich Slowly. That's not going to happen. But if you're really wanting to read what I write, check out More Than Money, where I'm writing about travel, blogging, and anything else that tickles my pickle.

FinCon 2012
In early September at FinCon 2012 (the financial blogger conference), I spoke about the future of financial blogging. While there, I reconnected with many of my colleagues, including Jim from Bargaineering, Flexo from Consumerism Commentary, Adam from Man vs. Debt, Ramit from I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Neal Frankle (the Wealth Pilgrim), and Kylie Ofiu (an Australian personal finance blogger).

At FinCon, I also met two new people who really impressed me.

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Why I Love Budget Travel

I love budget travel. Maybe it's from watching too many episodes of Europe Through the Backdoor and drinking the Rick Steves Kool-Aid, but I wonder if you'll believe me when I tell you that I wouldn't travel any other way.

Last year I was considering taking a trip with friends — an all-inclusive spa vacation at a fancy resort. Ultimately I declined because all of the selling points — meals included, C ondé Nast Traveler seal of approval, fancy spa treatments — were actually drawbacks for me. There's nothing wrong with all-inclusive trips, mind you. They're easy to plan, and you don't have to worry about where you'll eat or how you'll get from point A to point B. They're a good option for a lot of people, and even culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain has sung the praises of staying put and vegging out.

But our vacation dollars are limited, and my husband and I like to explore. The trip would have cost double what we paid for our honeymoon to the same destination (literally right down the beach), and the honeymoon included scuba diving, cooking classes, and renting a car — things we'd have to pay extra for if we took the spa trip. I also thought about how we enjoy checking out local restaurants, but with an all-inclusive meal plan, we'd be paying for meals that were essentially covered in the trip package.


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A Month of Travel for Less than a Month at Home

It was always my dream to be paid to travel. I thought I'd write guidebooks or be a tour guide. A few years ago, my wanderlust was acting up again, so I crunched some numbers, adding up the cost of living where I was (New York) versus traveling for month. With some careful planning, I spent a month in Paris and ended up with more money than when I left.

The cost of staying in one place

I'm sure most of us know our monthly expenditures. Rent, utilities, Internet, cable, Netflix, gym membership, gas, cellphone, and the list goes on. Granted, all of us have different interests and different monthly expenditures, but there's usually a basic bottom line for all of us. I thought if I could zero that out, then a month away would become more of a reality. Living in New York made it easy to sublet my apartment for a one-month stint. I raised my rent price a couple hundred dollars to cover my utilities, Internet, and cable. I put my Netflix and gym memberships on hold, and at the time, pay-as-you-go was all the rage so my cellphone had no contract. My car stayed parked out back and my gas expense dropped to zero. My monthly expenses dropped from around $1,500 to nothing at all.

I knew I wanted to be centrally located in Paris, but didn't need much more. On Craigslist I found a lot of graduate and doctorate students who had to travel for their dissertations. They were looking to rent out their apartments for cheap, real cheap, just so their rent wouldn't be a total loss. Not only that, most everyone I talked to was willing to negotiate. I ended up with a small room on the top floor of the building (the former maid's room) for €150 a month, less than a fourth of my rent back home. The student was traveling to Africa and was happy to have someone to watch his cat. (If you want to go even cheaper than that, you can try house-sitting. Friends of mine have been paid to stay in beach houses in the Caribbean or mountain homes in Montana. I have yet to do this myself, so I'm curious if any of you have stories.)

Food, and becoming the invited guest

When I travel, everything is new. Yes, five-star restaurants are appealing, but street food gives me the most pleasure. Some of my best meals had been Nutella crepes and crusty baguettes, often for less than €3. At home, not only was I prone to $8 burritos when I didn't have a chance to make something after work, but I'd also have a small dinner party for friends at least once a month. This often meant having either wine or liquor and cooking for five, a lot pricier than cooking for one.

When abroad, I'm usually the one who's asked to dinner. Through volunteer work, attending free book readings, or helping someone carry groceries down the street, I found myself being the invited guest to at least one dinner party a week, and it was a great way to try some of the traditional French dishes, learn the language, and interact with people. Put yourself out there, learn some niceties, and you might be surprised how willing people are to want to share their culture and open their doors.

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How I Save Money While Traveling

Many people think travel is expensive, that it's too costly for the average person to enjoy. To many people, a trip around the world or a long vacation might seem like a good idea, but it simply isn't affordable. I'm here to tell you that view is wrong.

You can afford it. I know you can. I've been traveling across the globe for five years. I don't have some rich uncle, haven't won the lottery, and don't have my parents pay the bills, yet I've managed to travel debt-free for five years thanks to a combination of savings and working overseas.

Since I travel on a tight budget, I've found creative ways to keep my costs down without sacrificing comfort or quality. After all, what's the point of going to Italy if you can't afford the food? Why visit Brazil and not see the Amazon? I learned to dive before going to Australia; I wasn't going to miss the Great Barrier Reef.

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Everything You Need to Know about Using Credit Card Bonuses for Free Travel

The following guest post is by Craig Ford. Craig blogs at Help Me Travel Cheap where he helps newbies turn credit card sign-up bonuses into free travel.

To entice you to sign up for a credit card most credit card companies offer a sign-up bonus.

The sign-up bonus is the life blood for a growing population of American travelers. They scour the web looking for the best credit cards with sign up bonuses. They get the cards, get the bonuses, and turn a single credit card application into a vacation that most of us only dream of taking.

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Hostels for adults: Spend travel money where it counts

When I was 23, I stayed at my first (and last) Ritz Carlton, in Palo Alto. It was only a stop on a string of fabulous business hotels from which I'd collected small bars of soap and shoe shine mitts: The Breakers in Palm Beach, Hotel Nikko Beverly Hills, the Pierre and the Plaza and the Waldorf-Astoria and three different W Hotels in New York City — I could go on. Fan-freaking-tastic.

I loved it, but as I was traveling on business, I rarely got to experience much more than the heady delight of opening the door to a room that cost way more than my shoes (even my nicest shoes). I wasn't paying the bill, ultimately; but I would have to pay out of pocket for things such as:

  • minibar purchases ($7 for a candy bar at the W?)
  • phone calls (before the days of ubiquitous cell phones, I think I spent $14.98 for one call)
  • valet tips (evidently $5 is a starting rate at these fancy places)
  • breakfast ($10 for granola, $12 if you want milk)

Now that I'm an adult traveling on my own dime, I stay at hostels. Continue reading...

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Why I love the megabus: A closer look at a seldom-used (but cheap!) way to travel

I'm in the middle of a month-long trip to the East Coast: a little work, but mostly tourism. Although the conference I attended was in New York City, I flew to Philadelphia because it'll be easier for me to get back there after I've hung out with family and friends.

That meant I needed to get myself from Philly to New York, from there down to Washington, D.C., and then back up to Philly to do my visiting. The total cost of those three trips was — wait for it — three dollars and fifty cents.

That is not a typo. I spent $1 for each of the three tickets and 50 cents to book them.

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Get the Most Mileage from Frequent Flier Rewards

Four years ago, I became a member of a frequent flier program. I'd just returned from my first trip to Europe, and I had been bitten by the travel bug. My former boss insisted that I sign up — she goes on great vacations every year and always uses miles to pay for her flights.

Flash forward to the beginning of this summer, when I redeemed my miles for three tickets to Europe which cost about $120 each, including processing fees as well as the annual fee on my rewards credit card for the last few years (the card is tied to the airline program and awards points with every purchase made on the card). It's a great deal to be sure, considering that we paid about $1,250 for a ticket the last time we hopped across the pond. This was long before I knew anything about smaller booking sites and how to find cheaper flights.

Some turbulence
Redeeming miles wasn't a piece of cake. In fact, we ended up booking part of the trip through another airline because the available flights that started in our hometown and ended at our desired destination were just plain nuts. Four connections, long delays, and a jaunt from LaGuardia to JFK, and I don't mean a connecting flight between the two airports, I mean we would have had to arrange to get ourselves from one airport to another to catch the next flight. Um, no thank you. An almost-free flight isn't worth that much hassle. Continue reading...

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How to learn a foreign language without spending a cent

Last week at Far Away Places (my new travel blog), I shared some tips on how to learn Spanish fast. The short version: Hire a tutor. But what if you can't afford a tutor? What if you don't want to spend money but still want to learn a language? In this guest post from Benny Lewis, the Irish polyglot, he shares tips on how to learn a language on the cheap. For more info, visit Benny's site, Fluent in 3 Months.

You don't need to spend a lot on books and software to learn a foreign languageWouldn't it be great if you could effortlessly communicate in another language? For many people, this seems like a pipe dream. We aren't going to wake up one day (à la Jason Bourne) suddenly fluent in a bunch of languages, and we can't download them into our brain instantaneously like they do in The Matrix. Such dramatic changes aren't possible.

However, it is possible for the average adult to learn to speak a foreign language confidently in a relatively short time.<

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Geographic arbitrage: Save money by leaving the country

Let's start with the obvious: Costs aren't the same everywhere.

You may already be aware of this on some level, but until you've traveled extensively, it isn't something you really understand. The cost of living in major cities can vary by as much as 500% or 1000%, depending on how you want to live. I've found that it's almost impossible to reduce your living expenses as much as you can by living overseas.

Leaving the U.S. and choosing to live abroad (assuming you live in the right place) is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce the amount of money you spend. Period. Yes, it requires changes and sacrifices in other areas of your life, but if you're looking for adventure and to radically cut your costs, nothing can beat living overseas.

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More about...Travel, Home & Garden