Last year, I went on 17 trips spanning 6 countries over 89 days (a quarter of a year!), with a full-time job. How did I do it?
Tip #1: Pay nothing, or almost nothing for accommodation
Accommodation for 10 out of my 17 trips were free, 5 I paid for, and 2 were for work.
How were they free? I either had friends or family in the cities I visited who I crashed with, or I tagged along when friends/family had work trips (i.e. free accommodation!).
Tip #1.1: Be shameless
In the case of San Francisco, a family member was going to be there for work, however flights were cheaper if I arrived a day earlier. So, I used Facebook’s Graph Search to see if I knew anybody who lived in SF. Turns out I did, but I wasn’t particularly close to any of them. Still, I pinged an acquaintance from college asking if I could crash on his couch for a night. He and his housemates graciously agreed and even brought me around town – we ended up having a great time!
Tip #1.2: Be kind
A good friend said I’m crazy and that he would never do what I did. But thing is, when the roles are reversed, I would do the same. In 2015 I hosted 1 stranger and 1 acquaintance in my tiny, maybe 500 sq ft apartment. Said stranger was introduced by an acquaintance, and upon his (!) arrival he promptly asked why I decided host a stranger. I then told him about my experience with Couchsurfing (once in 2013), and I was paying it forward.
Tip #1.3: Sharing is caring
And, it’s cheaper. When I do pay for accommodation, it’s typically through sites like Airbnb¹ or HomeAway, VRBO. If you have a couple of people traveling with you, it’s very cost-effective to book an entire apartment or house. I’ve typically paid ~$50 CAD/person a night this way. If you’re traveling with someone you don’t mind sharing a room or bed with, it’ll get even cheaper. My sister and I each spent $35 CAD/night in NY and $40 in Seattle via Airbnb. Or, try Couchsurfing – it’s free!
I personally try and save on accommodation as I really only use it to crash at night, and I rather spend on activities, food. Though in true Canadian style, 2 of the 17 trips were at Summer and Winter chalets, and a third was a campsite – so in those cases I did spend a significant amount of time at the dwelling. You know the drill: barbecue, s’mores, card/board games, and drinks.
Tip #2: Leverage points from credit cards and loyalty cards
I think everyone has that friend with a thick wallet full of loyalty cards from every burger joint, drugstore, you name it. When you are out with this friend, at the cash paying for something you bought, s/he is also the one to whip out the appropriate card when you’re being asked if you have XYZ’s point card. Yup – that’s me.
But look what it got me? 3 free flights last year! A Montreal-LA return flight, as well as a one-way ticket from Montreal to Singapore. The former is from years of being with RBC but the latter I quickly got from having my American Express Gold Rewards Card for less than a year! That flight cost me 31,900 points, 25,000 of which I got simply for signing up (and charging $500 in the first 3 months of membership). The first year’s fee is waived + my lucky friend who referred me got 15,000 in points, though they’ve now stopped that program. In 2015, greedyrates.ca deemed it the winner of Best Flexible Travel Credit Card in Canada, and MoneySense wrote that it’s your best bet if you’re a fan of the Aeroplan rewards program. Rewards Canada also named it the #1 Travel Rewards Card for 2016 – this site is great to get an overview of the options available, while MoneySense goes into a bit more depth in an easy-to-absorb infographic-type style. 5th (last) on Rewards Canada’s list in the catgeory of Top Hybrid Card (with annual fee) is the RBC Visa Platinum Avion, which I have as well. It gives you 15,00 points for signing up and the first year’s fee is also waived.
A lot of these travel-oriented cards offer 2 points for every dollar spent on travel. However I am also that friend who’s happy to front the bill at restaurants and such (for points! Even though it’s 1:1 not 2:1) to be paid back in cash by friends. Hee.
But hang on. 3 free flights, 17 trips? So in 2015 I actually took:
18 planes, 11 cars, 9 buses, 6 trains, and 2 boats.
2 of these planes and 2 of these trains were for work.
I don’t own a car (though I am a member of 2 car-share services), so, back to Tip #1.3: Sharing is caring, carpool! Splitting gas is very cost-effective for all parties. Driving time can also be divvied up, else definitely thank the driver in kind!
North American train companies, ViaRail and Amtrak are very reasonably priced, especially if tickets are purchased somewhat in advance. Trains are comfier than busses and they typically have wifi and a food cart, though it may take you slightly longer to get to your destination than a bus. From Montreal, it is faster to go to Toronto by train than bus, but slower to go to New York by train than bus.
North American bus companies Greyhound and Megabus are arguably the cheapest way to travel, though if you have enough people in a car, carpooling is cheaper. Megabus’ slogan is “Low Cost Bus Tickets From $1”, but I personally have not been lucky enough to come across that.
Tip #3: Stretch your days
Leverage holidays and statutory holidays. Combine them with weekends to go on short trips. Or take off in lieu for working overtime or through a holiday. Of the 89 days I traveled in 2015, 38 were weekends, 15 were vacation days, 15 were days I worked remotely, 10 were for work trips, and 11 were holidays/office closure. (I recognize I’m very lucky to have worked in a company which closes from Christmas Eve till the first Monday in January.)
Negotiate with your boss
Odds are if you’re working at a desk, on a computer, you can also do whatever it is that you’re doing remotely. The past few years I’ve worked remotely from Singapore for 2 weeks to a month of the year. With a 12/13 hour time difference, there was many a time where I had to run to a cyber cafe during or after dinner/drinks to Skype with my team, but that’s a small price that I’m willing to pay.
Making it all work
I live in a very particular way: I have no mortgage, no car, no designer handbags, or Spotify premium. I make travel the forefront of everything I do. I’ve gotten comments that I must not like Montreal or my apartment if I’m going away every chance I get. That’s not true – I do, I really do. Look at this view from my apartment:
What’s not to love? But I also love exploring… Seeing/trying new things. I crave it. So I make it my #1 priority. #dontstopmoving.
I believe a common piece of advice that older folks would give their younger self is to travel more, which, I hope to have shown is very do-able both time-wise, and money-wise.
To recap, you too can travel tons with a full-time job by:
- Being smart/cheap about accommodation
- Milking dem loyalty points
- Making the most of your days
Where will 2016 take you? Where will it take me? Follow my travels on Twitter/Instagram @nicolejfu
P.p.s. If you’re curious where I went, for how long, etc, here is a Google Sheet with more deets.
¹Use my referral to get $28 CAD off your first Airbnb stay!