Two of the questions I am asked most is "What do we do for a living?" and "How do we afford to travel so much?" and while I do respond to these inquires individually I have been avoiding writing a post on it. The reason is because I know how things can come across over the internet and I never want anyone to misconstrue my words or take them the wrong way. With that said, I feel it's time to address these questions, but before I begin please know I don't mean to come off in a condescending way or offend anyone. This is my families truth and I don't expect anyone else to live the way we do but this is how we manage to travel "so much".
What We Do for a Living
Both my husband and I work regular full-time M-F, 8-5 desk jobs. I work in HR as a recruiter and my husband works in sales. We are very blessed to both be gainfully employed but we are not rich by any means. We are able to afford to travel by having a dedicated travel savings account, strict budgets, only purchasing flight deals, and using credit card sign-up bonuses and airline miles to get flights/hotels for free.
How We Afford to Travel
Dedicated Travel Savings Account
The number one way we afford to travel is with a dedicated savings account for travel. Each month we set aside an established amount to go into our travel fund, that way when a flight deal comes up we have the cash to pay for it.
In order to have money to put in our travel savings account we have very strict budgets. We sacrifice and made some serious changes in our lifestyles because we love to travel and made the conscious effort to choose travel over things we personally deem less important. You know what you spend the most on and where your family can cut back but here are the things we decided to give up to have the cash to travel. To keep track of our budgeting we use mint.com. Mint allows you to set budgets, goals, and see how you are staying within budget and how close you are to reaching your savings goals.
Giving Up Cable
We nixed our expensive cable bill and only have internet with Netflix and Hulu. We never got to watch live t.v. anyway due to cooking dinner, bathing the kids, reading them stories etc. so it just made sense for us to cut the cord and put those savings (about $100/month) towards travel.
Cooking vs. Eating Out
Another way we save for travel is by cooking most meals at home. One year I looked at our credit cards' year in review and was like, but how did we spend $5,000 eating out?! $5,000 is just $13.69/day which doesn't seem like a lot when your meal is just $14 but over time it adds up and we've never spent $5,000 on a vacation so that's more than enough for a trip. I'd be lying if I said we never eat out but we keep it to a minimum. We try to cook or eat leftovers at least 6 nights a week and bring our lunch to work every day.
When we don't cook, we try to limit it to ordering take out, 1 or 2 large pizzas is much cheaper than the 4 of us dining at a restaurant. I have definitely hit my friends with the "sorry I maxed out my eating out budget for the month already buy y'all can come over and we can cook and chill."
Car Pool to Work
I work in downtown Miami which not only means you'll be sitting in traffic for at least an hour but it means filling up my gas tank once a week and spending a crap ton on tolls. Instead, I choose to park my car at the Park N Ride and take the 95 Express Bus to work. It's a coach bus with wifi and power outlets and since my job subsidizes our pass it's only $47.50/month for unlimited rides. Since I don't have to drive 40miles a day roundtrip to work I only fill up my tank once a month. Plus I get to do all my blogging on my commute and the nightmare traffic doesn't bother me as much since I'm not behind the wheel. My husband carpools to work and because of this receives benefits from the city for doing so, including free tolls in the 95 Express Lane.
Experiences over Material Items
In our household we choose experiences over material items. For us this means choosing to travel over purchasing designer items, expensive gifts, and hosting extravagant events. We shop sales, purchase for our needs over wants, and put whatever is left into our travel savings account. While both the girls had small 1st birthday parties at home, we haven't thrown them another one. Instead we spend the money we would have on the party on trips like Jordyn's 2nd birthday where we visited Barbados. She is obsessed with the beach and she even got to go snorkeling for the first time. For Christmas we get them things that they need and avoid expensive toys that will likely only keep them entertained for a short period of time. This is not to say we don't buy our kids toys at all just that we feel there are only but some many toys a child needs so we limit those purchases.
You know best what you spend a lot of money on and where you can cut back. That could be your daily cup of Starbucks coffee, spending a lot on alcohol at bars, or any other spending you can reduce.
Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses
This year we were able to use points from credit card sign-up bonuses to pay for our flights to Thailand, our hotel in Chiang Mai, half of our flights to Amsterdam, and 2 of our flights to Cuba. I only suggest using credit card sign-up bonuses to assist with getting flights for free if you will 100% pay your monthly balance off in full each month. If you can't, the bonus will not be worth it as you will end up paying interest on your purchases, canceling out the benefits of the bonus.
The key to meeting the minimum spend on travel credit cards it to line up obtaining a new card with a big purchase you have to make or by making sure your everyday purchases will meet the minimum spend. For us, just by being a family of 4, it's usually pretty easy to hit the minimum spend on new credit cards with our every day purchases with all of our monthly expenses. We charge everything including gas, internet, groceries, daycare, activities, home supplies, baby supplies, and so forth. You typically have 3-4 months to meet a $3,000 spend to receive the bonus points plus you will end points on the charges made. Travel credit cards typically offer 2-3 points/miles for every dollar spent on dining and travel and 1 point/mile for all other charges.
When we got the Chase Sapphire Reserve at the end of last year when we needed to purchase something for our home. This earned us 100,000 miles at the sign-up bonus which equals to $1500 towards travel when redeeming your miles on the Chase Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards website. That $1500 paid for our flights to Thailand after we snagged a flight deal on Qatar Airways from Miami.
I also signed up for the Delta Skymiles AMEX when their sign up bonus was 60,000 miles. When booking flights directly on delta.com and using your Delta Skymiles AMEX to purchase eligible flights, every 5,000 Skymiles gets you $50 off your flight. Delta had a sale from Miami to Amsterdam for $400 but with our 60,000 miles we got $600 off our flights for a grand total of $673 for all 4 of us to travel roundtrip.
The Delta Skymiles AMEX' current special earns you 50,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you make an additional $1,000 in purchases within your first 6 months. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year. To get this deal sign up here. (Delta is not a sponsor of this post but it's a good deal.)
We get 2-3 new credit cards per year to offset the costs of our travels. As we are sure to pay off your credit card balance in full each month this hasn't negatively affected our credit. One thing you don't want to have is a ton of annual fees on credit cards every year so if the card we have applied for has an annual fee we downgrade the card to the no annual fee version prior to the annual fee for the next year kicking in. If there isn't a lower version of the card we determine if the benefits are worth the fee and if not we cancel the card. These are just our experiences and of course you need to know your credit and your circumstances to know if this is a viable option for you but it has saved us over $3,000 on travel this year.
If you aren't good with paying your balance in full please stay away from travel credit cards as the interest fees will outweigh the benefits of earning miles.
We Only Book Flight Deals
We are able to afford travel by only purchasing flight deals. Instead of picking where and when we want to go somewhere we let flight deals dictate where we will go. For instance my husband has always wanted to go to Amsterdam so when a flight deal came up on Delta airlines I thought it would be a great surprise birthday trip for him. My husbands birthday is in July but the flight deal was only valid for travel from August-October. The deal was for $400RT from MIA to AMS and we would end up being there 3 weeks after my husbands birthday. Our options were to pay $400RT per person or pay $1200RT per person just to be there on his actual birthday. Yes that would have been nice but saving $800 per ticket was way better. To top it off if you have the Delta Skymiles AMEX some flights are eligible to get $50 off your flight for every 5,000 skymiles you have. As I got the Delta AMEX earlier in the year and satisfied the spend to earn the sign-up bonus of 60,000 Skymiles we got $600 off the 3 tickets we had to buy. Instead of paying $1200 we spent $673 ($73 for the taxes for Kennedy's lap infant ticket) for our family of 4 to visit Amsterdam.
Domestic flight deals have been as low as $80RT from NYC/MIA to Chicago, $48RT from MIA to ATL, $130RT from PHL to LAX and more.
Our maximum spend for international flights is $500RT per person but most deals we book cap out at $450. We got a flight deal to the Barbados for $175RT on JetBlue and visited Colombia for $183RT and we have only gone over our max twice. These were for a flight to Australia for $580 and the recent flight deal we purchased to Kenya for $550. As Australia is typically $1500+ this was still an amazing deal and we will be in Kenya during the summer to witness the great migration so $50 over was worth it.
Frequent Flier Accounts
As we only book flight deals we aren't airline loyal however, we still have frequent flier accounts with multiple airlines. Airlines belong to alliances so you can pool are your points from airlines in one alliance to one specific airline that you find yourself flying more often. As an example on our recent trip to Europe we flew Virgin Atlantic there and Air France back- they are both apart of Skyteam and so is Delta Airlines. Since we fly Delta the most out of those 3 I had all our miles earned from those flights added to our Delta Skymiles account balance. The three alliances are Skyteam, OneWorld, and Star Alliance.
Earning miles on every flight helps with offsetting the cost of future trips. The 57,000 miles I had on my American Airlines frequent flier account (50,000 from the Citi Advantage sign-up bonus) was enough to get Jordyn and I's flight to Grand Cayman that we will be taking next month. Only having to pay for our flights back home reduced the overall cost of our trip and is making it more affordable.
Saving on Accommodations
We rarely stay in hotels (we do in the Caribbean as we like to be on the beach) and typically opt to stay in vacation homes such as rentals through Airbnb. They are cheaper, give us more space for the kids to run around, and come equipped with a full kitchen allowing up to cook some meals while on vacation saving us from eating out for our entire trip. Want to try Airbnb, click here for $40 off your first stay.
Don't be afraid to ask your Airbnb host for a discount. If you have a particular budget in mind contact your host and tell them why you love their place and if they can reduce the nightly fee a little bit to accommodate your budget. That's the great thing about Airbnb, the home rentals are typically ran by real people/families and they are typically willing to help as long as you don't insult them and ask for 50% off. We recently asked an Airbnb host for a discount as they charge per person and they reduced the price by $33/night to give us a discount on the per person fee for the kids. For our 3 night stay that $99 can now go towards something else.
Only Book Cruises with Specials
In addition to only booking flight deals, you should only book a cruise when they have a special. Many cruise lines offer promotions throughout the year where kids (12 and under) sail free of the 3rd and 4th guest in a cabin sail free (regardless of age). This is the perfect time to book a vacation especially for large families who can take advantage of kids sailing free.
Travel with Friends/Family
Splitting costs with others always makes things cheaper. While traveling you can save on accommodations and transportation at your destination when traveling with a group. Whether you are staying in a hotel or Airbnb splitting the cost 2-6 ways will always be cheaper than staying alone. On our recent trip to Grand Cayman it was a mommy/daughter weekend so my friend and I split the hotel room making our $200/night room only $100/night for each of us, savings we used on our activities. In Cuba we split an Airbnb among 6 friends and also shared taxis so we saved a ton on transportation as well. When we fly with friends/family we try to all land/depart at the same time to also save on transportation to/from the airport whether we share a taxi or a private shuttle. Renting a car at your destination is also cheaper if you are splitting the rental multiple ways.
This is how we afford to travel. I hope I've shed some light on what we do and how we are able to travel frequently as full-time working parents.
What expenses can you reduce to put towards travel? Drop your goals in the comments!
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