Budget Travel: 5 Ways I Paid For My Last Vacation

Travel Rewards.

As I shared recently, I was able to fly to Europe for $25 thanks to a credit card sign up bonus.  For the full story on that amazing deal, check out my post, My First Travel Hack.

In addition to my rewards cards I always sign up for hotel, airline, and any other loyalty programs.  I never know which ones are going to add up over time.  I keep track of them all in a little spreadsheet, and when it comes time to plan a trip, I check my “point” balance to see where I can score some freebies.  I’ve claimed many a free flight and hotel stay with this simple tactic.

Subletting My Room.

Renting out a room is one of the easiest ways to make a lot of money with minimal effort.  Any time I leave town, even if it’s just for a month, I always try to get my room subletted so that I can cover rent, at least partially, and use that money for my travels instead.  Luckily, living in New York City, the demand for temporary housing is high, so I’ve never had much trouble finding somebody.  For more on how to go about it, check out my post How To: Sublet Your Room.

Budget Travel: How I Paid For My Last Vacation 

Practical Gifts.

When it comes to the holidays or special gift giving occasions, I have learned that practical gifting is not only a great policy on the giving end but also on the receiving side.  By asking for things I know I need, like cash or grocery store gift cards, I free up money to spend on my “wants” later down the line.  After my Christmas “haul” I was able to save on a whole month of groceries, allowing me to put that huge chunk of my budget towards my travel fund instead.

Company Travel.

Most of my most exotic travels have been subsidized by work.  As a professional actress, I have spent the better part of a few years on the road from Asia to South America to most of the fifty states.  Thanks to my nomadic profession, most flights and hotel stays are covered.  I also pocket as much of my per diem as possible to save for side trips and extra adventures.

This last trip to Europe was courtesy of the boyfriends’ latest gig.  While I had to arrange my flights, most of the hotel cost was covered as I spent the majority of my time there in the company housing.

The Boyfriend.

As I mentioned in the post Love and Money: Long Distance Expenses, my boyfriend helped contribute to the cost of my Eurotrip as I was coming to visit him and he would be unable to fly home to do the same for me.  Sharing the cost of my travel made it possible for us to spend that time together.

What tactics do you use to save on big trips and vacations?

 I keep track of them all in a little spreadsheet, and when it comes time to plan a trip, I check my “point” balance to see where I can score some freebies.


  1. says

    yes, i am all about airbnb and subletting. there are definitely risks involved, however. landlords are using it as a method to kick out renters—if they are illegally renting out their rooms which, for the most part is illegal since renters do not own their apartments.

    • says

      There have been a number of lawsuits in NYC regarding this, specifically for short term stays. But anything more than a month is legal. Thank goodness, otherwise I’d never be able to pursue acting. I don’t get paid enough on the road to pay rent in an apartment I’m not living in.

  2. says

    Love the idea of asking for grocery store gift cards and other practical things that are actually useful! One easy way I’ve saved money on travel is to plan an itinerary ahead of time, I’ve been able to figure out when free museum entrance days are this way as well as solid local happy hours, saving a lot on the things I would be doing anyway.

  3. says

    Credit card bonuses are a great way to get free travel. We also tend to earmark any money made from selling things on EBay or consignment toward travel costs. It’s not spontaneous, but I always try to research and plan as much as possible. I will gladly take public transportation if I know all the routes and how to buy tickets, etc. If I didn’t study, we’d probably have to take more cabs.

    • says

      True. Taking the time to research and study ahead of time can save so much money. I often find myself taking cabs TO hotels and then taking public transit BACK, once I’ve figured out the system.

  4. says

    I love the idea of subletting or renting out your place via Airbnb while on vacation. I have no qualms about having strangers staying in my house. I just need to convince my boyfriend! I’m in the process of building up my Barclay miles right now. I’ve almost reached $600 of rewards. I’m hoping to cover the entire cost of a flight for a trip this summer!

  5. says

    I love the subletting idea. Do you get freaked out by people being in your personal space, though? Do you lock up all your personal paperwork or how do you handle that? (Probably by not being a paranoid weirdo like I am…)

  6. says

    Through a series of business trips and saving of points I was able to book airfare to Hawaii for us to go to a family wedding. I’ve also got hotel points that I’ve been able to use for out of town things like my daughter’s commencement. It feels good to be able to draw on these when you really want to go somewhere. I think my family appreciates it too!

  7. says

    I like your idea of a spreadsheet to keep track of the reward points. I don’t keep track and I’m sure we are missing out on using the points to their full potential. I’ve been curious about renting out a room in our house, but we live in rural England so I need to do some research and see if there is even a market for it. We save by taking advantage of exploring/traveling areas where ever the military sends us. :) We also only eat one meal a day in a restaurant. We incorporate a lot of “free” tourist activities among a couple of paid for activities. Some of the free places have been my favorites!

  8. says

    Will definitely have to look into how you paid $25 for a European flight–SCORE! I love to travel whenever I have the chance… my bf and I have recently started saving each week (1st week of the year = $1; 2nd week of the year = $2). At the end of the year, we should have $2700 to go on a nice vacation together. Also must sign up for more loyalty deals.

    Stopping in today from SITS Sharefest :) Hope you’re enjoying your weekend!

  9. says

    I think we’ve done most of these things, save for the subletting. I don’t know many people in Omaha looking for temporary housing. 😉 We usually save anything we get for birthdays/Christmas to put towards travel and have had a client or two that has connections that can get us fairly nice hotel rooms a few times. Every little bit helps in my opinion.

    • says

      I once couchsurfed in Omaha and my hosts said they had had some people in town for a big Berkshire Hathaway conference just a few days earlier. Maybe if you coordinated your travel with the event/expo schedule you could sublet ;).

  10. says

    I’ve done all of these in some way except for subletting. A friend of mine who lives in DC says that AirBnB completely paid for his last trip to Africa. He just stays over at his girlfriend’s place the night he rents his out.

    Of course, this requires roommates who are cool with it… and a girlfriend

  11. says

    Credit card rewards are the major way I save on travel purchases. There are so many good credit card bonuses out there, just signing up for one every few months and using the points when needed has been my main strategy.

  12. says

    We put almost all of our regular purchases our credit card and use the reward points to help fund our trips. And unless the money is needed elsewhere, we generally use a good chunk of my husband’s yearly bonus to help pay for our vacations too. And then we just do the old-fashioned save to fund whatever amount reward points and bonus don’t cover.

  13. says

    We always ask for practical, travel related gifts for holidays and birthdays, but my family hates giving them! This year, we are trying to go to Italy or central Europe, so we may ask them to buy a Eurotrain ticket or a couple nights in Italy.

  14. says

    My husband works for a big hotel brand, so we get to take advantage of employee discounts on room rates. It’s awesome because we can stay in places that we otherwise wouldn’t, then put the savings towards sightseeing and dining.

  15. says

    I like the practical gift idea. I always tell people to get me grocery gift cards or something like that. My mom actually did this past Christmas, and it was nice not having to pay anything that week. I can’t wait to get into travel rewards. I’m pretty sure we can now pay our rent via credit card, so that will help a lot.

  16. says

    I’m getting more into travel rewards now. I’ve been using credit cards to pay for all my expenses for a while but I didn’t plan strategically for travel as much as I could have. I’m looking forward to racking up some travel bonuses this year for travel in 2015.

    • says

      Now that I’ve cashed in on this one, I’m looking for the next one. I liked the barclay card because it was so flexible with airlines and dates. The other cards all seem to be for one specific airline.

  17. says

    I’ve thought about the whole renting my room out, but with my cat and other personal things, I’ve been afraid to do it. How do you feel comfortable trusting strangers? When I travel I almost always try to find someone to stay with. That’s been one huge benefit of blogging…knowing people all over the world! And of course cc churning for airline miles!

    • says

      I’ve probably subletted my room out to 15-20 people in the last 6 years and have never had an issue with theft or damage. Some people are cleaner than others, but it’s never been a problem.

  18. says

    Travel rewards are by far my favorite way to pay for travel, as there is so much you can do with them if you have a flexible rewards plan. I just use my credit card(s) for everything, pay it off at the end of each month to avoid interest charges, and reap the benefits. I wish I could travel for my work!

  19. says

    Very nicely done! Have you ever used Award Wallet to keep track of your points (it’s like Mint or Personal Capital, but for points)? I use it now, but honestly, I’m not sold on it. There are too many services that don’t allow Award Wallet to connect. Just wanted to get your take on it if you have used it.

    • says

      Hmmm, I haven’t tried it, but maybe I should. I have A LOT of loyalty programs but it would frustrate me if they weren’t all on there. I stopped using mint because they were having a long running issue with TradeKing so I could never get my full financial snapshot.


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