During the 2014 holiday season, I made a resolution to travel at least once a month in 2015. It sounded exciting at first when I was booking my first flight, but I soon realized this would be quite daunting to accomplish. Naturally, as the year came to an end I, like the rest of the population, reflected on 2015.
Throughout the year I had people constantly asking me how I did it; they had every reason to be curious. I was just starting off my career as well as founding my own blog on the side. And I definitely did not have a ridiculous amount of discretionary income to throw at hotels and airlines.
Sometimes it even felt like I was out of town more than I was in town, because when I was "home" I was mentally preparing for my next vacation or planning the one after that. And at the end of the year, I had 14 of them.
Granted, this is all easier because I am a single woman without anyone depending on me. This was one of the reasons I wanted to take advantage of this time in my life before the responsibilities outnumbered the vacation days. This was the time to do it and I didn't want to wait to explore past my comfort zone.
So I used my resilient urge to wander and over the course of the year I had gone to Atlanta (twice), New York, Austin, Washington D.C., Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Nashville, Providence/Newport, Los Angeles and New Orleans. And somehow I still had HR insisting I use my leftover vacation days in December.
Interested in the method? This is what I suggest for anyone looking to travel more in 2016 while maintaining a career and life:
- For travel within the US, fly out on Thursday night and return on Sunday night. This way, you only use one vacation day and have three full days in a city which is usually more than enough.
- Take advantage of Wi-Fi on flights. Mondays back in the office can seem like a nightmare with a mountain of emails; use your time on planes to make a dent in your inbox.
- Travel places where your friends live. Believe it or not, I only paid for three hotels out of the 14 trips I took. By reaching out, I got to see old friends as well as new cities. Plus, it's a free tour guide!
- Get a travel rewards card. Do this immediately if you have yet to do so. I've managed to get three flights with points since activating mine that year.
- Plan ahead. People usually think I'm crazy for my incessant planning. In this case, it went to good use. I found great deals, gave myself enough time between trips, and knew exactly what I was going to see in the short time I had.
- Combine international travel with a U.S. holiday. By using a holiday you're getting a vacation day for free, and because it's a US holiday you won't have to deal with travel craziness going to other countries.
- Stay in hostels internationally. This summer was my first experience and I couldn't rave about it more. I paid $50 for two nights in an amazing city where I got to meet equally amazing people at my doorstep.
- Rollover vacation days. If your company gives you this option -- do it. I worked through the holidays in 2014 to start the year with five additional vacation days.
- Walk or use public transportation. You'll see more by walking the streets than taking a cab, and you could use the extra money to buy something more worthwhile. I don't suggest renting a car and dealing with insurance unless you really need to.
- Manipulate vacations. Being sent somewhere for work? See if you could extend it a few days out of your own pocket to see more, or visit a city nearby. Alternatively, if you take a vacation and notice a layover in a city that peaks your interest... test out flight options to stop in that city for a few days on the way.
- Set travel alerts. You never know when a flight will suddenly drop or when an airline will do a special one-day deal (i.e. I recently got a roundtrip for $76).
- Use a carry on. Most airlines now charge for a checked bag. Pack lightly in a carry-on and bring a backpack for support. This also saves you time at your destination.
- Be positive. Stuff will happen. Flights get delayed. Baggage gets misplaced. Things get expensive. Uber gets lost. The key is to stay positive because wasting your sanity is worse than wasting your money.
But how did I really do it? I chose what was important to me -- and that was seeing more of the world. I put it first because, at the end of the day, when I had returned home feigning exhaustion, I was already missing the city I left behind.
Traveling made me a better person, and for that, I was grateful to lose out on sleep and travel dollars. The money I spent and the time I used wasn't remotely close to what I had gained in experience.
I am a wiser person today because I have seen the world -- really seen it -- from different vantage points; not even in just 2015, and I'm definitely not stopping there, either.
Sure, I gave up many weekends, said no to many purchases, skimped where I could so I could spend where I wanted to, worked my ass off at work, and became a pro at packing. Still, in the end, I wouldn't trade my carry-on bag or the bags under my eyes for anything.
So, yes, it's possible to be headfirst in the real world and still go see the world. The question is, are you up for the challenge?
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