Recharge With a Vacation (Without Breaking the Bank)

For me, travel is fuel for my imaginative spirit. It allows me to escape the repetition of daily life and disconnect. It also recharges me, helps to generate ideas for my writing, pushes me beyond my comfort zone, and allows me to learn and engage with the world beyond my immediate boundaries. Generally somewhere along the way, I learn different and often better ways of doing things. I usually come back less stressed and a much better employee than when I left (see below for more information on that). Overall, it just makes me a better person.

But, perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness … broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”

However, I’ve recently embarked on a journey of financial stability and freedom. I have a detailed and strict monthly budget that I follow, which makes taking a vacation a challenge. So, I did what any intelligent millennial would do – I got creative.

This is exactly what happened this past week when I took a nine-day trek through the U.K. to visit a friend who recently moved to England. To save for my trip, I eliminated all of the frivolous first-world luxuries that I probably don’t need anyway: Pedicures and manicures, Starbucks, new clothes and meals out. I even changed my plan with Verizon, switching to an unlimited data plan to lower my monthly phone bill. As I mentioned, the key to traveling while on a budget is creativity, and that means financial creativity in all areas of your life (including your phone bill).

Also, I said goodbye to four-star hotels and hello to budget hotel rooms and my friend’s air mattress.

My friend booked our two-night stay in London using her company’s hotel discount code. I also tagged along with her on an unexpected work trip to Scotland, which meant I didn’t have to spend money on a hotel; I also found cheap airfare to Scotland on a budget airline. For the final leg of the trip, I stayed at my friend’s house on her air mattress.

What I lost in luxury, I made up for in adventure. And by staying with my friend for the week, I was able to see how the local Brits live – an experience that isn’t afforded when staying at a hotel.

Here are some other travel tips that can help you make traveling while on a budget possible:

  • Pick destinations where you can stay with friends or family.

  • Travel in the middle of the week when flights are cheaper. Tuesday and Wednesday tend to be the cheapest days for travel.

  • Join Facebook groups that alert you to travel deals.

  • Use Airbnb.com. You can often get a room for much cheaper than a hotel.

  • Travel during the off-season.

  • Book your flight several months in advance. I booked mine in December and paid $626 from D.C. to Heathrow. Not bad if you ask me.

  • Pack light and only take a carry-on. Some airlines charge for a carry-on, but plenty of them still don’t.

  • Spend your points on airline tickets.

  • Use budget airlines.

  • Eat the free breakfast at your hotel.

  • Traveling abroad? Visit cheap countries where the dollar is strong. (England didn’t meet the mark here, but plenty of other countries do - Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, South Africa, to name a few.

  • Avoid foreign transaction fees that often charge 3% of your purchase by getting a no-fee credit or debit card.

  • Visit smaller towns and villages. They tend to be cheaper than large cities.

  • Find inexpensive happy hours.

  • Skip the pricey souvenirs and mail postcards to friends and family instead.

If you still can’t afford a flight, take a road trip instead. If you can’t afford a road trip, take a day off, stay local, go on a bike ride or have a picnic. What’s most important is that you allow yourself a break, which is often a challenge for many Americans.

If you still need a push to take time off, consider this: “Employees who take most or all of their vacation time each year perform better, are more productive and more satisfied in their jobs than those who do not,” according to a study called “Vacations Impact on the Workplace” conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management for Project: Time Off.

Project: Time Off released another study called “The State of American Vacation: How Vacation Became a Casualty of Our Work Culture.” The report revealed that in 2015, 55% of Americans did not use all their vacation. The report went on to say, “The amount of time taken also shows a clear correlation to happiness at home. The more vacation days used, the lower the stress.”

So, do yourself and your employer a favor – take a vacation and use my tips to make it more affordable.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Credit Union Times.