How to Hack your Way to Travel Zen

As anyone who travels knows, time and money can be the biggest hindrances to getting out and enjoying the experiences that you dream of having. In my experience, finding the time to travel can prove to be more challenging than raising funds for adventures. This is because there are all sorts of “travel hacks” that can be used to keep costs low when travelling, but pesky adult responsibilities can get in the way of hopping on the next plane.

As I’ve written before, one of the keys to reaching travel Zen is to find ways to love your time at home as much as you love your time abroad. Having achieved that, both your trips and time at home will be more rewarding.

Cycling in Spain on Travel Rewards

Speaking of rewards, in an interview for Riyoko, I described my wonderful trip to Spain where I cycled through the Penedès wine region for 6 days and toured Barcelona with my fiancé Philip. There we were able to keep costs low by “travel hacking” our way to some steep discounts using various rewards programs.

Travel Hacking got us to Spain
Cycling in Spain can be done on a budget

So what is travel hacking? Basically it is taking advantage of promotional offers and reward programs offered by companies to keep your costs low and free up funds for trips. Check out Nomadic Matt’s site for a good rundown of American rewards programs. This post will discuss Canadian options.

Canadian Credit Cards for Travel Hacking

First, I used the TD Canada Trust Infinite Visa bonus introductory offer to get 35000 Aeroplan miles. Often for these cards with an annual fee it is waived during promotional offers so keep your eyes open for a great deal. I also signed up for the American Express Gold Rewards Card for another 25000 miles. With these miles,  I was able to book my round trip airline tickets with the points that I had earned by signing up for the cards. This made my multi-stop trans-Atlantic flight very affordable. With Aeroplan points it’s best to book as early as possible before their fixed price levels sell out and you have to use market fare. Also, there was a minimum spend to get the promotional bonus for both cards, so try to apply for them when you have a big purchase coming up or work with someone else in your household to get to the minimum.

Next, I used my Capital One Aspire MasterCard‘s hassle-free “purchase eraser” function to cover the cost of booking my bike tour with Terra Diversions.  This left me with lots of travel funds to spend on delicious Catalan food and refreshing cava. This card has a $150 a year annual fee, but comes with $400 worth of introductory travel rewards so that’s an easy $250 to add to your travel funds.

Finally, I stopped over in Ottawa on the way back to Canada for a friend’s wedding. There I used the points from the Chase Marriot Rewards Premier Visa to stay three free nights in downtown Ottawa. This card has the added bonus of having no Foreign Currency Transaction Charges when used abroad, immediately saving you 2-3% on your purchases.

This trip could have easily set me back thousands of dollars, but by taking advantage of bonus offers and rewards programs,  I was able to spend over two weeks travelling through Spain and Ottawa for less than $1000 including airfare. If the fees attached to these cards is something that dissuades you, simply put a reminder on your phone to cancel the card before the free introductory year is up so you won’t be charged the fee.

Now I understand that travel hacking may not be for everyone so here are some other tips and tricks that I’ve used for keeping my travel fund well stocked:

Tips for Reducing Travel Expenses

1) Use Hopper for airfare

As soon as you know where you may want to fly, put your intended destination and dates into the Hopper app. It compiles historic pricing information and advises you of past highs and lows for that particular route. If a flight drops in price, the app will send you a notification so you can always be sure to be getting the best fare for your flight.

2) Stay with AirBnB

While hotels are great when they’re free like ours was in Ottawa, they can also be over-priced and generic. Private property rental sites like AirBnB and VRBO provide unique and affordable alternatives to hotels and can include valuable extras like bikes to use for touring around your destination. The place my friends and I rented in Austin, Texas for example, had a nice screened-in porch and came with bikes. As an added bonus, if you click the AirBnB link above, you will get $30 toward your first rental.

Posing in Front of our AirBnB in Austin Texas
Posing in front of our Austin abode

3) Walk, Bike or Take Public Transit

Human powered modes of transportation are the most environmentally friendly, healthy, budget-wise and downright enjoyable ways to explore a new place. Using an app like City Maps 2 Go to navigate will help you make the most of your visit. Further, Writer Erol Ozan said that “you can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.” So pick up a city transit map at a station or use apps like Google Maps, Moovit for the US or Metro Maps for Europe and see the city as the locals do.

Public transit, Mali-style!

4) Pack light

Paying baggage fees is a drag but so is being burdened with things especially if you’re aiming to see your destination by bike or by foot. Bring a few interchangeable pieces and enjoy the freedom that comes with having less stuff to carry around. Packing light has the added bonus of leaving extra room in your bag to bring goodies like Cava and Spanish chocolate back!

Spanish Wine
Pictured: Spanish bounty!

5) Make the most of your time

Since finding the time to travel can be an even bigger challenge than finding the funds to, be sure to make the most of your time when travelling. Avoid unnecessary delays by pre-booking entry for sights online. For example, Philip and I were able to skip massive lines and save 20% off the entry fee to Barcelona’s famous Sagrada di Familia simply by placing an order online the night before. Also, using apps like Open Table to make reservations in restaurants is another way to beat lineups and has the added bonus of earning you points for dining credits.

Reducing the wait time for La Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia without the wait is even better

So there you have some tips and tricks that I’ve used to keep my travel costs low, what are some of your favorite travel hacks?

Cheers to Travel Hacks
Cheers to travel hacks!
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