Last week I posted about maximizing your lifestyle abroad by focusing on staying for long periods in countries that are relatively cheap for Americans or people from rich countries who either have a mobile lifestyle of are retired. With the strength of the dollar at levels not seen since the early 2000’s though, I think this is a good time to leverage your dollars internationally for vacation as well.
It is not just that the dollar is strong. There are more tools now than ever to drive down the cost of an international travel experience, from credit card miles programs to staying in someone’s home via Air BnB to loyalty rewards programs. I would like to go over a few tips that blend my own perspective on how to maximize your vacation abroad.
Whenever you talk about international travel this is the first thing people bring up, the cost of getting there. However there is a community of people that have sprung up which use the benefits accrued from airline miles credit cards. Sites like One Mile at A Time or The Points Guy can give you a good introduction to the culture of credit card churning, where people apply for a credit card, accrue and use the 1st year benefits and then cancel the cards before the annual fee is due the next year (it’s usually waived or reduced the first year).
The hottest deal right now seems to be a 100,000 bonus points deal from Chase Sapphire. The value of these points is that they can be converted into miles on a one to one basis for many airlines’ frequent flyer programs. That is the equivalent of flying 100,000 miles in a year, which on some airlines will get you some special status. This will take some work on your part though which requires dedication. A co-worker of mine recently spotted the Chase deal at the same time as a United Business Class fare deal at 80,000 points for a round trip business class ticket to Singapore from New York on one of United’s partner airlines. After paying the $21 in tax he was able to get the card, convert the miles in one day and book the deal, not bad for a ticket that may cost anywhere from $5-$8 thousand or more on any given day.
If you have good credit this is always a great option for you because the new card credit check only dings your credit slightly. Many of the pro churners apply to as many as 20 to 30 credit cards per year to accrue all the benefits and deploy them in a complicated web of conversions and special timing in order to maximize their benefits.
However these deals are usually good for flying from large international cities to other large international cities, in other words between expensive places. But we here at Cash Chronicles want to save money so instead of trying to garner extra points and spend time researching converting them for further hotel use, why not book our destination based on how cheap it is and figure out how to use other benefits to get there?
A Different Way of Looking at Air BnB
Although I have used it, I was never a big fan of Air BnB, I always thought that after the required fees, many of the homes I would like to stay in ended up not giving me a big discount to a hotel chain using rewards. However, I was always looking in large expensive cities, or places frequented by many other well off tourists. Knowing that some of the most fun I have has overseas happened in places not many people have heard of, I decided to see where Air BnB would take me if I said I want to go anywhere in the world but not pay more than $80 a night.
My search yielded some interesting results and some countries I may have never considered visiting before.
Take for example this seaside studio in Ulcinj Montenegro which costs $27 a night and can be had to 2 weeks in January at a cost of $430. The host even provides some photo of activities and places to see around the area, wind surfing, a nature preserve and the medieval town looks kind of cool too.
Further up the coast in Croatia I found this amazing seaside home which can be rented for $33 a night. Two weeks here will put you back $517. There are 3 bedrooms so if you have friends or a big family everyone can comfortably fit. The host mentions that it is expected to be a warm and sunny winter in Dalmatia this year and encourages you to take advantage of the low season prices.
However maybe you are the type that likes to get away to warm places in the winter so Eastern Europe during low season may not be your thing. Or maybe you prefer a city with nightlife and shopping instead of the solitude of getting away. For those people I found a 2 bedroom apartment in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam at $55 a night. The apartment has a view of the city and is family friendly.
Or maybe you want to take advantage of the opposite season in the Southern Hemisphere by visiting Buenos Aires during summer there. I found a 2 bedroom apartment in one of the well off districts of Buenos Aires for $61 per night.
Once you have what are usually the 2 most expensive things about travelling taken care of, you still need to think about other considerations which could drive up the cost of your vacation.
- Cell Phone Plan – I recently took advantage of a great promotion through T Mobile called T Mobile One besides giving me unlimited data and text it gives you that internationally as well in 120 countries. There are a few catches though. You have to have 4 lines under the account, the price will come out to $35 per line, the data you get overseas will be 2G and calls overseas will be 20 cents a minute. I involved a coworker and a friend as well as my wife to get us to the 4 lines and we have to pay one person every month but for all of us it is well worth the hassle. I would recommend getting a local sim card if you really need to make calls while you are travelling around or if not just wait until you are in an area with wifi to use a service like Skype instead
- Taxis or Car Rental – This one can be tough to avoid, especially in places where there is not as much infrastructure. When arriving the first step is to know how much a taxi ride to the area where you are going normally costs from the airport so you don’t get ripped off. I try to take public transportation as often as I can to avoid taxi expenses as well. For car rental, try to incorporate those points from the credit cards, or check to see if your job has a preferential rate for employees. In some places the car rental companies will drop the car off for you, so you can consider paying just for the days when you need a car, which can cut down the cost. I did this driving through southern Italy. The first week we took trains and public transportation to get where we were going and then the second week we drove around. The car rental company drove right to our hotel in Positano and handed us the keys.
- Food – If you don’t save money now by cooking learn! You may find that you enjoy it. In addition it can be a fun activity while you are abroad because there will likely be different foods for sale. You can learn to make local dishes or you can be creative with what is offered locally to make something all your own. If you are with people it can also be a good group activity, preparing the food together and shopping for the ingredients. Try the local alcohol too, be it wine, beer or liquor you may find something new that you enjoy.
Travel is truly one of the more enriching experiences in our lives and Americans have a unique opportunity right now to experience the world and take advantage of the resurgence of the dollar. I would strongly recommend going off the beaten path because you usually are rewarded with great new experiences and knowledge you never would have gained by staying in your bubble. There are more resources than ever for those who are willing to try some non-traditional techniques in order to save some money on their next trip so roll up your sleeves and get out there and see the world.
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