I'm an American expat, writer. photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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People are always asking me, “how do you afford to travel as much as you do?” Well, let me break it down for you.

First things first, I am a firm believer that if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen, despite your circumstances, whether that be financial, emotional, fear-based, whatever – if you want to travel, you will make it a priority. I grew up very poor with no emotional/financial support from my family, and I worked and saved from my $10 an hour jobs and got myself to Europe for two months. If I can do it, you can do it.  And secondly, it’s all relative, and it depends on how you view the situation. You can choose to view affording to travel as hard or as a challenge to be overcome. It’s a choice.

Here is how I afford to travel as often as I do:

Travel During Off-Season

Most people tend to travel in the summer months. It’s a great time to travel: the temperatures are great, students are on break from school, most families tend to take off from work for a few weeks during the summer months….but along with Christmas time, it’s also the most expensive time to travel. I recommend traveling during the winter months (January-mid April). Airfare is way cheaper, accommodations prices drop crazy low, and even shops and stores drop their prices and are willing to bargain more. Currently, I am staying in my own apartment in Ubud Bali. In the summer months (busy season), this studio is around $25-$30 a day. In February, it’s $8. Keep in mind, certain destinations have icky weather during these months, but if you’re broke and just want to get out and see the world, travel during the winter months. And if you get lucky like I did during my stay here in Bali, (*knock on wood*) the weather won’t be as shitty as was predicated!

Be Flexible With Your Destinations

Your money will go a looooong way if you visit certain countries. Think: ASIA. Travel here and you’ll be living like royalty for next to no money. For a full lavish meal at a fine restaurant, you’ll looking at spending $4-6 max. I often spend $2-3 on a full meal in Indonesia. Thailand is a tad bit more expensive. Cambodia, Laos, and India are the cheapest. You can also go pretty far with little money in South America and parts of Central America. If you want to lose your money quickly and spend more, travel to Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and Europe (specifically Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland). It’s all about where you choose to go. If you’re flexible and are interested in seeing Asia and South America and don’t have much money, go there! I am currently in the process of moving to a new city, and I don’t have much money having quit my jobs and recently traveled to Paris (which is crazy expensive), but I had a month of free time and a couple thousand bucks in my savings account, so I decided to go to Bali where my money isn’t being spent frequently. For $8, I live in my own little apartment in Central Ubud and spend about $15 a day. That’s a pretty good deal, considering how often I love to travel.

Work a few odd jobs and SAVE that extra $$

If you want to travel the world on a tight budget, you’ll need to take on a extra side job or two. While living in New York City the last few years, I’ve worked 3 part-time jobs, as well as earning money from my photography business. Some jobs I hated, and others I was bored in, but thatextra cash I’d pocket went to my travel savings account. (Tip: Open up a separate bank account JUST for your travels. It’ll keep you focused on your travel goals and it’s good to keep track how much extra money you’ll putting in every week. I use the Mint app to keep my eye on my weekly deposits.)

Pick + Choose

That daily cup of coffee from Starbucks every morning…that manicure…those stacks of books from Barnes and Noble you want to add to your collection….you’ll need to pick and choose what is more important to you. If travel is a priority, you’ll make it work. In order to save money for my constant traveling, I cut some weekly purchases out of my budget. (Note, I am also a minimalist and I don’t support over consumption, so it’s a bit easier for me to save money in regards to purchasing material goods. Check out the Minimalists documentary on Netflix!) I I do, however, love food and desserts. I enjoy eating out at nice restaurants quite frequently, and I almost always splurge on chocolate. But when I’m saving up for a big trip, I cut a lot of meals out at restaurants and cafes from my day-to-day life, and instead focus on eating out once a week at a nice, quality restaurant. The hot chocolate and tea stops I also cut out. When I was saving up for my 2 months in Europe, I noticed how little money I had – turns out it was all going to coffee shop runs. (Surprisingly, those $3 here and there really add up after awhile.) But now, when I do treat myself to a hot chocolate or a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery, it feels like a real present to myself, and it tastes even better than it did when I was eating it all the time. Tell your close friends that you’re planning a trip and you’ll need to cut some of those extra splurges out of your budget in order to afford your adventures. Be creative and find some local, free events in your area (like Groupmuse or TheSkint.com if you’re in New York City.) or better yet, make dinner, have a picnic or go to a free museum! Your friends will understand 🙂

Travel Hacking

This is a big one. Probably the biggest tip I can give you that will save you money traveling. Travel hacking is “the art of collecting frequent flier points and miles to get free flights, hotels, tours, and more.” I could write an entire book on Travel Hacking, but I’m not going to do that because the brilliant Nomadic Matt already did here. I read his book “How to Travel the World on $50 A Day” and it changed my life.

It all starts with your first travel rewards credit card.

There is no perfect travel card – they all offer different benefits that fit everyone differently. But rule of thumb:

1) A huge sign-up bonus of at least 20,000 points

(after you meet the minimum spending requirement) I often pay my flight with this credit card and then receive my bonus points for my next flight! That’s $300 off my flight to Peru in August! Why lose money when you could save? After you spend the minimum balance, pay off the card immediately (you don’t want credit card debt from traveling. That’s not the point of this blog.) and you’ve got these extra airline mile points to use for your next adventure.

2.) Low Minimum Spending Requirement

Some travel credit cards have amazing perks and huge mile point bonuses, if you sign up for a card that has a high minimum requirement. But I don’t sign up for them because I don’t have an interest in losing $3,000-$10,000 in 3 months. Again, I’m a minimalist and I don’t need that much. Why put yourself into debt? Make sure to sign up for cards that have a low spending limit….like $1,000.

3.) Additional Perks

(think free nights in hotels, free access to airport lounges, no foreign transaction fees, free checked baggage, priority boarding, etc). Every time you spend a dollar with your rewards card, you’re giving yourself a nicer and easier traveling experience. And who doesn’t want awesome, free experiences?

4.) No Foreign Transaction Fees

I don’t ever apply to travel rewards credits cards that charge me transaction fees while I’m abroad internationally; I don’t want to lose more money than I already have. Best card for that: Capital One Venture Card. It’s the best credit card to have in regards to transaction fees. I, personally, didn’t want to spend $3,000 in my first 3 months, so I have the Capitol One Venture One Card. It’s just as great, but it’s only $1,000 mimium spending and 20,000 less airline miles. Also, be sure to sign up for a free Charles Schwab Checking Account: not only do you not ever need a minimum balance, but you can keep this account open and use it while abroad, and there are no foreign transaction fees AND any fees that are charged while you withdrawal money from an ATM are 100% refunded at the end of month. Go open up an account with them for your travels; those little ATM fees add up.

5.) What is your goal?

Is it to have free rooms in nice hotels? Free flights? Merchandise? My main priority is getting free or cheap flights, so I only sign up with credit cards that give me 3x points per dollar spent for airline miles. Apply to the cards that give you what you are looking for.

6.) Annual Fees

Most credit cards charge annual fees and are usually $50-$99 a year, however you save way more money on flights, even with the fees, so I personally think it’s worth it. Some credit cards don’t charge yearly fees but have less of a rewards/points system. If you’re a big traveler, I’d go with the credit cards that have more rewards. If you travel occasionally, just stick to a few that have no annual fees. You’re still saving money either way. 🙂

Favorite Travel Reward Credit Cards

Here are some of Matt’s favorite travel rewards cards. Also, please check out his website here to read more in depth on travel hacking. I’m in love with the dude.

  • Starwood Card from American Express
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
  • Chase Ink Bold
  • Citi Prestige/Premier (Great perks and transfer partners)
  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard

Score Cheap Flights

Along with savings hundreds of dollars from your travel rewards cards, you can also save money on flights by checking these websites: Kayak, Google Flights, Skyscanner, Momondo, ITA Matrix. You need to check multiple websites everyday to find the cheapest flight out. Most search sites don’t list budget airline carriers, so by checking multiple sites, you’ll find those cheap budget flights. Note: Fly budget airline carries (AirAsia, Ryanair, etc) and don’t take direct flights, if you want to save those extra hundreds of dollars. My flight to Bali was $350: I checked Skyscanner and Momondo, was super flexible with my dates, found the cheapest day to fly out, took several layovers and that was that. If you’re not flying peak season, the best time to book is 6-8 weeks in advance. If you’re traveling in the summer months, book 3 months ahead.

Work for Stay

You can travel with hardly any money, and that is thanks to communities like WWOOF: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Since 1971, they have been putting travelers in touch with farmers all over the world who offer free room and board in exchange for four to six hours of work per day. And WWOOF isn’t the only website helping travelers live for free. There is also websites like, Workaway, which helps find placements within their database of families, individuals, and organizations. You sign up, pay $15 for the year to join the database, contact your hosts, agree upon the details of your work and accommodation, and organize your travel arrangements and visas from there. There’s also the Caretaker Gazette, which has listings for both professional property care taking positions as well as amateur house-sitting jobs. I’ve used Couch Surfing and love it. There are lists of communities like this that are available online, so be sure to check it out while you’re planning your trip. You could save a ton of money this way. If you’d rather not work for your accommodations (and this often includes free meals as well!), check out HostelWorld.com and HostelBookers.com – pretty cheap accommodations. 🙂

Traveling is such an important part of life. It gives us awareness, perspective, insight and increases empathy toward other countries, cultures and people. I believe traveling internationally and experiencing what the other side of our planet is like is a necessity of life. And I wish and hope that everyone gets to experience it. Money often is the first reason people push aside their desire to travel, but it shouldn’t be enough of a reason not to do it. Travel is not an expensive thing to do if you’re aware of how to do it on a budget. If you budget, prioritize your trips, save your extra money, and use these travel hacking tips using travel rewards credit cards, traveling can be a lifestyle. I am not rich by any means. I am actually quite broke and usually often, and I have no help financially from any family, parents, or anyone. I simply make it work by working extra jobs, saving, and using my flight rewards points. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

Hopefully, these tips help make your dream adventures become a reality. 🙂 If you have any questions or want to know more details, message me and I’d love to help you!

 

Destination Family Photographer, Helena Woods, breaks down how she affords to travel. From travel hacking using credit card points to her favorite cheap airfare deals, check out these top tips so you can travel as often as you'd like! From free flights to budget tips, she explains it all.

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The Honest Truth on How I Afford to Travel

February 19, 2017

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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