July 10, 2018. Today I celebrate life for so many reasons. A decade ago I turned 30. I was a free spirit and had great experiences, but I was lost. Surrounded by love but always pushing it away—preferring to keep everyone at a distance.
Exactly two months after my 30th birthday I was in a horrific car accident. I was t-boned by a drunk driver. I broke 14 bones. My lung collapsed. My arteries were mangled. My organs were in my chest cavity. I had a traumatic brain injury. I was code blue. I was in ICU for a month.
Airfare is one of the most expensive purchases for a trip. That’s why we do so much research before booking. Here are some of the ways we’ve recently saved a ton of money by doing more than plugging our starting and ending points into a search engine. Now we can take even more trips!
This one has saved us abroad more than once. Either before you leave home or while you’re at the hotel with Wi-Fi, make sure to update Google Maps with the city you will be exploring. Once it’s downloaded, you can see where you are through GPS on the map, even when you’re offline.
This has helped us a few times when we were lost or couldn’t find our destination.
You may have access to upgrades, online changes and other perks you won’t have if you use a third-party booking site. For example, we like to purchase upgraded seats and early boarding. We travel so much that the money we spend on this can save us a lot of time, provide a lot more comfort and eliminate stress. So when we flew Aer Lingus recently, we booked through Orbitz and the airline would not let us make online changes. We called Aer Lingus twice and were on hold for an hour each time without anyone answering. We tweeted our frustration, Aer Lingus immediately responded and got us in touch with a lovely customer service rep who upgraded our seats. We had a great experience with Aer Lingus and will 💯 fly with them again. The frustration would have been a nonissue if we booked directly.
We love Orbitz and the rewards points we get for booking through the site. If it costs less to book a flight and hotel together through Orbitz, we absolutely will. If we have trouble with navigating an international airline’s website, we will also use Orbitz to book. Otherwise, we go directly through the airline.
Don’t leave home without this universal travel adapter. I take it with my everywhere I go—domestically and internationally. Not only does it work in every country, but it also has two USB ports and a regular plug, so I can charge my phone, earbuds and laptop all at once. Sometimes it’s hard to find more than one outlet, so being able to charge 3 devices is great! And I don’t have to worry about hanging onto a bunch of international adapters.
When using a credit card internationally, always have the vendor charge you in the local currency. The conversion rate the vendor offers for your home currency may be a lot more that you’d otherwise pay. If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees, use it whenever you can. It will give you the best exchange rate.
I caught the travel bug long ago. There’s no cure, and I’m happy about that. I’m even more excited about how contagious the travel bug is. For many years I traveled solo—staying by myself in big cities and hopping on tours to see the countryside and waterways of the world. Now, I have a travel partner. It was this month 4 years ago that we took our first international trip together through Morocco and Madrid—and it went so well that we were married 8 months later! (We would have gotten married immediately, but my family convinced us to have a wedding).
Travel partnerships are like any other—you have to be compatible. If one person loves 5-star resorts on the beach and the other likes to backpack through big cities, you may not be travel compatible (or you may learn from each other’s ways—both sound pretty good to me).
My hubby and I travel in the same style. We travel cheap. We pack extremely light. We don’t buy souvenirs. We like to stay in the heart of the city for a few nights and in a beach or jungle bungalow for a few more. We like to sample the local food, drink and music and chat with people from around the globe. I like seeing the major attractions—hubby couldn’t care less. So, I’ve learned how to fit in a few of the top attractions for each trip without making him feel like he’s on a bus tour.
We enjoy travelling together so much that we really went crazy in 2017: Grand Cayman, Nicaragua, Cabo, Peru, Key Largo, Lisbon and Dublin. It’s been a wonderful year of travel. Nicaragua warmed my heart. We met so many amazing people and just fell in love with the country. Peru was the adventure trip of a lifetime: food-touring in Lima, trekking around Machu Picchu, kayaking through the Amazon jungle. Lisbon was simply magical.
Two months from now we will start our 2018 travels with a beach and jungle trip to Belize—then it will be time to recharge the travel budget!
Here’s how I’ve mastered the art of packing light. I’ve included some of my favorite travel accessories, which are all available on Amazon. I do not get compensated for sharing these items (though maybe I should). I simply want to help travelers get around easier by packing right and packing light. It’s life changing!
Over the last few years I have traveled the world with only a personal item: a backpack that is smaller than a book bag (MARC BY MARC JACOBS ‘Pretty Nylon’ Knapsack) and sometimes an anti-theft handbag (by Travelon).
Theo carries one 20L waterproof bag (Aqua Quest Himal 20L Backpack).
It’s easy to pack a small bag for the beach: sun dresses, hats, swimsuits, some comfy lounging clothes and a toiletry bag. So what do I do when traveling in the winter or for an active adventure? Plan. Plan. Plan.
Plan to mix and match. Plan to wear basic color schemes. Plan to dress things up with scarves. Plan when you can do laundry (or wash things in the hotel sink). Plan to bring shoes that can be worn for trekking around and dressing up.
My trip to Peru presented a unique challenge: three different climates. We traveled for 10 days in the city, mountains and jungle–and had a lot of flights, boat rides, train rides and bus trips the whole way–including a 32 hour trek home from the rainforest.
Lima was about 68F, rainy and foggy. Cusco was a crisp and sunny 50F. Puerto Maldonado reached 96F with jungle humidity. And since this was an active trip with lots of hiking and exploring planned, I brought a little more than I normally would.
Inevitably on every trip, some of the things I want to bring get left behind. I have a large and a small packing cube (eBags Packing Cubes) and a small toiletry bag. When those are full, I’m done packing (even though I’ll squeeze a few more items in the bag, like a brush, a neck pillow and a small evening handbag).
Here’s what made the journey:
– 👖 4 pairs of pants. No jeans. They should be light and dry quickly. I like Prana brand. I also have plain black and brown pants with no zippers or buttons, so they don’t take up much room. And I added a pair of yoga pants to the mix. – 👚 4 long sleeve Coolibar UPF 50 t-shirts. I like these because they are sun protective, can be dressed up and dry quickly. – 🧦 4 pairs of socks – 4 sets of undergarments (ex officio quick dry). – 🧣 3 scarves (to dress up the long sleeve t-shirts) – 👗 1 long sleeve dress – 👒1 hat – 👚1 short sleeve quick dry shirt and shorts set for the jungle or if I want to go for a run – 1 sarong. I can’t live without my sarong when I’m on the road. It serves as a beach cover up and lounge wear. I can twist and tie it around my neck and add a pair of yoga pants for ultimate comfort. – 🌂1 rain coat – 👟1 pair of teevas (the cute ones that can be worn with dresses or active wear, not the ugly ones: Teva Women’s Northwater Sandal). – 👛 1 small toiletry bag (including a 3 oz bottle of laundry detergent) – 🕶 1 eye mask. – 1 neck pillow. (This one is the greatest ever because it works really well and is flat for storage in your bag: Trtl Pillow). – 📱1 iPhone – 🤳 1 selfie stick (yup) – 🎧 1 set of ear buds – Univeral adapter and cords.
Wearing on plane: Black long sleeve t-shirt, black yoga pants. Lem’s Boulder Boots. Columbia fleece jacket (which doubles as a blanket on the plane and can easily be tied to the top of my backpack for transport when I’m not wearing it). Always wear your bulkiest clothes and shoes on the plane and travel days so that they don’t take up all the room in your bag.
Of course, I had more on my wishlist that didn’t fit: sun dress, one more outfit, another hat, kindle fire (my iPhone really has all I need for travel: e-books, audiobooks, notes app for writing, social media and photo apps, Uber, camera, apple wallet for boarding passes and Viator passes, TripIt).
The rest fit! I didn’t miss anything I didn’t bring. In fact, I usually find that I didn’t need everything that did fit.
We did a full load of laundry once during the trip to Peru—our Airbnb had a washer and dryer, so that made it convenient. At other times, we washed a few things in the sink when we were in the dry climate.
A lot of times, the things I’m able to pack for a week would do for months, as long as I can do laundry each week. I understand that some people don’t want to be bothered with laundry on vacation, but I’d much rather wash my clothes than lug around a suitcase.
Traveling with only a small backpack and a purse that both fit under the seat on the plane is liberating!
Light travel was especially important for this trip to Peru, as we had 8 flights (including connecting flights), two bus and boat trips, two train rides and numerous Uber/taxi trips.
For each flight, we checked in online, saved our boarding passes to our apple wallets and breezed through the airports.
On our last day, we traveled by boat and bus out of the jungle and then took two flights to Lima. In Lima, we had a 10 hour layover before our final two flights home. It was great not to lug a bunch of stuff!
We never wrote anything about our February trip to Panamá. So we are sitting here in our hotel in Bogotá talking about how accessible the world can be if you make travel a priority – and you really don’t have to break the bank.
We’ve heard the question many times: “How do you get to travel so much?”
Of course there are numerous factors that go into the answer: available vacation time, pet sitters and the lack of unforeseen life expenses.
But world travel doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.
We’ve read a lot of articles suggesting that you cut back on expenses, like cable, or brow bag your lunch instead of buying an unhealthy $8 sandwich every day.
These are great ideas, and if those don’t work for you, We have another suggestion.
The next time you get a pay increase, open a separate savings account and have $1 an hour of your paycheck automatically deposited there–or stash $40 every week.
If you work full time, you will have $2080 dollars saved up a year later.
We’ve done many trips around the world for $2,000 or less per person. And it isn’t super budget travel either. We’ve done a bunch of trips for $2,000 to $2,500 for both of us, too!
Our days of staying in dorm-style hostels are over. But we do stay in comfortable, low-cost (sometimes low frill) places in great locations around the world.
Here’s how we did Panama:
We usually like to go somewhere warm in February because it’s cold at home and it’s the dry season in Central America and other locations. So, six months ahead of time, we picked a week we wanted to go and plugged three different destinations into our Hopper app for those dates: Panama City, Lima and Quito.
Then we waited. In the mean time, we watched Anthony Bourdain (Update: RIP, sigh, sigh, sigh), Samantha Brown and Jack Maxwell explore these areas. We searched Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and Viator for suggested itineraries and neighborhoods to explore. This research is half the fun!!
In November, we got an alert from Hopper: “Your flight to Panama is $214. You should book now.”
What?! $214 direct to Panama from Washington, DC? We’re on it!
Through our internet and television research, we decided to stay in the El Cangrejo district for the first three nights.
An Orbitz promotional rate of $75/night including tax got us a nice room at the Riande Granada Urban hotel. Great pool, workout room and beer garden. We would stay here again!
The hotel was in walking distance to casinos and to Via Argentina–which had lots of restaurants and bars. The area felt much less touristy than other places in the city, and there was still plenty to do.
We hired an Uber driver to take us to the Miraflores locks to check out the canal. The driver waited for us for an hour and kept the meter running. It cost us $20 including an extra tip.
We also hired an Uber driver to take us out to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. We should have had him wait for us, because, although the view was beautiful, there wasn’t much to do. In hind sight, we would’ve had him take us to the nearby Soberania park and wait for us. This wound up being about $70 round trip.
After three nights, we relocated to the touristy Casco Viejo area for one night and stayed at Tantalo, a trendy and fun hotel with an amazing rooftop bar. $145/night. It was definitely cool to check out that area for a night!
After that we took an hour flight to Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side for $200 per person.
We stayed in walking distance to Bocas Town in a little rustic cabin on the water–which was $100+ per night, depending on which cabin you rented.
We splurged and got the cabin on the end overlooking the water for $154/night including tax.
Bocas Town is very much a backpackers town. We had fun hanging out in town at a hostel bar, Selina, that had great happy hours, a pool table, friendly patrons from around the world and a relaxing view of the water.
There were lots of excursions we could have arranged from Bocas Town, but we just decided to relax.
There were some great little restaurants in town, and food prices were reasonable.
After four nights in Bocas, we flew back to Panama City and headed home.
It was an amazing trip!!
Factor in an additional $50/per person for taxi/uber to and from the airport and around town.
So there you have it. Here’s the per person breakdown:
International flight: $214
Domestic fight: $200
Sightseeing transport: $50
Airport and other transport: $50
Accommodations for 8 nights: $500
That’s a little over $1,000 per person for flights, accommodations and transportation. That leaves quite a bit per day to spend on food, drinks, excursions and whatever else.
Or you could budget some of that for the next adventure!