As my six months of backing in Latin America wrap up, I thought I’d start sharing ways I can afford to travel. I used to make money blogging on the side, but now I don’t do that because I’m over paying taxes on already low pay that most bloggers deal with. Now I fund my travels with credit card points, and I wanted to share how I do it with you. I’ll start with the number one question I’ve been asked during my trip:
“How have you not run out of money yet?”
- Much of the time, I don’t use money. I use credit card points.
- Travel is my #1 priority, and my budget reflects that
On my 6 month backpacking trip to Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, I spent less than $6,400. That might seem like a lot, but at $700 a month to live with four roommates in a house in the outskirts of Washington DC, in 6 months, I would have paid $4,200 just to EXIST with a roof over my head-which is exactly what I used to do. Now I work as a tour guide in the summers and don’t pay rent because I travel so much for work that it would be a waste of money (unless I owned my place, and I haven’t found a city where I would invest that kind of housing in yet).
So, back to points. I racked up 50k points by opening the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and Capital One Venture cards, and 40k with the United Explorer Card as well as with the American Airlines AAAdvantage Citi Card. All of those cards came with no annual fees in the first year, and I was able to reach the minimum spending limits for those bonus offers through my work expenses that I’d get reimbursed for.
During my trip, I made sure to use my points selectively. I’d scour different websites from Airbnb to Hotels.com to my Chase Sapphire Rewards portal to see which hostel would be the cheapest to stay in. I rarely stay in hotels with my points because you can go so much farther with your points by staying in dorm rooms in hostels.
In terms of budgeting, every night, I enter my expenses into a detailed spreadsheet, and I’d round the dollar amounts up to the nearest dollar so that my bank account would always have more money than it would according to my spreadsheet. It’s a low pressure activity at the end of the day that lets me reflect on my spending, and let’s me think about whether or not that crop top I bought was worth $10 (yes, yes it was). I’m not good at sticking with fixed budgets. Initially, I intended to spend $600 a month on my trip, but I only reached that goal once in Colombia because my Couchsurfing host let me stay for several weeks at her house, so I didn’t spend much on lodging that month. Colombia is also an affordable country compared to Uruguay or Chile, and the people are the most welcoming of any country I’ve been to. It’s my favorite country, with Mexico coming in at a close second because of my cultural ties to Mexico.
I still enjoy the consistency of entering my expenses at night, and I check my bank account and credit card account daily because it gives me a sense of control over my finances. That’s just me, though.
So, what about those four credit cards I opened last year? Stay tuned for how I decided which card to pay an annual fee for.