EASTON, Md. — If you love to travel, one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2011 should be committing yourself to meaningful, affordable trips. After all, the new luxury is traveling smart.
Austin-based Keith Hajovsky has made it his mission to travel smart and share his experiences. He is the co-author of How To Travel For Free (Or Pretty Damn Near It), a guide to traveling on a budget using simple tools that will also help make your journey more memorable thanks to connections to the places you visit and the locals who live there.
Keith’s travel blog Travel Sherpa Keith is a must-read for indie travelers looking for out-of-the-way experiences, first-hand reports from exotic locales and practical tips for finding and booking travel values—from airfare to cruises to lodging.
We caught up with Keith while he was traveling in Thailand and asked him to share some travel tips with readers.
What inspired this book?
Long before Shelley [Seale, co-author] and I met we had each been long-time, avid, independent travelers. Through the decades of our experiences traveling we acquired quite a bit of knowledge on how to see the world on a small budget.
In many ways, each of us were always and still are the go-to people for friends and family looking for advice and pointers on how to travel in less expensive yet more meaningful ways. It seemed that so many people had such a large interest in knowing this kind of information that it made perfect sense to us to write a book about it.
Have you always traveled cheaply or did you learn the hard way?
Each of us has actually always traveled cheaply. During the earlier years of our individual travel experiences this was due mostly to the fact that we really didn’t have access to very much money - you know, the typical college-age, backpacker thing.
I saw quite a bit of Europe for very little money back in those days, and Shelley did too. But even as we got older and had more financial resources available we continued to travel inexpensively. We had already learned that you could easily have just as good, if not better, travel experiences on slim budgets, so why not continue to do so?
Plus, the more you can stretch those hard-earned travel dollars the longer you can actually afford to stay on the road.
And on a more philosophical note, Shelley and I are firm believers in simplifying our lives for greater overall happiness. And traveling this way fits perfectly for us into that way of living.
You talk about using your credit card points to secure free flights, in particular. Is there a card or cards you recommend for building points quickly and/or delivering on tickets without a big hassle?
Airlines and credit card companies continuously come up with special promotions where you can build points quickly and inexpensively without much work at all on your part. But of course those deals come and go over time.
Right now via JPMorgan Chase both United and Continental, who are in the middle of merging into one company right now, are offering 25,000 frequent flyer miles after your first purchase as well as 5,000 bonus miles for adding an additional cardholder. 25,000 miles gets you a free roundtrip flight within the lower 48, and for only 35,000 miles you can actually get you a roundtrip flight to the Caribbean, Central America or even the northern part of South America. I recently did this special promotion with Continental, and it took very little of my time.
There are annual fees on these cards, but the first year’s fee is waived. And you can cancel the card before your one-year is up, or you can try calling them and threaten to cancel if they don’t waive the fee for the next year.
American is doing a similar special via Citibank, but you will have to spend $750 on the card within four months to get the miles. I also did this one earlier this year with no problems.
Savvy travelers, in search of a bargain, often take to the Web, but it can suck lots of time out of planning. Any tips on how to cut through the tsunami of info on the Web and get good deals that are easy to book?
The “tsunami of info” on the Web is exactly right when it comes to the plethora of travel-related websites out there. And that is precisely why I started my travel site, TravelSherpaKeith.com.
I only recommend sites that I use myself and would suggest to my own mother, and I am constantly adding sites that I discover to be useful. I delete sites that have either lost their edge for whatever reason or that I have discovered are not treating customers appropriately.
In general, when traveling overseas, is it best to book local transport once you’re there or ahead of time?
Usually, it’s best to book local transport upon arrival as opposed to ahead of time. It’s less expensive to do it that way, because you typically have to go through a local travel agent who tends to tack on even larger fees than normal compared to if you were to book it in their office upon arrival.
Has there ever been a time when you took the cheap option only to find you should have spent more?
Great question! One of the major points in our book is that, generally speaking, when it comes to travel costs you will need to sacrifice either more time or more money to get what you want.
The more time and effort you are willing to put into the planning process and the more slowly you are willing to travel, the less money overall the trip is going to cost you.
I like to save money, but will be the first to admit it is not always better to take the less expensive alternative. One particular example that I can think of when I took the cheap option but should have spent more was the first time I was traveling in Costa Rica. I had ten days for this trip. When I needed to get from the capital of San Jose to Puerto Jimenez I decided to take the bus for like $10 instead of paying the $60 for a flight.
The bus ride itself was fine, and I remember meeting some nice, friendly locals along the way. But it took up my entire day when a flight could have gotten me there in an hour, which would have made much better use of my precious ten days in the country.
Age-old question: What are your packing strategies to keep it light?
I definitely try to keep the amount of clothing I bring to a minimum, but I also try to bring clothing that travels well. I mean that I try to bring things that don’t need to be ironed to look good, don’t weigh too much, and wash and dry easily.
I like jeans, but they are heavy and take a long time to dry. So unless it’s going to be cold where I am going I opt for lightweight pants and a pair or two of shorts.
On the laundry front, also take into consideration your destination. If you are traveling within the U.S. or if you’re going to another developed country getting you clothes laundered can be expensive, but if you are traveling to a less developed country it can often be quite inexpensive to have your clothes laundered.
For instance, I am in Thailand right now, and I’ve seen places where you can have a kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of clothes washed and ironed for the equivalent of $2.
Final question: Carry on or checked bags?
I like to carry on my luggage, although this isn’t always possible, especially when I take extended trips. But when I can get away with not checking a bag in then I most certainly do.
First of all, almost all airlines charge you fees to check a bag these days. But that’s not the only reason I don’t like to do it. Having a bag checked in also slows you down trying to get in and out of airports. Likewise, whenever you check a bag in you are risking never seeing that bag again.
The way I look at it is that the more often I check a bag in the more often I will have to deal with those unpleasant, time-consuming situations. Plus, the more successful I am at packing lighter and with fewer bags, then the less ‘stuff’ I have to drag around while I’m trying to enjoy my trip.
Simplifying is almost always the best way to go.
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