April 15, 2014

Housesitting: A strategy to lower costs and extend travel

housesit costa rica

When I handed in my resignation letter, put what few belongings I hadn’t sold into storage and packed my life into a 55L rucksack, I became a vagabond.

Without bricks and mortar, without a stable income and without fear of regret, I altered the direction in which my life was headed and set off to travel the world.

Long term travel is a romantic notion, one that many aspire to but never achieve.

Why? (more…)

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Category: Hostels/Hotels, Vagabonding Advice

April 13, 2014

An Introduction to the Budapest Bath Experience at Széchenyi

Finding yourself tired and achy after a long day’s sightseeing in Budapest? That can be easily fixed by indulging in one of the city’s great experiences—a long soak in the healing waters that residents and visitors have been availing themselves of since Ottoman times. Blessed by its location—it sits above numerous natural springs spouting warm water fortified with minerals—the Hungarian capital offers visitors some of the world’s great public bath experiences.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest

Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest

With over fifty baths, spas and public pools, Budapest wisely takes full advantage of the waters burbling up from its sediment. The experience of the spa/bath has become a way of life in this city, and integral part of its social fabric. Some baths date to the sixteenth century when the Ottomans first indulged in the bath craze, and others date from the early twentieth century. It is not unusual for a Hungarian physician to prescribe a visit to the baths, such is the strength of Hungarians’ belief in the restorative powers of the experience.

szechenyi_baths 3

There are dozens of great thermal baths to choose from, but for the first-time visitor the popular Széchenyi offers a fine look into a top-notch Budapest bath experience. Housed in a grand old yellow building situated in the City Park, the enormous complex with the Baroque copper dome looks like every bit the grand nineteenth-century retreat it is; a recent renovation has given the historic building a fresh coat of gleam.

The brainchild of a Budapest mining engineer, Széchenyi was the first thermal bath on the Pest side of the city, with records showing that an artisanal bath existed on the spot by 1881. By 2014 a full panoply of options existed, including an outpatient physiotherapy department.

Upon entering, you’ll choose the options you want (children under 2 are free and there is a special student discount), rent your towel, and hit the locker room to change. If you get lost in the complex or just plain overwhelmed by the choices, attendants in white will try their best to assist, though many do not speak English. This being Europe, there are some swimsuit-optional areas, but the American visitor will be happy to know that most patrons are covered—minimally, by severely strained Speedos—but still covered.

szechenyi_baths 4

Settling into the hundred-degree water, stress tends to melt away like an ice cube under a blazing summer sun. There is nothing to do but watch the other visitors, a great European pastime. An observant guest will find a feast of people-watching opportunities such as blissed-out regulars playing chess in their Speedos and local big shots discussing weighty political matters while struggling to stay awake in the relaxing water, their eyelids heavy as steam swirls around them. Don’t worry; you almost certainly be the only tourist there.

There are older, more historic spas and thermal baths in town (some of the Ottoman-era spas) and swankier spas (the Gellert Baths are justifiably popular) but for a locally-loved and affordable introduction to Budapest’s water wonders, spending a lazy afternoon relaxing under Széchenyi’s glimmering domes is a great way to start.

For a trove of information on spas and bath experiences around the world, visit http://findmesauna.com/ run by spa connoisseur and world traveler Sandra Hunacker.

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Category: Destinations, Europe, Images from the road, On The Road, Travel Health

April 10, 2014

How Kayak.com can help you get a free room

Whenever someone has no frequent flier miles, no ability to get travel-rewards cards, and really wants a cheap domestic flight, I always send them to Kayak.  Kayak.com is a popular travel search aggregator that scans all the other travel search aggregators and shows you the cheapest rates it finds.  It does all the comparison work for you and that’s why so many people love it.

But what makes Kayak so lovable in my mind is its ability to help you get free hotels.

icdusseldorf

To explain this, I’ll have to explain what a “BRG” or Best Rate Guarantee is.

 

1.) Best Rate Guarantee Policies

The BRG strategy is one of my favorite tricks because not only does it often get us a room that costs no money, it won’t cost us points either.  Furthermore, it’s a trick that anyone can use as it doesn’t require you to sign up for any kind of credit-card or promotion or anything.

So what is this BRG policy?

This is simply a promise a hotel makes that they will offer a better price for their rooms on their own website than they will on any search aggregator like Kayak, Travelocity, Expedia, etc.  My guess is they set this up as an accountability system to make sure they keep on top of the prices they’re releasing to these aggregators, and that they’re correcting the price anytime an aggregator’s price is listed too low.

First, I’ll share with you the basic steps of applying for a BRG, then I’ll share with you a few hotels with the most generous BRG policies.

This is where Kayak.com comes in and shines.

 

1.)  Find a hotel you’re interested in that advertises a BRG policy.

This includes so many hotels that I probably don’t need to name them, but the ones that are most likely to result in a free room are InterContinental and Hilton.  We’ll discuss the specifics of their policies and others below.  Here is the most complete list of BRG policies we could come up with.

 

2.) Find a cancelable rate on that hotel’s own website- a rate you think you’ll be able to match or beat.  

We book cancelable rates just in case the hotel decides not to approve our claim- then we’re not left with an expensive hotel when we meant to have a free one.

 

3.) Use Kayak.com’s “search by brand” feature to find the EXACT same room. 

This needs to be more exact than finding a “Hilton standard room” if you’ve booked a Hilton standard room.  Depending on how picky the hotel is and how badly they don’t want to approve your BRG, you need to make sure no listed detail contradicts the hotel’s own website description.  Check-out time, breakfast or no breakfast, etc.

We’ve been told that because breakfast was included on the cheaper rate we found on an aggregator, but not included in the rate on their own website, it wouldn’t be considered the “same room.”

This even goes for the currency the price is listed in.  Luckily, Kayak has a country selection that will allow you to see only rates listed in that country’s currency.  OR sometimes you can go to the site Kayak has pulled up for you and change the currency from there.

Really though, only some of the hotels are so picky about a matching room description and because you booked a cancelable rate, if you think the description is close enough, you can always try!

 

4.) Obviously, most importantly, make sure the room Kayak has shown you is cheaper.  

This may take a bit of hopping back and forth from the brand’s website to the aggregators, but other times you’d be surprised how easy it is to find a cheaper rate.

 

5.) Now it’s time to submit your claim. 

This is a simple process that happens online.

Hilton’s BRG claim form can be found here.

IHG’s BRG claim form can be found here.

Choice’s BRG claim form can be found here.

And Marriott’s BRG claim form can be found here.

 

As I mentioned above, our favorite use of the BRG strategy is with hotels whose BRG policies are generous enough to allow  a free room.

Whose policies are the most rewarding?

icvienna

InterContinental Hotel Group is a hotel chain that includes Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, IHG, etc.  Their BRG policy states that if you find a cheaper rate for their rooms on someone else’s site, they’ll give you “your first night free.”  Naturally, we take advantage of this by aiming for BRG’s at their nicest brand, InterContinentals, and by booking one night stays so our whole stay is free.

Hilton is a hotel chain that includes Hampton Inn, Waldorf, Conrad, Double Tree, and Hilton, etc.  Getting approved for their BRG claims will either give you a $50 Amex gift card (for domestic stays) or a $50 price reduction (Internationally.)  We take advantage of this by trying to book rates that are as close to $50 as possible.

Best Western basically offers a $100 Best Western voucher for approved BRG claims.  So your initial stay won’t be free, but your next one would be as there are plenty of Best Westerns for $100 or less.  Also, by the time you have one $100 voucher, you could submit a BRG claim for another stay, paying for that stay with a voucher and receiving another voucher for your next stay.  And on and on and on.  But there are a few more rules to this, which you may want to familiarize yourself with.

These are just a few of the most generous Best Rate Guarantee policies.  But there are so many more Best Rate Guarantee policies out there. 

Thanks to Kayak.com, the hunt for an approved BRG claim can be pretty easy.

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Category: Hostels/Hotels

April 6, 2014

Review: Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack and how to choose a great backpack

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A good backpack can make or break a trip. Drenching rain, language barriers, delayed flights — you can weather all with humor and go-get-’em attitude.

But a good backpack is the foundation upon which your trip rests. It holds your entire life in one place. It protects it. Sometimes you wear it so often it feels like another appendage.

That’s why it’s important to take some time before your trip to figure out what kind of new appendage — or backpack — works for you. Next to figuring out which book to take with me, this decision was the most important on my two-week trip to Europe.

Review on Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack

osprey frontAfter lots of research, I decided on Osprey Packs Kestrel 48 backpack for three reasons:

But the true test came after wearing my pack for two solid weeks. Included in that time were some very long midnight wanderings in suburban Rome searching for our hotel, running through train stations and for vaporettos, and getting shoved under train seats.

What I liked and disliked about the Osprey Kestrel

Liked:

Disliked:

What to look for when choosing a backpack

1. Functionality

How are you planning to use your pack? Will you be hiking or walking a lot? Do you need it to be water-repellant?

If you’ll be walking with it a lot, pick one with an interior frame and hip belt to redistribute the weight off your shoulders. Water-resistance is a good thing to consider, so check for a rain cover. You can’t always control the weather, but it’s nice to know your stuff won’t get soaked.

2. Durability

You want a pack that wears its age and travels well. You don’t want to deal with broken zippers or rips on the road.

Look for fabric at least 400 denier nylon packcloth with a urethane coating (aka water-repellant). Test the zippers. Do some Google searches on “broken zipper + pack name” to see how it stands up.

A good place to check out long-term durability is reading Amazon’s reviews on the pack; you get a wide smattering of opinions to help your decision.

3. Access into the bag

Do you want to access the bag just from the top (top-loading pack)? Or from the top and bottom (called the sleeping bag compartment)? Exterior pockets or no pockets?

These are things to consider if you want to lock your bag. The more access points into your bag equals more locks you need.

4. Carrying Capacity

Ah, the clincher. Getting a pack that’s too big will restrict your ability to carry it on the plane. Getting a pack too small will curtail your purchasing abilities.

It’s a really good idea to check out the bags in person. After all, this is gear that interacts with your body. Like shoes, how it feels on you will impact how you feel about the trip.

Play around with the packs. Try them on. Figure out how it feels on your back and do a few spins to check your bull in a china shop prowess. The empty pack should feel light and not too bulky on your back.

For me, the perfect capacity size was 48: still small enough for carry on, but large enough for clothes and extras picked up along the way.

5. Backpack size

Backpacks come in three sizes: small, medium and large. The sizes are determined by your torso length, not your height.

Here’s a general guide to figuring out the pack size from your torso length:

Men’s and Women’s
Pack Size Torso Length
Extra small Up to 15½”
Small 16″ to 17½”
Medium/Regular 18″ to 19½”
Large/Tall 20″+

Difference between men and women packs:

Generally, compared to men’s packs, women’s packs are:

But really, it comes down to how the pack feels on you. Even though I’m a woman, I picked a men’s pack based on how it fit me and what it looked like. Oh — and that it had good pockets.

Read more by Laura at Waiting To Be Read.

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Category: Backpacking, Travel Gear

March 30, 2014

Travel writing today and yesterday: an interview with Kent Davis of DatAsia Press

Sometimes I wonder if modern travel writing still has anything fresh to say, and I can’t really find a satisfactory answer.

This question became much more pressing after I discovered an American publisher who reprints old travel writing gems from early 20th century’s Asia. I’m talking about DatAsia press, based in Florida.

Congai-Cover-Front-500They have just re-released Harry Hervey’s two early travel accounts of French Indochina (which we use to call Southeast Asia, today), King Cobra and Congai. They are the first ever accounts of an American traveler in the region at the end of the 1920s. Only in his mid 20’s, brave Texan Hervey stormed off to Indochina and captured his first impressions by penning down these two sultry, fictionalized accounts of a place we have now lost in time.

Pico Iyer, one of the greatest living travel writers, introduces King Cobra with great emphasis: “Great travel books give you journeys from which the traveler (perhaps the reader) comes back transformed, a mystery to himself. Suddenly you can no longer trust what you knew so firmly a day ago; suddenly all sense of “home” and “abroad” — of “you” and “I” — dissolves. A real trip turns you around so that you leave behind the person you were and maybe the one you wanted to become. Hervey may have embellished his real experiences, and drawn liberally from the books that fired his imagination before he left home — as Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta and Bruce Cahtwin did.”

I decided to reach out to Kent Davis, owner of DatAsia press, to ask him a few exclusive questions for all those Vagabonding readers who are –or are dreaming of – honing the travel writing craft. Kent has definitely a few opinions that will help your quest to understand more about this difficult craft, and will explain how he decided to look back, instead of publishing anything contemporary.

2011-Kent-Davis-01-Photo-credit-Phalika-Ngin-700pxHow did the DatAsia venture came about, and what is your main publishing goal?

In 2005, my wife and I founded DatAsia as an independent press. Our mission is to publish rare books about Southeast Asian history and culture, with a special focus on topics relating to women. In addition to sharing previously unpublished research, we are also devoted to reviving obscure histories that have long gone out of print and been forgotten. Another aspect of this is translating selected works into English for the first time. In many ways, we have become “literary archaeologists.” (more…)

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Category: Asia, Travel Writing

March 27, 2014

7 things that will help you understand using travel rewards cards to your advantage

creditcardstack

From the very beginning of our travel together, my husband and I have done all of our international flying with frequent-flier-miles. With Asia and Easter Island both on our itinerary for our first gap-year of travel, crossing the distances we had in mind would have seemed financially impossible for us without frequent flier miles.

Perhaps there’s a misconception out there that you must first pay for a significant amount of flying before you can accumulate enough frequent-flier-miles for a free international flight. That may be true when using the traditional approach to earning miles. But there is another strategy that has become quite popular for earning miles that requires no flying at all.

Credit cards.

There are dozens of them. And of course, it can get quite confusing. So I’ve put together a list of 10 things to help you understand travel rewards cards, and therefore, use them to help you with your own travel goals.

 

1.) Not all cards advertised as “travel rewards cards” will earn you frequent flier miles.

There are basically four types of currencies you can earn with travel rewards cards: 1) frequent flier miles with a mileage program, 2) hotel points with a hotel rewards program, 3) points that can be transferred into frequent flier miles or hotel points, and 4) points that can be used to reimburse money you spend on travel.

The latter can be good for covering what frequent flier miles cannot, but won’t be as significant in earning you a free international flight.

 

2.) Just because a card is offering a bonus, it doesn’t mean it’s a good bonus.

All the major travel credit cards advertise mile or point bonuses. This is the main appeal in many cases however, it’s worthwhile to do some research when you see a card offering a bonus. For instance as mentioned above, there are various currencies in the travel rewards card world. Find out what an advertised bonus could realistically translate to in terms of travel.

Even once you have acquainted yourself with the bonus’ currency, it’s also good to know the difference between a good bonus and a weak bonus. At least when it comes to miles, hotel points, or points that can be transferred into miles, we generally tell people that 50,000 points is a good bonus.

 

3.) There are often requirements you must reach before you earn the bonus.

Occasionally a card will offer a bonus that you can receive as soon as you sign up or make your first purchase. But more often there is a spend-requirement you must reach first. Generally it’s set anywhere from $1,000-$10,000 spent within the first 3-6 months depending on the card.

Many cards offer bill-pay set-ups online to help you work towards that spend-requirement with your ordinary spending.

In the travel-hacking community however, it has become quite popular to use your credit card to purchase something that can easily be turned back into useable cash. Gift cards for example have paved the way for a cheap though admittedly complicated strategy for reaching spend requirements.

 

4.) Many cards also have an annual fee, though sometimes it’s waived for the first year.

It’s up to you how to handle this annual fee. Sometimes the card’s regular earnings from ordinary spending, annual gifts, or other card perks are enough for the annual fee to be worth it. That is up to you but you should understand that canceling a card after just a year can have an effect (albeit a fairly small one) on your credit score.

Your credit score takes your average length of history into account and having multiple 1-year accounts will lower that average. Because of this, we recommend having a few no annual fee cards that you will keep, even if you never use them. We also recommend that, if a person doesn’t feel they can keep up with the annual fee (or doesn’t wish to), they try having the card downgraded to a no-annual fee card after the first year.

 

5.) Collecting miles with credit-cards has a lot to do with credit score.

Most of the good travel cards require you to have at least a fair credit-score for approval. You can get a free credit score estimate with sites like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma. Technically they are just estimates, but they tend to be pretty close to accurate.

 

6.) Having multiple credit cards can actually improve your credit score.

Credit score works a little differently than many people may assume. It is less a measure of your financial status, and more a measure of your ability to be responsible with debt. It’s all about debt management really.

Therefore, the more cards you are responsible with, the higher your score will be. We have tested this and seen it to be true, as have many others.

Of course, the most important point here is that being responsible with multiple cards has a good effect. Being irresponsible with multiple cards could be very dangerous.

You can read more about what responsible credit card use is in our post about how credit score and travel-hacking work.

 

7.) Applying for cards too closely together will prevent you from getting approved.

Applying for one card today and another one tomorrow will make you look desperate and will prevent you from getting approved for a card, even if your credit score is great. If there are multiple rewards cards you’re interested in, wait at least 3 months between each application. Some suggest you don’t need to wait that long, but this is the safer strategy.

 

Credit cards are a huge part of the travel-hacking budget strategy and these 7 things will give you a place to start your research.  Ultimately, the idea here is that rewards cards are helping you and that you’re in control of them, not the other way around.  While trial and error is certainly a part of everything in life, especially when it comes to credit and credit cards, it’s good to be as informed as possible from the beginning.

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Category: Air Travel, Travel Bargains

March 25, 2014

Vagabonding Book Club: Chapter two: Earn your freedom

crossing into Guatemala through the iron gate

An excerpt from  Chapter Two: Earn Your Freedom: Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, by Rolf Potts

“Vagabonding is about gaining the courage to loosen your grip on the so called certainties of the world. Vagabonding is about refusing to exile travel to some other, seemingly more appropriate, time of your life. Vagabonding is about taking control of your circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to decide your fate.

Thus, the questions of how and when to start vagabonding is not really a question at all. Vagabonding starts now. Even if the practical reality of travel is still months or years away, vagabonding begins the moment you stop making excuses, start saving money, and begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility. From here, the reality of vagabonding comes into sharper focus as you adjust your worldview and begin to embrace the exhilarating uncertainty that true travel promises.

In this way, vagabonding is not merely a ritual of getting immunizations and packing suitcases. Rather, it’s the ongoing practice of looking and learning, of facing fears and altering habits, of cultivating a new fascination with people and places…”

If there was one lesson that I wish could be downloaded to the heart and mind of every newbie traveler, this would be it: That it’s the decision to vagabond that changes everything, not the geographical diversity.

For most people, their actual “trip” is measured in months, or perhaps a couple of years at most. It’s time bought back by periods of dedicated work and frugal living. But the changes that vagabonding works in a person’s outlook and underlying philosophy carry over into “daily life” upon their “return.” I was talking to my Dad about this recently. He turns 70 this year and if you look up “vagabond” in the dictionary, you’ll find his photo next to the definition. “Someone asked me recently about when I was taking my next trip,” he mused, “It took me a minute to answer… I was confused… there’s a ‘next trip?’… it’s all one big trip to me, and I’m still on it!” 

That’s the essence of it, really. You take off on your first trip at twenty four and forty-five years later you’re still on the road, in your heart and mind as much as in the physical sense.

I have a friend who is turning forty this year. When we were 15, she was the one reading Jack Kerouac in the lunch room and lamenting that she’d was born into the wrong decade. Travel, vagabonding, were in her soul, and yet, she has never traveled. She called me about a year and a half ago. I was bussing around Southeast Asia a the time. She asked me if I’d be up for walking the Camino de Santiago with her this summer. Of course, you know my answer. It took a lot of ramping up for her to make the decision to go, to ask me to be her companion for the walk, and to commit to doing the thing she’s been dreaming of since we were children. That’s not a small thing. You know what I’ve noticed? From that moment on the phone between continents, she’s a different person. She is a vagabond. She’s earned her freedom in every sense. Her victory will feel sweet when that plane lifts off in a few weeks, but that isn’t the moment that her trip begins. It began a year and a half ago, with her commitment, and it’s just the first step of a journey that will last for the rest of her life.

So, what do you think? What are your reflections on chapter two? How has the concept of vagabonding changed how you experience life at home and on the road? How have you earned your freedom?

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Category: Travel Writing

March 18, 2014

Vagabonding: An invitation to a book club

I first read Vagabonding in 2006, when we were in the throes of planning what we expected to be a one year trip. I was devouring everything I could find for inspiration, looking for the tools I needed as we grappled with breaking free from a very “normal” American life and plunging into the unknown, with four kids in tow. I’d read books specific to every aspect of packing, cycling long distance, travel with children and life on the road, and I had a binder full of notes.

Then, I cracked the spine of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, the dust settled around me, a calm descended, and I remembered something very important: our journey wasn’t about preparation, it was about perspective, and we weren’t headed out on a lark, we were embarking on a lifestyle. Of course the book handed me tools, it’s chock-full of resources to build on, but more importantly Rolf sung the timeless song of the vagabond for our generation. He articulated the age old messages of light-footed simplicity in a way that our modern minds recognized.

I decided, a few weeks ago, that I need to re-read this book. I’m six years in to a lifestyle of full-time travel and it’s now “routine” for me. Taking over as Managing Editor of this site has required me to dig deep into 11 years worth of content on a subject near to my heart and it’s reminding me of all of the best reasons that I’ve chosen the life I have. As I seek to refocus this blog on the core values of Rolf’s book I’ve found myself, yellow highlighter in hand, turning pages and rediscovering the beauty the philosophy of Vagabonding.

And so, I wanted to invite you to join me. For the next ten weeks I’m going to move, chapter by chapter, through the book and post some of my highlighted bits here. Starting now, with Chapter One. If you don’t have a copy, you have lots of choices: paperback, kindle, audio, among others. It’s even available in several foreign languages if you look!

So here we go…

Chapter 1: Declare Your Independence

“Ultimately, this shotgun wedding of time and money has a way of keeping us in a holding pattern. The more we associate experience with cash value, the more we think that money is what we need to live. And the more we associate money with life, the more we convince ourselves that we’re too poor to buy our freedom. With this kind of mind-set, it’s no wonder so many Americans think extended overseas travel is the exclusive realm of students, counterculture dropouts, and the idle rich… Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It’s just an uncommon way of looking at life–a value adjustment from with action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time–our only real commodity– and how we choose to use it.”

This jumped out at me because it draws our attention to time as a commodity and the wrong thinking that has lead us to connect it to money in the economic sphere. One of the things long-term travel has taught me, over and over, is the truth of that last assertion: that time is our only real commodity and how we use it is a choice.

Please share your reflections on Chapter One in the comments!

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Category: Travel Writing

March 13, 2014

Learning how a luxury hotel can stretch your travel-funds more than a hostel

ICKowloon

It is odd to realize that a luxury hotel can be the means for budget travel, and therefore, sustainable travel for my husband and I. But strange as it sounds, we have found this to be the case.

For instance when we arrived in Venice a few weeks ago and needed a place to stay, (after a bit of internet time), we found ourselves at the Westin Venice, a five-star hotel just around the corner from St. Mark’s Plaza. We found ourselves here not because we have high standards for comfort and quality, but because we are cheap- too cheap to pay $20 a bed for a hostel when we could stay at the Westin for free.

Now, certainly hostels serve a unique purpose for lone travellers that is tough to find elsewhere. For instance, in a hostel you are sure to find other travelers and thus, some of the anxieties that can come along with lone-travel might be eased. It is tough to find such a community atmosphere elsewhere.

And yet, my husband and I will pick a hotel over a hostel every time. Our reasoning can be summed up in just two words: “Rewards programs.”

While this strategy may cost very little cash, it does cost quite a bit of research and strategy. In this article I’d like to start that research process by discussing what rewards programs are, how they work, and how they can end up stretching out your travel funds.

What are rewards programs and how do they work?

Chain hotels will often create a program that offers its customers an incentive for remaining loyal. (Thus, these rewards programs can also be called loyalty programs.)

Most often in the hotel industry these incentives are given in the form of hotel points. For every dollar you spend with the hotel, you receive a point (sometimes more and sometimes less depending on the situation) that you can put towards a free night witht he brand in the future.

These points may feel like they accumulate slowly, but there are a few ways to speed up that earning process through promotions. We won’t go into that now, but you can read more about the role promotions play in our strategy for full-time travel.

Really there are two basic ways to collect these hotel points.

1.) By being rewarded for your paid stays, as mentioned above (with or without a promotion to speed that earning along).

2.) By signing up for that hotel’s credit card. For example Starwood (the hotel chain associated with the Westin hotel mentioned before) offers a credit card with a 25,000 point bonus, achieved after spending a certain amount on the card within a certain amount of time.

If the mention of a required amount of spending between you and your bonus makes you nervous, there are tricks for that too. While it’s a bit complex to introduce in this article, you can read more about the tricks for reaching spend requirements here.

How do these rewards programs make it possible for a luxury hotel to be a cheaper option than a hostel?  

1.) Points
The primary reason we’ve opted for hotels over hostels is because many luxury hotels are part of a chain, and as I mentioned above, many chain hotels offer you reward programs that open the door for spending something other than money- points.

2.) Earning
A hostel has never decreased my nightly rate because I’m a return customer. When we go to a hostel, we pay per bed, perhaps we buy a locker too and perhaps we pay for internet on top of that. Then, when our stay is finished, we go on our way and that money is gone.

When we stay with a hotel that has a loyalty program, even if we are spending money, we’re buying more than our room for the night. We’re buying a small piece of another night.

The best way to make this work for your benefit is by paying for stays at the cheapest hotel the brand has to offer. For instance if we see a Holiday Inn for $50, we’ll stay there knowing that we’ll earn points that can be spent at the nicest hotels in IHG’s brand if we’d like. IHG is actually a wonderful example of this process because of a promotion they offer called “PointBreaks.” During this promotion IHG releases a list of hotels whose price in points will be discounted severely, including some very nice luxury hotels. (Read more about IHG’s PointBreaks promotion here.)

3.) Location
Luxury hotels like to grab up the best property they can find, often making them quite central to any kind of attraction you might be in town to see. And centrality will save you money. In the Venice example I mentioned above, our central location allowed us to avoid taking a daily bus into Venice.

On another occasion, we stayed at a five-star hotel in a prime location in Kowloon, HongKong. Thanks to our location, we were within walking distance of the evening light show.

Conclusion

While it takes a bit of a strategic approach, my husband and I have made this our primary strategy for long-term travel. Since beginning our pursuit of the nomadic life two and a half years ago, we’ve stayed at 74 four or five star hotels for free.

In my mind this statistic is not impressive because of the luxury but rather because of this: 74 free nights means 74 more days of exploring this beautiful planet.

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Category: Hostels/Hotels

March 11, 2014

5 Apps to aid your travels

Paper Map

I have to admit that I am not a techno-junkie. I resist the pull of technology assiduously, but even I am forced to admit that there are some really fantastic new “toys” out there that make travel easier and provide possibilities for the independent traveler that didn’t exist in the era of paper maps.

mtrip

Mtrip provides travel guides for 28 major cities including customizable itineraries, your own points of interest and ratings, create postcards to share via FB or email. Features include off line maps and navigation, up to date travel guides and the ability to keep a trip journal in the app.

 

TourPal

Tourpal allows you to purchase individual tours of places in the cities you’re going. Walking tours, museum tours, river tours and more, in multiple languages. They can be purchased one at a time, for far less than an in person tour, and you’ve got the freedom to do it “your way.”

 

TripIt 

I recently discovered TripIt and I’m in love. It lets me email my confirmations and travel plans and the app creates a personalized itinerary, keeping all of my trip details in one place. I can add my own photos and maps and share my itinerary with friends and family.

 

Google Translate

Struggling through language barriers is one of the hardest parts of traveling. Stuck on the border of Myanmar, trying to secure dinner and lodging for our exhausted tribe, a local lady rocked our travel world by pulling out her ipad, firing up Google Translate and asking, “You look lost, how can I help you?” There’s no question that technology has changed how we travel, and there are debates about whether those changes are a benefit or a detriment over all. Debates aside, there are moments where it is an absolute godsend.

 

Bound Round

I’m a mom, so I have to throw in one for the kids. Bound Round is a fun travel app for kids. It will maximize their learning and engagement even before you take off. The passport feature makes a game of exploring a new place, and your kids can even keep their travel journal in the app. They can send virtual postcards to their friends with their own pictures and rate destinations for other kids.

So, what about you? What are your favourite apps for travel?

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Category: Travel Tech
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