Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Get Out There and Travel, Woman!

Experience the world. NOW.

Despite the desire of most to travel, only 38% of Americans held passports in 2015. Sadly, this number is a record high for our country and still doesn't hold a candle to other countries' passports rates. (In the UK, residents are hitting around 75%). Most Americans don't make travel a priority until retirement age and, even then, travel becomes something that most HOPE to have enough time for and money to do once they are 60+.

I didn't take travel seriously until Mr. ZJ's military career took us to Germany. We always traveled to see family in our hometowns, or we would take weekend trips to Las Vegas or San Francisco while we were stationed in Southern California, but going overseas was an entirely new adventure. I knew from the moment we stepped off the plane that our time in Europe was ticking away, and I was determined not to be "that" American who stayed on the base and did not explore the culture of our host country. We visited 14 countries in 2 and 1/2 years and left Europe forever changed. Wanderlust is forever cemented in my soul, and I'm ridiculously proud that my hard work and planning gave us some of the best experiences of our lives.

So when we returned to the U.S., I was eager to pursue my newfound love of travel. I discovered that it's not as easy to travel in the U.S. as it is in Europe. Flights and hotels are expensive. Vacation time is limited. Responsibilities are pressing. Despite these challenges, I'm happy report that we have still been able to continue our travels in America.

Here are tips and tricks for easier travel based on my experiences thus far:

1. Don't take all of your vacation time in one block unless you're planning a long trip. You'll need at least a week or two if your goal is international travel, but if you'd like to go to New York City, take a day or two of vacation time and pair it with a weekend. Factor in a half day of travel on both ends and you can easily get three full days and nights discovering NYC. If you get two weeks of vacation a year, that's at least 5 longs weekends and 5 new places to explore per year.

2. Give up expensive things that you don't need. I don't give a shit how much you drool over that pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks - drinking wine in Tuscany is WAY better. Little expenses add up and mean the difference between sitting on your ass at home or having a weekend fling in Vegas. We rent a beautiful home in an awesome neighborhood for a fraction of what it would cost to purchase a shack in the suburbs, and we drive older, well-maintained vehicles that we own. This frees up our budget for our travels.

3. Use a credit card that will give you miles or points towards travel. I use my American Express card for EVERY purchase and pay the balance in full each month. For a nominal yearly fee, I make that money back tenfold in the rewards I use for travel. I have completely funded many flights (domestic AND international) and scored free rental cars by using my earned points.

4. Mix business with pleasure. Opt for a job that requires travel or attend meetings and conferences related to your career. My trips to Orlando, Chicago, and Paris were at least partially funded by my employer. Extend travel after a conference by a few days and bring the family for some fun!

5. TSA PreCheck - for $85, you receive five years worth of fast, hassle-free security checks at the airport. Think: Security checks pre-9/11. It saves hours of time at the airport.

6.  Use AirBNB or other housing shares. Ignore the scary click-bait stories of horrible vacations using these services - we use them ALL the time with mostly great results. The beauty of this? Access to a full kitchen to prepare your own meals instead of dining out. This is the best money-saver EVER (and our hosts in Greece invited us for a full, traditional breakfast at their home).

So pack your suitcases, Janes, and I hope to see you out there!

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