How I Traveled to Seven Countries in 2017 (While Working Full-Time)
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In 2017, I've visited seven countries while working a full-time job. A common and legitimate question I often receive is "How do you travel so much?". Ask and you shall receive, here's a sneak peak into how I maximize my time and resources to support my travel lifestyle:
In my current job as a Project Manager at an academic institution, I get 24 vacation days and 12 University holidays. I do recognize that this IS NOT the norm for most Americans. One way I maximize my vacation time, that is useful for people with limited vacation hours, is to aim to schedule my trips around holidays.
Long Airport Layovers
I'm all for taking advantage of long layovers! On our way to Singapore, we had a 9 hour layover in Tapei, Taiwan. Being the New Yorkers that we are, my best friend and I spent about 5 of those hours navigating the metro system like a pro and exploring the Wanhua District.
Savings & Budget
I have 3 main bank accounts. One where my check is directly deposited into (which pays my bills), another one for savings, and another one dedicated solely to my travels. I add to all three accounts monthly. I also have a spreadsheet that tracks my monthly expenses and ensures that I'm sticking close to my budget and spending within my means.
Credit Card Points
My Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card was one of the best financial decisions I made in 2017. It's the holy mecca of travel cards!
Favorite Chase Sapphire Reserve Benefits
Some of my favorite benefits I've taken advantage of this year are the following:
Global Entry- The Sapphire Reserve provides you with a fee credit when you apply for either Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre Check ($85). I would highly recommend you get Global Entry because you will have the benefit of TSA pre-check in addition to expedited processing coming back into the United States. I often fly through JFK International airport, which is notorious for extremely long processing times and Custom Border Agents with nasty attitudes. With my global entry card, a usual 1+ hour process turned into 5 minutes with limited agent interaction!
Airport Lounge Access- Anyone else sick of paying $15 for a basic sandwich at an airport? Yup, me too. The Chase Sapphire Reserve provides you with a Priority Pass that grants you access to airports all over the world. The lounges are a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the airport. They provide you with free refreshments, complimentary drinks, and bites to eat. The best part is if you are traveling with a friend who doesn't have a Priority Pass, they can join as your guest for free. I found Wings Tip, the Priority Pass lounge in JFK to be a little skimpy, but all of the international lounges I've been to have not disappointed. My favorite was a lounge in Taipei that had a massage chair and tasty local green tea box juices.
$300 Annual Travel Credit- When I first got my card I was automatically reimbursed for up to $300 for travel related purchases. This is a recurring benefit that happens during the account anniversary year.
3 x points on dining and travel- There are ample opportunities to earn points quickly. I earn 3x points on dining and travel charges.
No foreign transaction fees- This year I avoided $31 in foreign transaction fees by using my Chase card.
Rewarding Yourself with Points
When I signed up for the Sapphire Reserve, I just caught the deal where you can earn 100,000 points if you spend 4,000 in four months. The current sign up incentive is 50,000 points, equivalent to $750 for travel. You can redeem your points for gift cards, cash back, Amazon.com purchases, travel, or transfer your points to travel partners. I redeemed my points solely for travel because they are worth 50% more than when redeeming the other benefits. Using my points, I was able to book five flights ( two international flights (Jamaica & Brazil) and three flights to NYC from Raleigh, NC). All of these flights totaled to about $2,000.
How do you redeem your travel
In order to use your points for travel you have to book your flight through Chase's Ultimate Rewards search engine.
Annual Card Cost
The annual cost for the Sapphire Reserve is a hefty $450, which did make me a little hesitant at first. But when I thought about the benefits and spoke to my brother who is also a cardholder, I realized the annual fee quickly pays for itself. When I think about how using my points I booked nearly $2000 worth of flights, saved $300 with travel credits, free Global Entry, and premiere lounge access while traveling, the annual fee becomes less annoying.
Tips for spending $4,000 in the first four months
I applied for the card around a time where I knew I had big purchases coming up. I was an organizer for a family trip to Jamaica and put the charges for the resort (around $ 2,000) on my card and people paid me back within a week or so. I practically use my card for everything (grocery shopping, gas, and dining) and pay it immediately.
Pro tips for Credit Card Use
While I'm all for a rewarding credit card that supports my travel habit. I strongly encourage responsible credit card usage. I only spend money that I know I can pay back before the dreaded 16.99%–23.99% variable APR interest hits.
Cheap International Flight Tickets
Fun fact: The last time I paid over $1k for an international flight ticket was in 2014. In recent years, there have been an abundance of incredibly cheap international flight deals. I booked a two country flight (NYC to Casablanca, Morocco, Casablanca to Lisbon, Portugal, Portugal to NYC) for $474.84. I booked my flight from NYC to Singapore for $640. I found both flights on the Flight Deal. While I'm traveling within a country, I book flights with local airlines which tend to be more affordable.
Frequent Flyer Programs
A passive way to pay for flights with miles is to sign up for frequent flyer programs and record your flights. I was so excited, when I finally accumulated enough points to book a flight using Delta Sky Miles. These frequent flyer programs offer other ways to earn mileage like through shopping and using ride sharing programs like Lyft and Uber.