Travel Tools & Resources

In 2014 I decided to leave a field I’d studied and worked in for more than 10 years. I decided to “take at least one year and travel the world." And while I don't always travel non-stop, I've never looked back.

I’ve learned and refined a ton of tips and useful advice related to travel, specifically traveling for very low cost or sometimes even free. You don’t need to quit your job, sell all your possessions and travel the world. Most people aren’t looking for that. If you simply want to take a vacation, spend time with friends or family, and do it without burning through your life savings, it can be done. I’ll show you how.

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Premium Guides & Products

The Free Cruise Challenge
freecruise

In the Winter of 2015, I went on a Caribbean Cruise, completely for free. No joke, no exaggeration. The cruise cabin, the round trip flight to the cruise port in a different state, the hotel the night before, and even hundreds in spending cash to spend on the ship... costs me absolutely nothing. I earned more than $1,000 in cash and travel rewards. You can do it too. I'll show you how.

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Accomodation & Lodging

Hotels.com

Right now this is my #1 preference site to book a hotel. In addition to a great selection of rooms around the world, multiple options, and low prices, Hotels.com gives 1 free hotel night for every 10 nights you stay. Your stay "credits" never expire, so you can collect your stays and claim your free night when you meet the goal. Book your stay with them here.

Airbnb-Logo-resourcesAirBnB.com

A huge listing of home owners and renters offering up their houses, apartments or spare rooms. These are regular people looking to make some extra cash by renting out extra rooms and are often much less expensive than a hotel. SPECIAL BONUS: Sign up through this link and you’ll receive a free $27 credit to use on your first stay. That’s free cash right off the bat to cut down on your lodging costs.

Booking.com

With over 600,000 properties worldwide, Booking.com presents a great option to find a place to stay. What sets them apart is the ability to search not just for hotel rooms, but hostels, cabins, apartments, villas and more. I like them because I can see a lot of different options and then decide from there. There are also no booking fees on any reservation, a nice benefit when you’re looking to save money.

IHG PointBreaks

International Hotel Group (IHG) includes a number of hotels such as Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. In addition I've found the best value by grabbing their “PointBreaks” which are hotels around world offering limited time promo stays for only 5,000 points (normally 15,000 or 20,000 points). While sometimes the promotional hotels are usually outside of large metro areas or in more out of the way places, but if you know how to manage this properly, you can get a tremendous value. I’ve used this most recently for a friend’s wedding and got an amazing deal.

Yonder Bound

A start-up marketed to help you make money by booking a hotel and then writing a review. It’s a hotel booking site like any other, but allows you to then write reviews of the place you stayed. If anyone sees your review and books that hotel because of it, you get paid a commission. SPECIAL BONUS: Sign up for a free account using this link and get an additional $10 in free credit to use toward your first booking.

 

Rocket Miles

Acting like a regular hotel search engine, Rocket Miles gives you bonus frequent flyer miles when you reserve a room. It's not always worth it to book through Rocket Miles as sometimes their rates are higher than what other website are charging and their selection is lower. However if you can find a good deal, you can pick up thousands of extra frequent flyer miles on a single booking plus they allow you to select which program you want to earn miles for from more than 30 different airline options.

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Airfare & Flights

Cheap Airline Deals! Take up to $50 ◊ off with Promo Code AIR50. Book Now! Cheapoair.com

Cheapoair often sends out discounts and coupons to save money, especially on last minute flights. If you have some flexibility in your travel, you can score some great last minute travel deals.

Kayak

Pretty much the standard bearer, especially for U.S. based flights. Use Kayak to get a sense of the general cost of a ticket, but keep in mind they do leave out a number of low cost carriers.

Kayak Explore

A tremendously fun and intriguing tool, Kayak Explore let's you see where you can go if you just want to travel, "Somewhere." Enter your city and the month or even general season you're able to travel and Kayak Explore will show you prices for tickets all over the world.

The Flight Deal

A hidden gem that’s becoming less and less hidden, I have no idea how these guys don’t have a million facebook fans and twitter followers. Don’t let the simple website fool you, they collect flight deals, offers, discounts and mistake fares from throughout the airline industry and post them for you to see. They tell you the dates, details and other specifics you need to nab the fare, usually ones that are only available for a couple of days at most. They are not a booking site though, so you’ll have to go through the booking agent or airline to get it.


Skyscanner

A search engine for flights, hotels and car hires. I've found Skyscanner to be best used for flights, and especially helpful when searching for flights within Europe as they pick up the low cost and budget airlines that some other search engines leave out. They have an "Everywhere" feature, that allows you to enter your departure city and see where in the world you can go and for how much.

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Cars, Buses, Ships & Trains

Priceline.com

While you can also bid for flights and hotels as well, I've found Priceline.com to be the most useful for rental cars by far. That's because Priceline's most useful tool is the "Name your own price" feature. While you'll most likely want to decide the details of your hotel or airline ticket, most people aren't tied to one rental car company over another. This link is a optimized for mobile so there are no frills, but for some reason I've found lower rental car options when I use it vs the other links I have. Go figure. If booking a car, click the clock icon to change the date.

Vacations To Go - Cruise Search Engine

An excellent search engine for cruises, it also boasts strong filter and search features to narrow down what you’re looking for. I’ve never booked a cruise without checking here first. They emphasize last minute cruise deals, so if you’re able to just pick up and go on a cruise in the next week, check here first and you can score an amazing last minute deal.

Seat 61

Also referred to as "The Man in Seat 61" this is pretty much the last website you need when it comes to traveling by train. Guides, maps, and ticket pricing for trains all over the world. If you're thinking of taking a train pretty much anywhere, stop by Seat 61.

The Free Cruise Challenge- Coming Soon

In February of 2015 I took the final steps to complete a goal I'd set the previous year; to get a 100% completely free cruise. And "free" means EVERYTHING from start to finish. From the cruise itself, airfare to the ship, a hotel and dinner the night before, even cash to spend at the casino or in the islands. I used a combination of credit card points, frequent flyer miles, and other travel techniques. See how I did it, and how you can too!

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Credit Cards - Hotels

Hilton Honors Reserve

From Citibank, this card earns points to use at Hilton hotel properties. The bonus and major benefit works a bit differently though and that's where the value comes in. While you do earn Hilton Points, hit the minimum spend and you'll receive two free certificates to use on a weekend night at virtually any Hilton property in the world. Then spend at least $10,000 a year and you'll earn a free weekend night certificate each year you hit reach that mark.

You'll also have Hilton Gold status included, which can often get you free breakfast, internet and room upgrades. The fee is $95 (not waived the first year) and there is no foreign transaction fee. These certificates are tremendously valuable if you leverage them at expensive properties. I used mine to stay in Maui, Hawaii and saved well over $1,000 for only a two night stay.

hilton-hhonors-american-express-sHilton Honors Card by American Express

Looking for some free hotel nights and no annual fee? American Express offers this card to earn Hilton Hotel Points. The required spend to earn the bonus is low, the chances of being approved are high, and the card is free to have. A great starter card for those starting out in the points and miles hobby. Click here to apply.

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Credit Cards - Purchase Eraser

Barclay Arrival Plus World MasterCard

This card has great benefits if you’re looking for an immediate way to redeem the bonus and plan on extensive travel, especially through Europe. The card earns 2x points on every dollar spent, includes a 40,000 “Arrival Mile” bonus, and it also includes chip and pin technology. This is not the same as chip and signature, despite what some people might tell you. Many countries are transitioning to chip cards, and in places like subway stations or train depots in Europe, the machines will demand a pin with your credit card. This card has it.

You earn “Arrival Miles” through your spending, then when you make a travel purchase you can cancel it out at a rate of 100 points to 1 dollar. So purchase a plane ticket or hotel for $100 and redeem 10,000 points to cancel out the charge like it never happened. I used this card to do most of the heavy lifting to get myself a completely free cruise.

Capital One Venture Card

Similar to the Barclay Arrival, this card earns 2x points on every dollar spent. You then use the points to erase your travel purchase. This card is the perfect solution when you want to get free travel for something doesn't have a formal points program like a cruise ship, tour group, or bus ride. There's no annual fee for the first year and this is also a good fit to earn a free cruise. I'm currently stockpiling these points for a trip to Antarctica!

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Credit Cards - Transferable Points

Chase Sapphire Preferred

If I could recommend only one single credit card for someone looking to earn travel rewards without applying for a ton of new cards it would be this one. It uses “Ultimate Reward Points” which can either be used to purchase travel through Chase or a better value of being transferred to 5 airlines, 4 hotels, and Amtrak. You earn 1 point for every dollar spent or 2 points for every dollar spent on travel or dining purchases and points never expire as long as you have the card.

There is no foreign transaction fee, which is a must if you’re traveling, plus the card has no annual fee the first year. I used the points earned from this card to redeem for two first class tickets from China. At $6,000 for each ticket, what would have been a $12,000 bill instead cost me a total of $60 in taxes.

Starwood Preferred Guest Card

Though the “SPG” program is known first as a hotel program, with this American Express card you receive a 20% bonus when you transfer at least 20,000 points to any airline. There are more than 30 airlines that are transfer partners, making the options plus the bonus a powerful tool in your rewards portfolio.

The points are a bit more difficult to earn, making them among the more valuable travel cards out there. There is a foreign transaction as well, which precludes me from bringing this card on trips out of the country. The current bonus is 10,000 points + 15,000 additional points for a $5,000 spend in the first six months. I highly recommend getting this card.

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Technology & Electronics

Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones

If I had to recommend one single item as the absolute must have for an airplane, it would be these. These sound cancelling headphones are worth absolutely every penny and since I got mine a few years ago, I've never gotten on a plane without them.

I won't try to tell you otherwise, they are expensive, with the newest model costing just under $300. However I was just as skeptical of the price and have since laughed at myself for ever doubting once I started using them. They are nothing short of amazing. You really have no idea how loud an airplane is until you put these on, and then take them off to compare. Engine noise, annoying passengers, that guy who just won't shut up on the red eye flight... and the big one... SCREAMING BABIES.

Put these one, flip on the noise cancelling switch and add some music. Babies can scream their brains out for all I care. Doesn't bother me at all. They also work great for loud bus rides or really just any situation. The sound itself is crystal clear and can be used for any type of activity when you want to listen to some good music. Again, my absolute highest recommendation.

 

LastPass

Screenshot 2015-04-13 at 12.35.41 PM Dubbed, "The last password you'll ever need," LastPass serves as a vault for all of your online passwords. Banking, insurance login, facebook, twitter, that account you have on Amazon, all of them together are stored in the LastPass vault and generate automatically for you when you login to LastPass. That means instead of using the same password for dozens and dozens of the websites you visit (very unsafe) you only have to remember the one for LastPass. It's free to join and use, though they offer a premium version that provides even better security and is only $12 for the entire year. I was initially skeptical about placing all of my passwords into one vault, but now I can't live without it.

 Express VPN

I'd recommend a "Virtual Private Network" for anyone working on the road, especially while traveling through other countries. Encrypt your internet traffic and protect personal information while using cafe's or public wi-fi spots. Access videos/ tv shows or websites that would otherwise be blocked while you're in another country (China blocks facebook and google, but a VPN can get around that). Express VPN has good prices, solid customer service and easy setup for Google Chromebook. Express VPN stands out because you can appear to be logging in from any one of 15 different countries. BONUS: Use this link to start any subscription and you'll get one additional added to your subscription absolutely free.

 Strong VPN
Screenshot 2016-08-21 at 6.49.48 PM

Strong VPN is another good VPN option if watching Netflix/Hulu's United States library, while you're out of the United States, is important. If you you use a VPN and try to access either of those streaming services, you'll get a message saying you must first disconnect the VPN and won't be able to watch. Strong VPN shows you as being in NY, but alters the IP address so you can watch Netflix and Hulu. I've tested it and it works. Also easy setup for Google Chromebook.

Toshiba Chromebook 2

I knew when I started traveling the world that I wanted to stay in touch, do some light work, and continue writing (especially for my blog). But I also knew I had a five year old laptop that barely held a charge. I knew I'd need a new one but wasn't crazy about spending a fortune.

I took a chance on a Chromebook and have never looked back. I highly, highly recommend this computer, which is fast, super light, and more than powerful enough for my needs. Chromebooks get a rap because they are mostly "only online computers" but I've found I can do almost everything I needed before. Plus in today's world there is an internet connection pretty much anywhere. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 comes with USB ports, and even an SD card reader. That means you can take out the card from your digital camera, insert it directly into the computer and upload your pictures. No extra cords or software required. The price is fantastic and the whole thing weighs about two pounds and I'm tremendously happy I ended up taking a "chance" on a Chromebook to serve as my computer while traveling.

** Also check out the new, updated version of the Toshiba Chromebook 2, which also seems superb.

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Shopping Portals

EV Reward

I don't do any shopping online without first visiting EV Reward. It's a search engine for many of the different shopping portals and outlets. For example, type in the store you want to buy from (Walmart, Macy's, Apple, etc) and EV Reward tells you what many airlines, hotels, or points programs are offering. Delta, American, United, Hilton, Chase, etc, etc... are currently offering for using their shopping portal to complete your purchase.

Barclaycard Rewards Boost

Barclaycard has its own shopping portal that pays you in Arrival Miles, but it is not listed on EV Reward. You must have a card from Barclays to be eligible to use the portal (but not all Barclay cards are eligible.) The Arrival Plus IS eligible, so you must first login, then highlight the card and you'll see an option to "Earn more miles with Reward Zone." They have more merchants listed than some other portals, but as I said, they are not listed on EV Reward so they are worth checking out and comparing to what you find on EVR to see what the best offers are.

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Travel Gear & Clothing

Timex Ironman Classic Watch

watchBack when I was going through pilot training, my flight instructor encouraged me to get a basic watch. "Ah, I'll just grab the cheapest thing I can find and disgard it after a few momths." That was back in 2010 and I still take this watch on every travel trip I make. This thing will travel multiple time options/zones, has a stopwatch, countdown, alarm clock and will light up to check in the dark. Also great to take on runs. It costs less than $30 and has been one of my best travel gear purchases.

 

North Face Angstrom 28L Backpack

This is the backpack (in black) that I used to travel the world for one year. That's right, just a 28L backpack for a year of travel. I specifically wanted a backpack that was around 30L so I could avoid having to check it on smaller airplanes as well as since most travelers will tell you, "The bigger the bag, the more stuff you'll find to stuff into it." I found this to be a good size with lots of extra compartments including a space for a laptop. It also comes with a rain cover.

Compression Sacks - Sea to Summit

These things do the job. I fit all of my clothing for my Round the World trip in a single compression sack and then fit that into my backpack. Compression sacks expand to let you put clothing or even sleeping bags inside, and then "compress" down to about 1/2 the size. They even have straps you pull down to compress even more.

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