I have a confession to make, we just returned from a 10 day trip to beautiful Ireland… and it cost us almost NOTHING to go. We’re going to show you how to vacation for (almost) nothing, we’ve been doing it successfully for several years.
When I say we went to Ireland, I don’t mean we visited one little area, we spent ten days traveling throughout Ireland taking in as many sites as possible. We were fortunate to arrive in Dublin, travel to Wicklow, Kilkenny, Limerick, Ennis, across the country to Galway, Tullamore and visit many gorgeous towns in between.
Travel Hacking 101
For years our stance was that ‘no credit card is a good credit card’, but oh boy was I wrong! Here’s how we went to Ireland nearly free.. and how you can do the same…
First and foremost, the most important part of this entire scenario is that you MUST not amass credit card debt or you’ll defeat the entire point.
Did you know?
Most credit cards offer points or rewards for using their cards, each card has it’s own benefits. The rewards for some cards are better than others. For example, my favorite card is American Express Hilton Honors**.
It accumulates Hilton Honors points whenever you use it, allowing you to use those points to “pay” for overnight stays in Hilton chains. It’s not limited to Hilton hotels, it also offers stays at Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Conrad, Hampton, Home2 Suites, Curio, Homewood Suites, and Waldorf Astoria.
Every month, we use our credit cards very selectively and deliberately to earn certain rewards just by paying our regular monthly bills (examples: Rent, car payment, insurance, medical bills, utilities, phones, etc). Rather than paying those regular monthly expenses with checks or debit card, we use carefully chosen credit cards, than immediately pay the credit card bill in full.
As we pay our regular monthly expenses the points for each of the cards begin to build up. This is how we purchased our airline tickets and also how we were able to stay 10 nights at Hilton locations in Dublin, Ireland at NO out of pocket expense whatsoever.
I love the Hilton chains because as Gold, Silver or Diamond member you receive additional benefits during your stays such as free wifi, free breakfast and in some locations, even free dinner and drinks. While vacationing we prefer to enjoy a leisurely pace, having breakfast late at around 9-ish.
The breakfast is a full spread of eggs cooked several different ways, sausages, bacon, toast, bagels, fresh fruit, yogurt and so much more. More than enough to fill oneself up until about 3-ish in the mid-afternoon, especially if you grab a piece of fruit for a later snack. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the local treats at various street vendors offer as a midday snack.
At this point in the game, it’s still a great time to cash in on lunch deals at the local eateries, but late enough in the day so you won’t be hungry for another large meal after having a nice lunch. Later in the evening, it’s drinks and h’ourderves (again, for free through the hotel chain as a Diamond member).
Before choosing your cards, it may help to have an idea of where you’d like to vacation first. You’ll want to research the airlines or potential travel expenses of getting there so you know exactly how many points you’ll need to earn to achieve your goal vacation. Keep in mind some companies actually have their own cards, for example, Carnival Cruise Lines has a card offered through Barclay.
We’ve used this one in the past to go on cruises for free. (This might be more expensive if you happen to live in the midwest and have to fly to get to a port, so choose carefully.)
Finding Affordable Fun
There are a number of things you can do for little to nothing once you arrive at your destination of choice such as visiting various parks, geocaching, art galleries, live music performances, street performers in cities, etc.
Your best bet is to google “free things to do in ________”a few weeks prior to leaving for your trip. You can also google “______ Calendar of Events” (simply insert your destination name in the blanks!).
When you arrive at your destination, talk with the locals, interact with them as much as possible, ask them where they’d go with their friends and family, etc. On this particular trip, we gleaned fantastic advice about how to get unlimited use of the Bus service for about $25 per person, rather than $2.65 PER Bus, Per Person, per trip (a substantial savings of roughly $250 over the course of 10 days.)
Be aware that some cards points/rewards can expire. Pay close attention to the expiration date so that you don’t lose points that you’ve worked to earn. It’s best to find non-expiring points programs.
Pay attention to Bonus Points- oftentimes (particularly with frequent flier miles cards) you will find bonus point codes in the freebies forum, which can then be applied to your account.
Understand the perks of your cards, for example, many credit cards include free travelers insurance or free Rental car coverage, (which means you can opt-out of the expensive rental car insurance when you pick up the vehicle!)
**Regarding the American Express Hilton Honors Card– there are actually several different cards, some offer more points, some fewer, the difference is generally a yearly fee (aka the ones that offer more points have a fee).
You’ll need to do your own calculating based on the how the points will accumulate to see whether the card with a Fee would work best for you or whether you’re better off with the “No Fee” card.
We started off with the No Fee card and have recently upgraded our card to the one that charges $75 per year. This is entirely based on our own spending habits and the fact that we get 9 points per dollar spent instead of 3 points. In the end, it’s still worth it.