My Favorite Travel Hacks
This blogpost comes with a travel related Giveaway - more about it later!
This is not just a low cost travel guide.
Flying business class. Nice hotel rooms. Traveling 30 countries a year. Exploring, running and hiking across this planet. But there does this come from? Not because I am incredibly wealthy, more because I figured things out over the years and collected some hacks and tips I want to share with you.
How it all started
I started traveling after my second semester at university - until then I barely managed to go to Spain for one single week a year. But my mindset changed and I had plenty of time between semesters. Plenty of time and zero money.. I left to Barcelona back then and started an internship as a scuba dive master which went horribly wrong, hence I ended up hiking the "Camino de Santiago" - 300km across Spain on my own.
That adventure truly opened my eyes and ever since I traveled as far, much and crazy as possible. Which leaves me with my first tip:
Book things on your own
I totally understand anyone who is not down to investing a huge amount of time into research and booking things, but it allows you to stay at cooler places, experience more adventures and save a lot of $$$. Travel agencies are often not very flexible and charge extra.
But how do you organize everything on your own?
Here is my step by step guide how I approach an upcoming trip:
1. Brainstorming - What's the major event?
That can be anything. That amazing travel shot you discovered on Pinterest, that marathon abroad, your Auntie who emigrated or simply #1 on your bucket list.
Anything else will be constructed around that one thing. Depending on how much time and funds you have, look at the area, cities, nature, mountains, waterfalls, stunning beaches or direct connection flights within a two hour radius - that's your play area for this trip.
If there is no major event, check available flight connections, there might be a cheap catch! That made me go to Israel, Jordan and many other countries in the first place.
2. Setting dates and flights
This has some major $$$ saving potential. In the best case, your flight dates are flexible which allows you to find the cheapest fare. In my experience, google flights offers the best algorithm for finding the best, fastest and cheapest connection. It also offers an open search to discover cheap flights to new places you might not have thought of. Make sure to also check the price graph for perfect dates.
No matter how cheap it gets - don't book any 27 hours/ 4 stopover crap connections. They are usually on different tickets which makes traveling unnecessarily painful (claiming luggage, visa, etc.).
Pro tip: If you fly regularly, It totally makes sense to collect miles and obtain a status within one airline group. Personally, I am using "Star Alliance" with Lufthansa being my main airline, however Lufthansa is not the best choice within the Alliance and it is a lot easier to reach gold level for instance with Asiana.
If you love exploring, I would still suggest to book a round trip (a lot cheaper!) and then get a cheap one way ticket back to your departure airport.
3. Where to stay
Seriously, my couchsurfing years are long gone, even though I had some pretty amazing experiences doing it (Speaking of: staying with a nudist in Jerusalem, staying with Denmarks coolest grannie in Copenhagen, staying with a local family in Nepal and so many more). I just really need some minimal personal space - well rated hostels are perfect when they have single or double rooms. Airbnb is super nice for groups and also offers a new "luxury" section, but 99% of the time, I book a place at booking.com as the ratings are super reliable.
When exploring a new country, I recommend to stay around 3 days in one place before moving on, but traveling even slower has its perks as well. Also super important - I LOVE remote places. Tulum was such a gem 5 years ago before luxury hotels completely destroyed its vibe but there are still a billon secret gems out there, just be open and try to avoid touristic shitholes.
4. What to do
As I am traveling solo during most of my trips, that part is crucial. It is so easy and fun! Despite of staying in nice hostels (Don't spend much less than 20$, depending on the price level), I love booking activities to get to know other travelers and locals. The best places to do that are:
These Apps allow you to explore the area, book activities (even with locals, like cooking classes or bike trips) and get to know the people around you. I was able to explore Bangkok by mountain bike, walk around Beirut with some Iraqi travelers, joined a Hackathon in Madrid, did rooftop Yoga in Barcelona and booked a yacht for very little money through these services.
5. Upgrade your experience
There are several ways to fly business and first class. The most obvious is booking and paying for those tickets directly, which I NEVER did - tickets in "C" or "A, F" are usually around 3k-10k per trip. So what other ways are there?
Upgrade by status: Unfortunately, that only happens very rarely and if flights are overbooked. Having a status and collecting miles always helps though.
Upgrade by miles: That's a very fun option to go for - A long haul flight with Lufthansa will cost 50.000 miles for an upgrade and I love going for it. Be aware that not all booking classes are eligible before booking your tickets!
Upgrade by auction: This is my favorite option! Some airlines send you an auction link a couple of weeks before your trip and you can offer any amount you wish to pay for it - it often worked for me. Make sure to offer an odd number (rather 303 Euros than 300) to increase your chances!
Cash Upgrade: If nothing worked, you will still have the chance to ask for an upgrade at the boarding gate. Again, this is a LOT cheaper than booking business class upfront - this option usually costs around 500 to 800 Euros on top.
Chill, shower, have food and charge your phone during these long hours of waiting? It is always worth it rather than hang around at the gate or sleep on the floor and burn money (4$ water ?!) for shitty food.
Easiest way in is, again, having a status, but that is not always required. Either the have a simple entry fee or - when I was flying to Peru and nobody accepted my Lufthansa card -
I looked into a new offer:
Priority Pass: You pay a small annual fee and can enter thousands of lounges only paying a small entrance fee (a lot cheaper and more tasty than buying airport food anyway) no matter what class or airline you are flying with.
If you are interested, I can offer a 10% discount for your membership with them.
6. More $$$ Saving Hacks
Go off-season, that applies anywhere. You will find amazing discounts for almost any place - No hotel likes to have empty rooms! As most of my races and marathons are off season anyway, I do it anyway. Cannes is charming in late September and half the price than in July, South Africa can be fun during their winters
Avoid big hotel chains, unless you work as a consultant. Four Seasons and Peninsula are amazing places to stay at, but value for money can be really poor there. Rather check for boutique five star places a bit outside of the center.
If you stay at major chains, make sure to use their promotions and loyalty programs: For instance, I stayed a long time at Hyatt Kathmandu in Nepal for about 80$ a night. In doing that, I collected loyalty points that I could spend somewhere else - in that case, I went for Hyatt New York City which is usually 600$ a night.
Chosing a country: Go to a place where your currency buys a lot of value. Northern and Western Europe are pricey, but have you been to Tallinn, Riga or other Eastern European cities? Super nice, charming and pretty affordable. Same applies for Central America and South East Asia.
To Finish of this blogpost, I want to tell you about my personal three top places in the world:
This is a super small island, one hour from the Mexican coast and three hours of a bus drive away from Cancun - too far for most tourists and that's the magic about it.
It's intimate and super basic in a good way. I had dinners with local families, spent my days walking the shelter dogs and relaxing in the hammocks located in the sea. There are no cars allowed on the island, not to forget about the whale sharks and the bioluminescent sea which makes you glow at night. Pure magic!
Not a single city, but the whole country is pure magic to me.
The party vibe in Tel Aviv, the big running scene, the smaller cities and it's stunning nature. Last year, I took some weeks off to hike up the coast to Haifa.
Jerusalem has an incredible history and small loads of small Arabic villages offer the most tasty food in the world! If I had to chose a country to stay in for the rest of my life, it would be Israel. Did you know I even study Hebrew because I love it so much?
There is no 3. It is either Mexico or Israel - there are a trillion magical places for sure, but nothing that impressed me as much as Ceviche and beer in my hammock for breakfast in some remote Mexican village or the vivant and passionate fun Israeli vibe.
I promised a small giveaway - so here we are!
Join me for my next trip to PARIS and win a bib for Paris Half Marathon - the Semi de Paris.
Of course, you are also welcome to hang out with us and join us for dinner. Pasta is on me ;-)
To enter, leave a comment under this blogpost with your favorite place on earth and go follow @semideparis and me on Instagram. Good luck!