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As many of my friends and acquaintances know, I am an avid traveller. At the current age of 26 years, I have visited over 20 cities in 14 different countries across North America, Central America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. I can tell you it has been the greatest investment in my life to travel as much as I have thus far.
I see friends having children, getting married and buying fancy cars and houses, and while all that is great, I could never forgive myself for not taking the experiences I have had, if I wasn't selfish enough to invest my life into travelling. Although life (or God, if you're a believer) has a plan for everyone, I believe we have the power to steer our path in the direction we choose.
Some could argue that travelling is expensive and that it's a luxury, on the contrary, if you do your research, and save a small portion of your salary, earnings or pay cheques strictly towards travelling, you'll be on a plane in no time. The purpose of this article is to share some tips and tricks I have acquired over the years to make travelling more efficient, if you aren't doing so already.
Travel before you get set in your chosen career, and extensive travelling becomes more difficult. It is much easier to travel for three weeks or more if you don't have a career you depend on, because your life's focus has shifted, and by then you're probably thinking of more important things such as buying a home, starting a family, investments, etc. It's all about doing things at the right time.
I have read many travel blogs, and they all claim to have discovered the best hacks for saving money on flights and whatever else. At the end of the day, sure you can try to follow these to the tee, but I believe experience becomes your best friend, doing your research is essential, and being attentive to detail is crucial.
I strongly suggest South Africa.
My greatest experience in all my travels was volunteering on a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa for 26 days. I got to experience working with animals I never imagined being able to get up close and personal with. I got the chance to capture amazing pictures and selfies, and I made friends I will forever cherish, both in people and in furry creatures. Felidae Centre capture a part of my heart and I count down the days until I visit them again!
Choose a destination outside of the basic.
Don't be one of those people who see's your friend's travel on Instagram or Facebook and decide that's the location you have to visit next, as soon as I see a trend in destination, such as Thailand (in my inner circle 2015-2016), I hold off from visiting that country because I want to be different than everyone else, I want my decisions to be my own, and not influenced by social media. Then again, if you're heart is set on Thailand anyways, don't let my opinion stop you by any means.
Let yourself be inspired, and don't be afraid to pick a location that other's might question your logic for, it's okay to be different, and it's okay to pick a country or countries your friends might not be interested in. The first thing that comes to mind when I pick a country is the level of tourism that country attracts, but also holds.
Example: Costa Rica was a disappointment for me because of the level of Americanized tourism the country depends upon, any activity to do was overpriced and targeted for non-local tourists, and by that I mean someone from San Jose city can be a tourist in La Fortuna because they aren't familiar with the town, yet they aren't going to partake in Americanized activities such as zip-lining or parachuting.
When I start to decide where my next destination will be, I keep an open mind as to what will inspire me, sometimes inspiration hits but does not set, I wait until a destination grasps me at the heart, and then I know I've made my choice.
Collect frequent flyer miles.
Collecting frequent flyer points has allowed me to do a lot of travelling at the fraction of what it would have cost me to purchase a plane ticket outright, but the catch is, to use those points, you have to plan further ahead because of the limited amount of seats available per flight.
Personally, I find Aeroplan to be one of the best rewards programs for travelling, but living in Ottawa, and the issue of Air Canada switching to its own program in 2020, is going to make it less appealing for Canadians.
The fact is, I was able to travel to South Africa for $700CAD return flight vs the $2500CAD it would have cost me booking the ticket through one of the various travel search engines. But the good news is, if you don't completely hate United Airlines, they frequently have alternatives at a cheaper rate, that is as long as they don't give you the boot off the plane before takeoff.
If you're not a Canadian, or prefer a different airline/rewards program, I strongly suggest sticking to that one single program, there is no use collecting on various rewards programs because it will take much longer to be able to claim on those points. And if you're a responsible person with your credit card, get one that will a) give you bonus miles for signing up and b) give you points on all your purchases, this will get you that much closer to your next destination, but be careful, don't go signing up on 3-4 cards and racking up credit card debt with the idea the bonus miles are worth it, when really it's more of a headache.
Keep your travel dates open.
Why? Because not every destination runs in the same time zone or hemisphere, thats a fact! It might be summer in Canada in August, but it's winter in South Africa that same month. If you're a person who doesn't like the cold, you're better suited visiting during the warmer months of the year, not to take away from your experience.
Maybe you've made up your mind on a particular continent or destination and don't really care what month of the year you visit, well the good news is, flights become much cheaper during the low seasons of most countries vs peak season.
Maybe you have a couple destinations in mind, but you have a smaller budget, it's okay to pick the cheaper destination because your dollar will go further than a destination where you have to worry about dollars and cents everywhere you go, especially for us Canadians where the exchange rate isn't very favourable.
Volunteer during your holiday.
Maybe you're an art fanatic, love the architecture found across the globe, or find yourself lost within museum walls, that's fantastic for you because there are endless possibilities in all major cities worldwide. If you're like me, where you choke at the idea of spending your day inside a building, instead of exploring the world's natural beauties, there are easy ways of doing it, as well as experiencing some of the greatest things life has to offer.
Doing my research, I found that the possibilities are endless, working with wildlife, working with children, teaching, contributing to a community, medical aid, humanitarian aid, agriculture, conservation, even internships can be found depending on your chosen field of study. Many websites offer many opportunities at various budgets, it's just a matter of finding the right one.
If you're part of an Evangelical church family, talk to your local pastor, there are many Missions trips organized through churches, which can offer you the opportunity to help globally. It is less strain on your pocket book, but keep in mind that fundraising is essential and hard work helps you achieve that. These trips are expensive, and a lot of work is put into them during many months leading up to the project. This is a great way to have friends, family, and your community support you on a great cause.
For example, my involvement with The Bridge Church (Kanata) mission to Haiti was a lengthy one, and lot's of hard work was put in by the entire team to make it happen. As a team, we put in 6-8 months of planning, fundraising, team bonding in order to make it successful. Together we we're able to raise just over $38,000CAD to cover our accommodations, the medical supplies for the clinic, building supplies for the two homes we built, to pay for the rice that was distributed to families in need, and then some, as well as time off from our careers and jobs back home.
Do your research!
No good project was ever done half-assed! Sit down and do your research, it's much easier to arrive at your destination already knowing what you want to see, visit, or experience, rather than waking up each morning wondering how you will spend your day. Now I will admit, some destinations have the fun of requiring yourself to inquire with the locals, which can open up to amazing adventures!
This goes for the destination you're visiting itself as well, make sure where you're visiting has something to offer that interests you, maybe it's the arts, wildlife, conservation, festivals, etc. Culturally it has to appeal to you otherwise you're wasting your money and time. Not to say you won't enjoy it, but you won't know until you get there, and by that time, you've already invested a tone of money on your flight, hotels, etc.
The world is a big big place, and I like to consider it our open playground. There is so much diversity and culture to be experienced and discovered, it would be shame to sit back and only dream of what it is like. Sure there are many challenges along the way, but no one said it would be easy! Keep an open mind and an open spirit!