Would you look at that, another year has passed. In true form, we are publishing Travel On a Budget: 2017 Edition. Who says you have to leave your hometown just to explore and experience more? We try to break the misconception that you’ll have to travel outside your hometown to experience new things, and we try to prove that yes, there are amazing things right at your own backyard! Through the use of credit card points, miles, and various deals, we show you how to travel luxuriously and have extraordinary experiences without breaking the bank. This also ties to our philosophy that your travel budget can be higher than normal and also show the Real Cost of Travel.
Travel On A Budget: 2017 Edition
Apologies but I got lazy in 2016. I think I started the post way too early in the month and it became a mammoth task to include all the costs associated in one page that I just… stopped for August.
I’m writing this post as the fourth quarter of the year is starting and we’re not trying to publish how much each trip costs. Those posts take a LOT of time to compile and organize, so we’re just doing it whenever we feel like doing it.
This year, we’ve been to so many places, which include both business and personal (leisure) trips. Just so you know, we both have full time jobs (treating our weekends like a vacation), so our vacation days are limited. We’re not rich, we just work regular desk jobs, but we find a way to fund and afford our travels, even as we try to reach financial independence.
Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, FL New Years
We had a free night thanks to the IHG Credit Card, so we splurged and decided to spend our New Years weekend at the Crowne Plaza in Hollywood Beach.
We didn’t really see much, except walked by the boardwalk area, and looked at the canals and the little sliver of space called the ocean from our balcony. We also rode the Jungle Queen Riverboat, and had to drive back home after. It was a quick overnight trip so nothing really special happened.
Gainesville, Florida – Camp Mustache Southeast
Got a chance to meet Mr. Money Mustache himself, as well as JD Roth, and Keith of the Wealthy Accountant. This trip only took half a day out of my work, as I had to leave early on Friday to get to the venue, and the Monday is a holiday (even though I had to log in the morning). It was definitely a great time to hang out with like minded people!
This one was just a weekend. We needed a place to unwind, and our default place is always Orlando! We tend to do something new each time (or go to the outlets, or go to an event, or stopover on the way to the in-laws), but through travel hacking, we get to stay in hotels for free! That or stay in a cheap AirBnB ($35 or less!)
New York City, New York
Another weekend away. We have friends who live in Manhattan so we tend to stay with them on Friday and Saturday night. Hurray for small wins! I mostly went to NY to go see the NY Times Travel Show. Since I don’t want to lose days, I got to NY late – after the industry day, so only went to the consumer day on Saturday (pretty much the whole day) at the Javits Center. I got a chance to talk briefly to Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt, and met Michael W Travels.
Sunday was spent hanging out with my friend, as I felt I’ve seen enough of the travel show (and it took me ages trying to decide which brochures to keep or not, and there was a lot!)
Peter’s birthday trip! This one was a bit out of the ordinary. We really wanted to go to Cuba while it was a bit ‘open’ at the time for Americans (ie Peter and his friend) and Jetblue flies directly from Orlando so why not?
It turned out to be a great (but quick) trip. We had a friend come with us, and we ended up having lots of fun. It was also a holiday weekend so we didn’t one day from our vacation bank. Yay.
Bahamas – on a Cruise
It was our first time ever on a cruise and we surprisingly liked it. This is going to be our first of many, and we were absolutely happy with Royal Caribbean, even if we were sailing on their smallest ship.
Our biggest worry was seasickness, but after our first night (which was a bit rocky – we felt like we were drunken people trying to walk) and drinking a Dramamine every time we wanted to go to sleep, it actually worked out. No sea sickness (yes, even on Peter’s sensitive stomach), and we managed to eat as much as we wanted to without worry!
Ireland – East Coast Exploration
Ruby has visited the United Kingdom before, but not Ireland, so this was a first for both of us. Ireland is a small country of about 5 million people, but has incredible natural beauty, friendly people, and a fascinating history. We rented a car and drove up and down the east coast, and enjoyed it immensely.
In Dublin, we visited the world-famous Guinness factory and also had a Slovak meal at a Czech restaurant (right next to our hotel, go figure!), but our favorite place was probably a place called Bray, a small city on the water with an amazing elevated walk on a cliff which will lead you into the next town, about 2 hours later.
Ireland is definitely a place we will be going back to. We even briefly talked about moving there at one point! That’s how much we loved the country so much.
- Ireland’s Ancient East Itinerary
- Applying for an Irish Visa for Filipino Passport Holders
- Our First Impressions of Ireland
- Where to Go in Dublin, Ireland
Philippines – To visit family and celebrate our marriage + New York City for a weekend
It was a year ending in an odd number so it was time for us to go to the Philippines (we go every even ending year to Slovakia), and this time we decided to make it a little bit more special – by having a celebration which involves our family and friends who are back in the Philippines who didn’t make it to our May wedding! We rented a nice lakefront home for the weekend and everybody just chilled out and enjoyed the food and each other’s company.
We also chose to have a little weekend in New York before our trip to the Philippines. Stayed in Times Square and near the airport. It was Peter’s family’s first time in New York so to show them Times Square was great. And of course, the food in New York is always great – we get a lot of food options we don’t normally get in Jacksonville or in Sarasota.
Trivia: May is actually our wedding anniversary month. We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary AND our honeymoon in May 2017
- A Slovak-Philippine Wedding: Part 1
- A Slovak-Philippine Wedding: Part 2: Ceremony
- A Slovak Philippine Wedding: Party (Part 3)
- Peter and Ruby Wedding Photo Gallery
- A Philippine Slovak Wedding in America
- How We Met: The Courtship
- Help! My Partner Is A Spender!
Alaska – Honeymoon and Nature
This trip was a whole year in the making. When we were wedding planing, one of the things I focused on was the honeymoon, and Alaska eventually won! One reason why we overspent on our 2017 travel budget was because, well, we splurged on our special event. After all, we’re only going to get married once. #sorrynotsorry
Alaska is just a majestic place where we plan to go back again and again. It’s just far coming from Florida. It actually feels like flying back to Europe (or takes longer than that), and well, the flights and cruises are a bit expensive. Thank goodness for credit card points! Peter flew one-way on business class for only $6, while I flew in economy. Boo hoo.
We saw brown bears, reindeer (caribou), moose, black bears, a lot of birds, even a marmot! I had a small breakdown this December when our computer started acting up and my first thought was the photos! The photos! Thank goodness we got our files back!
Related Posts –
- First Impressions of Alaska
- What to do in Alaska for Two Weeks
- Travel Hacking Alaska: Planning Our Trip
- Two Weddings and an Alaska Honeymoon
We technically were still cruising during the first two days of June within Alaska, but we were there for most of May, so that technically counts, right?
Canada – Vancouver, Niagara Falls & Toronto
Stayed for one night when we were waiting for our flight home. We had enough time to go to Capilano Suspension Bridge and Stanley Park in the evening. Luckily our hotel had a shuttle straight to Capilano and back, making it super convenient. Stanley Park was a longer walk though, so we saw the ‘hip’ shopping street of Vancouver as we were walking to the park and back. You’ve got to love longer summer days when the sun sets later than usual.
For Niagara Falls & Toronto, we actually decided to go during 4th of July weekend. We didn’t know it was actually Canada Day on 1st of July so we lucked out and saw the fireworks while we were in Toronto. It was a quick trip, aided by points and miles. We used Delta, which ended up giving us $300 vouchers each because we decided to give up our seats. We got on the next flight, got upgraded to business class and economy plus, and which actually landed 10 minutes later than our original flight. We got paid for our flight which we used points on, which we then proceeded to use 1 voucher to book a New York trip for both of us for only ~$50. Yay.
- Three Faces of Canada: Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Vancouver
- 4 Day Niagara Falls and Toronto Canada Itinerary
We technically went to see Niagara Falls and Toronto in July, but we covered most of them on the article in June so we won’t try to repeat ourselves.
Local Weekend Travels to Orlando & Tampa
Sometimes we travel just so we can watch events. In this case, we spent a weekend in Tampa (staying with Peter’s parents in Sarasota, FL to save on hotels nad the like, of course), and also to Orlando to watch Paris St Germain & Tottenham play. It kind of works out for both of us: me being a boyband fan and also Peter is a big football fan (aka soccer to Americans).
Jacksonville doesn’t have as many events as these, so the fact that we have two big cities within a 3 hour drive from where we live (or even an hour from where Peter’s parents live), does help us in our entertainment options.
I always like receiving experiences or things that I need for my birthday or any other occasion that entails presents (Christmas, Valentine’s Day). So, when Peter asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I answered Discovery Cove!
My birthday isn’t until September, but we moved the celebration up a month so we can take advantage of the cheaper tickets for Discovery Cove. Now, if you don’t know what Discovery Cove is, it is an interactive water park of sorts, where you can swim with dolphins, and snorkel to see mantas, huge fish, and even other animals.
Don’t judge me if I went to Discovery Cove, but I love animals, and would definitely not pass a chance of going there. Also, entrance fees to Discovery Cove include Aquatica and SeaWorld. So yes, three birds with one stone.
St Louis, Mississippi
St Louis was one of those places that I never thought we’d randomly visit, until we did. Allegiant Air flies from Jacksonville to Belleville, IL, which is around a 30 minute drive to St Louis, MO and is way cheaper than flying direct to SLU. It is a city that is perfect for a weekend trip (maybe need more days to explore the outskirts).
Would highly recommend going there, even for a weekend or a quick stopover to some other Midwestern city. I do highly recommend going in the summer, especially for us Florida folk. I don’t think I’ll survive the notorious Midwest winters. Oh, and if you’re flying in to Belleville, make sure you reserve your car rental in advance. There is only one car rental company operating out of that airport – we got a huge car for the price of a compact car because they ran out of economy cars to give us!
What an excellent weekend, and it was made even more perfect by the fact that it was frugal. Watch out for our post on St Louis (when we feel like typing it up, not sure exactly when it will be up!)
Ichetucknee Springs & Deland
These were day trips from Jacksonville and held on two separate weekends.
Ichetucknee Springs is around 1 hour and 45 minutes from Jacksonville and is known for tubing during the summer season. A friend just suggested doing it on one random weekend and so we went. Since we want to go tubing a couple more times, we decided to buy our own tube (and none of the cheaper quality ones that are available at the dollar store), but one with handles, a mesh bottom, and cup holders.
The water is a constant 72 degrees throughout the year so it is good during summer when it is hot and humid in Florida, not so great if you go in early September and the weather is starting to get much colder.
Deland is an hour and 30 minutes from Jacksonville, and we decided to do a boat tour that we also got from Groupon. It was a nature tour that went up St John’s River, and we even saw bald eagles. Apparently, Florida has the second biggest concentration of bald eagles in the United States.
We wanted to go to other state parks within the Deland area, but a few of them were still flooded from Hurricane Irma, so you can’t really kayak around or even hike, as we learned the hard way. We’ll probably go back another time to visit said state parks, when all the flooding has subsided. It’s been a few months since the hurricane but the destruction remained.
New York City, New York
Our third time to New York in 2017, and you may have seen the photo above so many times already on our blog. It posts so prominently because Ruby thought that this giant bear is one of the cutest things ever. It is actually a big tourist destination in Times Square to have a photo with the huge Line bear at the Line Store.
Enough about that. This was a work trip because Hurricane Irma was scheduled to batter Florida. Since New York is a city that never sleeps, even though we had late nights at the office, I found time to walk around after work: an example is Times Square. It just doesn’t get old. We also went to see a Broadway show because it was Broadway week. Luckily enough, there was a showing of Miss Saigon and it was Broadway Week so we got tickets on a substantial discount.
Peter managed to work from home the week that I was in New York, and he definitely enjoyed staying in Downtown Manhattan at a nice hotel for free. Aren’t work trips great? Free airfare, hotels, and food? I never say no to work trips if it was offered to me. I don’t mind trading in hours of my time for at least a few hours of leisure and exploring after work. Oh, and the points from the hotels & the airfare!
So yes, even on a work trip, you can find ways to enjoy yourself, if it is a city that doesn’t sleep like New York. I wouldn’t say the same if I was sent to Delaware on a work trip. Perhaps a mall would be a default option for us to visit as most of the touristy destinations would have been closed after we get out.
- A budget trip to New York City
- Sights and Sounds of Upstate New York
- 2017 New York Times Travel Show Recap
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Hurricane Irma put a damper in my original birthday trip. We were supposed to go to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands but Irma hit a week before we were supposed to fly, and I was sent to New York, and by the time that Irma passed, St Thomas was a disaster. We had to cancel that trip and make alternate plans so Grand Cayman, here we come.
We booked using Southwest points (and my god, was it a great deal, and this was before we got the companion pass!), and also stayed at an AirBnB. I loved our host, who was the owner of Moby Dick Tours – and he gave us a discount to his Stingray City Tour. Not only did we get a chance to hang out with a local, we also got to do one of my ultimate bucket list item – interact with the stingrays in Stingray City!
Grand Cayman was good enough for our quick 4 day trip. It rained on our first day so not really the best weather to go snorkeling so we just did a city tour instead and picked up some supplies. Watch out for our in-detail post (again, no timeline, but we will definitely post about this trip).
FinCon! We’ve been to Dallas before (I believe March of 2016) as mostly another quick long weekend getaway, but when I won a FinCon scholarship this 2017, I just couldn’t pass up the chance to do so.
Since it was a last minute trip, we booked our accommodation through AirBnB and made sure our place is within a mile walking distance from the partner hotel since there was not enough time for us to book anything with points. We also found cheap Spirit airlines tickets from Tampa (around $140 per person).
FinCon is a good experience to meet fellow personal finance bloggers/podcasters/vloggers, and since the ticket comes with a virtual pass, maybe I’ll find the time to learn some things to help grow our blogs and make it into our full time business! Next year’s FinCon will be in Orlando, which is a quick drive from our house and we already got tickets to it!
November was a month where we didn’t really travel at all – except to visit family in Sarasota during Thanksgiving. I was tired from the traveling so we ended up just going to the mall, stocking up on video games and shopping (thanks Black Friday), and just chilled and got our regular life in track.
Sometimes you don’t have to travel every single month to enjoy life. We entertained ourselves by staying in. I even managed to watch one of m favorite bands, 98 Degrees at the Florida Theater in Jacksonville. #guiltypleasure
We did hike one weekend, to Castaway Island Preserve, and we could have done more but we were just tired… so very tired. And so, I managed to do a lot of reading, and Peter managed to finish a few video games. Win-win
The first few weeks of December were a dud. Peter had to work on certain weekends and I was recovering from sickness on one weekend so not much traveling aside from running errands. We did, however, make up for it during Christmas and New Years Weekend when we did day trips to Naples, Florida and Valdosta, Georgia.
So, what’s in Naples, Florida
We bought a Groupon to a jet boat tour for Naples, and well, we had to redeem it. It was great – you’re going to get wet, and that particular weekend during the Christmas Holidays were warm — like, Florida warm. Perfect for sightseeing. We also saw Tin City and browsed at the stores. We only bought ice cream though! (mmm ice cream)
Why did you go to Valdosta, Georgia for a theme park? Isn’t there Disney in Orlando?
If it was warm during Christmas weekend, it was extremely cold during New Years weekend! Like, layers, cold. But, we had Groupons to Wild Adventures expiring on December 31st and it was time to use them! My favorite ride was the safari – where I saw animals! I also liked the ferris wheel, while Peter and his brother braved the scarier rides (I chickened out on two of them!)
Wild Adventures is a great day trip idea from Jacksonville, and I’m actually surprised how big it was. There’s also not as long of a queue as there is in other theme parks, which is always a plus (except the safari ride, which is the most popular ride in the park). We’ll definitely be back and will try the water park too!
Thanks for Sticking With Us!
I think this has been one of the longest posts I’ve ever typed, and I keep coming back to it again and again. I tried to chronicle everything within the article on what we did for the year and also related posts. It should be great looking back at it over the years and seeing where we have been and how far we’ve come from being stay at home folks to seeing and traveling the world!
Traveling the world does not have to be your full time passion. If you are on the road to Financial Independence like us, you can actually travel on your free time too, even while employed full time! Some dreams can be made true as well, if you make time for certain things in your life. Heck, I don’t even know how I have time to blog between researching and reading about travel, personal finance, video games, money, and all sorts of things in the middle!
So, if you enjoyed this post, comment below – recommend places for us to go, whether domestic or international. Well, note that I still am on a Philippine passport so not too crazy of a destination please!
Last round of related posts:
- Why We Bought A House (even if we travel a lot)
- How we fund and afford our travels
- What is your anti-frugal guilty pleasure?
- How much should you spend on Travel?
- How We Saved $6,500 in Travel for 2016
- A Financial Independence Guide for Travelers