Friday, January 23, 2015

Why timing can be everything

We had an interesting setup these past few days. You see, the boyfriend just got offered a job elsewhere, but there's a catch. These are the terms:
- a huge increase in his salary
- 10 less vacation days from his current job (which eventually got re-negotiated to 15 vacation days)
- most of our vacations planned for 2014 will be cancelled (the other company wanted him to start early)
- Longer hour days, probably

When faced with that situation, what would you choose? 

Most people want to get the additional money, the offer was indeed amazing, I have to say. But my point was:
1) Working in an American company can suck - they don't value as much vacation time as other companies (European companies are good, they offer a lot of time off). 10 working days for vacation every single year? Are you kidding me? My family lives on the other side of the world (the Philippines), and his extended family lives in Europe. 10 days off is not enough to visit both families! Granted, in the end they offered him 15 but see point 2)
2) Cancelling 4 vacations just sucks -- and is very disappointing. One month before the vacation and it's going to be cancelled!

In the end, he chose to stay in his current company. While the pay is lower, the flexibility is good. There is a work life balance, but the loss of the other opportunity looms like a cloud. I wanted to just let him go and do what he wants but he refused. I'm too much of an outlier and a non-conformist, but apparently that's a good thing? For most, what he chose was just unfathomable - WHY? But for me, well, if I were in his shoes, I'd go running for the hills. I would not compromise my travel time for work time. Never. Then again, it is his choice, not mine.

It hit me that the American companies just don't value vacation time. I never thought it would be real but it was.

If this happened at some other time, when the travel wasn't there, then maybe it would have been a different story. But for now, no. The excitement and all the planning has been intangible in value. The cancellation of everything? Sure, that can be offset with the money, but then again we don't really need a lot of money anyway, for me what matters most are experiences. I sure hope there will be other, better opportunities out there. I just don't want him to be disappointed in the long run.

As they say, as one door closes, a window opens. I just hope we see that window soon. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How Do I Travel for Free?

Travel Hacking - loosely defined within the US as to travel very cheaply through the use of points and miles. So, you may be wondering how I get to travel to these destinations for not a lot of money.

You have to note that:
 1) I have a 9-5 job, just like most people in the world, and I make a substantial living off it. No, I'm not rich, but I try to spend my money wisely and pinch every penny (I am a couponer and a travel hacker)
2) I am currently based in the USA. While some of these tips may not directly affect the countries you live in, you can always try to find variations of it in your country. It may not be as generous as the ones we enjoy in the US, but a little bit goes a long way, nonetheless.
3) And no, this does not include sponsored trips. I did not reach out to any companies, nothing. Everything is mostly organized by me and my boyfriend, using points and miles.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana

And, back to the story:
So, when I went back home to Manila from Jacksonville, FL (I promised my mum I'll go back home at least once a year), one thing that stopped me was the airfare. Living in a not so hub airport in Florida can suck - it can drive airfares up by around $300+ (13,500 Philippine Pesos) just by flying from JAX to another airport hub. So, to make it simple, the retail price of a plane ticket JAX-MNL and vice versa is roughly around $1300-$1400, but I cut down my flight expenses to $56 & 80,000 United points round trip. Here's how:

1) Credit Card signup bonuses -  In the US, before they give you credit cards, you need to have a credit score. My boyfriend had a higher credit score than I did so he signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (at the time there was a 40,000 bonus for a $3,000 spend in 3 months) and added me as an authorized user. That rocked up my credit score higher and we reached the spending requirement and got the 40,000 points. Yay! For those wondering how we reached the spending requirement, it was easy: rent payments. The apartment we live in accepts credit cards for rent payments and it's an easy $1275 + water & trash every month.

2) Mistake fares - did you know that the fares you see are manually inputted by people? Well, that or some serious IT screw up would happen that would drop a 0 in the original fare or upload a different number altogether in the published rate. Mistake fares are mistakes. Once you see one, book it!! You may earn frequent flyer miles for those trips flown too. While hotel mistake fares also happen, it does not happen as often as airlines. If it does & you also happen to go to that destination at the dates you need, then book it! If these companies cancel your tickets then at least you tried, right? Mostly they do, anyway.

3) Promo fares - offering low deals on flights. Some low cost carriers like Cebu pacific or AirAsia have crazy 0 base fares and you just pay for taxes and fees. Most of my solo trips to Asia 1-2 years ago was only $60 or less roundtrip on budget carriers. You can also

4) Sign up for loyalty programs - Every major hotel chain or airline has points (except for some budget carriers). When you do fly and pay money for it (even mistake fares), you can get miles which you can keep & use for other trips. Every little bit helps, right? Sometimes signing up itself gives you bonus points!

5) Credit card category bonuses - In the US, you can get as many as 5x the points for every $1 spent on certain rotating categories every month, maximum of $1500. This enables us to bulk up our reserve stash of transferable points or cash back (cash back is definitely useful. I use the Discover cash back that we earn for CVS gift cards, a store we go to a lot for deals. It may not be travel related but at least we save on household & grocery expense, and as I said, every little bit counts)

And that, is you I travel for free (well, mostly). If you have any questions, you can email me at the contact form on the side. You can also read more about where we are going this 2015 for cheap in this post.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

It's 2015 - Welcome Friends, Followers, Lurkers to my Site

It's 2015 already and wow, time quickly flies! First off, I just want to welcome you guys who happened to stumble upon my humble website - if you have the time, please comment below where you happened to find my site from (either from Million Mile Secrets, Two Monkeys Travel, or just plain Google)

This year, I plan to post more content on my sort of neglected blog, and focus more on travel and books (and a bit of beauty on the side, maybe) - and with this, let me put a few changes to the blog starting this year:

1) I have a new writer on the block - Yay! It's not just me blabbering on about my adventures because well, for the past (nearly) 15 months, I have been traveling with an amazing amazing guy named Peter. And yes, for anyone wondering, he is my boyfriend - nepotism at its finest. He'll help out with some of the trip reviews around here (because I am lazy like that). I met him at work and we've been together for quite some time now. That's him on the left, and we're posing with our World Cup Tickets on the day that we arrived in Rio (and watching that same match in the afternoon - cos you know, we're crazy like that).

2) I'm focusing more on weekend travels - Me and Peter work full time so we only have a few days per year to travel for long stretches. Read our Weekend Warrior Series to get a full breakdown of what we've been up to during the weekend & how much we've spent.

3) We're very much into travel hacking- Want to find out how me and Peter can travel a lot, ride in legacy carriers like AA, British Airways, United & the like without paying much for airfare and hotels? Read our 2015 Travel for Cheap List and that will detail where we're going, how much we're paying out of pocket, and how many points we used up.
I'm going to try to post a brief how-to on travel hacking, in case you were interested... oh, and how to get a Schengen visa.

4) We've started quests - After reading Chris Guillebeau's "The Happiness of Pursuit", Peter and I started on a few quests. Notably: go to all the 50 States of the US.I'm not sure how many Filipinos & Slovaks (Peter is a Slovak turned American) have done it, but we'll try!

I'm trying to do other bits and bobs on the site too so welcome and I really appreciate you taking the time to visit my site :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reasons Why You Shouldn't Quit Your Job To Travel

Let's face it, most of the inspiring blogs out there tell you to go, quit your job and travel the world! Of course, reading all the inspiring tales and adventures that these people have been in would be enough for you to stand up and want to take the leap too. But in certain cases, you just can't, or it's not that you can't, it's just that you don't want to.

Bath, England

I am one of those people who don't want to quit my job to travel. Sure, there are other times where I entertained the thought - days when I'm having a really bad day at work, or I'm feeling really sick, or just want to stay at home and do nothing. But the truth is - I like having the stability. I like having a steady paycheck month on month and I don't really like the thought of toting everything that I own in two backpacks. Truth is, I love to travel, but I love going back home to a place that didn't change, one that gives me a certain normalcy, a place where I can just chill out and do nothing without thinking of paying for the cost of a hostel or a hotel room or trying to couchsurf with a random stranger. A place where I know the stores that I can buy normal stuff in and actually know a price to pay. A place where I can have you know, stuff. 

Sure, travel gives you a heightened sense of adventure - where you immerse yourself in a culture and hang out with all kinds of people that you haven't been before. But the thing is, everyone settles down every now and again. Maybe I am at a point in my life where I'm happy, but I don't know. At the back of my mind I know that I will stay in America or Europe, but it doesn't meant that I'll completely quit my full time job to traipse around the world, going from country to country. In fact, I love that being employed full time offered me a chance to become an expat on three separate occasions.  How's that for free travel for you?


In my case, my company paid for my relocation expenses - flying me business class to first world countries, taking care of the resident visas that I will need and any other things that I would need.
That experience opened me up to other countries that I would need visas for. I am a Filipino passport holder, and much as I hate to say it, I don't like the fact that I'll need a visa to travel for most of the countries that I would want to go.

Sure, I'd been to the South East Asia loop - Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Brunei, Indonesia, and even went as far to get a South Korean and Chinese visa without any issues at all. But the fact is, if I want to go to Europe without all the hassles, it was handed down to me by said employer, and I'm grateful for that. Sure, that visa has already expired but I can still use it to my advantage in the future.

Puerto Rico

I like the fact that I am now a US non-resident alien, which enables me to travel visa free to Mexico and some Caribbean countries and also provides me with a base to explore North, Central, South America, the Caribbean, and even Europe and Africa! I like the fact that being an alien resident gives me a chance to interact with colleagues from different walks of life, much like traveling or backpacking. I like the fact that I can travel hack freely in America - I've already gotten 4 free flights:  back home (US to Manila), to Europe, Mexico & Turks & Caicos (see this blog for more information). I love the fact that I can stay in high end hotels for a fraction of their costs, and not paying full price for anything except for food, rent & utilities.

Granted, I do hate the fact sometimes that I pay a lot for these luxuries, and the fact that I only have a few days of vacation each year, but it's something you can overcome with the following tips:

1) Make the most of weekends & holidays - I cannot reiterate this enough! The weekend is not for sleeping, people - it's about exploring. Two full days where no one bothers you with work emails or calls, isn't that heaven enough for you? Explore local places, book a flight for a fraction of the cost that's leaving Friday night and coming back Monday morning then go straight to work. You can sleep off your tiredness the rest of your weekday evenings. Rinse and repeat. It takes time to get used to this lifestyle but a habit can be formed after doing something long enough. I never thought I could do it, but I did, and got used to it. Some holidays actually fall on a Monday or a Friday so score! Three full days of exploring for you!

2) Plan your holidays accordingly - I could be both a last minute traveler and an anal one that has everything planned out years in advance. If you are travel hacking, yes, it is best that everything is booked months in advance because that's where the greatest deals are (ie award availability or insane fares from budget airline carriers). However, the same could not be said of hotels - where the closer to the date you are, the better you find a deal. It helps your boss that they know the dates you're going to be out for contingency planning. It has worked in my favour, hope it works for yours!

3) Planning is part of the fun -  I love checking various websites almost everyday and checking for availability and making sure there are a lot of checks on my checklist. I try to travel the cheapest way possible for the shortest amount of time without compromising my boyfriend's demands (ie to stay at a decent hotel or eat in expensive restaurants). Once you have scheduled your flights, it is easier for you to plot out where to stay, where to go, and what to do instead of just daydreaming at a map and wondering where to go and how to get there.

4) You won't have to worry much about the budget- This is one reason why I love being employed full time. I have a rough idea of how much is going in my bank account every month and I know what percentage of it I'll keep in savings, how much I'll invest, and how much additional money will be trickling in. This way, I won't be stopped if I want to go to higher ticket items, one that can't be easily travel hacked (ie Antarctica, Galapagos, Easter Island). I know I have some money to burn and that money is for spending! You can't take your money with you to the grave but experiences can.

5) I'll have time to recover after a big trip- I can sleep for hours on end during the weekday to help charge me up but my weekends can still be very busy, even when I'm not on the go. Thing is, people who are location independent work too, albeit on the road. The reason why they can afford it is they choose lower cost countries that allow them to pay less in rent. I for one want to stay in America - even though the costs are more expensive, the opportunity is there to get a LOT of free stuff if you know how. I don't really want to travel then stay for a long time in a lower cost place. I'll just do that in the Philippines where I have a home to come home to (but bah internet sucks in the Philippines)

Okay, enough of the long post, I hope you get my drift of why I chose a life of the cubicle prison, and just shows the other side of travel that's rarely portrayed by your favorite travelers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

[Book Review] The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

The book starts a few months after 13 Little Blue Envelopes so you have to read that book first before you move on to this one. The story still revolves around Aunt Peg's quest for Ginny - leaving them before she passed on from cancer.

It's so hard trying to think of a summary for this book without spoiling 13 Little Blue Envelopes sooo SPOILER ALERT.

Book starts when Ginny gets an unexpected message from London - her missing backpack & letters have been found!
She flies to London and it just so happens that the 13th Letter was another quest in itself. Back to London, Paris, and Amsterdam - but there's another destination - Ireland! Oh, and there's two new characters in the book!


I like books like these - books that revolve around quests and travelling to find yourself. It's like one of the best things! While it was not as adventurous as the first one (I feel like this book was rushed and some of the quests were just reused from the first book again), it still had its fair share of new places to see and explore, and realizations about life and all it's mysteries.

If I was a teenager and was still not traveling the world, I would be very interested to travel after reading this. After all, Ginny managed to do it, why can't I? (Of course she had her inheritance, but you can do it too - just need to work and save the money to make your dreams come true)

Sad that the series has come to an end - what will I read now? (Uhm seriously, I know there's plenty more books to read out there. It never ends)

If you want to see my review of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, click here

Overall, I'll give this book a 4/5 
Book was borrowed from the Jacksonville Public Library

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