How I Visited 25 Countries in 1 Year on a Budget (Without Getting Fired!)

“How do you travel so much?”

This is probably the question that I get the most from my friends.

This made me realize I should probably post an analysis of my last year’s travels, along with some tips, that really helped me become the frequent traveler that I am today.

In 2016, I have visited 25 different countries on 4 continents, 18 of them being for the first time. Namely, and chronologically, these were: Norway (x2), The UK (x3), Germany (x3), Turkey (x2), Spain, Italy, Vatican, France, Sweden, Greece (x2), Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Dominican Republic, Portugal, Brazil, Canada (x2), Hong Kong, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

UPDATE: ABC News found out about my project and they invited me to share my travel tips on the World News Now segment. Watch below:

During all these trips, I’ve logged 184k miles and spent 263 hours (aka 11 days) in the air!

This is what my 2016 looks like on my FlightDiary.net profile. A lot of red dots!

Yes, I’ve traveled extensively, which is not an accomplishment on its own, but these additional facts make it remarkable, and worth a blog post:

  • I’ve never paid the full price on any of my trips. As a matter of fact, because of carefully banking miles and points the year before, I ended up paying only a small fraction of each plane ticket or hotel booking.
  • I continuously had a full time job in 2016 (except for that one week I had between my old job and the new one) which required careful time management for each trip. Often times, I flew back into NYC on Monday morning and went straight to work.
  • Haven’t spent a single holiday at home in NYC. Holidays like “Presidents Day”, “4th of July”, were all turned into long weekends in international destinations.
  • Out of the 59 flights I had in 2016, only 4 were for work and they were to domestic destinations like Los Angeles and Wisconsin. Meaning: No ma’am, my work didn’t fly me anywhere exotic 🙂
  • Booked and paid for hotel stays, as far as 9 months in advance, which guaranteed the lowest price possible.
  • Especially when in Europe, I country-hopped quite a lot, dedicating only 24 hours to some cities, which helped me maximize the number of the countries visited.

During my travels, I recorded lots of videos and posted them on my YouTube channel. Take a look at my experience at the Biodome in Montreal.

RESOLUTIONS, RESOLUTIONS…

Back in late 2015, I had one simple resolution for the upcoming year: I was going to maximize my budget and time for travel like never before. At the end of 2016, I was happy to have accomplished the goal. Although, don’t think of every single country as a 4-5 night stay, which originated and ended in the same destination. It was more like a marathon, like visiting 6 countries in 8 days.

I flew “red-eye” as much as possible, especially when Europe-bound, in order not to miss a day. Evening and night flights from the East Coast, land in Europe in the morning which made it ideal for me. This is one of the many tips I’m happy to offer to fellow full-time working, young professional travelers, who are looking to maximize their travels. For more, simply scroll down.

25 Countries in One Year on a Budget: watch the video above for a quick summary.

PLANNING TIPS:

  • Have a plan: start a Google doc and list all the holidays. Jot down ideas of possible places and have them visually listed in one place. Use this document to store links to website with tips and places, and also log the costs of tickets and accommodations.
  • Whether it’s on miles or you’re paying for it, book a flight that offers a long (12-24 hrs) layover in a different, exciting city and take advantage of this mini vacation for no extra cost.
  • Not sure about where to go and on a budget? Use the “take me anywhere” feature on airline ticket search engines to see options sorted by price.
  • Pro tip: You can book a round-trip flight to Europe for under $200. How? Use Norwegian Air’s low price calendar function and look for flights to Oslo or Stockholm, under the Norwegian language & currency website options. This will offer you the lower prices in NOK, rather than USD. Aim for the low season between October and March. Book a ticket with no extras like seat selection or meal, and then, book a cheap flight from these cities into another European city via companies like Ryanair or Pegasus, dirt cheap. (Booked a flight for March 2017 via Norwegian for $192 roundtrip, NYC – Stockholm, recently). You CAN select the a regular seat you want once you’re at the airport, via the check in kiosks, at no extra cost.
  • Sign up for loyalty program memberships with the major US airlines (Delta, United, American) and collect miles from all the flights you’ve actually paid for, never leave miles on the table. (For example I’ve booked several short distance flights within Europe through airlines that are in Star Alliance just like United, and requested miles from United for those flights.
  • Similarly, start a hotel loyalty program, preferably by getting a specific credit card that will give you free stays and status within the program. I got the Citi Hilton HHonors credit card during when it was offering 80k welcome bonus points, which could easily get you and a plus one, 8 nights with breakfast, at their Hampton Inn hotels around the world.
  • Bus travel sometimes is your best friend. When country-hopping in Europe, take advantage of cheap bus tickets from portals like http://www.goeuro.com and save time and money.
  • Check this previous blog post I wrote for some of the great cheap travel resources that I use: 3 Great Cheap Travel Sources You Should Bookmark

TIPS FOR DURING TRAVEL:

  • Determine how credit-card friendly the country is and plan to use the non-cash options as much as possible.
  • Bring at least one “no foreign transaction fee” credit card with you.
  • When you absolutely need cash, get it from an ATM, ideally from the city center not the airport.
  • Pack light. Never bring anything more than a carry on luggage and a backpack.
  • I NEVER once checked in a luggage, always traveled with a carry-on. During my 17-day trip to Europe this summer, I actually did laundry twice.
  • Make sure to bring the appropriate electrical outlet converter and an external USB charger for your phone.
  • Check Uber rates by entering the point A and B in your app, even before your arrival. In most cases Uber X or Uber Pool ends up being cheaper and time-efficient than the other options.
  • Don’t pay extra for data outside the US. Switch to T-Mobile or Sprint. I’m extremely happy with the former. It’s saved me hundreds of dollars.
  • Check the “Free Walking Tours” in your city. In most cities, these tours exist, and are run by extremely well versed locals, who help you you immersed in the local culture on these tip-based tours. These are also great places to interact with fellow travelers and hear about their experience, and get your questions answered.
  • Learn how to say Hello and Thank You in the local language. It goes a long way.

Got specific questions? Got a destination in mind and curious to know if I have money-saving tips for you? Write your question in the comments section below and I’m happy to answer.

About the author:

My name is Saf Dogan, I’m an NYC-based digital marketer, a Turkish-American polyglot, and an aspiring travel blogger/vlogger. Please follow my Instagram feed @grabthatpassport and subscribe to my YouTube channel to stay in the loop!

 

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