10
Jan

My Top 10 Travel Experiences from 2013 (and 32 Cheap Travel Tips)

Posted By Trav
EPoPing-Victoria

That pose above is lovingly referred to as “The EPoP”. Arms and legs wide, head back, just taking in the amazing scenery around you. If you’re somewhere cool, take a pic doing the EPoP and send it to me!

This is the one part of my look back at 2013.  Other posts include:

2013 was an absolutely amazing travel year, taking us from the beaches of Nantucket to the narrow back alleys of Lisbon.

From the rocky bluffs of northwest Spain to the Rocky Mountains.

From Gilbraltar to the Golden Gate Bridge.

And while showing you pictures and telling you stories of my travels is great, I’m going to one up my Top 10 Travel Experiences post from 2012.

This time around, I’m going to tell you HOW I was able to do it, including “cheap travel tips” for every single place on the list so that you can Travel More and Spend Less!

Here’s my list of the my top 10 travel memories of 2013, in chronological order.

1.  Finally Visiting San Fran for the First Time

golden-gate-bridge

Waving hi to everyone while driving down Lombard!

Waving hi to everyone while driving down Lombard!

Every time I told someone in Japan that I was from America, they told me they loved San Fran.

When I replied that I had never been, they looked at me like I had 3 heads.

When I explained that San Fran was very far from my home on the East Coast, they still looked at me like I had 3 heads, but that was probably because of my poor Japanese.

So when we moved home from Japan, the very first trip we did was head out to San Fran for a week and a half.

And it was awesome!

Highlights included an awesome walking tour of the Mission, heading out to Napa for a day with friends, driving down Lombard street (4 times!), attending a Warriors game and indulging in some wonderful food.

How we did it cheap:

  • I used the Southwest points and Southwest Companion Pass I had earned from opening the Chase Southwest credit cards to get us roundtrip airline tickets for $10.
  • We stayed right downtown and paid pennies (relatively) by staying at the two really nice, really fun hostels (read my reviews here).
  • The hostels included tons of free (yep, free!) activities like the aforementioned walking tour and a wine and cheese night.
  • Overnight street parking is free in most areas.

2.  Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific-coast-highway

17 Mile Drive outside of Monterey at sunset.  Stunning!

17 Mile Drive outside of Monterey at sunset. Stunning!

In 2012, we had the opportunity to drive the Great Ocean Road in Australia, which still remains one of my all-time favorite experiences.

This year, we had the chance to take on the US’s equivalent, and it was equally as amazing.

We went from San Francisco to Monterey on the first day, driving the gorgeous 17 Mile Drive during sunset.

The next day, we went all the way down to Cambria, a drive that should take 2:38 according to Google Maps.

It took us 10!

Each and every turn, we stopped to take pictures.  We couldn’t help ourselves!

Every vista was more beautiful than the next, and we spent more time out of the car than in it.

How We Did it Cheap:

  • In Monterey, we stayed in a hostel. It’s barebones, but it was 1/3 the price of anything hotel in the area (see my review here) and parking is free.
  • The best part of the PCH, the views, are completely free!

3.  Viva La Espana

madrid-kisses

At the "edge of the world" in Finisterre, once believed to be the westernmost point in Europe.

At the “End of the Earth” in Finisterre, once believed to be the westernmost point in Europe.

In February, we jetted off to see my sister, who lives in Santiago de Compostela, and explore the rest of Spain.

We had no plans to go to Spain in February, but after finding $250 roundtrip tickets from New York to Madrid, there was no way were passing up the opportunity.

We spent 1 night in Madrid upon arriving, took the train out to Santiago, and then spent 4 great days exploring the old city and surrounding area, including a trip to the “End of the Earth”.

From there, we flew down to Malaga, trading the cold of northwest Spain for the sun and surf of the Costa del Sol.

Five days with a few British friends who flew in to visit was too short, but we did manage to squeeze in trips to see the Alhambra in Granada amidst all the eating and lying by the pool that we did.

Once we took them to the airport, Heather and I drove across the southern coast of Spain to Gilbraltar, a funny little place that’s best attribute is being able to see both Africa and Europe at the same time.

How We Did it Cheap:

  • We got a mistake fare ticket to Madrid, which only cost each of us $250 roundtrip!  Make sure to follow The Flight Deal to get the best deals on paid tickets, and when a mistake fare happens, jump on it immediately and figure the rest out later.
  • Travel to Europe in the off-season.  Sure, it was colder than we would have liked, but you miss all the crowds and you can score sweet deals on accommodations.  Our 3 bedroom villa in Malaga was less than $100 a night (and we split it 3 ways)!
  • Fly budget airlines in Europe.  Our tickets from Santiago to Malaga were only $30 per person on Ryanair.

4.  Falling in Love With the Portugal

The incredible limestone cliffs in Lagos, Portugal

EPoP’ing the incredible limestone cliffs in Lagos, Portugal

The famous cable cars of Lisbon.

The famous cable cars of Lisbon.

The Pena Palace in Sintra is one my favorite monuments in the world.

The Pena Palace in Sintra is one my favorite monuments in the world.

The Dom Luis Bridge in Porto.  Notice the similarities to another famous monument?

The Dom Luis Bridge in Porto. Notice the similarities to another famous monument?

While it may not get the publicity of it’s much more touristed and popular neighbor, Portugal was every bit as amazing as Spain.

After leaving Spain, we road-tripped through Portugal, hugging the southern coast.

We spent a very wet night in Lagos, which was beautiful but completely dead during the off-season.

Next up was Lisbon, a fantastic city with one of the neatest historical sites I’ve ever been to:  The Palace of Sintra.

Last year, I claimed that Angkor Wat was my “hands-down the coolest historical site I’ve ever been to.”

While that still may be true, Sintra is a close second.  It’s the type of castle any kid would dream up, except it actually got built in real life!

After Lisbon, we continued north up to Porto, which just may be my new favorite city in the world.

Awesome food, amazing views, cheap prices, a great vibe, tons of stuff to do…and port wine!

What more could someone want?

How We Did it Cheap:

  • In Porto, stay at the Casa dos Guindais.  It’s one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed and it can be had for under $80 a night (tell Alvaro I sent you).
  • You can use your cellphone for less than $10 by getting a Portuguese SIM card and switching out regular SIM card.

#5.  Garden of the Gods and Rocky Mountain National Park

Garden of the Gods outside of Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods outside of Colorado Springs

 

EPoP'ing in front of the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park

EPoP’ing in front of the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park

In May, Heather and I were fortunate enough to be invited to attend a conference in Colorado Springs for travel bloggers.

Of course, we put our Southwest Companion Pass to good use and once again snagged tickets roundtrip tickets for $10 each.

We also decided to spend a few extra days out there, so we explored the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and then headed up to Denver.

We made the day trip up to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, which had 4 feet of snow in some places even though the temperature in Denver was 80 degrees!

Another great highlight was biking around Denver for a day.

I’m amazed at how open and easily accessible cities can be to bikers when they don’t start Phil and end with delphia.

How We Did it Cheap:

  • Denver’s great bike-share program only costs $8 per day and is an awesome way to see the city.

#6  Spending a Week in the US’s “Hippest Town” for the World Domination Summit

Multnomah falls, about an hour outside of Portland

Multnomah Falls, about an hour outside of Portland

The gorgeous Willamette Valley wine country.

The gorgeous Willamette Valley wine country.

Portland, what a treat you were!

Heather and I went out to Portland for an amazing conference called the World Domination Summit, hosted by my friend and EPoP podcast guest, Chris Guillebeau.

Of course, we once again used our Southwest Companion Pass to fly there, which meant, that yes, once again, we paid $10 roundtrip.

The conference was only Friday-Saturday, but having never been to the Pacific Northwest before, we decided to make it a Tuesday-Tuesday excursion.

Eating was tops on the list, including trips to the PB&J food truck, Salt & Straw, quite possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had, and multiple happy hour stops at Brix Tavern.

When not indulging, we visited the magnificent Japanese gardens, which brought back a flood of memories and truly is an exact replica of what you see in Japan itself.

We also made it out of the city to Multnomah Falls and up then up to Washington State to visit some relatives.

And of course, no trip for Heather is complete without a stop in the region’s wine country.

The Willamette Valley was stunning, and was everything that I imagined Napa would be like but wasn’t.

With the perfect weather in July, is there any better place in America to be than Portland?

How We Did it Cheap:

  • I can’t stress enough: The Southwest Companion Pass.  We flew for $10 roundtrip.  When you aren’t paying for flights, travel is cheap!
  • Portland has to have the best happy hours in the country.  Most bars run them from 2pm-6pm, and then again late night for a few hours.  And most bars offer 50% off drinks and food.  Incredible!

#7  The ‘Sconset Bluff Walk on Nantucket and Massive Lobster Rolls on Martha’s Vineyard

Quintessential Martha's Vineyard: Enjoying lobster rolls from Grace Church on the beach.

Quintessential Martha’s Vineyard: Enjoying lobster rolls from Grace Church on the beach.

The path through town leading to the 'Sconset Bluff Walk.

The path through town leading to the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk.

A view from the 'Sconset Bluff Walk as you reach the end.

A view from the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk as you reach the end.

It rained almost the entire 2 days we spent on Martha’s Vineyard, but all of that was forgotten the last night, when we ate the world’s largest lobster roll from Grace Church.

Luckily, the bad weather didn’t follow us when we moved to Nantucket for 2 days.

Nantucket is everything it’s cracked up to be, and we literally biked the ENTIRE island.

The best part was the absolutely breathtaking Sconset Bluff Walk, in which you actually walk through the backyards of some of the world’s nicest residences.

It’s incredibly difficult to find (go to the end of Front Street, follow the sign that says “footpath” and then go left through the hedges).

It feels weird to walk through someone’s yard (although it’s technically public property).

But who cares!

The views are out of this world, and you also get to get a peek at how “the other half lives”.

How We Did it Cheap:

  • The ferries are never cheap, but the slow one is only half the price of the fast one and only takes 1 hour longer.
  • Bringing a car on the ferry is expensive and renting one on the island is even worse.  Instead, rent bikes and use the easy to figure out public buses to get around both islands.

#8 Driving the Icefields Parkway and Camping in the Canadian Rockies

Jasper National Park, where it's impossible to take a bad picture.

Jasper National Park, where it’s impossible to take a bad picture.

elk-jasper-national-park

EPoP'ing the Icefield Parkway

EPoP’ing the Icefield Parkway

Stanley Park with downtown Vancouver in the background.

Stanley Park with downtown Vancouver in the background.

We had heard that the drive through the Canadian Rockies and onwards toward Vancouver was beautiful.

But this was plaster-your-face-to-the-windshield beautiful!

We saw elk and bear (though luckily  not while camping).

We relaxed in the Banff hot springs.

We hiked the trails around Lake Louise.

And I even took a dip in the 35° F, glacier fed Moraine Lake, mostly because everyone said I wouldn’t do it (peer pressure…it works every time)!

Every part of this trip was incredible, and it was made all the more special because we were able to do it with 5 of our best friends, representing 4 different countries.

How We Did it Cheap:

  • Camping is always a fun and cheap option.  Even in amazing parks like Banff, we paid less than $30 per night per campsite.
  • In Vancouver, we stayed at the HI-Vancouver hostel, which was right in the heart of downtown.

#9 Bourbon Street For a Bachelor Party

A look down Bourbon Street

A look down Bourbon Street

Too close for comfort?

Too close for comfort?

Sure, it sounds cliche: going to New Orleans for a bachelor party.

But there’s a reason for that, and it’s because it rocks!

Seven of us traveled to New Orleans (four of us flew for free using the Southwest Companion Pass) and rented out an AirBnB place on Frenchman Street for an extended weekend.

It was about a 10 minute walk to the jazz clubs on Frenchman or the French Quarter and Bourbon Street and cost only $150 per night for the entire house!

New Orleans itself was a complete blast, but not just for the reason many would imagine for a bachelor party.

While we certainly spent some time drinking Hand Grenades, we also went on a swamp tour, saw a few jazz shows, went on a historical walking tour, and got invited to an awesome tailgate at the Superdome prior to the Saints-Falcons game.

In a town with so much to do (not to mention eat and drink), it’s impossible not to have a blast!

How We Did it Cheap:

  • Broken record alert:  4 of us flew to New Orleans for $10 each using the Southwest Companion Pass.  It rocks!
  • AirBnB is awesome for finding cheap (and cool) accommodations, especially for large groups.  I use it all the time.
  • The bus to/from the airport is less than $4 and will drop you right near the French Quarter. WAAAAY cheaper than a taxi.

#10 Driving 18 Hours to Tampa

The reward after a crazy trip.

The reward after a crazy trip.

The sign that started it all in Savannah.

The sign that started it all in Savannah.

Picking up a puppy in Richmond?  Sure, why not!

Picking up a puppy in Richmond? Sure, why not!

Out of all my travels this year, the trip to Tampa was definitely the craziest.

What?

How was Tampa, of all places, the craziest?

I wrote all about the adventure here, but long story short, I presented at a conference in Tampa and only had 30 hours of notice.

Instead of flying, Heather and I drove (for various reason explained in the longer post) and had some (mis)adventures, such as spending an extra night in Savannah thanks to a 2 for 1 margarita deal and picking up a toy poodle in Richmond.

Again, the entire story, as well as a goofy video starring yours truly, can be found here.

How We Did it Cheap:

  • We used Choice Hotel points to stay at Suburban Extended Stay Hotels for two nights (only 6,000 points/night).
  • We eschewed the big name hotels downtown Savannah, which were charging $120+ and stayed at the Inn on Ellis Square, which was only $79 and just as nice.
  • Tequila Town in Savannah offers an incredible “buy 1 get 1 free” special on margaritas basically all the time and offer you free chips and salsa.  Since margaritas are only $4 anyway, and strong, you may end up spending the night!

I was fortunate enough to have some absolutely amazing travel experiences in 2013.

None of these would have been possible had I not taken advantage of the cheap travel tricks I’ve learned over the past 5 years.

If you’re interested in continuing to learn all about how to travel more while spending less, make sure to sign up for the Extra Pack of Peanuts newsletter, and receive a free copy of my “Become a Frequent Flyer Millionaire” series.

What were your best travel experiences of 2013?  And what were some of the best cheap travel tricks you used to get there?

37 comments

  1. Very nice post — a fun read. Hope 2014 is also a good travel year for you!

    1. Trav says:

      @Enjoy Fine Food- Thanks…did you have any memorable travel experiences in 2013?

  2. Ken says:

    Next time you’re in Denver shoot me an email. We live right next to the airport :)

    1. Trav says:

      @Ken- Will do!

  3. Had to be said says:

    Your girlfriend is smokin’.

    1. Trav says:

      @Had to be said- Thanks…I think so too, that’s why I made her my wife!

  4. Eric says:

    Only one trip for us this year: Family of four from Seattle to New Orleans, drive to Pensacola then home from Pensacola. Used Alaska miles for three plane tix, the youngest kid sat in our laps. No tricks but we’re still learning. Traveling with kids is tough but we keep pushing on. The beaches around Pensacola-Destin really are amazing!

    1. Trav says:

      @Eric- That’s a great trip, and yes, traveling with kids must be a whole ‘nother ball game. Never been to Pensacola, I should check it out.

  5. Oh my gosh LOVE this list! So many great moments :)

    It’s hard for me to pick one… so I’ll pick two!

    1) I flew to Norway for Chris Guillebeau’s End of the World Party… on a $76 plane ticket with a 36 hour layover in Amsterdam on the way! Did that by signing up for a Delta AmEx when they had a 50,000 point sign up bonus and booked the ticket with it.

    2) Used your tips for using British Airways Avios to fly roundtrip to Costa Rica for about 22k points and $47 for an AMAZING trip to hang with other entrepreneurs!

    So excited for the next year– hopefully see you in Croatia!

    1. Trav says:

      @Kate Marolt- Thanks, glad you liked it. Put me waaaay too long to put together the post, but I’ll always be able to look back on it, so that’s cool!

      Dude, you went to Norway for Chris’s party? I totally forgot about it, as I had been planning on doing the same and then somehow it slipped my mind. Ugh! How was it? And you booked with Delta…wow, you’re a champ!

      What entrepreneurs did you hang out with in Costa Rica? Some inner circle I don’t know about? Do enlighten!

      1. Kate says:

        Yeah! It was so fun :) I’m sure there will be other parties around the world… at least, there will be if I have anything to say about it! ;) ha as for the Delta ticket… it took me 3 days on the phone with them, but gosh darn it I made it happen!

        Costa Rica I was at the Trailblazer’s Retreat (http://trailblazersretreat.com), and coincidentally (serendipitously? are there really coincidences?) that is why I will be in Croatia in May– round 2 is happening in Split. DEFINITELY want to meet up with y’all over there!!

        1. Trav says:

          @Kate- So now you’re hosting the TrailBlazer’s Retreat? Pretty freaking cool! We have to meet up…that retreat looks awesome! I met Mike at a party in NYC a few months ago, he’s co-hosting with you?

          1. Kate says:

            Yeah! I’m teaching yoga and a workshop about how to host events/retreats. Maybe see y’all there ;) Or at least around Croatia! I’m not sure if Mike is making it back this time around… love that guy!

    2. Ken says:

      22k Avios to Costa Rica? Is that still possible? Was it a distance based flight on AA metal?

      1. Kate says:

        I think it’s totally possible! I used Travis’s articles to help me out- they also got me a round trip ticket to Santiago from New York for 35k miles and $10 in taxes. Unreal.

        http://www.extrapackofpeanuts.com/the-top-5-ways-to-use-british-airways-avios-points/

        http://www.extrapackofpeanuts.com/4-things-you-should-know-about-british-airways-avios-points/

        Next time British Airways offers a 50k point bonus for their card… TAKE IT :) I got 100k points from signing up and meeting the minimum spend.

        1. Ken says:

          We’re flying to Ireland for 2+ weeks this summer thanks to the Aer Lingus trick for 25k Avios RT. I’m 6’1″ though, so coach is going to really stink for me those 6 hours. Tried to book Biz, but they were all sold out already. I wish I was a tad shorter, even an inch would help a ton.

          1. Kate says:

            Oh man.. good luck with that! I get uncomfortable at 5’8″… can’t even imagine. Focus on the fun of IRELAND though!!! What an amazing country.

  6. Claire says:

    You make a compelling case for the SWA companion pass and your linked post about it is super useful (thanks!). Once the pass expires can you earn it again through cc signup bonuses (i.e. are the applicable cards churnable?)

    1. Trav says:

      @Claire- No, they aren’t really churnable, but you can get creative. For example, transferring hotel points over to Southwest does count. So, for example, this year I’ll transfer over Choice hotel points AND get 1 SW personal card an hit 110k.

      Since there are 4 SW cards to choose from, there are some options there!

  7. Last year was a busy wedding season for my girlfriend and I which meant taking two shorter domestic vacations – one to “The Cape Cod of the Midwest”, also known as Door County, Wisconsin, and the other to drive the PCH (just like you guys!) from San Francisco to LA.

    We used miles and points for airfare and hotels where we could – which was awesome, of course – but one other “trick” we used was to tent camp!

    In Door County we stayed in a fancy pants B&B that was $228 a night but we also camped in two different state parks that were $23 a night. And you know which experience was much more fulfilling, fun, and that I told everyone about? Yep, the $23 campsites.

    We also camped between hotel stays on our PCH trip. California has some gorgeous state parks that we paid ~$35/night for!

    1. Trav says:

      @Mr. Everyday Dollar- Couldn’t agree more that camping is a great way to go. The camping in Banff was incredible, super fun, and of course, super cheap. Great way to travel!

      I’ve never heard of Door County, Wisconsin. You guys had a great stay there?

    2. Ken says:

      I looked into renting a car from SFO and driving it one-way to LAX to do the PCH, but everything I could find was super expensive for a one-way rental. Did you shell out or find a deal?

      1. Trav says:

        @Ken- We rented in SFO and dropped off in SFO. Drove PCH down, and then took the inland highway back up to SFO, all in one day. Long drive, but beautiful.

        1. Ken says:

          That was the only thing I thought of to still be able to do it. I can use Avios for 7,500 points to LAX from DEN for each of us. I just wish AA flew to more spots from DEN to take advantage of the cheap Avios redemptions. We get DFW for 5k, and ORD and LAX for 7,500 each way. Was pretty bummed when I found out AA didn’t fly to Vegas or SLC from DEN.

          1. Trav says:

            @Ken- Yeah, you are in a good spot for using Avios, for sure.

  8. Great compendium! I found the discount codes with Avis are giving me the best price usually. I used about half a dozen and it’s normally 50% (often 80%). I never had trouble with the rentals and had some spectacular Mercedes upgrades in Europe.

    1. Trav says:

      @MightyTravels- Great job. Nothing beats a discount code…car rentals are so inflated because most people never think to look, but if you use a few tricks, you can score some great deals! Well done!

  9. jennifernice says:

    Man, I loved this post! My hubby and I went to San Francisco in 2013, too (his first time; my first trip there since 1999) – we have a similar photo in front of the Golden Gate. We are planning to visit Spain and Portugal in 2015 for our 20 year anniversary, so I was particularly interested in what you wrote. Especially the part about the cheap hostels. For some reason I didn’t realize hostels had nice rooms for couples – I just equated them with the dorm-style hostels I frequented all over Europe as a college student. Lastly, as a native Oregonian, I was tickled to read that you fell in love with Portland and wine country. I live in McMinnville, the heart of Oregon wine country (and used to live on acreage 7 miles from The Allison – where I think you took that view photo.) Thanks for sharing the great photos and excellent tips for traveling on a budget.

    1. Trav says:

      @Jennifernice- The hostels in Portugal are absolutely amazing. Literally, the best in the world. This has to do with the fact that tourism in that country was not big before 10 years ago, and so everything that is built now to cater to tourists is modern and cool. Really, really neat, and one of the ways I try to break down the myth of “hostels”, with people thinking they are just community rooms with backpackers, is by staying at some neat ones. So I’m glad you liked the reviews!

      Next time we’re out in Oregon, you’ll have to show us around. My wife loves someone who knows their wine country!

  10. David Jimson says:

    Hi Trav,

    Travelling is the gentlest path to get more refreshment and know about different type of lifestyle, people, festival and many more. Such a wonderful travel experience shared over here and I wish 2014 is also having a great year for both of you.

    1. Trav says:

      @David Jimson- Thanks so much. I couldn’t agree more, and best of luck to you in 2014 as well!

  11. First of all I have to say that your pictures are absolutely wonderful which shared over here. I think you both seems to be lot of enjoyed on your tour. We know that Portugal is such a great and affordable country and in fact Today Portugal’s tourism destination are having more popular and modern in the whole world.

    1. Trav says:

      @hactorradissonaddison- Yes, Portugal is really booming…and there is a reason why; that country rocks! Glad you liked the pictures!

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