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The Switchback Kids’ Keys to Traveling on a Budget

Dec. 28, 2018
Reward Optimization, Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
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If anyone knows a thing or two about traveling on the cheap, it’s the Switchback Kids.

While that name might bring to mind villains from an ’80s cartoon, it actually refers to travel bloggers Cole and Elizabeth Donelson, who made headlines for camping in U.S. national parks. It all started in 2015, when they saved what they could, quit their jobs and hit the road with only their camping gear in tow.

Since then, the Donelsons have traveled to more than 50 countries across the globe.

Do you see yourself following in their footsteps? You better be ready to travel on a tight budget. Here’s what you need to know.

» Learn more: How to set a trip budget when traveling with friends

Be flexible

The more specific your traveling gets, the harder it is to make those treks affordable. Instead of dialing in on one location or set of dates, try starting your journey with an open mind. “The more flexible you are when traveling, the easier it is to travel on a budget, the better you can travel hack, the more you can search for the cheapest route and best deals,” Cole Donelson explains.

“When you have limited time, specific destinations to visit, or certain activities to do, you usually end up spending more for convenience.”

Don’t be scared of credit cards

If you want to travel the globe as cheaply as possible, you’re going to need to take advantage of credit card rewards.

Sure, all the fine print that comes with cards can be intimidating, but there’s a reason for that: The deals to be had from credit cards are legit.

“The credit card companies are betting that you can’t follow a few simple rules and spend on your credit card responsibly,” Donelson says. “If you do, you win the bet, the [welcome] bonus points and the free flights. Many people worry that signing up for lots of credit cards will hurt their credit, but if you do the research [and] read people’s experiences, your risk of your credit score going down is low and the impact is slight.”

» Learn more: 8 pro tips for smart and cheap family travel

Know yourself

One key to traveling on a budget is understanding where you want to skimp and where you want to splurge. It’s a good idea to do some soul searching before you set off on your journey so that you and your travel partner have communicated and agreed upon a set of budget guidelines.

In the case of the Switchback Kids, they chose to splurge on experiences and cut back on fine dining. “We will never be mistaken for foodies, and that’s fine with us!” Cole says. Know what you value before you set off your trip, as that will make your financial decisions easier.

Get creative

Make your travels as gratifying as possible by doing something unique. Do heaps of research prior to your adventure so that you get as many perspectives as possible. “The best way to avoid group think is by challenging every travel assumption,” Cole explains. “I always advise reading travel blogs and even listening to podcasts to realize new avenues for budget traveling.”

Photo of hike above Bariloche, Argentina in northern Patagonia, courtesy Cole and Elizabeth Donelson.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Travel rewards bucket list: Showering on a plane
How to snag credit card rewards flights in peak season
This strategy is how I started earning major travel rewards

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