Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

The holidays are a money vacuum. Between gift shopping, shipping fees, and other spread-good-cheer expenses, you've busted your budget without spending a dime on yourself. (Okay, maybe there were a few things you purchased for yourself, because sales!). The bottom line is that you've been working around the clock the past year, paying your dues at your day job and making that side hustle happen on nights and weekends, only to see your hard-earned cash melt away by the time the holidays come along. All you want for Christmas is the promise of a real vacation. You need it. You deserve it. You can't possibly afford it. Or can you?

It is possible to get away on even the most meager budget. All it takes is a little research, some planning, and a dash of creativity. In fact, you might even save money with a little luck. Consider this post your holiday present from us: We're giving you the tools to plan the getaway you thought you couldn't afford, because it's been a hell of a year and you could really use a vacation.

Travel Rewards and Points

Wise Bread

You may already have a credit card that delivers airline miles or points towards travel. If you do, tally up how much you've got to play with and whether there are ways to double your points through purchasing from specific retailers or at specific times during the billing cycle.

If you don't have a travel rewards card, Nerdwallet has a handy breakdown of the best options this year. They also have some tips for choosing the right card for your budget and making the most of it depending on when you're looking to travel. For example, if you choose a card with a big sign-up bonus that promises mega-travel rewards points once you spend an initial amount of money in the first few months, you could be earning while you're purchasing holiday gifts. So consider signing up when you're shopping the most (aka right now).

You also should consider which type of card is right for you. "Travel credit cards fall into two basic categories: co-branded cards and general travel cards," according to Nerdwallet. "Co-branded cards carry the name of an airline or hotel chain, and the rewards you earn are redeemable only with that airline or hotel. If you regularly fly one airline or stay at one hotel chain, they can be a great choice. They also offer perks such as free checked bags or hotel upgrades. General travel cards offer more flexibility. Their rewards come as points that you can redeem for any travel expense, or even transfer to airline and hotel loyalty programs." Check out your options here and start racking up those miles.

Last Minute Deals

Tours & Hotels

So you've blocked out vacation time, but you're too broke to book travel. There are apps for that. At Fareness you can plug in your dates and current location, and retrieve a list of the cheapest flights to various destinations. If you're hankering for an ocean view, icruise offers a ton of last-minute deals on cruise-ships looking to fill up empty rooms at bargain rates. (Four nights on Carnival for $479? Pretty solid.) Expedia also has a killer last-minute travel section where you can find deals up to 70 percent off. If you want to save even more money, checkout iCarpool and take a roadtrip with a new friend.

Timing is everything

There are some rules of thumb when it comes to booking airfare—at 5am and on Sundays you're likely to find the cheapest rates, according to Skyscanner. But wait, the app Hopper does the work for you, monitoring flights to your destination and alerting you when the airfare is lowest.

Hotel Mega-Discounts

If your credit card offers a flexible points plan, you may be able to use those points on hotel rooms. Some cards also have deals with resort chains to provide discounts on booking or double the rewards when you book the room so you can put those points towards your flight. If your eyes are crossing, here's another option: check Groupon Getaways. The site offers package deals around the world for an average 50 to 70 percent off. Many of these deals include meals, tours, or other perks that will save you extra bucks.

Free Boarding

Maybe you're not in the position to look for a deal of any kind. Maybe you need a place to stay that's 100 percent free AND doesn't suck. We're here for you. Your first option is to consider a house swap. Sites like HomeExchange and GuestToGuest connect you with others both nationally and internationally looking to do home exchanges. If you want to avoid paying any signup fees, the DIY version is called social media. Post some pics of your pad and ask your community if anyone out of town is interested in a swap. You can also AirBnB your pad (depending on the laws in your state) and earn enough to put the money towards your vacation—and even save some bucks too. If loaning out your home isn't an option, there's still hope. Sites like Housesitter and apps like Couchsurfing offer members an array of getaways that cost you zilch. If you're a pet lover, you can also offer your services on Petsit or to your pals on social media. The holidays are an optimal time for this, with so many people leaving town. You might even find yourself on a sweet staycation in your hometown—far, far away from your roommates and your messy bedroom. You're welcome.

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Afghan women

NBC

Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.

via Tiffany & Co.

When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.

Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.

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Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.

From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.

1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance

If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping

All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.

Camping camping road tripConde Nast Traveler

If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).

3. Bring Food From Home

Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.

Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.

4. Avoid Tolls

Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).

You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.

Road Trip Road TripThe Orange Backpack


5. Save on Gas

Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.

6. Get a National Park Pass

All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.