When I’m watching movies or television, I sometimes find myself struck by a momentary flash of panic. In scenes with crowded rooms, on public transportation, or bustling city streets, I — for a split second — find myself wondering: “where are their masks?” —
Since the pandemic hit, I’ve become so accustomed to expecting everyone to be masked up that I’m surprised, and a little appalled. When I get too into a movie and forget that: 1. It’s not real; and 2. Even if it were, most films were set before 2020.
Now that more and more people are vaccinated and mask mandates are being lifted around the country, in these moments I’m astonished by how much everything has changed. From how we act around each other, what we owe each other, to how we configure notions of community.
In the early months of the pandemic, this meant staying home and misguidedly sanitizing our produce and cereal boxes — remember that? Then it evolved into wearing masks and social distancing. Then, community courtesy involved getting vaxxed. Now, it looks like being mindful of how our plans affect others, getting tested before major events, and researching international guidelines when traveling out of the country.
The world of travel is not the same as it was two years ago. From juggling national policies, scheduling tests, and the constant anxiety about another lockdown, there’s so much about travel that’s out of your control.
What you can control — to some extent — is how much you pay for it.
With two years of little to no travel, lots of people’s best-laid plans got canceled. However, many used these forced cancellations to sock that money away for future travel. The average American saved around 33% of their income in 2020, but 2021 brought it down to 9%.
According to CNBC, “Between dining out and taking trips, Americans are now spending an average of $765 more a month compared with last year when much of the country was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the MassMutual Consumer Spending & Saving Index … Young adults, in particular, are determined to make up for lost time. Millennials and Gen Z, who reported feeling the financial impact from the rise in reopenings and social gatherings, said they are shelling out $1,016 more a month, on average, than they did during the summer of 2020. MassMutual polled 1,000 U.S. adults from July 21 to 28.”
While some are okay with making up for lost time by gleefully spending all their money, not everyone has the desire to blow up their budgets on trips. Yet, the allure of travel still calls. Thus, the appeal of travel hacking.
Travel hacking has been around as long as credit card rewards have. But during the pandemic, travel hacking gurus found unprecedented fame on TikTok and Instagram. With time to learn about the points and miles community, suddenly people were planning for future travel using tips and tricks gleaned from experts sharing their knowledge on social media.
Though it might sound complex, anyone with a fair credit score can enter the travel hacking game. Here’s how:
What Is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is using reward points and miles from airlines, hotels, and credit cards towards free or heavily discounted travel. This ranges from opening a number of credit cards for the reward bonuses, optimizing your normal spending in order to max out your points per shopping category, and leveraging loyalty and status for awesome perks.
To a lot of people, the term “travel hacking” can sound shady. The “hacking” scares people off. Is it illegal? Is it a scam? Can you get punished for opening too many cards? Will you ruin your credit score? The answer to all of these concerns is no.
There’s no hidden trick to travel hacking. It’s not a game of risk or cheating, it’s a game of research and planning.
Travel Hacking 101
Most commonly, travel hacking hinges on the points you can get from certain travel credit cards. Credit cards aren’t merely a way to manage cash flow. Many offer rewards programs that give you points for each purpose. These points can then be repurposed to pay for part or all of a trip.
Different networks have different systems, but most can be transferred to a range of partners. Top credit cards are with Chase, Amex, Citi, and Capital One. Simply accumulate points on your credit card, then you have the option to transfer those points to airlines, hotels, and more — for free.
When learning travel hacking, The best tip is to go backward. Don’t just open popular cards with high bonuses. Identify where you want to go, then find out what actions to take. Which airlines travel there? Which cards’ points can be transferred to that airline? Where do you want to stay? Which hotels can you book with points? Once you’ve planned out your dream vacation, see how many points you need. Then strategize for the best way to nab them.
Choose which cards are right for you, then start stockpiling those points towards free travel.
One way to quickly amass points is to take advantage of sign-up bonuses. Many credit cards use sign-up bonuses to entice users. And if you play smart, just one or two sign-up bonuses can account for one entire flight cost. However, there’s one catch: you must meet a minimum spend requirement to qualify for the bonus.
The best way to approach this is to funnel all of your regular expenses through those credit cards to chip away at the minimum spending. Pro tip: open your card right before you need to make a lot of purchases. The holidays are a good time to open a card so the cost of festivities ends up working for you.
And remember: it’s key to always pay off your monthly credit card balance before the due date! The benefits of those points are useless if you go into debt to accrue them.
And here’s a hack for you newbie travel hackers out there — be sure to manage your money and keep track of how much you’re spending for that bonus with the MeetCleo app.
MeetCleo is the personal finance tool that’s actually fun to use. Taking control of your money while “earning” free travel using your credit cards? Finances have never been more fun.
The Rise of Female Finance Gurus
For most of history — even today — women have not had the right to their own money.
Undervalued, underpaid, and — for the most part — treated like property themselves, women have often been deprived of financial autonomy.
Even now that many women are in charge of household finances, they still earn less on average than their male peers. The numbers by race are even more staggering. When it comes to understanding and handling money as a whole, there are a lot of us who feel disempowered.
According to One Advisory Partners: “51 percent of women consider themselves the “CFO” of their household. In addition, 54 percent said that they have either complete or a great deal of responsibility when it comes to managing their household's long-term savings and investments. Despite maintaining a dominant role with household finances, 63 percent of women wish they knew more about financial planning and investing.”
Really? One might ask. In this day and age? Yes, really. Despite mainstream feminism, the rise and fall of the girlboss, growing conversations about gender equality, there’s still stigma associated with being a woman who demands what she’s worth.
But the tide may be turning.
According to Sandra Pierce in the Financial Post, “women live longer than men and 80 percent are going to end up alone, whether because of longer life expectancies or divorce. My experience with widows and recent divorcees shows that once on their own, almost all the women who did not take an active role in their finances regretted it.”
By demanding that they get the compensation they deserve, women are taking charge of their finances — which is deeply important to their security and future.
One Advisory Partners reports that there’s hope for the future. “The next generation of women is particularly eager for greater financial knowledge. The same survey found that the majority of young women are interested in understanding financial concepts on a deeper level, but over half of those women don’t know where to seek out that information.”
These advances are spawning a new generation of women unafraid to talk about finances — women who make this knowledge accessible for other women. The importance of demystifying the personal finance space is helping many women find the confidence to give themselves the gift of future security.
Here are some of our favorite female financial gurus:
How to Plan Your Dream Vacation
Recently, I wrote a piece about the genius of shopping for swimsuits during the winter. In it, I championed the benefits of buying swimwear now. It’s smart to take advantage of the off-season sales so you’re extra-prepared for summer. Part of what led me to this discovery is my penchant for mood boarding.
The mood-board — aka vision board — is my staple way to express my creativity, exercise my personal style even when winter restricts my fashion sense to thick sweatpants and puffer jackets. It’s time to get excited for activities and celebrations that are months away.
Creating mood-boards to bring summer closer led me to buy my latest swimsuit at a fraction of the price. This simple action sent my imagination soaring. I clearly envisioned the pools I’ll swim in, the oceans and lakes I’ll plunge into, and the boardwalks I’ll strut about on while flaunting my leopard, plunged-neck bikini.
So — six months in advance — I’ve effectively pulled my summer plans together. I’ve always been a planner as it goes a long way to actually achieving whatever I’m meticulously planning, be it a goal or an awesome trip.
However, this summer’s arrangements are more fraught than ever, as my imagined itineraries ride on the hope that there’s not yet another COVID variant looming in the wings. One that cancels my flights and banishes me back to my apartment. But — in the spirit of positive thinking — I'm not going to let logic obscure my vision. I intend to go full-speed-ahead with my dreams.
Currently on my list: La Residencia, a Belmond Hotel, Mallorca
Starting early also means I have clarity about my budget. This provides greater incentive to save money this year. I have more options than ever before. Flights are cheaper, hotels will welcome me with open arms, and my inspiration awaits.
Here are some of my tips for planning your dream vacation:
Even before I started making concrete plans, I’ve already stockpiled ideas for future vacations for a future self. The pandemic taught me that life is too short to wait on those enjoyments for a future me. So, I’m taking the plunge and setting out on one of my bucket-list vacations rather than settling for a more local trip.
In order to make my biggest dreams happen without falling into credit card debt, I’m putting aside money every month that goes towards my vacation. Before making non-essential purchases, I ask myself: would I prefer another iced coffee from my neighborhood cafe or a croissant and coffee in Paris? Chipotle or a gourmet meal in Mexico? Put that way, the choice is simple.
A app like Meet Cleomakes the money part a little easier and seriously keeps me accountable for my spending. After all, there’s no better way to stop those credit-card-swipes my credit card than depending on an app that keeps it real. Meet Cleo reminds me of my regrettable purchases before I rack up another one.
In arranging my itinerary, I don’t just plan hotels and flights, I plan out every single day. Sure, I leave time to explore neighborhoods and wander through museums and stores. But even that time is scheduled. This helps me visualize more clearly what I’m going to do, but it also provides a realistic ballpark budget. When and where will I need to flag a cab? How efficient is public transit? How can I schedule my days most efficiently and cost-effectively?
Leaving seasonal shopping to the last minute often leads to panic buys, overpaying, and desperately buying forgotten items at the airport. Shop smart, and start shopping today. Taking cues from my swimwear hack, I have price alerts on critical purchases so I’m notified whenever there’s a sale.
That means no more frantic airport shopping for me — my Meet Cleo app will be proud.
How to Save Money on a Road Trip
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 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 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.