How to take a free vacation

Most people are always looking for a good deal when it comes to travelling. Whether it's the cheapest plane ticket, or a hotel that gives you free breakfast, everyone is looking for a real bargain these days. So, how does FREE sound?

Here are Jennifer Jolly's top insider tips how to take a summer vacation for free (or really, really, really cheap):

1. Score an Easy Plane Ticket:

  • If you are "credit worthy," this one is an absolute no brainer. Sign up for a travel rewards credit card. Charge one thing (like groceries for this week), pay it off, get enough points to fly round trip just about anywhere in the U.S.

  • Want a free trip to Europe? Double your points by signing up for a personal card and a business card. Get a round trip ticket to Europe or Asia.

  • Want two round trip tickets? Have your spouse do the same thing.

  • DO NOT DO THIS IF: you have poor credit. (You can quickly check it for free at www.billshrink.com)

  • Remember, you get a ding on your credit score every time you sign up for a new cards, so be sure you can afford to have this kind of impact on your rating.

  • Also, be sure you can pay off your card. What good are the points if you're carrying a lot of debt?!
One of the best cards for this: American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Card
  • Sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles after first purchase
  • For purchases at Delta, earn 2 miles per $1 spent
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • No limit on earnings
2. Reap the Rewards
  • Speaking of points, you have more than you know! Round 'em up, top 'em off, and even get some donated to you! Most people have no idea they can track, trade, swap. Points.com.

  • Track, trade, earn, swap, buy, share, redeem all your travel and rewards points in one place.

  • Last year I pooled, traded and swapped my way to a free four day trip to New York that included airfare, hotel, car service and meals - all for points I already had and would have let go to waste.
3. Hit the Open Road
  • Anyone between the ages of 18 and 88 who has a driver's license can take a vacation and earn money by driving recreational vehicles across North America.

  • Livin The Dream RV Courier pays your expenses, provides insurance coverage and you sleep right in the RV-most are very comfortable.

  • You don't need any special training-RVs handle just like the family car. And contrary to the myth that senior citizens are poor drivers, some companies actually seek out retirees because of maturity and experience.

  • Sleep and cook in right in the RV.

  • If they don't provide you airfare or an RV to get back home, sign up to do a "driveaway" on the return. Many people who move don't want to have to move their cars themselves hire people just like you to do it for them.
4. Be the Star of A Real Life "Amazing Race"
  • For a $100 "down-payment," you can travel around the world for free, IF you win an amazing race type competition.

  • A new company called "Competitours" gives 17 teams of two an adventure around the world similar to "The Amazing Race."

  • If you win, you get $5,500 on cash. If you come in second, you get $2,500 and third place gets $1000.

  • If you don't win, the trip costs $2,675 per person.

  • The owner WILL take frequent flyer miles as payment for the trip if you don't win.
5. Surf, Swap, Barter and Borrow:
    Couch-surfing, home-swapping, even bartering for free travel has become so popular there are entire online communities dedicated to it:

    CouchSurfing:
    CouchSurfing is your ticket to explore the world -- from the road or from your own home. Over a million people are signed up - and it's FREE.

    Eat borscht in Odessa. Watch kangaroos in Adelaide. Find the best noodles in Tokyo. Show travelers the best live music near your home, or your favorite hiking trail. Meet locals in your own city who share your interest in travel and the world.
    >> website: www.couchsurfing.org

    Home Exchange:
    Swap your house with another a family for a free vacation stay in cool locals from Guatemala and Florence to the Virgin Islands and Spain! There are 33,000 listings of homes around the world.
    >> website: www.homeexchange.com

    Globalfreeloaders:
    Globalfreeloaders is a network of people willing to accommodate travellers completely at their own convenience, in any way that they can. Completely free of charge.

    Whether its just a spare mattress or a spare bedroom or even a granny flat. Most budget travellers aren't too picky. :) Think about it -- on average approximately one third of a budget traveller's costs are spent on accommodation.

    Not only do you get free accommodation but you also get the inside knowledge, experience and culture that comes with staying with a local that you'd never be exposed to staying in a hotel or hostel.
    >>website: www.globalfreeloaders.com

    Caretaker:
    By joining this service (annual membership is about $30), you get access to a classified system of people looking for caretakers in exchange for rent-free living. The opportunities vary widely in scope from ranch hands, to organic farm workers, campground hosting, motel management, nursing for the elderly, to just plain house sitting.

    Some are paying opportunities, while others are simply work-trade arrangements for accommodation.
    >> website: www.caretaker.org


    Woof:
    This budget travel trend, known as "wwoofing" provides "World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms." It is an international organization (located in over 70 countries) of organic farms, gardens, businesses, ranches, (you name it) where you can exchange your services for accommodations, food, and training.

    Required services include basic garden and farm maintenance, as well as cooking, teaching, caring for children, and handy work. There is usually some work suitable for anybody willing to adopt this lifestyle.
    >> website: www.wwoof.org


    Vrbo:
    If you can't find a family to swap with, just rent a house or apartment. Cramming a family of 5 into a hotel room for $200 can fray nerves while eating away at a budget. If you can rent a 3 bedroom house for $200 a night, the price is the same, but the experience will be much better for everyone. Again the added benefit of a kitchen goes a long way to helping maintain a budget.
    >>website: www.vrbo.com (www.craigslist.org is also a great way to find these)
6. Be the Director of Fun!
    If you have a group of friends and/or family - even online buddies, organize a tour yourself and not only travel for free - but get paid! Go Ahead Tours offers two free spots for every group of 12 or more paying guests.
7. Get Your Hands Dirty!
    By now, I'm sure you've heard of "voluntourism." You volunteer your time and a little elbow grease and you get a free trip out of it:

    Appalachian Trail Conference, USA

  • At over 2,000 miles long the Appalachian Trail is the classic long trail in the Eastern US an home to almost 2,000 endangered or threatened species.

  • Volunteers help with trail building and maintenance in return for food and (usually very basic) accommodation

    Trip Leader for HF Holidays, Europe

  • One of Europe's most popular walking holiday operators is searching for volunteers to lead their walking holidays.

  • Leaders are provided with accommodation, meals and the chance to explore Europe in return for sharing their passion and knowledge with groups they accompany.

    Help Exchange, Worldwide

  • www.helpx.net is a website that lists worldwide hosts that are looking for an extra pair of hands; whether it be in their farm or garden, working in schools or on religious projects, building houses or community centto simply helping a family take the kids to school.

  • A small memberships fee is required to access the details of hosts but board and lodging is provided in exchange for your work.
8. Use "Free" Travel Gadgets
    Nowadays "smart " cell phones can be used in place of a music player, laptop, digital camera and video camera, not to mention hot a slew of apps to help you catch your plane on time, plan for the weather and connect with friends and family.

    What, you don't have a smart phone? Try one out on your next vacation FREE! Sprint 's brand new "Free Guarantee" gives anyone opening a new line of service the chance to try Sprint for 30 days.

    If you're not completely satisfied, you can get reimbursed for the device purchase and activation fee, get the early termination fee waived, get a full refund for any monthly recurring charges incurred and get all associated taxes and fees waived. In addition, Sprint will waive the restocking fee for new customer exchanges as part of this policy.
More Quick Tips:

  • Know When to Buy: Use Bing Travel's Price Predictor to tracks flights and see see a graph of your cheapest days to fly over the course of the next month.

  • Find free hotels at: www.freetraveling.com. Sound too good to be true? It's not. Many travel sites guarantee that they have the lowest price. If you find your hotel cheaper somewhere else, it's on them.

  • Find a ride: Websites like RideSeek and Ridester make it easy to find and share a ride to your destination, helping cut down on your travel costs.

  • Staycation: Go camping in your own backyard! It's free. It's fun. And the bathroom is right there?? It may sound silly to the grownups, but the kids LOVE it. For them it's an adventure and it's some one-to-one time they get to spend with mom and/or dad.

  • Free Fun: Most of the museums have a free monthly entrance day or sponsored entrance days (Target Day for example). By planning and visiting their websites, you can take advantage of these opportunities. Bank of America card holders get free entrance at 120+ museums and cultural institutions across the nation the first Sunday of the month.

  • Take the Fabulous Freebies: In Las Vegas www.insiderlv.com has giveaways all the time. Shows want a packed house so they will often give away tickets when they arent very booked. Sign up for some frugal blogs like goodideagal.com and follow your favorite resorts/theme parks on Twitter to get their special promotions and giveaways. Also, check out kidsmealdeals.com wherever you go to make sure your kids are eating for free!

  • Go Social (Media): Craigslist is a great place to get tickets to theme parks and there is a whole counterculture of selling tickets to Disney. Its cheaper to buy a 3-day pass so people buy them, go to Disney for one day and then sell the remaining 2-days on Craigslist. They will meet you in your hotel lobby and sell you the tickets for a discount rate on the spot.

  • Use that Flex Spending: Use your flex spending account to pay for sunscreen. This money is pre-taxed and the cost of sunscreen can really add up.

  • Package It! Check BookIt.com, Expedia.com, Vacmart.com, CheapCaribbeanor LibertyTravel.com for Cancun packages that contain airfare, beachfront hotels and all taxes and fees. Departing from gateway cities such as Atlanta, Miami, Houston and New York will keep prices down. Other gateways may be a bit more expensive.

  • One-Tank Wonders: Stay close to home and still have a great time (plus save on travel expenses) by opting for a summer getaway that you can reach with one tank of gas or less. Check out Tripadvisor.com/TankOfGas for destination options, then research sights and activities online. If a local bed-and-breakfast stay is on your agenda, look for one that's part of the Free Gas promotion: Guests get a gas rebate or a gas card for refueling. Find participating B&Bs under "Special Packages" at BedandBreakfast.com

  • Car Rentals: Steer clear of airport car rentals, since you'll typically pay a premium for the convenience. Take public transportation to town and pick up your rental there-it's usually cheaper. Also, watch out for costly add-ons, such as a prepaid tank of gas and daily fees for insurance, which often duplicates coverage you already have on your auto policy. You'll find great bargains at BreezeNet.com, or save even more with American Express, which has a discount car rental program.

  • Make Lunch Your Main Meal: Longing to try a fancy restaurant? Go midday. The prices are typically lower than during dinner and it's easier to get a reservation. To make sure the lunch fare is within your budget, browse the menu beforehand at sites like www.opentable.com, which features menus from thousands of restaurants.

  • Join a Hospitality Club: Volunteers host travelers in their homes for free and even offer city tours at no cost. Membership is at www.hospitalityclub.org and you're obliged to host guests in your home. The site has more than 328,000 members and employs security measures to protect all parties.

    About Jennifer Jolly:

    Jennifer has been deeply embedded in consumer and lifestyle media for the past 15 years as a broadcast journalist, TV Host, guest columnist and PR advisor.

    Her popular TV segments, print and blog articles cover the very things most moms (and just about everyone else) are talking about today: Fabulous Freebies, How to Live Large on Less, No Sweat Workouts, Simple Tech to Save Time and Money, Valentines: Free Love, Spring Break Specials, More for Mother's Day, The Skinny on Workout Wear, Summer Savings, Hi Tech Fitness Gadgets, Living Limber, and much, much more!

    For more tips, read Jennifer's blog at goodideagal.com.

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