Travel doesn’t cost as much as you think. Especially if you use credit card rewards programs to reduce the cost.

When my husband and I got married, we didn’t exactly have a lot of money to throw around.

We weren’t poor by any means, but our idea of a honeymoon was leaning more towards a relaxing weekend at the family cabin than a transatlantic tour of Europe and the UK.

Thankfully, my then-fiance and I had been racking up points on a credit card with a travel rewards program.

Before I even started to come up with honeymoon ideas, we’d earned enough mileage to fly to London and Croatia for free.

Instead of heating up s’mores in the microwave and burning through a pile of DVDs, we were exploring ancient palaces and stuffing ourselves with Croatian seafood. It was perfect.

Travel rewards are a slam dunk, as long as you’re responsible enough to reap the benefits. If you’re looking to adventure on the cheap, here’s how to find the best credit card for you and use credit cards to travel.

Examine your credit.

If you want to start earning airline or hotel points, you have to see if your credit is good enough to qualify for the best credit card rewards programs.

The most lucrative cards often require credit scores of 750 or higher, although some will approve people with scores between 620 and 749.

You can get an idea of your credit score for free through sites like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame.

Don’t like what you see? Look at your credit report to see what’s dragging you down. It might be a high debt-to-income ratio, frequent late payments, or large credit utilization. Work on improving your score before you apply.

If you already have a credit card, pay off the balance each month in full and on time. Doing so regularly for a few months will boost your credit score.

Choose the right card for you.

Almost every airline and hotel company has their own credit card, so it’s easy to find one that fits your needs.

Before you sign up for any cards, research which one makes the most sense for you. If your local airport is mainly a hub for Southwest, it doesn’t make sense to sign up for the United Airlines card.

Many consumers apply for cards based on their initial sign-up bonus. Often signing bonuses are worth at least one round-trip domestic flight.

These bonuses usually require users to spend a certain amount within three months to qualify. Some of these cards only ask that you spend $1,000 in three months, but others demand you spend closer to $3,000 or $4,000 in three months to receive the bonus.

A family of four could probably spend that amount easily, but it’s much harder for a single person. It’s a waste to sign up for a card when you won’t be able to earn the bonus.

Also, it’s not worthwhile to carry a balance on a card just to get the extra points. Travel cards often have higher interest rates, and it’s never worth the free trip if you wind up in credit card debt.

Do the research.

Credit card travel expert Brad Barrett of Richmond Savers said the best airline deals come with traditional frequent flyer miles, but they also sell out the fastest. The key to maximizing any credit card reward is to be adaptable in your plans.

“If they can’t be flexible with their dates, and that often means even plus or minus a few days, then it will be very difficult to use traditional frequent flyer miles,” he said.

Every card has its pros and cons, but some are better than others. One of the perennial favorites is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers 50,000 bonus points that can be redeemed through almost any airline. Another popular option is the Southwest Rapid Rewards card, which has a

One of the perennial favorites is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers 50,000 bonus points that can be redeemed through almost any airline. Another popular option is the Southwest Rapid Rewards card, which has a 40,000-mile bonus. Flights through Southwest can cost as little as 2,000 points, giving you great bang for your buck.

Barrett’s other favorite picks include the Capital One Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus, “which allow you to buy the travel with your credit card like normal and then log in after the fact to redeem your ‘miles’ to wipe the expense off your credit card statement.”

For hotels, Barrett loves the Starwood and Hyatt cards, “since they allow you to use your points to book any ‘Standard’ room they have available.”

“Most hotels aren’t at full occupancy, so you can almost always use your points, even on last-minute stays,” he said.

Read the fine print.

You have to pay taxes and fees when you travel, even if you book your flight for free. Taxes for domestic flights are usually less than $20. However, those taxes and fees can cost more than $100 for an international flight. Don’t forget to include this cost when budgeting for your trip.

Used to traveling at the last minute? Reward flights have to be booked months in advance or you’ll face staggering prices (like 40,000 points for a flight that usually costs 20,000).

Stay on top of your credit rewards.

When you use credit cards to travel, you can build up points for your next trip. Many cards give you double points on your travel, helping you earn rewards faster.

Pay attention to how you are earning points. Use your points to book free airfare, free hotel rooms, and get discounts on rental cars.

You might be surprised at how cheap travel becomes when you use your rewards credit cards.

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Broad perspectives enhance understanding of life. Live abroad at least once in your life and fine-tune your empathy.

When I was in high school I had a fascination with all things French.

I joined the French club. I learned to speak the language. I loved the show Les Misérables. There was something so romantic, so different about France, that I had to go there.

Sadly, I didn’t have any money.

Travel to another country.

It wouldn’t happen until several years later after college that I would travel overseas and live abroad.

It’s true that when I was a young girl I lived in Japan for two years. However, a small child doesn’t comprehend the experience of otherness that being in another country makes you feel. A small child doesn’t have the same response as an adult.

Being a young adult in a foreign country, a young American in a foreign country, was very exciting and humbling.

Living abroad is an experience that every young American should have because it helps develop an awareness of our place in the world.

Live abroad and see how the world sees us.

At the time that I write this post, we have just experienced a highly contentious Presidential election and a tough year. The U.S. has a new President and, as is the case with each new president, their vision of the world and the United State’s place in it will guide and shape their policy.

These new policies affect people. Young Americans, for the most part, live very wealthy lives compared to many people around the world. Our homes are bigger, we have electricity, and with the exception of Flint, Michigan, most of us have clean water.

We’ve experienced very little civil disruption, we have plenty of food, and most people have access to the internet.

It’s not like that everywhere.

We grow up with stories of how just and fair the U.S. is and when we step outside of our bubble we are presented with an alternative view of the history that we’ve been told our whole lives.

Leaving the U.S. to live abroad forces one to answer questions that we might not typically be asked.

We discover that some countries and citizens absolutely love the U.S. and other countries… not so much.

Travel puts us face-to-face with people who are affected by the decisions that our country makes (good or bad). When you’re faced with people who are affected by policies that we feel are in our best interest, we are compelled to defend or refute a policy with a depth of reflection that we may not normally tap into during our day to day lives in the U.S.

For many young travelers being presented with a negative or positive view of the U.S. may catch you off-guard. And you may find yourself wondering if everything that we’ve been told about our country is a lie.

Not necessarily, but how one group sees a geopolitical situation may be completely different from how another group perceives it.

When you live abroad, you see the way others see us. And that’s not a bad thing. We should have more understanding with other people from other countries.

Live abroad and become “the other.”

Living in a foreign country forces people into an experience of otherness. As a person of color, I’ve been the only black person in a class or a group (on many occasions). But there are many people who’ve never had the experience of being “the other.” It can be a shocking, disturbing and somewhat disorienting experience.

Young Americans need that experience so that they can develop empathy and develop a worldliness that can only be discovered through travel and a deeper curiosity about who and what is around us.

Young Americans need to travel abroad because not everything is about us. And to learn that life lesson, we have to venture beyond our borders. Those adventures foster a curiosity about the world that might fuel other adventures.

That curiosity about the world and willingness to explore it as a younger person will serve you well later in life if you go into international business or politics.

In recent election cycles, voters expressed concern about candidates lacking global awareness because they hadn’t traveled or lived abroad.  From a job perspective, international businesses look at global awareness through the lens of actual time spent living and exploring other places.

But, if developing a global awareness isn’t enough to entice you to live abroad, maybe the following reason will be enough: travel abroad because you can.

While you’re still single, have no kids, and basically have the least amount of responsibilities that you will ever have during your life. Of course, you can travel abroad at any age, but that first time when you have very little to lose and everything to gain, that first experience is everything.

For some people, that one experience will be enough. For others (like myself) that first trip will become addictive. And, each trip has grown my global awareness, my awareness of my role as an American citizen, and fed my lust for adventure.

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Traveling with your S.O. probably seems like a dream, but it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be. Do this so you don’t regret your shared vacation.

Successful relationships require compromise. And nothing shows your ability to compromise like traveling with your S.O.

If you plan on marrying your S.O. someday — or even if you’re just planning on moving in together — you should first travel to a strange land, even if it’s Poughkeepsie NY.

Traveling with your S.O. is a good insight into what life together forever will be like.

You’ll be out of your comfort zones. You’ll spend more uninterrupted time together than you do at home. You’ll get insight into each other’s idiosyncrasies. You’ll have to manage a micro-budget. You’ll interact with strangers. You’ll disagree on directions. You’ll likely fight.

So, go away with your S.O.

But watch out. You might discover that you like different things when you travel. How do you prepare for this life-lesson when you want to holiday differently together? Here are 11 points to keep in mind:

Talk before you walk.

If you’re certain you want to travel together and certain you’ll want different things from traveling, have a talk before you head off on your big adventure.

Be open and honest about what you both want. Talk through your differences. You may relish lying on the beach with a good book. Your S.O. may want to hike every trail available.

It’s possible to do both and both be happy. It’s just easier if you talk first.

Talk money.

I did say talk before you walk, but money requires its own talk.

Traveling with your S.O. can bring your different money beliefs into sharper focus. Before leaving with your bae, be clear on your vacation budgets. Know how you’ll divide and conquer expenses.

Be okay if you’re not splitting it 50/50, but know that you’re not splitting it 50/50 before you go. Be clear with how you’ll spend your money and how long it must last. If you each have your own budgets, be okay with the idea that you won’t spend the same amount.

Go slow.

Traveling long distance for a long time may be the ideal vacation, but it’s only ideal if your S.O. is your ideal travel buddy.

Take it slow at first. Go away for the weekend, maybe just a short road trip. After you survive 24 hours, maybe shoot for 48 hours, and then 168 hours, and so on.

With each successful trip, move onto longer and farther trips. It sucks when your first trip is two weeks together on the other side of the world and you have no place to go to escape from what turned out to be a Bad Idea.

Spend time alone.

You’re an extrovert and your S.O.’s an introvert. You’re the drummer and your S.O.’s the lead singer. This is okay. It’s not often that couples are the exact same and that’s okay. It’d be kind of boring otherwise. Be okay with time alone. Get away from each other. Distance yourselves from yourselves and make your hearts grow fonder of each other.

Use each other’s strengths.

The Wonder Twins are wonderful because they’re not alike. They have different strengths and personalities. Leverage what you’ve got and let your boo leverage what they’ve got.

One of you may be directionally challenged while the other can’t itemize a dinner bill. One of you may be better at driving on the opposite side of the road while the other is better at speaking the local language.

Let go of what you’re not good at and relish the ways your other half makes life easier on the road.

Compromise.

Whether you have a short-term S.O. or a long-term S.O., the success of your relationship hinges on compromise.

Don’t lose yourself completely in the life of your other half, but also remember that you’re not the only one in the relationship. Give a little while you get a little. That leads to a lot. The reward is you both get a little of what you want and a lot of time and experiences together.

Set a low bar.

When you first travel together, set low expectations. Don’t wish for or expect the worst; just don’t expect a honeymoon. Sometimes it best to hope for the best and plan for not the best.

Practice patience.

Practice does make perfect. Patience isn’t just a Guns & Roses’ song.

You’ll both be out of your elements when traveling with your S.O. You won’t have the comforts of home. You won’t have your reliable resources. The environment may be unfamiliar. All of these variables, when different, add up and add pressure on both of you. Give each other the benefit of the doubt and forgive easily.

Chill.

Practicing patience is about your reaction to your S.O. Being chill is about being patient with the unfamiliar.

Everything may be new and different to your bae and one (or both) of you might go off the rails. You need to stifle the urge to freak out and try to be calm.

Realize that things rarely go exactly according to plan. You need to be chill when traveling with your S.O. Be okay with how everything flows — or doesn’t flow.

Live in the moment.

Lao Tzu said, “If you’re stressed about something you’re worried about the future. If you’re depressed, you’re worried about the past.” Neither the future nor the past is

Neither the future nor the past represent true reality. Only the here and now exists. Live in the moment. You both will have a much better experience.

Remember the point.

Don’t forget that the point of traveling with your S.O. is to spend time and create experiences.

Remember that you had enough interest in this person to make them your boo. You enough interest to go away together. Value the time you spend together because before you know it you’ll be back to your old routine.

A vacation should be fun, exciting, and relaxing. Focus on the fun and whether you and your S.O. want the same thing, you’ll have a good time.

Safe travels!

Do you have a story of traveling with your S.O.? Was it a nightmare or bliss? Let us know in the #Adulting community on Facebook.

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Do you want to work abroad and live your life from anywhere in the world? Sarah Li Cain shows how you can live this flexible lifestyle.

Once in a while, we present Adulting.tv LIVE! Subscribe on YouTube to hear about future events, and share your questions about or suggestions for our next discussions!

On today’s episode of Adulting.tv LIVE!, Harlan and Miranda are joined by Sarah Li Cain from High Fiving Dollars. Today we’ll discuss what it takes to travel beyond your home, see the world, and enjoy living and working outside of the United States.

Sarah Li Cain is a financial storyteller who weaves practical tips and strategies into her work so that those trying to change their money mindset can see themselves in the starring role. You can find her over at High Fiving Dollars where she answers readers questions or spilling her guts out on her latest money experiment.

Watch the video above or listed to just the audio by using the player below.

Hosted byHarlan Landes and Miranda Marquit
Produced byadulting.tv
Edited and mixed bySteven Flato
Music bybensound.com

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