Over the last month or so, I’ve been seriously focused adopting a JFDI mentality. It’s surfaced in various forms here and there, but the opportunity I’ve been waiting for revealed itself late last week and I was finally able to put this new mindset to the test.
On Thursday morning I showed up for work and while I was waiting for a meeting to start, I spent a few minutes poking through my various feeds. It was then that I saw an awesome flight deal for a weekend trip to Oslo. The rub? The flight was that evening.
I have a few travel-related goals on my Accompl.sh list this year and it turned out this trip would fit in perfectly. I did some quick research to verify the deal and ran through a bit of a mental checklist to see if it was even feasible for me to do (Did I have any commitments? Do I have the budget? Am I crazy? What’s the catch?). Knowing United’s 24-hour refund policy, I booked the tickets and figured I had time to decide whether or not I would go after my meeting.
Before I booked the ticket, Norway wasn’t very high on my list of places to visit unless it was in the context of seeing the Northern Lights. I had nothing else planned for the weekend and, come on, how fun is it to buy a ticket, pack a bag, and fly to another continent just for the weekend all on a whim? That’s kind of the dream. It’s the type of experience I wished I’d be able to have when I set out on this more independent lifestyle.
That sold me. I was going to Oslo by myself for the weekend. I had no idea what I would do once I got there, but that didn’t matter. I’d traveled around Europe on my own after college and it was an amazing experience. It was time I gave myself another good challenge. I found an Airbnb, booked a shuttle to the airport, wrapped up the work I needed to get done for the week, and headed home early to pack.
A few hours later, with my college backpack in hand, I was sitting in Newark airport waiting to board.
The wonderful thing about travel is you get to mash a bunch of great experiences and adventures into a small period of time. Even just halfway through the day on Saturday, I felt like I’d already had 3-4 days’ worth of experiences - and I still had many hours to go!
Wandering around on your own in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language can be an incredibly lonely experience, but that alone time can also be wonderfully refreshing. I had hours on end to walk around, see new things, hear new sounds, taste new foods, and just let my mind float from topic to topic. It was amazing. And cold. But that’s what gloves are for. :)
Olso is a city that can easily be explored over the course of a weekend. By the time I got back to my room on Saturday night, I felt completely satisfied with what I’d seen and done. If I had another 3-4 days, I’d consider a trip outside of Oslo, but for the city itself, I traversed nearly the whole thing! 15 miles of walking definitely made for a full day.
A weekend well worth it.
How I Make It Work
Flying to Europe for the weekend may seem incredibly extravagant. And in many ways, it is. But it’s totally do-able on a budget. The entire trip, soup to nuts, cost me under $750. It also helped me to accrue about 9,000 miles and points to use toward a free award flight later this year.
This is possible using a few tools:
Every month, automatically transfer some money into a savings account earmarked for Travel. When I have a steady paycheck, that can be up to $100/month, but in less certain times, I try to put at least $20 into the account. It adds up over time! When it comes time to go on a trip, if I have enough money in my Travel account, it makes the decision easy.
Follow flight deals. I set up a Twitter list for Travel Hacking that you can follow. I check it a few times a week (more if I’m in the mood to go somewhere). This is great for finding deals to places you don’t necessarily have plans to visit. For the specific destinations I want to keep an eye on, I set up airfare alerts with Airfare Watchdog and Hipmunk. I’m also subscribed to the newsletters for JetBlue and Virgin America which can be useful for domestic flights.
Be flexible. I’m fortunate to have a work life that allows me to have a very flexible schedule and to work remotely when needed. Being able to leave on a Thursday night instead of a Friday is helpful. Being able to come back on a Tuesday instead of a Sunday night or Monday morning also helps keep your flight costs lower. This isn’t for everyone, but if you have the option: use it!
Explore Grocery Stores. This is actually one of my favorite parts of traveling. No matter where I go, I always pop into a grocery store or two just to explore and see what interesting / strange goods are available. A souvenir I always bring home is local candy / snacks. The types of snacks you can find in the grocery store tell you a lot about the local culture AND you can eat them! Double win. I always buy a few staples to stash in my backpack to minimize the number of times I have to eat out. It’s easy to carry around a few apples, a bottle of water, and maybe some nuts and crackers to keep you full as you wander around.
Use your legs. One of the best ways to explore a new place is by walking. Buzzing from point A to point B in a vehicle decreases your chances of serendipitously stumbling upon something cool, or stopping to take a picture when you see something interesting, or to go down a street that looks interesting. Wear comfortable shoes and walk it. As an alternative, a transit pass is your best bet.
Avoid hotels unless you have points/status. I don’t have status or free nights in any hotel chains, and while I could work to start accruing them, I enjoy staying in Airbnbs or hostels. It often means you get to stay in a less-touristy neighborhood and, if you’re traveling alone, have a better chance of meeting some interesting people to talk to.
Keep the basics on-hand. Once you start to travel more regularly, being “ready to go” with short notice becomes a necessity. I can pack and be out the door in 30-45 minutes. Less if I planned it out in my head in advance. I always have a toiletry bag ready to go. I have a small Tupperware bin in the back of my closet that holds all of my travel goods: silk hostel sheet, international plug adapters, travel towel. I also keep a Ziploc baggie of various currencies that I have left over from previous trips so I can grab those and go as needed. I have a very organized packing system and can get my clothes into a pretty small bag in no time. Once you start doing it often, you’ll find what works for you and it’ll become old hat.
You can do it too!
Traveling doesn’t require a lot of planning. And contrary to popular belief, it isn’t difficult or prohibitively expensive. It’s an adventure! I hope these tips help make travel less intimidating for you. If you have any questions or other tips, please comment below. And if you have a trip coming up that you’d like help planning on a budget, get in touch! I love organizing travel!