Take advantage of study abroad programs
Before attending the University of Central Florida (UCF) I spent 1 year completing my Associates Degree at Valencia College. While there, I decided to join a study abroad trip to Beijing & Shanghai, China where I would study international business for part of the summer. The program was a little over $2,000 which was a solid deal because a round trip multi-destination flight to Beijing/Shanghai is at least $1,200 and that’s not including your accommodations, food, intercity transportation, and all the extras we got on the trip. I reached directly out to the coordinator of the program and requested information on all available scholarship opportunities. At the time, I told the coordinators that I could not afford the program but I would do whatever it takes to be able to go. The trip coordinator provided me with several scholarship opportunities where I had to write about how I would use the experience to further my academic goals and my professional life. I was able to get a scholarship for about $1,200 and my financial aid was able to cover another $300. So there I was with an opportunity to study international business in China for only $500.
As soon as I was enrolled on the trip I contacted the same coordinator to request an extended flight home. After some negotiations with the college and the travel company organizing the entire study abroad I was granted permission to fly home one month later than the rest of the participants. Once I finished the program and the rest of the American students were making their way back home, I had the freedom to go travel for an additional month through Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. The major lesson I learned from the experience is to always try to get the most out of each travel experience. “No” is not always the final answer. You just have to know exactly what you want, tie your argument back to how your experiences will help the college, grow you professionally, and better the world we live in. Don’t get overwhelmed if you don’t get what you want right away. It took me over a semester to identify the right program with the right scholarships, the right trip coordinator, and negotiate an extended stay. Low cost study abroad opportunities are out there and it may not be at the college/university you’re at…you just need to find them!
Join a Birthright Trip
I’ve always known I was Jewish from my father’s side of the family but I was never sure if I was “Jewish Enough” to be able to go on a free trip to Israel. I wasn’t brought up in a religious household, never went to synagogue, studied the bible, or hung out with Jewish people so I’m certainly not able to go on a Birthright trip to Israel, right? I challenged all of those assumptions when I reached out to Central Florida Hillel who organizes the Birthright trips to Israel for UCF and found out that I could most certainly attend a free 2 week trip to Israel. The experience was absolutely amazing to not only be in the Middle East for the first time but to learn about my heritage. I had the opportunity to go swimming the Dead Sea, watch shooting stars in the Negev Desert, party in Tel Aviv, and play a little football with locals in Jerusalem. Being open-minded not only allowed me to travel to Israel on birthright but provided me with additional free travel opportunities to Washington D.C, and Boston to study international political relations.
Now, you don’t have to be Jewish to take advantage of a religious mission trip. There are trips available for just about every major religion. They may not be entirely free but most are heavily subsidized and offer additional scholarship opportunities.
Change the world with nonprofits
I was recently introduced to a female, world-changer named Julie Colombino who is the founder of Rebuild Globally. Julie has dedicated her life’s work to helping the Haitian people by empowering them with job opportunities to further advance economic development in Haiti. I worked with Julie to help her develop a website to tell the story of her nonprofit venture but soon identified an opportunity to travel to Haiti outside of the tourist districts such as Labadee. After finishing my 3 month global trip this summer, I will be traveling to Haiti to work hands on with the Haitian people so I can have a better understanding of the lives they live. There are many volunteer opportunities with nonprofits around the world so if you’d like to travel with the purpose of learning and making a positive change in the world, invest some time researching on the best nonprofit segment for you and one which provides travel opportunities. I will have a separate post on my experience with Julie, Rebuild Globally and the Haitian people soon.
Credit Card Hacking
This is a new trick I’ve been using to build up free flights. I am traveling to the Philippines, California, and the Dominican Republic for next to nothing using the simple trick of hacking credit cards for their flight miles. I learned this trick after meeting some entrepreneurs at UCF’s Blackstone Launchpad and seeing this TED Talk. In a nutshell, many credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture, SouthWest, and many others offer great rewards for opening a new card and spending $1000-$4000 in the first 3 months. Now, you have to be very careful when doing this and you must follow these important rules.
- Never let a credit card go unpaid. If you start collecting interest on the credit card then you are defeating the entire purpose and hurting your credit score.
- Never increase your organic spending. If you are spending money to just spend money so you can earn points then you are the credit card companies best friend. Don’t do that. If you spend $500/month then stay within your natural spending limits.
- Don’t apply for too many cards at once. Space out your applications. Earn the points, and then use an entirely different company for your next application. If you just earned your points on a Chase card then it’s a good idea to apply for an American Express or another credit card company before applying for another Chase card.
- Document everything. Stay on top of each card you own. Know how much you’ve spent, when the payments are due and any fees associated with the card. I recommend setting up auto bill pay just in case you forget to manually pay for a card.
Now you may be wondering if you only spend $500/month normally how can you possibly achieve $3,000 in a 3 month time period without breaking any of the rules above. The trick is to get your most trusted friends and family involved. For example, my girlfriend only spends about $300/month on absolute necessities but her mom, dad, grandparents, sisters, spend over $1,500/month combined. You can get additional credit cards in their name under your account. So each of them can have a credit card they use for purchases and all of the transactions are credited to your account. This hack requires trust that the people you give a credit card to will not go on a crazy shopping spree without paying you for what they purchased.
Once you earn the points on one card you can ask a trusted family member/friend to apply for a card and allow you to manage it. After I earned $600 from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card I had my mom & dad apply for their own card and allow me to use it to earn more points. Once I was rewarded the points I had the points transferred over to my account. After repeating this process several times you’ll be left with thousands of dollars in free flights.
If there are any travel tricks/tips/hacks you’ve learned please share them in the comment section below!
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