20 Hacks For Traveling For Free (Or Next To Nothing)

Elona Karafin is a 24-year-old cancer survivor who is not letting anything hold her back. This business analyst in a large New York City firm spends her free time helping underprivileged kids with cancer through a charity that she founded, is starting a new project where she take survivors on “dream-come-true” trips around the world and just launched a travel-themed jewelry line called Nula Jewelry.

Oh, and in her spare time, she also runs a popular blog, where she shows people with full-time jobs how to think outside the box and travel the world for next to nothing.

“From a young age, I knew that hard work and persistence would get me anywhere I want to be in life,” says Karafin, whose parents emigrated to the United States from a small city in Western Ukraine when she was 3 years old. “I always had a bit of entrepreneurial spirit in me; as a kid I set up stores at home and sold my parents things.”

Karafin has overcome many obstacles along the way to achieving her dreams. When she was 4, she had open-heart surgery for ASD closure. And when she was 10, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer that affects children and teenagers. She went through over a year of chemotherapy and about two dozen surgeries before remission.

She says that her diagnosis turned out to be one of the best experiences of her life. “There was unbearable pain, there were enough tears to fill an ocean and there are lifelong consequences that I will live with forever — but despite all that, cancer also intertwined my life with some of the most compassionate, selfless and generous human beings on the planet,” Karafin says. “No amount of physical pain can overpower the love and compassion that I received during my fight, and I vow to give even a small fraction of that back to another child in need.”

We caught up with this busy entrepreneur in between her many side hustles to find out what motivates her and to get her hacks for how to make and save money to spend on travel.

The rules/tips/things I live by in order to afford travel:

1. Focus Groups

When a large company is about to release a product (or already released a product), it wants to know what people think of it’s products. In my opinion, focus groups are the best way to make extra money extra quickly. The task is simple: You fill out a questionnaire and if you fit the demographic of research that the organization is doing, you get a phone call and come into their office to participate in an interview, discussion, or sometimes a tasting. For one to three hours of your time you can get paid up to $300+. There is an extensive list of focus groups available state to state. 

2. Drop Shipping

A drop-shipping program works something like this: Let’s say you go on a website of a warehouse in China that produces different types of pretty scarves. You think that those scarves would sell amongst your friends and family, but you don’t have enough money to buy out inventory and risk not making a sale at all. Drop-shipping programs allow you to sell products that you don’t have. Yes, you read that correctly. Here’s how it works. You create a simple cheap website, which is likely the only investment you have to make ($10 for a domain name, $100 if not less for hosting for the year). On the website, you list all those pretty scarves at any price you want. So let’s say that the warehouse in China wants $5 for each scarf. You list each scarf for $25, leaving you with a $20 profit. As soon as someone places the order on your website, you place that same order with the warehouse in China and that warehouse in China ships the order to your customer. 

3. Surveys

Surveys are another great way to make some extra bucks on the side, but it is definitely more time consuming. I personally fill out surveys during my free time on my way to and from work. I recommend Swagbucks; it is free to sign up and free to use. You get paid to answer surveys and to test products. It is best to sign up for as many as possible to reap the most benefits. Other great survey sites are Survey Club and Product Report Card.

4. Affiliate Links and Referral Programs

The idea behind affiliate links is simple: If you recommend a service or product to a friend or family member, the owner of that product or service will give you a small cut of the sale. Referral programs are similar: If you recommend a particular app or service, whenever anyone signs up using your link you will get money or perks towards that service. Affiliate programs will likely pay you out in cash, while referrals will give you future benefits toward the same service that you are recommending. Virtually all companies have some sort of affiliate program with different payout levels, so if you find yourself recommending a particular brand very often, find out if they have an affiliate or referral program and use it. 

5. Selling

This might seem very obvious but in reality I highly recommend taking a step back and looking around at everything you have. I mean everything: clothing, old CDs, movies, games, electronics. You might think that they have no value, but I challenge that. There are so many places where you can sell items that make it easy and effortless. I made over $2,000 selling my unwanted clothing on Tradesy. Ebay, LetGo, Craigslist, Decluttr and thrift stores are all places to sell unwanted or unused goods. You can even sell your unused gift cards. Now it is easier to sell than ever before with most apps giving you the ability to list items with just a few clicks.

6. Credit Cards

Credit card cash back and points are by far my absolute favorite ways to make and save money. If you already have an income stream and spend money throughout the year, do you make purchases on your debit card or your credit card? I don’t remember the last time I used my debit card besides paying bills. The idea behind this is to get money back from the purchases I make on credit cards. For example, there are credit cards that are 1.5% cash back on all purchases. So if you spend $500 a month on purchases with your debit card, why not just make those purchases on a 1.5% cash back credit card and get extra money in return? It’s a no brainer. I have a credit card that I use for dining and travel to get 3X points on every dollar, and I have another credit card that gives me 1.5% points for all other purchases. I make money back on literally every purchase I make — last year I got a few thousand dollars back from these programs.

7. Ebates

If you shop online then you absolutely must sign up for Ebates. Ebates is a service that gives you cash-back on all purchases that you make at thousands of retailers online. It is by far my favorite way to make money because it’s so easy. Ebates also pays you $25 for every person you refer so — for example — if you click this link, you will get money and I will get money. Make sure to share your link, going forward.

8. Honey

Similar to Ebates, Honey searches the internet to see if the online store you’re shopping at has any savings available. If Honey discovers a sale or a coupon, they split the return with you. Essentially, they are paying you to shop. Every time you refer a friend, you get a few bucks. Honey is fairly new to the market, but its growing at a fast pace, adding more and more attractive coupons every day. 

9. Upwork

There will always be a need for special skills and special skills ranging anywhere from Photoshop to WordPress to being a virtual assistant. Upwork is a wonderful portal where you can showcase some of your skills and work as a freelancer part time and at your own set rate. If you have some extra time during the week, take advantage of Upwork and make some extra side income with your own set of rules.

10. Acorns

Acorns is one of my favorite apps for seamlessly saving money. For every purchase you make, Acorns rounds up the total and reinvests the difference on your behalf. For example if you make a $35.50 purchase, Acorns rounds it up to $36 and the $.5 difference goes into your savings account and it gets invested. No work to be done on your behalf. It’s slow and steady growth that is definitely worth it in the long run. 

11. Digit

A step further from Acorns is Digita really cool app that analyzes your income and spending and finds money to set aside for you. Digit is a particularly great service if you’re saving up for a large purchase because it potentially deducts a lot more money into your savings than Acorns. They also have a no-overdraft guarantee so they’ll never take more money from you than you can afford. Once you need access to the funds, you just send them a text and you’ll get them the next day.

12. Goldman Sachs Savings Bank

GS Bank is a phenomenal savings portal that pays 1.05% APY on your savings. Meaning your savings will collect 1.05% in interest. This is the highest rate in the industry. The GS savings account is also an online-only portal, therefore you won’t have a debit card and transfers can take between 1-3 business days … making your savings a little more difficult to access and therefore decreasing your chances of making spur of the moment purchases.

13. Have an open mind.

Travel to places where flights are cheap. Accommodation will always be available in different price ranges; flights will not. 

14. Pack less.

Avoid any additional baggage fees 

15. Pay for airline extras online.

If you’re flying with a budget airline and need to pay for any add-ons, pay for them online — many airlines even charge for checking in at the airport! 

16. Use a travel credit card.

Avoid paying any fees on cash exchanges and use a travel credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees (carry less cash overall).

17. Know your apps.

Skyscanner, Jetradar, Hotel Tonight, Hotellook, and Turo are some of my travel essentials — be sure to price check your flights and hotels across two or three apps to see which one offers the most reasonable price 

18. Book on the right day.

I buy my trips on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because price trends show that’s when airline tickets are the cheapest.

19. Create a spreadsheet.

This might sound so obvious but having all your plans and approximate prices in one compact Excel tab can save you time, money and the headaches associated with last-minute plans.

20. Don’t buy gifts in airports.

Waiting until the last minute to buy gifts at the airport is the most expensive mistake a traveler can make! Souvenirs can cost up to tenfold at the airport, so don’t make that mistake. 

h/t Forbes

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About the Author: Forbes