As many of us know, travel doesn’t just happen. It costs money and takes time, but it is so incredibly worth it. I recently met up with a friend and local blogger, Renee Beck, who seems to have perfected how to consciously make travel a priority in her life. I asked her to share how she plans travel to make the most of her trips, time, and money. I’ll also share some of her go-to travel resources and how she finds inspiration. I’ll leave you with some of Renee’s favorite travel spots, what destinations are next on her list, and what should be added to your travel bucket list. She also let me capture a few portraits of her at one of her favorite neighborhood coffee shops, Order & Chaos Coffee.
Baltimore Blogger, PR Maven, and My Unofficial Life Coach
Renee and I met when I first interviewed for OrderUp, turns out we already followed each other on Instagram, so naturally our friendship budded from there. We often worked side by side, collaborating where our roles met on social media, launches, and other marketing strategies, all while eating Kinderhook cookies and encouraging each other on our workout plans. It’s all about balance, people.
She now works at Terra’s Kitchen, an amazing meal delivery service that makes eating healthy food easy and delicious. Beyond work, I feel like Renee is always going to the coolest events and destinations in Baltimore and beyond. When she isn’t sharing her travel adventures and fun around Baltimore, her Instagram account is often showing her husband’s hilarious notes and her cat’s silly antics. While Renee and I share a lot in common when it comes to traveling, it dawned on me at a dinner with our friends that our tactics are a little different than others and thought that might be good to share.
6 Actual Ways to Make Travel a Priority
Despite what some may think it, travel doesn’t just happen seamlessly like it may appear on Instagram and it often requires planning, unless you are truly a go with the flow kind of person (spoiler alert: not me, not Renee). Planning trips can require attention to detail, lots of decision-making, and figuring out a budget – some things that a lot of people like to avoid doing. That being said, even though it costs money, Renee and I both agree that should never be a hindering factor as there are ways around that.
Renee didn’t travel much when she was growing up, but quickly got the travel bug in her early 20s. More recently, Renee was lucky enough to work at a job where she got to travel a lot domestically. (Shoutout to OrderUp!) We both had the benefit of unlimited PTO, which for Renee, “even though I didn’t actually take any more time than usual, it made travel feel more accessible.” Many of Renee’s friends also love to travel and after hearing about their adventures, she decided to stop seeing barriers to travel and started to say, “This is important to me. I’ll make it happen.” More tactically, here is some advice from Renee to help make travel a priority:
- Create a separate savings account: Renee and her husband, Steve, have one account that they use only for travel. They agree on a certain amount to put in each month. It started very small — maybe $25-50/pp each month — but as they’ve made travel more of a priority, they have amped up their monthly savings significantly.
- Use tax refunds for travel: Not everyone gets refunds or likes to, but Renee and Steve always designate any amount they get back directly to their travel savings.
- Get a travel rewards credit card: Renee got the Southwest credit card for the 50K bonus points and had 136K by the end of her first year. She pays for EVERYTHING (including some bills) on the card. She recently switched to the Chase Sapphire to take advantage of another 50K sign up and double points in dining and travel. It takes control because it’s easy to lose track of your spending, so you do have to monitor yourself. Also, this is only recommended if you have strong credit.
- Budget the rest of your life: Renee has kept a really, really detailed spreadsheet of her spending money since 2010. It sounds crazy, but she can look at it each month and note where she is spending too much and where she can cut back to put money toward the travel fund. Renee is not guessing where her money goes.
- Keep an eye out: Renee subscribes to emails from sites like Travelzoo and occasionally checks out deals. You can go to Paris from Baltimore this spring/fall for $400 roundtrip!
- Look for work travel opportunities: Renee has been able to take advantage of work travel; when her husband is sent to London for work, she joins (free flight and hotel for him) and they extend the trips after his work week. When she’s traveled for work domestically, they have done the same. She’s even had day trips to NYC on Amtrak and stopped over in Philly on the way to have dinner with a friend. As long as prices are the same, employers usually have no problem with you tacking on personal travel.
Go-To Travel Resources
Can you imagine planning a vacation or trip back before internet existed or even just 5-10 years ago before so many websites and apps existed? Lucky for us, that is no longer the case, but now it can sometimes feel like there is too much out there. Where do you start? For inspiration and planning, Renee would highly recommend the following:
- TripAdvisor – Renee is a big fan of this site for reviews and traveler photos.
- Hipmunk – Renee loves Hipmunk for flight searches; you can search by typical things like price and time, but also “agony.” She finds the user experience to be much more pleasant than other flight search sites.
- Hotels.com or RocketMiles – Renee uses Hotels.com (for free nights) or RocketMiles (for Southwest points) when booking hotels and Airbnb when she wants to stay in a home.
- Visit A City – Renee’s favorite planning site and app is Visit A City, which offers adjustable itineraries based on your pace, what you want to see, etc. It will help you figure out what’s closest and when things are closed. She has found this super helpful when traveling in Europe.
- Instagram – Renee spends a lot of time searching Instagram before trips and follows people who are posting from where she is planning on going. She finds it’s one of the best ways to get local info, especially about food. There are also particular things that she always looks for when traveling, so she’ll use Instagram to seek those, like markets, food halls, and architecture. It’s even easier with Instagram’s new Collections feature!
Favorite Places You Should Add to Your Bucketlist
- Florence – Hands down, Renee’s favorite place. The people are friendly, the city is walkable, and the food is amazing. She said it felt like every turn was another Instagram-worthy pic. Not to mention, the best pasta of her life and amazing wine for only $4/glass. Read more about her trip on her blog.
- Barbados – A very, very different and a very, very close second. The beaches are white sand, the people are so warm, and the views are truly jaw-dropping. It’s also further south and east, so not as many Americans go there, which gave it a less touristy feel for them.
- Boulder – Renee went to Boulder years ago for work and had only a few hours to check out Pearl Street, the downtown mall. It was so charming and she loved the juxtaposition of the mountains in the background. Renee is not an outdoorsy person, but she knew that her husband, Steve, would totally love it. When she was in Denver two years ago for another work trip that coincided with Steve’s birthday, she extended her time there and he flew out to join her. They spent a day in Denver and 3 days in Boulder and Renee fell IN LOVE. Learn more about their trip, split into Hiking & Running and Eating & Sleeping. (Remember, it’s all about balance!
What Destination is Next?
Renee and Steve just booked a week in Tulum, Mexico. A few friends have gone and she kept seeing pics on Instagram. It’s a smaller beach town south of Cancun that hasn’t become as developed as other areas of Riveria Maya. Also, those Hotels.com points are getting them a free night, they’re using Sapphire points to rent a car, and Southwest points are covering the flights!
Why Baltimore Should Be On Your Bucket List
Last but definitely not least, I wanted to hear Renee’s perspective about the city we both call home, Baltimore, and why she thinks you should make Baltimore a destination for your travels in 2017. I couldn’t agree more with Renee when she said so much is happening here in Baltimore! Here are a few of the top reasons that came to her mind:
- The food scene is extraordinary; we have James Beard award-winning chefs and teams that are taking some really cool risks to make Baltimore a hot dining destination. Some of Renee’s favorites are Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen and La Cuchara (she fell in love with Basque food after visiting Spain).
- There are so many charming neighborhoods, some of her favorites being Federal Hill, Fells Point, Hampden, and the up-and-coming Remington.
- We also just wrapped up the second annual Light City, an amazing light installation show and conference, which is the first of its kind in the US. Mark your calendars for April 2018!
- Since Renee is an architecture geek, she had to mention that Baltimore is known for its adaptive reuse projects and all of it’s historic buildings. She recommends checking out Silo Point, a former grain silo; the new Pendry Hotel, a historic recreation pier; and Bar Vasquez, once an operating train depot.
- Plus, Baltimore is affordable! You’re not going to break the bank while having an awesome experience.
A big thanks to Renee for taking some time to chat through her favorite spots, travel tips, and next adventures. You can follow along on her journey at @reneelbeck or on her blog. Hope you were able to take a few travel tips away from this post and it helps to inspire your next adventure!
Until Next Time,