Are you someone who loves to travel but always finds yourself limited by your budget? If so, you’re in luck! In this exclusive interview, we speak with Lee Huffman, a travel expert who has mastered the art of exploring the world without breaking the bank. Lee shares his insights and tips on how to travel on a budget, including the best time to book flights, find affordable accommodations, and save money on food and activities. Get ready to take notes and start planning your next budget-friendly adventure!
Q1) Could you give us a little background about yourself, how you started your career, and how it’s going for you now?
I started blogging at BaldThoughts in 2012 as a hobby to document how my wife and I traveled the world using miles and points. At the time, I was working in corporate finance as a Division CFO for a regional bank in Los Angeles. I was working long hours and had a three-hour round trip commute, so I only saw my kids one-to-two hours a night. In the summer of 2018, I left the corporate world and moved my family to Nashville to start freelancing full-time and launch my podcast, “We Travel There with Lee Huffman.” We wanted a slower pace of life and to spend more time with our kids while my wife focused on her career.
Q2) How many years have you been traveling, and what got you hooked?
I grew up traveling with my parents, but it was primarily road trips to National Parks, to see family and friends, and to explore other destinations. When my wife and I started dating, we used the Southwest Companion Pass and my hotel points to travel across the U.S. rather than do the traditional “dinner and a movie” dates.
I really dove into the miles & points world when she wanted to visit Paris. I knew that I didn’t want to pay cash for a European vacation. Through various cards and other strategies, I was able to earn enough miles for four tickets (me, Anna, her Mom, and our 26-month old son) to spend almost two weeks in Paris. We flew Economy there, and Business Class on the return flight. Since then, our family has taken at least two international flights each year for the last decade.
Q3) Your top tips for saving money while traveling?
The biggest way to save money is using airline miles and hotel points to cover your flights and hotels. We use the savings to travel more frequently and splurge without guilt on unique experiences. For example, Anna and I hugged a wombat and climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge during our visit to Australia. And my buddy David and I ate at a Michelin-start restaurant in Paris overlooking the Siene River and the Church of Notre Dame.
However, when you travel using airline miles and hotel points, flexibility is key. To get the best deal, you may need to travel on different dates or use other airports. I keep a “Top 10” list of destinations I want to visit, and while I may not be able to visit #1 this year because prices are too high, I may be able to hit #2, #4, and #8 for the same amount or less.
Q4) What are some tips for saving money on a travel insurance plan?
First of all, get a credit card that offers travel protections in case of rental car damage or trip cancellation, delay, or interruption. These benefits are included at no charge, and their policy limits and coverages might be better than what you can buy. With that part covered, you can save money by buying a policy that focuses only on medical benefits or portions of your trip (like prepaid activities) that aren’t already covered by your credit card.
Q5) What are the top 3 websites you use for research/inspiration when planning a trip?
Of course, I recommend listening to my podcast for travel inspiration. At WeTravelThere, we have over 250 interview from local experts sharing the best things to do in destinations around the world from a local’s point of view. Beyond that, BoardingArea is a collection of more than 100 expert travel bloggers sharing tips on how to earn travel rewards and get the most value when redeeming your miles and points. My website, BaldThoughts, is one of many that you’ll find there. And, lastly, Google is your friend. Whether you’re looking for travel inspiration or “how to redeem (loyalty program) miles/points to (destination),” you’ll find many experts sharing their knowledge to help you book an amazing vacation.
Q6) What motivated you to start your website and podcast? How can one earn through a podcast?
I started my blog BaldThoughts to share how Anna and I were able to travel the world for a fraction of what it costs everyone else. I’m happy to say that I’ve helped countless people get started earning and redeeming travel rewards to travel more often and create wonderful memories with family and friends.
I started my podcast after moving to Nashville. I’ve always been “that person” who chats up locals asking them for recommendations. My podcast “We Travel There with Lee Huffman” is an extension of that habit. Most people are hesitant to ask questions of strangers, so my podcast does it for them. They can listen in on two friends chatting about incredible cities around the world.
Q7) How do you plan your travel on a budget?
The budget all depends on where we’re going and what we want to do while we’re there. I’m frugal by nature, so I’m always looking for ways to save money on every vacation. We often stay at hotels that offer complimentary breakfast or a timeshare that has a full kitchen. Eliminating the cost of one meal every day (especially when you’re a family of four), is a huge money saver. We also use websites like Groupon, LivingSocial, or local versions of deal sites to find attractions at a reduced cost. Traveling off-peak or shoulder season also reduces the amount you need to spend to have a wonderful vacation.
Q8) How did you manage your finances when you planned to leave your job?
I was listening to the “Radical Personal Finance” podcast and heard Josh talking about being able to retire in ten years or less. The idea intrigued me, so I put a plan in motion to pay off all of my debt in about ten years. I paid off my student and auto loans by snowballing extra payments, annual bonuses, and tax refunds into them for a couple of years. At the same time, our house that we bought in 2010 had increased in value significantly by 2018. The debt payoff reduced our monthly expenses, while the home appreciation provided a big down payment toward our new house.
When I left my corporate job, I used some of the proceeds of our home sale as a cushion as I built up my business. Without those extra funds, I would have had to hustle more instead of spending extra time with my kids and we adjusted to a new life in Nashville.
Q9) Have you ever considered retiring early?
If so, how do you plan on managing your finances? Because I have ultimate flexibility in my schedule, I consider myself semi-retired now. I still work quite a bit, but I fit everything in around taking my kids to school, sports, and doctor appointments. I’m not able to fully retire yet, but my retirement account balances are what people call “Coast FI,” which means I can retire comfortably in my 60s without having to make any additional contributions over the next 20 years. With that in mind, the income I make is primarily focused on accelerating our “mortgage payoff fund,” saving for our kids’ college tuition, and paying for culturally-rich experiences for our family.
Q10) Before we wind up, is there any final wisdom you want to share about financial journeys and financial health?
The biggest reason people don’t focus on their finances is that they’re intimidated by industry jargon or they don’t know where to start. Don’t worry about picking the “right” or “perfect” retirement, investment, or savings account. Just open the account and buy something. Anything. You can always sell it and buy something more appropriate to your goals as you learn more about the subject.
Find a few bloggers or websites that “speak” to you, and sign up for their newsletter. Spend a couple hours each week searching for topics that you’re interested in, then read a couple articles, watch a few videos, or listen to podcasts about the subject. Each site has a different voice or target audience. Keep looking until you find one that works for you as you work toward your financial goals.
Lee Huffman’s insights on how to travel without breaking the bank are valuable for anyone who loves to travel but wants to do it on a budget. From credit card rewards to planning and being flexible, there are many ways to save money while still having a great travel experience. We thank Lee Huffman for sharing his expertise and tips and hope this interview has provided valuable insights for all who aspire to travel affordably.