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With over 116K Instagram followers and thousands of visitors to her website each month, Elona Karafin, 24, has redefined what it means to travel as a busy millennial.
Elona, aka “Elona the Explorer,” was working 60-hour weeks as a financial analyst in New York City when she started her blog four years ago, which documents her trips to far-flung destinations like Bali, Hong Kong, Lisbon and Geneva. Her hack for sightseeing on a demanding schedule? Taking advantage of long weekends to travel abroad.
While she’s since quit her day job to focus on a jewelry business and run her blog and Instagram page, she still prefers short trips over long ones.
Here are her best tips for maximizing her time and money.
Why did you start traveling abroad on the weekends?
As a junior analyst at my company, I felt that asking for vacation time would reflect poorly on me. I had limited free time, and I was burning out. But I was eager to travel.
Like many, I used to think that in order to go on vacation you needed many days off. Since that wasn’t an option, I booked a quick trip to the United Arab Emirates. This ended up being my first “long weekend” trip and my first big trip out of the country.
That was just the start. I realized that I didn't need many days in any given place — I could travel for a few days to virtually anywhere in the world and still get a lot out of it. In fact, I’ve learned to get more done in a long weekend than I do during a week-long trip.
How do you save for travel?
I automatically save part of each paycheck into a specific travel fund so I don’t even see it hit my regular checking account. To this day, that’s the best way for me to save a significant amount of money. I use Digit, an app that transfers small amounts of money from my checking to savings based on how much I spend daily. It helps me stash away small amounts over time so I don't have to actively cut things out of my everyday life. I also don’t go out or eat out, so I save a lot that way.
I make extra money on the side by using cash-back apps, participating in focus groups (I’ve earned $100 a week doing this in the past), and maximizing credit card points. I swear by my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card because it allows me to rack up points toward future travel.
How much do you typically spend to travel?
I try to stay within the range of $1,200 for a four-day weekend including flights, hotels, food and activities. I don’t consider myself a budget traveler — I prefer higher-end hospitality!
What do you spend on the most?
Typically I spend 40% on flights, 30% on accommodation, 20% on food and 10% on miscellaneous stuff. I’m big on food and wine, so that’s where I like to spend and will adjust other parts of my travel budget to account for it.
How do you save on flights and hotels?
My favorite websites for finding flight deals are Skyscanner, Jetradar and Skiplagged. For places to stay, I've been using Agoda and Booking.com and HotelTonight.
Being flexible with time is key to scoring better deals. I base my travel budget off the price of flights — so if tickets are on the pricier side, I’ll book an Airbnb or boutique hotel. These hotels aren’t part of major tourist chains and are therefore cheaper. If I find a great deal on flights, then I splurge on luxury hospitality.
I’m also willing to travel anywhere. On Skyscanner, there’s an option to enter "everywhere" as a destination for a given date range, and this allows me to find the cheapest flights during that time. I don't always have a destination in mind, so this gives me good deals while opening the doors to new places.
How do you prioritize what to do with the short time you have?
I research the places I want to see and put them into Google Maps to create an efficient route. I crowdsource recommendations by asking other bloggers what places they’ve loved. I also read forums on TripAdvisor where I can see real photos taken by other travelers.
How do you combat jet lag for a short trip?
I force myself to sleep on flights and take sleeping medicine if I have to. Usually the first day is the most relaxed for me: I don't overburden myself with activities and I go to sleep early to reset for the next day.
What was your cheapest trip?
I went to Cuba for a long weekend in 2016 and it cost me $550 including flights, food, accommodation and a visa.
Where do you plan to go next?
I am heading to Haiti to listen to some live jazz at their jazz festival at the end of this month.