She had flown around the globe in 26 hours. She’d gone from New York to Vancouver to Hong Kong to Bali, and after being cooped up on a plane for so long, she knew she didn’t have a lot of time left. She only had four days to enjoy Bali, so she went surfing in Kuta, did some partying in Seminyak, enjoyed the sunset at Balangan Beach, and bathed under the waterfalls located in Ubud. Best of all, she had spent less than $1K, and this wasn’t the first trip she managed to save money on.
It might seem as though Elona Karafin is some sort of a travel writer or a glamorous jet-setter, but she’s not. She’s just a 24-year-old financial analyst working at an e-commerce and postage supply company. But she’s no ordinary gal either. Elona has made it her life’s goal to travel to all sorts of places without spending a whole lot of money. And it seems like this young woman is doing a superb job attaining her travel goal and dreams.
New York is Karafin’s home, but she’s traveled all over the globe. She’s been to Sri Lanka, Iceland, Mongolia, Belize, Puerto Rico, Paris, Portugal, and many other places. And each time she visits a new destination, she writes about it in her blog, “Elona the Explorer.” But she’s not trying to show off and make people jealous that she travels all the time. What she wants is to help people understand that they can travel on a budget too.
Karafin got very sick when she was 10. She had to undergo treatment for two years in order to get healthy. This experience taught her something about life. “I don’t want to waste away my youth and I don’t want others to waste away their youth and I don’t want them to do it because people think they don’t have enough money or enough time,” she explains. So that’s why she started traveling all the time, but how?
Karafin is not a rich heiress. “I work a full-time job and I’m fresh out of college, so I’m not exactly making the big bucks,” she says. But she didn’t want money to be the reason why she couldn’t explore the world. “People around me, people my age or people older, everyone is dealing with something that stops them from doing what they want to do.” She didn’t want this to happen to her, so she got creative.
Over time, Karafin has visited all sorts of exciting destinations for brief periods, like when she spent two days in Amsterdam, or four days in Dubai. She even spent eight hours in Poland once. She recalls: “I surprised my best friend for her birthday, I flew out on a Saturday.” But she’ll travel domestically if she’s on a tight budget or doesn’t have a lot of time. One time, she traveled from Sonoma to Atlanta, and then to Miami. She’s a pro at traveling and she wants others to follow in her footsteps.
Karafin created her blog to prove to others that it’s possible to travel around the world, even if you work all the time. “You have time. You can make time. Even the busiest people in the world, they have time,” she explained. “That’s why I focus so much on weekend trips.” And she offers plenty of travel hacks, which have made her blog even more popular.
Karafin notes that looking for affordable flights is vital when you’re on a budget. And she’s got a couple of nifty suggestions, which she uses all the time. For example, when she looks for tickets online, she goes on her browser and disables the cookies so travel sites won’t calculate the airfare costs based on previous purchases. “They assume that’s what you’re willing to pay,” explains Karafin. Want another secret? Do something unexpected.
Everyone has a list of destinations they’d love to visit someday. But Karafin recommends that you consider destinations you never thought about visiting, especially if the airfare to get there is more affordable. “I use websites that allow me to put ‘everywhere’ as a destination, and New York as my origin,” Karafin explains. Jetradar.com is one of her favorite places to get deals. But research is her true weapon.
Karafin spends a lot of time researching and planning for a trip in order to find flights and accommodations that are affordable. But she also doesn’t mind asking for help when she needs it. “I visit many blogs for tips and message the blogger with questions.” She also uses Excel to create spreadsheets that let her track prices. Of course, things don’t always go as expected.
It’s important to map everything out, especially when making short trips. But you should also have a backup plan in case the unexpected happens. You should also avoid booking trips in advance because you might miss out on a better deal down the line. “I try to meet locals right away. If I’m sitting at a restaurant, I ask the waiter/waitress, what’s the best way to get into a sight or an attraction,” says Karafin. And her cost saving tips aren’t just for traveling either.
To travel as often as Karafin does, you have to find ways to cut down on spending in your regular life. And since she’s a financial analyst, she’s got some really good ideas, like depositing some of your earnings into a savings account to earn high interest rates. She’ll also wait until expensive stuff are on sale to buy them, just like she would if she were traveling. Obviously, she knows how to live on a budget, but how does she do this with the job she has?
Since she has a full-time job, Karafin accrues a number of paid vacation days per year, which she uses wisely. “Many people think that taking time off is frowned upon in a corporate environment,” she explains, “I tackle this misconception by working really hard and constantly asking for new projects and tasks to take on. The latter proves that I am serious about my work.” But her time management skills are also useful.
Karafin combines her paid time off with her weekends in order to spend more time traveling. “I take two, three days off at a time and combine them with a weekend, creating a long weekend,” she says. That’s how she was able to go to Bali and enjoy it, even though it was just for a few days. And what’s even more impressive is that Karafin runs a charity of her own.
Given what she went through with cancer as a child, Karafin wanted to lend a hand to kids who were experiencing the same issues. So, in 2013, she created Checkmate, Cancer! The charity raised money so she could participate in the Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s Walkathon. Over the years, the organization earned more than $100,000 through fundraising. And that money is used to provide emotional and financial assistance to families with kids who have cancer.