Listing priorites and values made a vacation of a lifetime happen.

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Be Awesome Not Broke founder Garrett Philbin couldn’t afford a traditional vacation. Especially since the vacation he envisioned would span two months and 10 states out west.

So the New York City resident, originally from California, started planning. He contacted family and friends out west about staying with them and got free flights out to California and back by travel hacking — he used credit card signup bonuses to earn free airline miles. A friend even offered him his car for free once he arrived.

Another smart move was subletting his city apartment. “I sublet the apartment for two months,” said Philbin. “That meant I didn’t have to pay rent, and it even helped me earn money for the trip.”

Before he left, Philbin also listed his priorities. Seeing friends and family, camping, and hiking were high on the list. Paying for places to stay was not. “I wasn’t concerned about where I slept,” said Philbin. “I crashed on couches and camped at free campsites and even slept on the side of the road if necessary.”

Philbin famously paid only $5 for lodging during the trip. He told me a great story. One night in Washington state he couldn’t find a free campsite so he stubbornly pitched camp on a quiet piece of property.

“I was not paying for a campsite,” said Philbin. “But at six o’clock the next morning, I woke up with a man standing over me. The property belonged to him. It was a little unsettling.”

But something cool happened. The guy didn’t threaten him, he actually engaged in conversation. “I told him I was from New York City on vacation,” remembered Philbin. “He thought all liberals were condescending know-it-alls who never left the city. I told him that’s sometimes true but more the exception than the rule. I didn’t regard him as some conservative redneck.” Thankfully, they got along just fine.

Philbin encountered more than interesting people on his trip. He once woke up to a herd of cows surrounding his campsite. He ran into a black bear while hiking. And he had to run the last hour of a trail so he wouldn’t get caught in darkness. These weren’t things he planned on — they were the random experiences he will remember.

He also worked while vacationing. He works as a financial life coach, helping clients get out of debt, build a savings plan and stop feeling guilty about their relationship with money.

The car he borrowed had a spoiler on the back. He put his laptop on the spoiler and often worked outside. He explained what his office surroundings looked like one day.

Garrett Philbin in Yosemite Valley

“I stood at the base of 3,000 foot cliffs in the Yosemite Valley,” said Philbin. “I worked the whole morning and then hiked the whole afternoon. It was fantastic.”

Philbin enjoyed many incredible experiences during his vacation. In all, he visited California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

But his planning made the trip happen for almost free.

“Having a plan ahead of time was critical, and honestly it was the only way I could make the trip happen in the first place because I had a limited budget,” noted Philbin. “What the plan did was give me an outline of my priorities/values that I wanted to stick to, and any time I was faced with a spending decision I made sure to look at it through that lens.”

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About the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski has been writing about personal finance for over 15 years covering debt recovery, fraud, and credit topics. He has worked on several personal finance books and guides that help consumers navigate the US credit system. When he’s away from the keyboard he enjoys craft beer and fishing – and once enjoyed a cold Sweet Water IPA after catching a sailfish.

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