Jim Teliha, 52, academic librarian, Providence
Weeks traveling per year: 5
Typical annual travel spending: $5,500
Jim Teliha and his wife, Maura McConahay, had an unusual goal: spend seven New Year's Eves on seven continents. Even more unusual, they pulled it off, capping their feat by ringing in 2003 in Antarctica.
Teliha, who handles the logistics of their trip planning, says the experience encouraged them to keep scouting out remote locales; they've since been to Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and more.
In 2007 the pair celebrated McConahay's birthday with a four-week tour through Central Asia, including tracing much of the Silk Road, an ancient trading route that connected Europe and Asia. Teliha plotted a trip that immersed them in the region's history -- both centuries old and relatively recent.
They toured the Registan in Uzbekistan, a public square that was once the center of Samarkand, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. In Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, Teliha says he was particularly struck by the Independence Monument, which commemorates the nation's 1991 break from the Soviet Union.
"We really know nothing about vast swaths of the world, like Central Asia," he says. "It's fun to go back and learn what you should have picked up in school."
Skip the obvious. Traveling near the holidays taught Teliha some peak-season saving strategies. To start, he picks destinations a bit off the beaten path. For instance, rather than spend New Year's in a popular spot like France, the couple went to less touristy Austria. (Vienna hotels averaged $146 a night last year, compared with $195 in Paris, according to Hotels.com.)
He also recommends going beyond well-known airlines. To track down flight options that might not show up on U.S. booking sites, try searching the websites of airline groups like OneWorld and Sky-Team, says Tim Winship, publisher of FrequentFlier.com.
Book early. For their New Year's trip to Australia, Teliha snagged a pair of business-class seats for 80,000 miles by booking almost a year in advance, then upgraded to first-class for 40,000 more a week before departure.
Booking 11 months out is a good strategy, since that's when airlines first load their mileage seats, says Gary Leff, cofounder of frequent-flier site MilePoint. But don't give up if that doesn't work. Leff says airlines often release additional seats six months out, when they have a better sense of how full the flight is likely to be, and again about a week before departure.
Try nontraditional hotels. Teliha says he was surprised to discover how nice hostels have become in some parts of the world. He and his wife stayed in several in Australia, and they were particularly impressed by one in St. Petersburg that was located in a converted mansion a block from the Winter Palace. He suggests joining Hostelling International ($38 a year) for discounts.
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