When Elona Karafin was a child, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. She spent two years in treatments and today, at age 23, she’s happy to report that she’s healthy.
But being a cancer survivor is forever baked into her psyche.
“I had cancer when I was 10, ” she says. “Now I realise, 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 says the experience taught her, “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.”
And so, every few weeks, Karafin, who lives in New York, travels to a far-away destination like Bali or Poland or Paris or Portugal on a long weekend, maybe three days, spending less than $1,400 on the total trip including airfare, hotel, entertainment — everything.
If she’s not travelling internationally, she’ll zip around the US. For domestic trips, its a straight weekend jaunt, Friday night to Sunday, she says.
She keeps details of her trips. what she saw, how she spent her time and documents it all on her blog, “Elona The Explorer.”
She’s out to prove to everyone who wants to travel the world (or achieve any of their dreams): “You have time. You can make time. Even the busiest people in the world, they have time,” she says. “That’s why I focus so much on weekend trips.”
And, she’s not independently wealthy. She works as a financial analyst at a large e-commerce and postage supply company. “I work a full-time job and I’m fresh out of college, so I’m not exactly making the big bucks,” she laughs.
Some of her best trips:
- A three-day jaunt to Bali. “It was a 26-hour flight, I was in Bali for 3 nights. not even a full four days,” she says.
- She’s done Dubai in 4 days.
- And once, she went to Poland for 8 hours. “I surprised my best friend for her birthday, I flew out on a Saturday.”
- She also nailed Amsterdam in 2 days. “There’s a whole list of things you can get done in two days.”
On top of working and travelling, she also runs her own charity called Checkmatecancer.org that uses social media and crowdfunding to raise money for underprivileged kids who have cancer.
So she probably falls into the “busiest people in the world” bucket. She’s really proud of the charity, by the way. “So far, in three years I raised over $115,000 in donations for individual families in the United States and abroad,” she tells us.
As a traveller, it does help that she lives in New York, because flying to European destinations takes less time, but she says anyone can do exotic travel on the weekends, no matter where they live.
Here are her top tips:
Be flexible on where you'll go. 'I use websites that allow me to put 'everywhere' as a destination, and New York as my origin,' she says. She goes where ever the bargains take her.
One of her favourite sites for finding deals on flights is Jetradar.com. 'It has some of the best deals I've ever seen.'
Another favourite is Hotel Tonight. 'Hotel Tonight is by far one of my favourite apps because it literally has the best hotel deals on the market, period.'
Another pro tip: 'I buy my trips on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because price trends show that's when they are the cheapest.'
Nothing beats research before booking travel, she says: 'Can I find a cheaper flight? Can I book flight and hotel separately? I visit many blogs for tips and message the blogger with questions.'
She also creates a budget in advance. 'I research prices on everything from food to tours before my trips. I set up an Excel spreadsheet with the latter prices to help me understand my budget.'
She suggests creating detailed plans of what you'll do on your short trips in advance, too. For Dubai, 'I had a plan A, B, and C just in case.'
However, she advises not paying for many activities in advance. 'I never pre-book anything online, unless I do a lot of research. 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.'
In addition to saving money on travel, she's got tips on saving money on her life so she can afford to travel. For instance, she recommends putting a small part of each paycheck away in 'a high yield savings account.' While she still eats out, she buys wine at quarterly wine auctions, instead of the store, she says.
Karafin also has tips for how to travel a lot while working full time. 'Many people think that taking time off is frowned upon in a corporate environment. 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, and I am.'
But her top tip for working full time while travelling frequently: 'Value YOUR time,' she says. You have vacation days. Use them throughout the year. 'I take two, three days off at a time and combine them with a weekend, creating a long weekend.'
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