Some of us aren't quite ready to take that overseas trip, while others have long given in to the travel bug and have been on flights since before the U.S. required negative COVID tests to return home. (Oh, I know I'm not the only one). If you're a travel lover like me, you might have been keeping a watchful eye on those coins in the past few months, looking for ways to save just to book the flight and luxe accommodations. Well, I'm also a discount lover with the I-got-it-but-I-ain't-spending-$5,000-on-nobody's-travel-package bougetto kind of traveler.
Whether you're among those waiting another six months or so before using those travel credits, or you're all set to go on your next adventure soon, check out a few tips that have helped me in planning luxury travel on a budget:
1. Venture beyond the usual third-party discount sites for booking trips.
Listen, we all know about the whole savings tip of traveling during off-peak times, and we know that Groupon is the go-to OG for booking discounted trips. (So are Expedia, Orbitz, Hopper, and Kayak.) However, sometimes I don't have the time or just don't want to fly out somewhere during some weird season where the vibes are nonexistent or just not festive. (Oh, and let's not forget the "revenge travel" that's going on now, making us all forget what a "peak" season even is with all the crowds and price surges.)
I've found great deals and discounts by going directly on a hotel's or airline's official website and signing up for their membership programs. Doing this allows you to avoid missing out on perks like having the ability to upgrade or have to deal with the sneaky third-party fine print that says the booking can't be changed or adjusted. For example, Hilton Honors offers some amazing perks for members to stay at their more than 5,900 properties around the world, their options are diverse and fabulous for staycations and overseas trips, and their customer service is everything.
I also love the Marriott Bonvoy program, where you can earn free nights and get updated on special member rates. (And don't think of Marriott as that budget hotel your family always stayed in for the annual reunion. They've got some pretty amazing luxury properties around the world including the W and the Ritz Carlton brands.)
2. Tap into rewards.
It's also a good idea to check out your favorite airline's rewards programs and, for trips that take more than 8 hours or might be that one-time-a-year treat, book directly with them as a member. I absolutely love American Airlines Advantage, and they're my fave for my many trips to the Caribbean. The miles seem to rack up pretty quickly, the boarding process is typically seamless and stress-free, and miles can be used without a lot of annoying and inconveniencing stipulations.
Many credit card companies offer rewards on travel (NerdWallet has an excellent list of the best, by the way) and if you travel a lot, it's a good idea to look into the best ways you can make both your debit and credit cards work for you in terms of saving coins. Several banks offer cashback rewards on your purchases, so check out a few of those as well. (Here's a link to get you started, sis. You're welcome.)
3. Add luxury touches pre-trip.
You might have a coach ticket, but that doesn't mean you can't have a bit of luxury during your commute. I'm a huge fan of airport lounges, and if you're not into spending $600-$800 for access, try a day pass. American Airlines offers one for its Admiral's Club access where, for $59, you can get chef-inspired food and drinks, comfy seats to scroll the web via their free Wifi, and some even have shower suites. United, which has more than 45 lounge locations, also offers a $59 day pass that can be purchased via their app.
I also have no shame in bringing my own mini-bottles of top-shelf alcohol (if it's that kind of trip!), which can run you just $1.50 to $7.00 per bottle for brands like Johnnie Walker Black, Patron, Kettle One, or Ciroc. I simply pack my "nips" in my carry-on bag and add them to mixed drinks (virgin, of course) or juices for a pre-boarding cocktail.
You can also add luxury to the commute to and from the airport by spending a few extra dollars with Lyft Lux and ride in style via a high-end sudan or SUV. Only drivers who are highly rated and experienced are allowed to participate. And who wouldn't like getting picked up from the airport in a nice, clean BMW, Lexus, or Cadillac?
For the times when I can't swing hundreds of dollars a night for lodging, I pack luxury items to take with me to the budget digs. Items like a silk robe or lingerie, aromatherapy bath oils and gels, satin pillow cases, small scented candles or bottles of sparkling water (bought at the airport of course) all add that luxe touch to my stay.
4. Book a villa or home rental vs. the usual resort packages.
I get that many people are just used to resorts and like the one-stop-shop vibes of just booking a weeklong stay for $2,500 or more and enjoying all-inclusive amenities the property offers. But I've found that traditional resorts just aren't my cup of tea. My idea of the "luxury" I should be getting for that price just never seems to match up with what many offer. (Either I don't like the food or the customer service as much as I should for the price, or the entertainment is just not within my tastes.)
Sometimes spending that same $2,500 to book a longer stay at a villa or home rental is a much better experience, and you get to really tailor or choose the version of "luxury" you prefer.
For example, in Negril, Jamaica you can get a private home with a pool, proximity to a private beach, and modern amenities for $250 to $300 per night, and simply hire someone to come in to cook custom meals for you. (Trust me, they're out there. If the host can't connect you, it's easy to find one by asking a taxi driver or restaurant host.) You can create your own fun, utilize the technology, and have privacy. To me, that's a more luxurious experience (and more bang for my buck) than being limited to cafeteria-style and chain-food-serving restaurants, sharing a resort pool with dozens of people (who apparently flew thousands of miles to hear Top 40 hits of the early 2000), or being underwhelmed by drunken tourists doing absurd versions of twerking.
5. Think outside the (location and type) box when it comes to lodging.
There are so many so-called hidden gems that have a luxury vibe but are not among the popular or well-advertised spots. For example, instead of staying on the popular Hip Strip of Montego Bay, sometimes I opt for Lucea, Jamaica, a small town located between Negril and Montego Bay. Try the Grand Palladium, which will run you about $250 to $321 per night vs. popular resorts in Negril that cost upwards of $400 per night for similar amenities. Or instead of staying in Tulum or Cancun, Mexico, where luxury hotels might run you upwards of $350 per night, try Playa del Carmen or San Jose del Cabo, where the average prices for luxury stays start around $200 per night.
Boutique hotels in popular vacay destinations also tend to offer good deals on room rates, and you'll still get the luxury feel of a resort. I like Villas Sur Mer which features the cutest cottages, a beautiful pool, cliff-side access, and amazing views for as low at $126 (during some seasons).
Also, luxury hostels are a thing. (Travel Binger has an awesome list of top spots around the world.) You get luxe touches like modern amenities (think: underground clubs, laundry services, private terraces, chic cafes, and travel shops), great views, and customized extras at super-affordable rates.
6. Research organizational affiliation and student deals or corporate discounts.
I often overlooked this until I found out that as a grad student, I qualify for quite a few discounts or deals on everything from plane or train tickets, to transportation vouchers, to hotel stays. If you're part of a sorority or volunteer organization, you're a military veteran or active service member, or you're a church leader, you might be eligible for discounts. Also, memberships with orgs and companies like AAA, Costco, BJs, and credit unions can have the added benefit of travel deals. Your school's alumni association might even offer discounts.
I've also, in the past, worked for companies that had partnerships with other brands and offered discounts via those partnerships. Check your job's website or ask an HR rep about any sort of travel discounts you might be eligible for as an employee. (Oh, and check out these companies that offer competitive benefit packages that put vacation at the forefront.)
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
They say you can’t heal in the same place that made you sick. And I couldn’t.
The year was 2019, and I knew I had to go. My spirit was calling me to be alone and to go alone. It was required in that season. A few months prior, I had quit my job. And it was late 2017 when I had met trauma.
I was completely broken, and every part of me hurt. I was no longer the lighthearted Camille that everyone loved and knew me to be. I remember a family friend saying, “You’re not the same.” And I wasn’t. I no longer recognized the girl looking back at me in the mirror. I needed major healing.
It was 2018 when I found the courage to seek mental health therapy. At that point, I knew there was nothing more that my friends could do for me. I was all cried out, and the silence was killing me. At the time, I was diagnosed with clinical anxiety, depression, and PTSD. How?
How did I let trauma take complete control of my life? But I had to forgive myself for all the things I did not know.
At the time, my therapist introduced me to journaling as a coping mechanism. Words ultimately became my best friend. In many ways, I would like to think that writing saved me. I am in love with words, and I always have been. My writing was and still is my safe space. It unlocked opportunities I never imagined – like writing for xoNecole.
And with this gift, I can now tell you a story about my own trauma, healing, self-discovery, and the journey to learning how to celebrate myself.
Starting a Healing Journey
In early Spring 2019, I was told by a Reiki healer that I was going to embark on a journey. She told me it was going to be lonely, but I was never alone. The thing is I never once mentioned to this woman my travel plans. It was August 2019 when I planned my solo trip to Europe. It was going to be 38 days alone on a continent I knew absolutely nothing about. By the end of summer and a nine-hour flight later, I touched down in London.
I fell in love with every single thing. I fell in love with everything I could see – colors, cobblestone streets, spiral staircases, adorned windows, architecture, garden terraces, nature, and people. I fell in love with everything I could hear – accents, language, history, and music. I fell in love with everything I could taste – wines, foods, and desserts. I fell in love with everything I could feel – ocean breezes, white sands, and well-designed buildings. I fell in love with everything that fed my soul. People, stories, and connections. I fell in love with myself.
I always say women have the ability to heal others naturally. It was here in my travels that I started to pay attention to the concepts of purpose, connection, energy, alignment, and universal signs. I began to truly realize not only my strengths and universal gifts but also how to use them too. I started to step into my authentic self. I began to realize who Camille really was. A free spirit with a heart of gold.
Courtesy of Camille Ali
A New Season
By the time I had returned from Europe, it was late Fall 2019, and I was a completely different person.
I spent most of my time pouring into myself. Self-development and self-love became key. Everything that I previously settled for in family, friends, and relationships – I went and gave to myself. Read that again. I became completely in love with who I was becoming, and I still am. I had let go of tradition, conditional beliefs, people pleasing, and living my life to make my parents proud.
I had let go of being a “straight arrow,” and the idea of having it all figured out. I outgrew tradition and cultural norms. Sometimes, those things can be so blinding.
I began to shift. I adopted and altered the things that aligned with my purpose and values.
I became risk-tolerant instead of risk-averse.
I canceled my fears.
I welcomed uncertainty, knowing I would always land on my feet.
This newfound level of confidence came out of nowhere. It was no longer a question of if I can do this. The question became, how can I do this? I stayed open to possibilities and opportunities in whichever form they came to me. I became selective and intentional with my time and energy, too. I went from being a 9 to 5 government employee, then a corporate consultant, to a small business owner not once but twice by 2021.
If you ask me who I am now, I would say I am authentically a creative. I write from my heart, and I speak from my core. My voice is my power, and my words hold weight. By trade, I am a paralegal and a business consultant.
How Trauma Shows Up in the Body
Even though I was able to heal my heart, my mind, and my spirit, I wasn’t quite done healing. And I didn’t even know it. In the last seven years, I gained weight. This was a direct result of a broken heart, emotional trauma, mental health issues, stress, and poor lifestyle choices. I was a good 50 pounds overweight, too. I knew something was wrong with my body when it stopped responding to my dietary and lifestyle efforts.
I started to advocate for my health in the winter of 2022 to get clarity and answers. I sought the care of medical specialists, asked the right questions, requested second opinions, and tested and retested my blood. Not one doctor could properly diagnose me, either.
When Western medicine failed me, I chose holistic medicine. What I learned and what I understood was that my physical health issues were a straight-up trauma response. I cried. I was always conscious about my health, and now I’m sick with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Yes, PTSD triggers and is linked to autoimmune diseases.
I remember thinking, “I did this to myself, and I have to fix it.”
I spent the majority of 2023 detoxing with Chinese herbs, making every lifestyle change possible. My body was holding on to dead weight – it had to go for me to continue to become.
Courtesy of Camille Ali
Summer 2023 couldn’t come any faster. I completed my holistic detox with sacrifice and ease. While everyone saw just a “body transformation,” for me, it was an emotional release.
I was no longer reminded of what transpired. I cried again.
There were so many days, months, and years that I thought I would never get me back. And I believed it. I mean, who wouldn’t? Medical experts adamantly told me that there was nothing wrong with me. All I wanted was to feel like myself again. I missed me so badly.
I looked for me everywhere. I couldn’t find her until I paused and did the inner work.
I wouldn’t change one thing about my healing journey. It all had to happen so I could be in this current moment. And this girl right here – I know exactly who she is. I know what she stands for through and through. And I’ll never stray from that.
I’ve grown so much, yet in some ways, I’m rediscovering who this girl is again. It’s so intoxicating.
Courtesy of Camille Ali
Returning to Europe
I have always wanted to go back to Europe. Europe is a magical place to be. It's the energy, the people, and the lifestyle for me. But the timing wasn’t right. It took the wedding of a close friend of mine to make my return happen. I returned to Europe in August 2023. This time to Greece.
At first, I didn’t realize the significance of the timing. But make no mistake, this was alignment, a full circle moment, and a testimony to myself. I started a healing journey in August 2019, and I returned as a completely different person this year.
Happy, whole, and healed. Resilient and confident.
I knew I was meant to share a pivotal moment in my friend’s life and celebrate myself. My word for 2023 was joy, and I wanted all of it. More importantly, I deserved it.
I fell in love with everything all over again. Everything that I can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste, that is. I created moments and memories. And I felt each moment and memory deeply in new places and with new faces. Greece owed me absolutely nothing. Europe will always and forever have a special place in my heart.
My five-year healing journey taught me to always choose myself. I am grateful because my entire journey brought me home to myself. And one thing about me is that when I am in the right environment — I thrive. Always.
The journey to self-discovery is worth the uncomfortable moments and ugly crying. It’s worth the undoing, redoing, and reprocessing to finally come to a place of happiness, peace, and being comfortable in your own skin.
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