Money

The simple hack I use to save thousands of dollars on travel each year

I spend a lot of time on the road — and in the air. In fact, besides rent, my biggest expense is travel. But it's an expense that is important to me, and one that I budget for accordingly.

Plus, I keep things as cheap as I can. One of my biggest money-saving travel hacks is simple: I go where I know people.

Hotel and Airbnb bills can add up, so I eliminate that expense altogether by visiting cities where friends and family live. In the past 12 months, I've been to places like New Orleans, London, Puerto Rico and San Francisco and haven't spent a dime on lodging.

After crunching the numbers, I figure it saves me a couple thousand dollars every year.

I travel about once a month for an average of three nights per trip. That's 36 nights out of the year. Say a hotel room, split with whomever I'm traveling with, costs $50 to $75 per night. That's a yearly savings of $1,800 to $2,700.

I realize this strategy isn't feasible for everyone. I'm lucky to have family sprinkled throughout the U.S. and Europe. But if you have the option of crashing on a friend's couch or in a family guest bedroom, keep that in mind the next time you're planning a trip.

You'll want to give your host plenty of heads up and make sure they know they have a place to stay if they're ever in your city. It's also a good idea to bring a hostess gift, like a bottle of wine or nice box of chocolates.

Besides traveling where friends and family live, here are my other favorites strategies for traveling on the cheap:

1. I take advantage of credit card rewards. Perks like these can go a long way. Within the first year of signing up for the popular travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I saved over $2,000 on travel, thanks to a generous sign-up bonus and rewards points earned for using the card on a regular basis.

Read more about how to pick the best rewards credit card and check out the best credit cards for travelers. And remember, if you're going to rack up points, you'll want to make sure you're using your card responsibly and able to pay off your balance in full every month.

2. I book flights as far in advance as possible. Typically, the earlier you book travel, the less you'll pay. So when I know for a fact that I'll be traveling at a certain time — home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example — I'll buy flights months in advance.

Keep in mind that airlines will often charge you more than $100 to change your flight, so you do want to make sure your trip is set before buying tickets.

3. I sweat the small stuff. Little expenses can add up, particularly on longer trips. When traveling, I always skip the overpriced food and drinks at the airport. If I have a long flight or layover, I'll pack protein bars to tide me over and a water bottle to refill.

I also refuse to pay for internet access at hotels or the airport and hunker down in places that offer free Wi-Fi, like Starbucks or other cafes. And, if I'm abroad, I use a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, which can add up fast.

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook!

Don't miss: I hate spending money but pay $450 a year for a credit card—here's why