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Five Ways to Maximize Travel in 2016

Now is the perfect time to start thinking about how to maximize your vacation time in the new year

As 2016 approaches, it’s a good time to start planning travel for the coming year. After visiting 43 countries, I have learned how to travel smarter, longer, and lighter, but I still take this time to think about how I can fit more travel into my life—and to remind myself of strategies that have served me well in the past. Here are five of my favorite ways to make make travel a priority, improve how I travel, and maximize my vacation time:

1. Maximize weekends
When I studied abroad in England, I spent every weekend exploring and saw more of the country than my local friends who had lived there for decades and took their local sights for granted. I did the same when I moved to Austin, Texas. I took road trips to Marfa, Houston, Big Bend National Park, and every quirky, photogenic town people recommended. An easy way to do this is to plan a trip to explore areas closer to home once a month. These day trips or quick overnights are also a great way to spend time with friends or family—just invite them to come along!

2. Travel lighter
I always start packing a few days before a big trip. (It’s way too easy to over pack when I am rushed!) Then, I spend a few minutes each day eliminating items until I’m down to the bare essentials. I always try to pack as light as possible, because if I don’t have to waste time standing in line at check-in and baggage claim, I can use that extra time to enjoy a few last minutes in my destination. To keep things to a minimum, I pack complimentary colors to maximize outfit options and limit myself to two pairs of shoes. And I try to remember that no matter where I go, unless I’m camping, there will be laundry services!

3. Work out
Travel isn’t an excuse to abandon my exercise routine. Instead, I use my workout as a way of exploring new cities. My favorite thing to do on my first morning in a new place is to go for a sunrise run while the tourists are still asleep. Consider planning your trip around activities are that are both physically challenging and rewarding. Bike the local neighborhoods, climb a volcano, or go sandboarding! You’ll get exercise, and because you’re out and about on the streets, instead of riding in taxis, you’ll also get a more authentic look at the culture.

4. Take longer trips
Flights are usually the most expensive part of travel, so it’s cheaper to travel for longer periods of time than to take multiple trips. But how do you find the time? In the past I’ve taken advantage of gaps of time between jobs and after graduating from college and graduate school. I have also quit multiple jobs to travel. (Thankfully, because I’m honest about my reasons for leaving every time, I’m often rehired when I return.)

If that’s a little too extreme for you, there are ways of working a longer trip into your work schedule. Look at your schedule for the year; it might turn out that being gone for one long trip is less disruptive than taking lots of short trips. And you might even be able to work remotely while you’re gone.

5. Collect more miles 
I recently wrapped up a seven-month trip in Central and South America. I flew fifteen times but only paid for four flights. The rest were paid for with miles that I collected through work travel and rewards credit cards.

What’s my secret? Instead of relying on just one frequent flyer mile account, I use credit cards and frequent flyer accounts for each of the major airlines. The initial sign-up bonus offered by most rewards cards is enough for one free flight! I also take advantage of the online shopping malls offered by rewards cards. Simply click on the links provided on your airline miles cards’ websites, and you’ll be able to use purchases at popular retailers like Sephora, Apple, and Target to earn miles. (A good way to collect points while doing holiday shopping!) And when you travel for work, don’t forget that you can collect miles not only for flights but also from your hotels and rental cars. Hotel loyalty programs like Hilton HHonors let you earn a combination of hotel points and airline miles for every dollar spent on a hotel stay.

Anna Mazurek is a travel photographer and writer based in Austin, Texas. Follow her adventures and travel advice on Instagram and at TravellikeAnna.com.

>>Next: The Top 10 Destinations on Our 2016 Travel List