How I Afford to Travel

Machu Picchu

One of the most common comments I receive in my daily life, especially when I have a trip coming up or I have just recently booked one, is “Wow! How do you afford it? I wish I could do that.” Even when it’s not asked of me directly, it’s often implied: “Man, you’re so lucky. Travel is so expensive.” I see it on Facebook, in comments on news articles, and on Instagram all the time. So many people see the travel others are doing, whether it is the occasional weekend trip or extended travel for a longer period of time, and think “How can they afford to do that? I can’t.”

I’m not naive enough to think that it’s “easy” and anyone can do it. Everyone’s circumstances are different! For example, it’s not realistic for me to travel long term right now – I have a mortgage, a great career, a husband with his own thoughts and feelings, etc – but I can go a few times a year. Some people may not be able to go a few times a year, or every year, but they might be able to save up for one huge trip every few years. I can’t speak to your specific circumstances, but I can help remove some of the mystery from mine. Spoiler alert: some of it is hard work, some of it is good luck, and some is something else entirely.

1. I’m not picky. Travel can be very, very expensive if you have a specific destination you want to go to at a specific time of the year. Want to visit New Zealand or Australia around Christmas time (or anywhere around Christmas time)? So does everyone else. Want to see Rome in June? So do a million other people. Because I literally want to go everywhere, I’m not picky about the time of year I do so or where I go. For example – was Dubai at the absolute top of my list? Realistically, no. But Emirates Airlines had a 2-for-1 fare sale and my round-trip ticket was $600. That’s the same amount I just paid to fly to California for my friend’s wedding this spring! October is also not “peak season” for the UAE and Oman, so we were also able to score great deals on hotels and activities that would have been harder to come by in January. I get that not everyone has control over when their vacations/school breaks are, but every time of year is an offseason somewhere in the world. I can afford to travel because I keep an eye out for great deals and fly at times and to places that everyone else isn’t flying.

Free flight to Curacao thanks to frequent flyer miles? Yes, let’s do that.

2. I’m willing to exhaust myself. Lack of vacation time is a huge issue for a lot of people – my husband included! Although I’m extremely lucky to have a good amount of PTO, I also am hyper-vigilant about never wasting an hour of it. I pack as many activities as possible into my trips and don’t give myself downtime to adjust to jetlag on the way there or the way back. I don’t take the day off work after I return home so I can get my laundry done or run errands – I just suffer through it until the following weekend. Does it suck at the time? Yes. Yes, it does. But it also means I have more time throughout the year to travel while still getting paid. As you saw from my post-gallbladder surgery update post, I was back working as soon as I got home from surgery so I wouldn’t have to use PTO. I also worked extra throughout the week to make up the hours I knew I would be in surgery, and as a result, I didn’t have to use any time off work. I also bring my work with me and work during my long flights, in the morning before my travel companions wake up, or while they nap – anything to make up extra hours! As far as my other jobs (teaching at Barre3 and doing freelance work), I make up all my classes by swapping times with other instructors so I don’t miss any hours. That usually means that my weeks before and after I leave are crazy packed with classes, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make so that no one else has to shoulder the course load and I don’t miss out on any of the money I would have earned. My freelance work is all done ahead of time or while I’m traveling! I realize that this is totally insane and not ideal for most people, but you asked, so I answered. Try it at your own risk.

12 hour flights to and from Dubai leave lots of time to make up hours for work! Hooray!

3. I have no a very limited social life.  If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ll notice that I don’t often post pictures of myself (or AJ and I) out to dinner, at events, or out at bars. That’s because we seriously limit the amount of money we spend on entertainment. Food, drinks, concert tickets – all of that stuff adds up really quickly, especially when you’re paying for two people! If we do go out, we like to go hiking, eat at cheap restaurants, or limit the number of drinks we have. We also have friends over for dinner, play board games, etc. It’s nothing personal to anyone, it’s just not a priority for us right now.

4. I play the points and miles game. Although I used to travel a lot for work a few years ago, I don’t anymore. It’s too bad, because that was a great way to build up hotel points and frequent flyer miles! Now, I strategically use credit card offers and other points-earning opportunities to build up my miles and accounts. Frequent flyer miles and points paid for most of our two-week honeymoon to Argentina, all my flights and most of my hotels in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, and they will pay for our flights to New Zealand next year! I’m also hoping to squeeze another trip out of them this year. I recognize that not everyone is comfortable using this strategy and it might not be the right move for everyone, but it has been a truly awesome opportunity for us.

Thanks for sending us to Argentina, American Airlines!

5. Research is my middle name. I’m a psycho about watching flight prices and extensively researching the best values at all of the places I’m going. I wrote a post about how I get great deals on travel, and I still use all of those tips. If you do not want to put the energy into creating your own itinerary, booking a local hotel, or researching the cheapest days to fly, that’s totally fine! But know that you will pay for the convenience of having someone else make your reservations for you – including on sites like Groupon and Living Social. I’m a control freak, so I prefer to book my own stuff anyway.

6. I work my ass off. The fact of the matter is that if I had one job – even my very good, well-paying day job – I could not afford to travel anywhere near as much as I do now. There is no way. I’ve been doing freelance writing for a couple of years now and have seen my income steadily grow from that area, and it’s something I constantly pursue. Adding on the Barre3 teaching has been a huge adjustment to my schedule, but it’s been an even bigger supplement to my personal income, and it’s my main travel fund. I work at one of my jobs every single day, and I’m not saying that to brag – it is just my reality. Am I lucky that I do not need all three of those jobs to just make ends meet? YES! Absolutely! I am incredibly lucky and incredibly fortunate to have these opportunities, and I know many people are not in that position. But I also never stop working and grinding to create more opportunities for myself, and by proxy, more travel money. There are no off days. This year, I’ll be going back to school to get another Masters and studying to get a certification that will help grow my income at my day job. Will it be hard? Hell yeah, but it will be worth it, too.

Snow Monkeys
Hard work sometimes leads to snow monkeys

7. I find packages that minimize costs. Let me start by saying that I definitely do not travel on a shoestring budget or backpacker’s budget. I’m not going to pretend like I do! But I also take a lot of steps to minimize my costs while on the road, like finding a hotel or hostel that includes breakfast, or if I book a tour, I make sure it includes lunch. My entire trip to Nepal – 2 weeks – will cost under $1,800! That includes my $1,150 round trip flight and the trekking package I booked, which is $645 and includes all of my lodging and food and tours for the entire trip. Is $1,800 a lot of money when you feel like you don’t have any to spend? Yes, absolutely! I’m not crazy. But every single person who has asked how much the trip is going to cost has been shocked that it’s not a 3-4 thousand dollar trip. Travel is often less expensive than you think if you just take the time to look. It’s all relative, and there is always a cheaper destination and way of doing things if you’re willing to remain flexible and hunt for deals.

Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inca Trail was about $600 for 4 days, including all food, lodging, guides, etc.

8. I prioritize it. At the end of the day, the main reason I can afford to travel is because I prioritize it above everything else I could spend my money on. What you don’t see behind the instagram shots and the blog posts are the annoying, daily choices that I make in order to make it possible: getting my hair cut only once a year, never eating lunch out during the work week, only buying drug store makeup/shampoo/etc, rarely buying new clothes, never going to Starbucks, etc. There are a lot of things I would like to buy and things I would like to do, but when it comes down to it, I think long and hard before I buy anything these days. There’s a quote by James A. Frick that says, “Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.” That’s pretty powerful stuff!

This reminds me that I want to go back to Ecuador

My point in all of this is not to say that I make better or smarter choices than anyone else – I don’t! I afford travel by trying to think clearly about what I want long term, live with intention, and make the choices that are right for me. If travel is not your priority, that’s ok! It doesn’t have to be. But what you should know is that it is possible to do more than you think by dialing down to what’s important – whatever that is – and focusing consistently. At the end of the day, I don’t know anyone who travels a lot who doesn’t absolutely work their ass off the rest of the time or didn’t for many years prior to their travels. There’s no secret, just consistent choices and steps toward a goal combined with some good luck and taking advantage of some great opportunities throughout my life. There’s been a lot of luck and a lot of blood sweat and tears, but when it comes to affording travel, I find I always have more to give.

Where would your spending say that your priorities are? Kids’ education, home remodel, travel, repaying debt? Are you happy with how your prioritize your time and money right now?

18 thoughts on “How I Afford to Travel

  1. I too love to travel but my husband has no PTO at his new job (actually, they have “unlimited PTO” which is another name for “no PTO” when your husband is a software developer at a tech company). I wish they’d get a PTO policy because if so, he would take more days off. Like I have to take them off for my job and I hate that, I get the mandatory “you need to take a day off” email and end up wasting a day just to lay around the house. Bleh.

    If travel brings you joy, go for it! I’m pretty jealous of your trips and travels but know you work your tail off because you have a job and teach and were working so soon after the surgery. And like you guys we don’t spend a whole lot of money on things like clothes or meals out or drinks. People ask how I can afford to run races and I’m like… well it’s about what you would spend at happy hour…

    1. It’s so interesting that you mention this! AJ almost took a job when we moved up here that offered “unlimited PTO” and that was exactly my concern with it! He gets 2.5 weeks a year but didn’t start accruing leave until he had been there for 3 months, and we need to save all of his time off for New Zealand. It really sucks. I definitely don’t have the problem of “needing” to take vacation or losing it, haha! But I never take random days off, it is just all used up during trips.

      You’re exactly right! I got that question a lot when I was doing a ton of races too, and yes, races aren’t cheap…but they’re not more expensive than dinner and drinks out, or a concert ticket! I think a lot of people just don’t realize how much they spend on food and drinks, and when you add it up, it is pretty substantial.

  2. I’m so glad you added the part of “I work my ass off!” I think that may be the single most important part, plus you’re working just to find the deals you do, schedule work accordingly, etc. – it’s ALL work…but then you get to play and play BIG! I applaud you for traveling so much, especially if you’re planning on having kids. I’m not saying you can’t travel, because we absolutely do with the boys, but the expense goes WAY up!…along with your blood pressure 🙂

    1. Oh, totally! I can’t imagine having to buy 4 plane tickets overseas. Yeesh! Not only that, but a lot of the trips I want to take are kind of more on the slightly dangerous or irresponsible side. Like, I’ll have no cell phone service or connectivity for something like 11 days when I’m in Nepal. That’s not an option when you have kids! So some of these are trips that I’m taking because I know it won’t be an option for a very long time after we have kids, if ever.

  3. I agree with Allie. Sometimes I feel as though people just assume others randomly get money to do these things. Who posts that they go to work every day? Right? I will admit I’m envious of your traveling because it does look like you have such a great time!

    1. I think a lot of people assume that! They assume that you have a trust fund or someone paying for it, or that you’re living in a ton of debt. And I don’t doubt that some people do have those situations, it’s just not mine. Above all, I want people to know that it is possible if you want it bad enough. In America, we often have this perception that travel is insanely expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

  4. God, I love you. And I love your life. I don’t live it because I’m jealous of it. I love it because you are doing what so many people don’t. You’re living it the way you want to fulfill yourself and no one else. Good for you.

    As for our budget and prioritization, we are in debt reduction and “find hubby a new career path” mode. Like you, we love to travel but with a new baby we don’t see much of that happening right now. We also have dreams of moving to Thailand. So, we are reducing debt and foregoing travel and other dun stuff now so that when the time comes we can more easily travel with Henry and ultimately spend some lengthy time in Thailand.

    We are also attempting to do this on one salary as hubby is now a stay at home dad also pursuing his art. He spent too many years in a career he hated so we are making it a priority to give him a year or two to really buckle down and see if he can make art his income. It is tough and we are not living the grand life we could be if we both were working but for us its about the end game…hubby finding his happiness and fulfillment and setting ourselves up for the ability to see the world with our son.

    That said, I may need to follow some of your travel tips and see about getting a family vacation scheduled sooner rather than later!

    1. This is such an amazing comment, Kylene. Thank you for sharing it! What you guys are doing is AMAZING! It sounds like you guys are building a really wonderful and fulfilling life for yourselves and that is what matters. I would absolutely love to live abroad, and if AJ would ever agree to it, that would become a priority for us. You underscored the main point of what I was trying to get across in this article, which is that you can accomplish anything you want if you work endlessly towards it and prioritize it. It might not be pretty and it might take longer than you want, but it IS possible. It is all about the end game for each person – whatever that is! Wishing you and your fam the best. I love knowing that you guys are working towards the life you dream of!

    1. Agreed, Courtney! I think that is easier for some people to see. It is easier to think that other people have things that you don’t have because they are lucky and you are not. It is much harder to admit that you’re not putting in the effort that others are! I definitely am not trying to brag here, just underscore the point that people can have a lot more than they think and go further than they think they can if they prioritize and work hard.

  5. Love this – and some great comments as well. (I have to remember to subscribe to comments as it is always off by default for some reason for me)

    Question – how often do you get the passive-aggressive criticism/comment “oh well when you have kids …”? Just wondering – Lisa and I took our time getting started with kids (and then had to deal with infertility and multiple miscarriages), whereas *all* of our families (siblings, parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, etc) had their first kid within ~1 year of marriage. So while we took trips and did fun stuff and pretty much what we wanted .. we heard about it ALL the time!

    As noted, I think it is important and key that you note that you work your butt off. It ties into other stuff – more in a second.

    Also that you are willing to exhaust yourself – that was key for me when I had to travel every week for most of 2013 for work. While I hated doing it at all, it really wasn’t optional, but I really didn’t want to sacrifice family time. This meant twisting myself into pretzels when I was home, doing everything I could, and handling other stuff when everyone else was sleeping. It has to do with priorities – and for us, family (i.e. Lisa and I, and now the four of us) has always been the priority.

    That brings me to your last – and most important – point: you prioritize it. For a long time Lisa would say “I don’t have for ___”, and it is an easy thing to say because it excuses you. I don’t remember when it was, but it was at a trendy off-site work meeting in the early 90s with one of those ‘flavor of the month’ management things, and one of the useful things that came out of it was tangential to teh actual purpose, but it was about ‘honest prioritization’. The seminar pushed more brutal honesty, but in general the focus was rather than saying “I don’t have time”, you need to say that it isn’t a priority.

    Because like I say to Lisa, if we have time to watch Castle and Food Network and other TV nonsense every week, we certainly have time to allocate if we REALLY wanted to. And when we want to – we do.

    It is all about priorities … sure we would love to hope on a plane to London, but we have one kid at one of the most expensive schools in the US, and another about to go to one of three expensive private colleges … and that is our current priority. Oh, and not going into debt, so that when they are done in 5 years or so we CAN just hop on a plane to … wherever. Or buy our beachfront home 🙂 Or whatever our priority is THEN.

    1. It’s funny that you bring up the passive-aggressive kids thing. Honestly, it doesn’t really offend us because we have NO IDEA what life is like with kids, and we don’t pretend to. Mostly, it strikes fear into our hearts and makes us want to put off having kids even longer. Neither of us are even close to being ready to have kids and we fully believe that it is every bit as difficult as people say it is. That said, we don’t really have any sympathy for people that had kids young and now can’t travel like we can. Not in a mean way – it’s just that they made the choice that is right for them, and that choice has consequences. We are making that choice that is right for us, and it may very well have consequences – infertility, etc. We are prepared for that and we would completely understand if no one had sympathy for us if that should happen – that is a choice we have made, and we own it.

      I love the idea of “honest prioritization” and I think that is so important. I relate very much to what you said about twisting yourself into pretzels trying to put it all together, because I do that, too! And what I have learned is that if something is important enough, I will make it happen. One of my favorite quotes is “You don’t find the time, you take the time” and I live that every day. It’s okay if something isn’t a priority, but we need to own those choices and just be honest about it rather than pretending we don’t have time.

  6. I 100% agree with the prioritization thing! So many coworkers are shocked I can afford to travel all over the country to marathons, but they don’t realize I don’t get lunch delivered every day or go out every weekend like they do. Other than travel, there isn’t much I spend discretionary income on. And travelling is what I really want to do, so I don’t mind at all!

    1. Exactly! I think a lot of people see the “big” spends and don’t realize that those little spends throughout the week often add up to just as much, if not more. I work right in the heart of downtown in my city and people are always shocked that I never take advantage of all the restaurants within walking distance for lunch. It’s not that I don’t want to – they smell amazing! But $15-20 a few times a week adds up. I’d rather spend it on a plane ticket!

  7. The prioritizing one is a big one! I had two different people make very snide and pointed remarks about how lucky I am to travel and how it must be nice to be finacially stable enough to do that. (I’m not denying the lucky part.) One of these people spends over $5 a day on a specialty coffee, and the other one has admitted that she averages $300/month on board games/kickstarters/nerd shirts. They could both afford to travel if they made it a priority!

    My secret that I’ve picked up recently is to fly home on a Wednesday. The flights are usually a bit cheaper and I’m not looking at a long five day, jet-lagged week of work.

    1. Yes! It’s amazing that it seems to be people who spend the most on those little things that make comments like this. I have one facebook friend who constantly bemoans how she wishes she could afford to travel the world, but then posts pictures of giant new tattoos on a regular basis. If tattoos are a priority for you, great! But a full back piece costs almost as much as a ticket to Europe, guaranteed.

      Love your idea about flying back on a Wednesday! I haven’t tried that yet but it might not be a bad idea!

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