How I Afford to Travel

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.

dsc01004-1024x680-3-2 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.

dubai-1024x768-1-3 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.

elchalten-1024x680-2 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-3 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-3 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!

img_0107-1024x768-3-2 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?