The number one question I always get is “are you rich, how can you afford to travel?” The reality is that, if you plan correctly, traveling can be really quite cheap. This is the first of many articles I will write on this topic, so i’ll keep it general for now. For this article, I want to write about the reasons for travel and what comes with making that decision. If you want to do more than a weekend trip to Cancun or Florida and want to really consider making a small or large change in life so you can see the world, let this be your inspiration and introduction.
First off, I’ll say the obligatory statement that you have to want to travel, this has to be something you make a conscious decision to do, as it will require some sacrifice and hard work. There are many reasons that people focus on for not going, and I have always said that people focus too much on the problem and not actually focus on the solution. If you spend all your time thinking about what you can’t do, how will you ever find a solution to what you can do?
So the first factor is time. True, most people don’t get much time off (in America anyways), and this is a crucial part of travel (lots of time is lost in simply getting from point A to B and back). If you’re lucky, you get one week off and most people aren’t as lucky to have a job that you can do remotely (web designer, for example). But let time work for you, rather than working for time. And by this I mean, consider if the pull of the open road is worth it to you, identify the factors that cause you to say “I have no time or money”, and there you have a baseline for the change you need to make.
If your job doesn’t allow you to travel much, work with the time you have. Combine weekends with time off to maximize a journey – start Friday morning, return the following Sunday night.. you get a week off usually, plus one lost day to travel time, still leaves you a full week. Or plan trips around major holidays, when you would be off work anyways, and combine that with vacation or sick days. Sometimes traveling during holidays is cheaper anyways. I always find insane flight deals around New Year Eve.
I’ll write more about short term get-aways, but considering the advantages of longer term travel, time can be your best friend, and what you lose in the stability of staying home, you gain in experience and memories abroad. And this applies to young/single people with nothing tying them down, to people with families, kids, and mortgages. I would argue that traveling as a family is even better, ad you’re more mature, more financially sound and less prone to wasting money, and for the kids, experiencing another culture is invaluable to their growing up and future prospects. Remember, the solution, not the problem.
It’s actually not too hard to work and live while on the road. You can combine cheap travel with international work to fund your journey. For the younger traveler, its easy to get a job at hostel, nightclub, bar, etc, in popular tourist destinations (even internationally) doing temp work. Hell, you can essentially get paid to party! This allows you to have a free place to stay while making money and friends (and these jobs are usually in English). Working at a hostel, or promoting for a nightclub means free drinks/food and a place to party or sleep at night. With these essential costs of living paid for, you have more to spend on yourself.
For the older or more ambitious traveler, there are other options to allow you to travel and live abroad, one of the most in-demand being language education. Teaching English in other countries can be profitable and give you access to so many new places, while funding yours travels. A lot of countries have a much lower cost of living than the USA and teaching English, even on the lower pay scales, can still benefit you if your actual cost of living is a fraction of your USA cost. For example, you can get a nice, modern apartment in Thailand for as low as $200/month. Other places like Turkey, China, middle eastern countries, also have low costs of living/housing. Eating and drinking is far cheaper in many countries, and as long as you don’t plan to live a baller lifestyle, you can make/save thousands, while having access to a new country, culture, food, sights, and experiences. Most larger cities have great, international ex-pat communities so you can have support of others who speak your language and have a social life as well. And in many places outside America, travel is far cheaper between main destinations. For the cost of one round trip from New York to Los Angeles, in Europe you can visit Barcelona, Rome, Berlin, Lisbon and London together for less than said USA roundtrip. My recent flight from Stockholm to Paris on budget flyer, Ryanair, was cheaper than my bar tab last night. In Asia, buses, trains, and discount flights can get you to beautiful beaches for sometimes mere dollars and hotels and food will also be equally as cheap. Europe and Asia have many budget airlines, something that doesn’t really exist in America.
A LOT of fellow travelers I meet teach English and it doesn’t require advanced degrees or much training and you don’t have to know the language of your destination country. You can work through official channels (securing a visa and what not) and freelance on the side for extra money. A TEFL degree is required by some places, but not many, and you can get one in a few months and the benefit is that you’ll make more money if you have one. If anything, combine with the experience above, this can be a great way to fund your trip and have a life-changing experience.
Other ways of working abroad include freelancing in your respective field, or if you have a job that you can convince to let you work remotely, can work out, though you have to work odd hours and ensure a decent wifi signal. And of course, you can always volunteer for an NGO or Peace Corps, and you will get to see many amazing places, but that’s another story..
The main factor just as important as time is money. Even if you can work remotely or you decide to teach or do other work, what about your expenses at home? How much money do you actually need and how do you save up? The answer lies in good planning and committing fully to that plan.
If you decide to teach overseas, or you are taking an extended trip, you still have to pay for your rent and bills at home, on top of travel costs and expenses. The trick is to offset those costs as much as possible. One way would be to rent our your apartment or house to a subletter while gone, saving you the biggest expense: rent and bills. This savings alone can usually cover main expenses: flights and hotels. In the months leading up to your trip, cut back on all non-essential purchases. Eat at home, don’t eat out. Don’t drink or smoke excessively, maybe skip that party you had planned. If you have the space in your home, and don’t mind the sacrifice of a little privacy or some extra work, use a service like Airbnb.com to rent out your space and make extra money. The new digital economy of 2014 offers lots of ways to make extra cash, if you are willing to put in the time. The key is to offset costs and save, and if you can, make extra money on the side to use just for the trip.
If you sublet or leave for while, this creates new expenses as you need to pay for accommodation at your new location. If you are traveling around, hostels or guesthouses are cheap and there are many sites out there for “house-sitting”, where you can have a free place in exchange for watching someone’s house. If you are living somewhere for a while, perhaps to teach, pick a destination that is cheap for rent, but also accessible to many places for exploration. Thailand is great for the reasons listed above. If you do choose to teach, research and see if any programs offer paid accommodation.
Use rewards credit cards and loyalty programs
My biggest method for making travel happen: using the available rewards programs out there to your advantage. Sign up for mileage rewards credit cards and rental car, hotel, and other loyalty programs. Travel cards give you huge bonuses in miles to join (50,000 miles for getting my United Mileage Plus card, and 40,000 miles for my US Airways card). Purchase everything on the cards so you get miles for dollars (just please, don’t spend what you don’t have, pay them off as you spend so you don’t incur debt. Don’t buy anything you don’t have in your bank account to pay off). If you go home to see a relative and rent a car, use the promotion codes provided by your mileage program to get sometimes 3 or 4 times the miles. Shop with retailers who give you miles for purchase (your mileage credit cards will send you info on how/who to shop for miles). Every airline mileage program has dining rewards (Skyteam, OneWorld, Star Alliance) where you get miles just for using your credit or debit card at places you eat anyways. Go with group and pay the bill (your friends, of course, give you their share) and get 3-5 miles per dollar. I pay my rent with my credit card and since its rent, its paid off immediately, because I am not spending anything I wouldn’t have spent with my bank account (writing the rent check traditionally).
End of the day, you just need to create what I call a baseline. Figure out your total monthly expenses at your normal home (rent/mortgage, bills, transportation, going out, groceries, etc). Divide by 30 (days of the month). That number you get will tell you how much money you currently spend, per day, for your at home cost of living. Then as you work out your travel costs, aim to create an itinerary whose total costs, per day, are equal to or less than your current per diem. As you begin to work out your destination and research costs of accommodation, tours, food, drink, etc, you will start to see where you can cut and where you can splurge. You will see where you can apply your rewards, or where you can spend a little to get a lot (take the flight that is $30, but is with a larger airline so you’ll get thousands of miles.. then use those miles later for savings). I used my Mileage Plus sign up bonus to cover a flight to Nepal. I spent more on my thai food last night than the fees for this trip (flight paid for with miles, but you still pay a small amount of fees).
So start early, its a process. Decide where you want to go and figure out how to offset your home costs and apply them to your travel costs. Get rewards programs so every single dollar you spend on anything counts for something. It’s hard work, but worth it in the end.
And finally, not to harp the point, but this choice really becomes a lifestyle. To say travel is addicting is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the sacrifices you make to save a buck are tough (taking the flight with a 10 hour layover but was $300 cheaper, staying in the 8 bed dorm in a hostel, drinking water and soda at the big birthday party and not spending $150 on drinks), but if it means you get to stand on the Great Wall or take a dip in the waters of Kho Phi Phi, Thailand, is it not worth it? You may have to put your career on hold, or plan on how you will resume work when you return. Or you may change jobs completely and adopt a new career overseas. You may decide to uproot your life, friends, and family. But the journey is worth it. We’re only young once, why not see the world while you can enjoy it carefree? You have the rest of your life to settle down, get fat, watch the Superbowl, and grill burgers in your underwear.
If you have a family now and want to travel, you can home school the kids or if you choose to live and travel abroad, many countries have English or other language schools to enroll your kids. A quick search of the internet and you will find many people traveling with their kids, successfully (Oliver The World, Our Open Road). It’s not easy, imagine the story your kids will have when they grow up? Maybe they will even learn a few languages and life skills along the way, along with a perspective of the world that goes outside the borders of the USA.
So go out there and make your own adventure, but know that if you want it, it really is accessible. You don’t have to have a million dollars, but you do have to have a passion and drive for something more and bigger than yourself. And maybe a little bit of a fearless spirit. Enjoy the road!