I’m asked all the time how I afford to travel as much as I do: I must have a lot of money!
The truth is I don’t.
“Affording” to travel happens in two ways: having the time and having the money. Honestly, you don’t need a lot of either to be able to put together a great trip. You just have to be smart about both.
Over the last few years I’ve worked toward designing my life around doing what I’m passionate about and optimizing for both the time and the money to do it. It’s always a delicate balance, and sometimes things get out of whack, but it’s always part of the journey.
Here’s how I do it:
The most drastic measure was selling all of my “stuff”, subletting my apartment in NYC, and moving what was left to my mother’s house at the Jersey Shore. I traded in good jobs with solid paychecks, closeness to my friends, rush tickets to Broadway shows, and an amazing variety of food all deliverable to my door for a room in my mom’s house in a town where I know no one, have one option for food delivery, and the closest thing to a fun night out seems to be taking a taxi to the local dive bar/restaurant.
But it’s rent free. And it’s incentive to be on the road more.
At nearly 28 years old I’m not proud to be “unemployed” and living in my mother’s house, becoming yet another statistic for the Boomerang Generation, but having this luxury affords me the ability to put what little savings I have toward building the life I want.
I don’t see this as a permanent state, but until I can sustain myself doing what I love, this is the best option.
You don’t need to move back into your parents’ house to be able to travel, but simplifying and de-cluttering your life is a great start. And it’s a great way to bring in some cash for the trip! Bonus!
Miles and Points
This is probably the biggest one, and the most talked about. While I’m not a miles and points hoarder (I don’t collect credit cards), I do have an awesome credit card that earns points that can be used on lots of different airlines and hotel chains. I put EVERYTHING on my card, even few-dollar transactions. Every little bit counts. I make sure I don’t spend beyond what I can pay off every month and I watch the points add up. I paid for my business-class flight from NYC to Bangkok using the points I’d earned over the last year.
If you’re not collecting points on your credit card, you’re definitely missing out on a huge opportunity. I love the Chase Sapphire Preferred* card. Also be sure to sign up for the frequent flyer / loyalty programs for all of the major airlines and hotel chains!
Stalking Travel Deals
I spend about 30 minutes each day checking up on all of the latest airfare and hotel deals for two reasons:
1) Maybe I’ll find a great deal and that’ll make up my next trip! 2) I get a pulse on the general pricing of routes so I know when prices are good and when to wait.
Earlier this year I grabbed an epic fare from New York to Seattle for $96 round trip. You have to be quick on the trigger, but there’s always comfort in the 24-hour no-penalty cancellation policy!
I’ve gotten very good at traveling on a budget. I’m constantly weighing bang for buck and spending money for the greatest value. If staying in a hostel instead of a hotel means I can spend that money on renting a kayak or for a bus ticket to a different city, that’s what I’ll do.
Street Noodles in George Town, Penang, Malaysia
I love street food. Especially when traveling in less developed places, street food is the most cost-effective way to eat (and it’s often the safest). Not to mention it’s delicious. I try to eat the way the locals eat and that usually means crazy cheap meals with amazing flavors served from a cart on the side of the street.
I rarely feel like I’m “depriving” myself of something while I’m traveling. I spend wisely and if I see some thing or some experience that I just have to have or do, I get it.
Your travel style may be different, but if you’re willing to forego the 5-star hotel and live like the locals, the whole world is at your disposal.
This is the greatest barrier of them all. I used to have a typical 10-7 desk job with vacation days and all that. I would do a decent amount of traveling then, but never as much as I wanted.
Now I have nothing but time. With no job to go to and relying on my freelance work and odd jobs here and there, I have the luxury to take off wherever and whenever I want. It also means I don’t have the same money at my disposal to jet set around the world, but as I said, the balance is always a work-in-progress!
How can you make the time? Cash in those vacation days you’ve been stock-piling! You’ll always be swamped at work and there will always be more work to do. They can survive without you for a week.
I’m not big on shopping. I live a very utilitarian life. My clothes are functional more than stylish and I’d rather put the money that some might spend on a new pair of shoes toward a plane ticket. Everyone has their thing that they like to splurge on every once in a while. My thing is airfare.
I have a separate savings account where I have an automatic transfer set up to stash away $50/month toward my travel fund. It’s not a lot but before you know it, there’s a few hundred dollars there that you can put toward the trip you’ve been dreaming of.
Just Do It!
It’s very easy to over-analyze travel. “Am I finding the absolute best deal?” “What’s the best hotel to stay in?” “What am I going to do at 5PM on Thursday?”
Buy your tickets, figure out where you’ll lay your head the first few nights, and go from there. The more you do it, the easier it gets. You’ll have plenty of time to figure out what all the best sights are and where to eat later. And more importantly, you’ll probably get great recommendations from locals on the ground that you’d never find on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet. It’s all a part of the adventure!
So what are you waiting for? Get that ticket and go!
* Referral link. I get 5,000 points if you sign up and use the card. You should get a 40,000 point bonus if you meet their minimum spend, which you should: free points!