For some of you, “Traveling more” might be on your list of New Year’s resolutions. I hear it from people all the time. “I wish I could travel more! I’m so jealous!” or, “I wish I would have spent more time traveling when I was younger.”
I hear it often because I make an effort to travel often. I’ve been to about 25 countries or so over the past 14 years and it’s changed my life for the better. Perspective changes you. I was a missionary intern for a year in Slovakia, for 2 ½ months in Ethiopia, and have been blessed to travel all over the world for other missions projects. Having a steady desk job for five years has also finally given me the opportunity to travel for fun too.
When I was much poorer than I am today and had less than $100 in my bank account, I still made the necessary sacrifices to travel. Irresponsible? Maybe. But all these years later I still have the photos, memories, and perspectives that continue to change my life.
What holds you back?
“I have a well-paying job but I don’t have enough to save.”
I often hear from people who make a good living say, “I’m so jealous! I wish I could do that.” And I ask, “Well, why can’t you?” If they’re single, more often than not, the answer has something to do with bills. They go on to explain that they have pricey rent or mortgage, and when they add up the cable/internet/phone bill, car payment, and entertainment budget, they never have enough to save at the end of the month.
If you’re one of those people, I have to say something that you won’t like. You have to make a choice. Are you willing to make sacrifices in your current lifestyle? Are you willing to downgrade your apartment, cut your cable out, start cooking at home more, or cutting out other unnecessary expenses? Are you willing to get a second job or other form of income?
If you’re not willing to make budget cuts, and if your income barely covers your expenses, then you’ll need to accept the reality that you can have this resolution every single year and it will probably never happen. You’ve got to have the resolve to make changes.
To prove that it’s possible, I’ll tell you how I do it. I share a house with 2 girls and pay $250 per month, we live in a not-so-great part of town, we don’t have cable (we use an antenna, Roku, Netflix, and Amazon Prime), I finally paid off my car, I usually cook lunch at work and dinner at home, I don’t spend much on clothing, and I don’t buy what I don’t need.
That’s my sacrifice. I keep my expenses low so every year I can take a sweet trip somewhere. It’s my trade-off. I could live in a killer house and wear expensive clothing, but I would have to kiss traveling goodbye and I’m not ready for that yet.
“I don’t have many bills, I live in a dump, and I still don’t make enough.”
If traveling is still a priority for you, don’t worry. It’s still possible. It’ll take a little more time to save, but it’s possible. Can you put away $50 per month? $20? $10? The first step to taking action on this travel goal is to start saving little by little by little.
Is it time to get a new job? Are you working toward your goals? Some of you may have low-paying jobs that you really like, but you’re just scraping by. Would you consider getting a desk job for a while?
I know some of you work several minimum wage jobs and you would bet your life on the fact that you really, really don’t have any money to save. I hear you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe we can discuss your bills and spending habits.
Super Practical Ways to Save
- Put cash in an envelope every month if you’re a cash person.
- Put change in a jar if you’re a change person.
- Put the jar in public sight with a funny sign and see if your friends and family will contribute change.
- For birthdays and Christmas, tell your friends and family you prefer cash for your trip.
- Second income. There are plenty of opportunities out there for second incomes that don’t make a ton of cash, but don’t take a ton of time either. In college, I met a professor who studied the way shoes wear on the soles. So he gave me $1-$5 for every pair of old crappy shoes I found. Sell Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, make your own crafts or baked goods and sell them at work or in public, or heck, collect cans if you have to!
- Start a separate savings account and slowly put money in.
- Wells Fargo has something called Way2Save and every time you use your debit card, $1 goes in to the account. You’ll barely feel it and before you know it, you’ll have some serious cash. I have this set up as my travel account.
- Almost all banks can set up a direct deposit so that a certain percentage or dollar amount can be transferred into your account monthly. I have this as well. It’s always on autopilot and you don’t even have to think about it.
- Sell stuff you don’t need. Go through your house and liquidate. Not only do you simplify your surroundings but you’ve also put a dent in your goal.
- Shannon from Facebook also mentions, “Keep driving your car after it is paid off, but keep making the “payment” into your savings account. You then have that money for your next car, or travel, or whatever.” Same could go for credit cards or other debt payments.
“I have kids! Traveling with kids sounds hard.”
Well, you’re probably right, but that depends on what kind of travel you want to do. Want to stroll the romantic streets of Paris hand in hand with your spouse or spend a weekend at Disneyland? Some vacations are meant for kids, while others may be nicer alone.
I don’t have kiddos, so really, if you want to bring them, where you go and what you want to do will be up to you. It all depends on your patience level and their maturity level.
Can your parents or a friend keep the kids at home while you and your spouse go on vacation? If they can’t do it for free and your babysitter prefers payment, that could be part of your budget. Perhaps they’d be willing to accept different kinds of payment, such as services you can offer or anything you’d be willing to part with, such as furniture or electronics.
If you definitely want to bring your young kids, is there a family friend, nanny, or family member that would be willing to come along and be the designated kid-watcher? By paying for their ticket, or a portion of their ticket, they could go into it knowing that they have to babysit for portions of the day so that you and your spouse can have alone time. Double-whammy: Is this person a good photographer? By paying even more of their ticket, they could be your designated vacation photographer too! (P.S. I am for hire.)
Where Should I Go?
Where do you want to go? What’s a place you’ve wanted to see for years? Don’t worry about how much it costs or how far away it is. When you see photos of this place, does your heart skip a beat? Then that’s where you should go.
Do you have friends or contacts in the places you’d like to travel? Call them up! Last year I went to South Africa and this year I went to Germany/Netherlands/Slovakia. I worked at a summer camp 10 years ago and made friends with international counselors, and after all this time, we’re still friends and still see each other. Not only do you get to catch up with old friends, but you get a personal guide and get to stay in a home of a true native.
Don’t want to save thousands for an international trip? Stay local! Your country has a lot to offer and road trips are a pretty cheap way to go. Vacationing anywhere will help reset your brain and give you fresh perspectives. If you’ve never really traveled much, this may be a great first step and whetting your appetite for international travel.
What Should I Do Next?
- Save. Start saving right now. Put a dollar somewhere and label it. Then, don’t touch it. Keep saving.
- Research where you want to go. Find out about how much it would cost to go several months in advance. This is important: don’t let this step discourage you. You may find out it’s a LOT more than you thought. That’s okay! No one said saving for it would be easy or fast. But knowing how much is a huge step to moving forward (similarly to paying off your debt).
- Keep researching your destination. Research cheap ways to travel there and cheap transportation when you get there. Research the cheapest month and day to fly, and alternate nearby airports. For example, you may want to get to Austria, but flying into Vienna is super expensive. Research flying into Prague or Frankfurt and either flying or taking a train to Vienna. Once you get into Europe, travel is super cheap. I flew to 5 countries for $50 USD because a Slovak friend showed me a trick on Ryan Air! Research cheap restaurants or markets as well.
- Plan Like it’s Going to Happen. Tell people about your trip. Let people get excited for you and talk about it like it WILL happen. Because it will. Post a picture of the attraction you’re looking forward to the most in your house or cubicle—anywhere you need to be reminded to keep going. Heck, even try to start making connections in your destination. Maybe your research into friends and connections could turn into free or cheap boarding or money-saving advice.
- Once you’ve reached your goal (and you will), purchase your plane tickets several months in advance. Actually, as far in advance as you possibly can. If the dates don’t matter, research which months are the cheapest to fly to that destination.
While you’re saving for your trip, do what you can to continue saving for other goals. You should always have backup savings in case of emergency. Perhaps consider splitting your monthly savings between your travel fund and your savings account.
There are so many more travel tips I hope to share in the future. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
You might get asked, “Why would you spend your money on travel when you should save?” Actually, you might even ask yourself this question. What has given me the resolve to continue traveling is the fact that every trip changes me. It makes me better. It gives me new eyes. It resets my system when I’m bogged down with everyday life and messy things. It gets me outside of my own self and my own ego and preconceptions.
If you haven’t traveled yet—especially internationally—I promise you won’t regret the sacrifices you’re about to make to get there.
“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson
“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” – D. H. Lawrence
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain