How I Afford Travel
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When I read travel blogs, I am generally frustrated by the lack of transparency and the vagueness. So many things are subjective, so it doesn't seem helpful to write something about "How I Afford Travel" without saying how much I actually make and how much things actually cost. Because whether or not something is affordable is all relative.
I am by no means wealthy, not even close. My partner and I combined made less than $30,000 last year. Yet we spent 2 weeks in Hawai'i, 6 weeks in Europe. This year we are away for 12 weeks in England, Italy, and Hungary.
The first question out of people's mouths is always, "How did you afford that?"
The next question, or assumption I should say, is that we obviously blew up our whole lives to travel, right? The only way they can make sense of it is that we got rid of our house, sold all of our stuff, and generally our souls too, all in the name of travel.
That certainly doesn't sound like fun to me. Why would I get rid of all my stuff and generally wipe out my entire life just so I could go travel for a few months, only to come home to nothing and have to start all over? That is not a sustainable way to live.
Another basic assumption is that we live like hobos.
They also assume that we're transient, hippie-type people to whom basic comforts and stability are of no importance. Neither of those assumptions are true.
What matters most to us is freedom and seeing the world, but it is by no means the be all end all. You can certainly travel while also maintaining an awesome house full of nice stuff, driving a nice car, and eating very healthy, mostly local whole food (like we do).
But, this is why the average person doesn't travel. Because they think it's one or the other. If they want to take more than their 2 week (if they're lucky) stint of PTO then they have to ditch their mortgage, sell their car, and throw all caution to the wind.
Everyone's story is different, so I don't have a one size fits all plan for you, but here's what we did:
We both did use to own homes, but sold them unrelated to wanting to travel. We each had bought at the top of the market, the market tanked, and suddenly we were in homes we couldn't afford. So, we cut our losses and short sold so that we could dramatically lower our overhead and have more flexibility, thus allowing us to leave our crap jobs that were just paying for our crap houses anyway.
Currently we rent a lovely house for $690 in the downtown arts district. When we travel, we find a subletter to pay the rent/utilities and take care of shit while we're gone. The rent is cheap, the location is awesome, and we nearly pay our rent each month by hosting travelers in our third bedroom on Airbnb for $50 per night, which benefits us by not only bringing us easy money, but by exposing us to other cultures and bringing wonderful friends into our lives.
You might also enjoy: The Beginner's Guide to Hosting Airbnb Guests
I can't see us moving out of this house until we are ready to buy something, and I don't think we'll buy in the traditional sense. There are more ways to own a home than to just saddle up with a mortgage that has you paying twice as much in interest over the course of your 30 year sentence. My current thought is to buy an empty plot of land downtown, and build something sustainable on it like an earth ship, or a series of tiny houses.
With a previous partner - we both had regular 9-5 jobs. We would simply just take unpaid time off. We lived well within our means, so financially this was never a problem. We weren't living paycheck to paycheck and didn't have mountains of debt. It's never as big of a deal as you think it is. Your perception may be, "What will they do without me??" But really, everyone is expendable and replaceable. You're really not that important. Plus - the answer, if you don't ask, is always no.
Just as there are more ways to go about owning a home, there are more ways to go about making money. The current, acceptable focus is to get a 9-5 job with great benefits and, while saving some money here and there and having some fun, generally work until retirement and then kick back and enjoy your golden years.
With my current partner, we are both self-employed. He is a writer/blogger, and does freelance I.T. work from home. I am also a writer, and do lots of things under the umbrella of "birth work" (doula services, placenta encapsulation, childbirth classes, blogging, etc.)
Our focus is much more on being our own bosses so that all of the money that we help generate goes (almost) directly to us, and so that we can create passive streams of income. Streams that will run automatically and make us money while we sleep, and streams that require work up front and then keep bringing in revenue with minimal maintenance effort.
Being self employed didn't happen without careful planning. This was the biggest motivation in originally selling our condos. You'll never have the balls to quit your job if you have a looming big fat overhead to pay every month. I'm not saying you have to sell your house, but if your rent or mortgage is kicking your ass each month - get a roommate or do Airbnb to help with the burden.
Hopefully you don't have a car payment, if you do it may be worth looking into selling it and buying a car you can afford. What's more important to you? Your 2014 Lexus, or your freedom?
If you have debt, and paying it off any time soon isn't a possibility - defer it. It's easier than you think to put tax debt, school loans, etc. on hold for a long period of time.
Once you're settled into working for yourself, and this could take several years obviously, you can resume paying down your debt.
And from there - stay out of debt. Live within your means. Most people are so strapped paying off their homes, their cars, their Home Depot credit cards that they got for their kitchen remodel, that it's no wonder nobody every gets and does anything. We're all so consumed by maintaining our stuff.
Another key element, one that is incredibly hard to articulate, is the process of taking responsibility for yourself.
That shit is made up of our life experiences, wounds, belief systems, education (or lack thereof), and all of our social conditioning. It usually hides itself very well. Often it's incredibly subtle and takes years of cultivating personal awareness before you even begin to see that that there's anything you actually need to let go of. Your shit could be as complex as sexual abuse, verbal abuse, absentee parents, etc. or could be as as simple as you've been in "the system" since you were born, first shuffled through the public school system and thrust into the work force, only having learned how to be a cooperative robot.
Anyway, back to travel. The biggest hurdle is the plane ticket. Norweigan Air or Aer Lingus are generally the cheapest airlines. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy two tickets - one from your city to JFK, and a second on Norweigan or Aer Lingus from JFK to Dublin. Play around with dates, airlines, and departure cities. Fall/Winter is the cheaper time to travel. You can often find tickets from Phoenix to JFK for $150, and then out of JFK to Dublin for under $400. Summer is the peak time. For our last summer trip we bought Air Lingus tickets directly from Phoenix for $875 a piece. It was only $100 cheaper to get tickets out of JFK and I certainly couldn't have found a ticket from Phoenix to JFK for less than $100. The cost of the ticket is offset by the amount of time you are able to spend. I can't imagine paying $875 for a ticket to only be able to stay 10 days. When you're staying a month or more, $875 doesn't seem like that much. Think about how much you'd pay for car maintenance, gas and insurance if you were at home during that time anyway.
Dublin (via AerLingus) and Oslo (via Norweigan Air) are the cheapest points of entry. From there you can use the insanely cheap regional airlines (Ryan Air or Easy Jet are two good ones) to get where you need to go. Like, literally you can get from Dublin to Manchester for $20. London to Rome for $50, and so on.
I also use Goeuro - a fantastic website that simultaneously searches car, train, bus, and plane fairs for your selected route within Europe.
Hostels I am not personally into anymore, but I love Couch Surfing, Airbnb or Workaway for accommodations. Couch Surfing is free, but generally the accommodations reflect that. Sometimes you'll get someone's spare room, other times literally their couch or futon. Workaway generally gets you a private bedroom, but it is a work trade situation. With Airbnb you pay a relatively small fee per night and can get any accommodations in any price tier from renting someones living room futon for $20 a night to renting someone's entire penthouse for $300 a night. Rents get cheaper the longer you stay. For example - we are renting an apartment in Italy for $600 per month, including utilities. Our rent + utilities in Phoenix in the summer would be $1,110 or more.
You'll probably love "How to Use Airbnb as a Traveler"
I don't budget for shopping as this is a frivolous expense to me. I generally don't have room in my luggage anyway for souvenirs or anything else. In terms of budgeting, we really just take the money we have when we leave, leave a little cushion for when we return home, and then divide the rest by the number of days we are gone, and this is our daily budget.
Free entertainment is easy to come by from cafes to parks to free concert series to old libraries to free museum days, etc.
Food and public transportation is generally the next biggest item after buying your plane ticket. For public transport - look into discount rail cards, weekly unlimited cards, etc. It's different in every country and often in every city. You'll just have to research. Sometimes planes are cheaper than trains. Sometimes rail cards aren't a good deal. Often times the train is cheaper than the bus, etc.
For food - buy fruit, yogurt and bread for breakfast, have lunch be your big meal out, and grocery shop to cook and eat in for dinner.
I co-wrote a travel book going into WAY more detail on all of this. Click here to check that out.
Thinking outside the box, outside of what is prescribed to you by society, will do a lot more than just help you travel more. It will help you break free from the generally accepted monotony of life. You can have all of the comforts of a modern, stable life while also having dignity, freedom, and time filled pursuing your passions.
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