Travelling is not cheap. I am not rich.
I am often asked, “how do you afford to travel?”
Let’s begin with a comparison.
Have you ever been on a diet?
If you have, I’ll wager a bet it didn’t work. Or maybe it worked for a bit, but then you gained the weight back as soon as you went off the diet.
That’s because a “diet” isn’t a one-time thing. A diet is what you eat, every day, for your entire life. A diet is more about habit and lifestyle than it is about fads and cheap tricks.
The same can be said for my travel budget.
I learned the value of money at a young age. My mom would give me a quarter (that’s 25 cents) each week for my allowance. I could choose to spend it on something cheap like candy, or I could choose to save it and hoard up my silver coins for a new Archie comic.
Saving was bred into me.
When I turned 18 years old, my boyfriend at the time was going on a round-the-world trip. I wanted to join him in Australia. So, I secured 3 minimum-wage jobs (yes, 3) and began saving for that Australian adventure (a step above a new Archie comic).
Because saving was ingrained in me by this time, I lived on a teeny, slim, razor-thin budget in Australia. (It helped that my travel-savvy buddies had been almost all the way around the world already; they taught me a thing or twenty.) I made mistakes: I spent too much on raisin bread and left it in the hostel kitchen my first night (I will never forget that)—and triumphs: I cooked hundreds of delicious pasta dinners for less than $5 each.
While I was away, I learned the true value of money.
Three days of work could be converted to a three-day boat trip to the Whitsunday Islands. A week of hard-saving materialized into bungee jumping in New Zealand.
When I returned home, I began working at Starbucks again—and my income came flowing back. I could have spent my paychecks on dinner and drinks, brand name clothes and fast-food.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I continued living on that same razor-sharp budget I had in Australia, spurling only when I deemed the activity or purchase worthy of my time and money.
The truth is that we all spend our money on something. For me, travel is my number one value. Would I like to stay in an extravagant, first-class hotel? Sure, but for the price of one night, I could spend 8 days in a dorm room in the same city. My second value is my time. I will continue to budget my money because I want to make the most of it.
So, what about you?
If you think it’s too late to start saving, you’re wrong.
This is what a long-term travel budget means:
It means selling your car for a bus pass or a bicycle.
It means taking that second or third job (and extra hours at your first one).
It means ordering the cheapest thing off the menu when you go out to eat.
It means more beers at home; less drinking at the bar.
It means cooking with cheaper ingredients.
It means selling your clothes and buying “new” ones—second-hand from the thrift shop.
It means brewing coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks.
It means searching online for the cheapest deal, for sales and for giveaways.
It means saying no, I can’t go out; and yes, I would love to cover your shift.
It means sacrificing little daily comforts for a greater goal.
When you’re abroad, your travel habits will have to change, too.
What does this mean?
It means booking a bed in a dorm room, instead of a private room in a hotel.
It means cooking in the communal kitchen instead of eating out.
It means getting a job or volunteering in exchange for food and accommodation.
It means couch surfing and ride sharing.
It means taking photographs instead of buying souvenirs.
It means finding free events online.
It means walking and taking public transportation instead of taxis.
It means educating yourself on how not to get scammed.
It means spending your hard-earned money on experiences, not things.
I don’t own a house or a vehicle. I can cancel my phone bill whenever I want. The largest items I possess are a guitar and a snowboard. And you know what? That’s enough for me.
If you want to keep your $120,000 truck, your designer labels and your daily PSL, there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t expect to be able to afford long-term travel while maintaining that lifestyle.
Don’t expect to lose weight (or save money) while gorging yourself.
And please don’t tell me I’m rich because I can afford to travel. In reality, I’m just really good at managing my money. With some solid planning and sacrifices, you can be too.