The question is often asked (or implied…), “How do you travel so much?” I think that generally breaks down into two separate queries: how I afford to travel and how do I have the time. So I thought today I would answer the questions!
First, how do I afford to travel.
1. The circumstances of my life. I am a young professional with no children. This is not necessarily helpful advice, because you can’t exactly send your kids back once they’re in your life, but it is a significant factor. At this point in my life my disposable income goes toward travel, although I am perfectly aware that these circumstances could change at some point. Thus, my other tips might be a little more practicable.
2. I save and budget. Each month begins with me spending a few moments putting together my budget for the month. One item on that budget is “travel.” I save money, even a little bit, every single month. Whatever you’re able to save will eventually add up to enough to go somewhere!
3. I stay tuned to travel deals and take advantage of them when I can. For real, I am probably subscribed to just about every travel deal list that exists. Some of favorites are Budget Travel, Travelzoo, and Tripalertz. You can set flight alerts using websites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Smartertravel.com for notifications when certain routes are on sale (for instance, I have an alert for flights to Arkansas – a recent alert I received led to me booking a trip home in September) and there is even a Groupon for travel deals.
4. I take advantage of opportunities. Last year, both my trip to China and to South Korea came about because I took up a friend on an offer of a free place to stay. Be warned, if you say, “Come visit sometime,” I will probably be sleeping on your couch at some point. Especially if you live somewhere cool. I also extend work trips by a day or two when possible, taking advantage of the fact that I’m already visiting somewhere to explore a bit.
5. I try to use points when I can. I am by no means an expert on this particular area of travel, but I am learning.
6. I spend a significant amount of time researching places I might want to go, finding budget options when possible. I find enjoyment in looking for that chic but affordable boutique hotel or finding the best cheap food a city has to offer. I balance splurges like a massage at a spa with free or inexpensive activities such as hiking or exploring a city by foot.
7. I unabashedly ask for the gift of travel.
8. I work extra jobs to earn extra money that I set aside for travel. It is not unusual for me to work well more than a typical 40-hour workweek, all for the sake of being able to go more places.
So how might this look in real life? Well, let’s take my recent trip to Hawaii for example.
- Flights: I used 50,000 British Airways points I had previously earned through a credit card sign up bonus to book two roundtrip tickets from Portland to Maui. I paid a grand total of $22.40 in taxes and fees.
- Hotel: I used 70,000 Marriott points, also collected through a combination of a credit card sign up bonus and spending on that credit card, for two nights at the Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport ($0). The next two nights were spent at the Plantation Inn in Lahaina, which cost $500 total for both nights. This rate also included breakfast, adding extra value to the cost.
- Rental Car: My birthday present from my parents was a rental car for the trip, which meant it cost me $0! We used one tank of gas during the trip, so the entire cost of transportation was about $35.
- Activities: After careful research, we decided to splurge on a luau ($260, for two people) and a snorkeling and sailing excursion ($290, for two people). The rest of the time, we did free things like relax on the beach and hike.
- Meals: Okay, this is one area where I tend to spend more than average. I estimate that between the two of us, we spent about $600 on food, which includes the tip for the luau and some really, really delicious meals in a place not exactly known for cheap food.
All together, I spent less than $900 (because costs were split with my boyfriend) on an incredible, awesome, amazing few days in paradise. I know the “give up Starbucks” analogy is ridiculously overused. But seriously. Give up your coffee habit for 6 months, sign up for a couple of credit cards (and pay them off every month!) and you’ve got yourself a trip to Hawaii! In my book (and obviously in my book, travel is the best thing ever), that’s a pretty great trade.
The second part of the question, is how do I have time off? I am, after all, early in my career and have close to the minimum number of vacation days offered by my company (which, to be fair, is generous for the US).
1. I sometimes take trips no one else would take in a short amount of time (cough, South Korea, cough).
2. I plan out my vacation days to the hour months in advance. Just ask my boss 🙂
3. I take advantage of holidays and long weekends, sneaking in short weekend getaways or tacking the days onto longer trips.
4. I sometimes get to earn extra days off through attending conferences that require me to work weekends and working the occasional holiday. I also advocated for a 4-day work week, which gives me more time off to go places without taking any extra time off.
Taken together, I do everything I can to maximize my time off and travel as much as possible in the time available to me. Sure, sometimes that means being anything but well-rested, but again, for me the chance to travel is worth it.
Although the answers to the questions of how I travel are hopefully useful, the question I think is even more important is why I travel.
It’s not always easy and fun, after all. Returning from my recent trip to Iceland, I was again reminded of the stress and fatigue that come from travel. Cancelled flights, days of jet lag, a suitcase that takes days to unpack – all of these things are avoidable sources of stress that are directly related to my choice to travel. And yet, I continue to do this thing that, while incredible, is also stressful and exhausting. So what makes it so important to me? What makes the challenges of travel worthwhile?
I know to some my choice to travel as often as I can, sometimes alone, can be baffling. I work extra hours and make sacrifices in other areas of my life in order to afford to travel. I squeeze trips between work weeks, often exhausting myself, and use my time off of work down to the hour, not the day. It is not always easy and relaxing, but I do it anyway because it is something that is important to me, something that I see as essential to myself. I travel for many reasons. I travel simply because I enjoy it. There is nothing I love quite as much as waking up on the other side of the world to a day full of possibilities and unfamiliarity. I travel because I love to learn and because eating new kinds of weird and wonderful food is what life is all about. I travel to make memories and see the places others have only read about. I travel for many reasons.
But most of all, I travel because it challenges me and it changes me. It makes far off places in the world mean something in a way nothing else can. When I read a headline about something terrible or wonderful happening in another place, there is something powerfully personal about saying, “I’ve been there!” I can recall what I’ve seen with my own eyes and the people I’ve talked to. I have connections with people and places that allow me to think in nuances, not in black and white. To look for the good and acknowledge the evil, just as I do for my own place in the world. Through travel I am reminded that I am connected in ways both big and small to others in the world who live lives that seem so different from my own. This connection, this knowing, makes me desire to make the entire world a better place, not just my piece of it. I travel because it makes me a stronger, kinder person – someone who strives to understand when it’s hard and to care when it’s easier to turn away. I travel because this place, this world, that we live in is incredible. It’s beautiful and powerful and ultimately unknowable. And yet, I continually yearn to know more. This answer, these reasons, the why behind the discomfort, that is so much more than the how.