"How do you afford travel?" That's probably the question I get asked the most. The answer is somewhat simple, but most people aren't really willing to do it. It takes sacrifice, hard work, and determination. But doesn't everything really worth having?
Everyone has heard those stories about people or families who have sold all their worldly possession and are now living out of a backpack in Asia, roaming around in an RV, or are digital nomads, skipping around from country to country.
I'll admit - I'm pretty jealous of those people.
Perhaps when my kids are grown and out of the house, I'll be able to do that. But in our current situation, I can't leave where I live to travel full-time.
But I have been blessed to do a lot of traveling - and I'll share my not-so-secrets with you on how I afford travel as a single mom, living on a middle-class income.
Part 1: Save Money
First and foremost, you need to have money to travel. (duh)
If you are literally living as frugally as possible, then skip down to Increasing Your Income.
If there are still items in your monthly/yearly budget that you could cut without sacrificing a basic need (shelter, food, water, minimal clothing) then keep reading this section.
I have a minimalist mindset.
This is probably the biggest key to my ability to afford travel. And the one that people will fight the most.
After I returned from Costa Rica (read about my experience here), my view on possessions, wealth, and purpose in life changed dramatically.
We downsized to a smaller rental house, don't spend money on $5 coffees, toys, electronics, jewelry, brand name clothes, house decorations, knick-knacks or other frivolous items.
If those things are important to you, I'm not saying you are a bad person or you are wrong. But for me and my family, we choose to prioritize family time, experiences together, and travel that creates memories over material goods that will be outgrown, broken, lost, or forgotten.
*Thinking Points* What are your views on material possessions? Do you own more than you need? What sacrifices are you willing to make?
I don't drive a nice car.
This goes with the minimalist point above, but I own my car outright (no monthly payments) and it's 16 years old. Sometimes it doesn't work, the driver side door handle is falling off, and there is a pretty funky smell in the back that I don't care to investigate...
But until it absolutely doesn't run anymore, I won't upgrade my car. I don't want to take on more expenses, and to be honest, I don't care what it looks like or what brand it is. As long as it gets me where I need to go, that's all that matters.
*Thinking Points* Could you sell your car and downgrade? Could you refinance and get a lower monthly payment? Are you leasing a brand new car? Could you get by with one or two cars instead of two or three?
I sold everything but the kitchen sink (actually that too).
Ok, not everything, but everything we didn't absolutely need!
My kids were not so thrilled at first when I told them I was selling our house. And parts of me were sad too. But as I explained what it would mean in the future and that as long as we were together in a safe house we were blessed and had our needs met.
I made a substantial profit when I sold the house and we sold A LOT of extra "stuff" that we had lying around. Believe it or not, it all adds up!
Depending on your comfort level with minimalism, you could go all out or you could just have a garage sale.
*Thinking Points* What could you sell to afford travel? Electronics? Extra clothes? Extra furniture? Could/would you downsize your house?
I slashed my monthly expenses.
This is the nitty gritty of it all, in my opinion. This is where the rubber hits the road in being able to afford travel.
If you are consistently spending more or equal to the amount you are making each month, you won't be able to save up any extra. At that point, you need to either cut costs, make more money, or both.
There were certain obvious cuts that I made to our budget: we no longer have cable, we don't eat out as much, and we only shop for clothes when absolutely necessary.
But what about these sneaky costs:
Just those costs alone would save you over $150/mo = almost $2000 in a year!! That's enough for a vacation...
*Thinking Points* What expenses can you cut in your monthly budget? Do you spend without consciously being aware of where every dollar goes?
Part 2: Increase Your Income
You may think, "Uhhhh, Lindy, if I could just make more money appear, I would!"
So it may not be as easy as growing a money tree, but there are ways to increase your income, if you are willing to work for it. Being able to afford travel sometimes means you have to think outside of the box and be willing to go the extra mile (figuratively and literally speaking!).
I took a higher paying job closer to home.
Even though I hate change and loved my previous position, taking a new job closer to home meant that I was bringing home more money each month, while saving on gas money for the commute - a win/win!
This may not be possible for everyone, but if the opportunity presents itself...
*Thinking Points* Would you change jobs if it meant you had more money to afford travel?
I'm taking graduate classes to increase my income.
Again, this may not be for everyone, but I am in the process of taking graduate classes to bump myself up on the pay scale.
As a teacher, I can't just ask for more money from my principal or board of education, but I can get credits and degrees beyond my Bachelor's that will put me higher on the pay scale.
*Thinking Points* Would taking classes or going back to school help you get a better job? Is it worth the short-term (relatively speaking) hardship to have better long-term security?
I have side jobs and find other ways of making money.
Yes, I work a regular 9-5 job (technically it's 8-4 cause I'm a teacher, but you know what I mean) like most of you.
But I pick up side jobs like being a grocery shopper/delivery service, working online as a Social Media Evaluator, and pet-sitting. I also sell my plasma occasionally, and am considering becoming an Uber or Lyft driver.
So I hustle. And then I hustle some more.
I have made travel a priority in my life, and I'm willing to work hard and do what it takes to make it happen. If that means working more than one job, working when others are sleeping, or being creative - then I'm on that grind!
*Thinking Points* What could you do to make some extra money? Take on another side job? Could you sell crafts? Offer a service?
I did come into some money.
In the spirit of honesty and transparency (which I hope to always bring you), I did receive a divorce settlement in 2014 that allowed me to afford travel to Europe.
I remember debating and debating about whether I should save the money "for a rainy day" (as everyone would have lectured me to do) or to follow one of my biggest life dreams and visit some of the cities in the world that called to me.
Obviously, in the end, I chose to go.
And I have never regretted it. My entire worldview, my confidence, my courage - everything changed on that trip.
*Thinking Points* So maybe you won't come into a settlement, inheritance, or win the lottery. But what about a tax refund? Do you get a Christmas bonus from work? What do you usually spend large amounts of money on - jewelry, vehicles, name brand accessories?
Part 3: Travel Cheaply
There is a misconception about how much travel costs.
Obviously, you can travel luxuriously, but you don't have to. If you want to afford travel, you can do it on a small budget.
There are places in the world that are (in general) more expensive to visit than others - Europe being one of them. In contrast, you can travel to places like Asia and stretch your dollar further.
You can travel in the off-season. Flights and hotel costs will generally be much cheaper if you travel in the off-season. Yes, you may risk some iffy weather, but if cost is your main concern - it's the way to afford it.
I use travel hacks to find the cheapest flights.
Airline tickets are almost always the biggest expense when traveling. You can read how I find the best travel deals for flights here. In short, I fly inconveniently (layovers, stops), I'm open to where I go, I have flexible travel dates, and I try to rack up airline miles.
*Thinking Points* Are you willing to sacrifice comfort to save money on flights?
I am careful with my accommodation expenses.
Honestly, I see accommodation as a bed to sleep in at night and not much more. Yes, I prefer having an ensuite bathroom, but most other amenities are not necessary for me.
Again, this may depend on where you are going and who you are traveling with, but do you need a pool or will you be going to the beach? Could you do without a suite with mini-kitchen? How much time will you *truly* be in your room?
Additionally, have you considered these options?
*Thinking Points* How can you save on accommodation expenses? Would you be willing to stay at a low-rated hotel to save money?
I watch my dining costs.
Since I usually stay at budget accommodations or an Airbnb rental, breakfasts are not included. This means I either bring or shop for cheap, quick breakfasts to eat in my room before I go out for the day.
Some ideas that work for me:
To afford travel, cutting dining costs has been a huge money saver for me. I eat lunch from food vendors, or I make lunch my big meal of the day since it's cheaper than dinner.
*Thinking Points* What are ways you could reduce your dining out costs while traveling? Drink water instead of soda/alcohol? Bring snacks instead of buying?
At the end of the day, these ways that I afford travel are just have what worked for me. Other people have success in other ways, and you need to find what is best for you and your family!
If you have a suggestion or comment, let me know below...