I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear:
You don’t want to travel.
Travel takes sacrifice. Pretty much every other portion of your life has to give for travel. It has to take priority over family, friends, weekend outings, andthings. You have to budget all other things you would normally buy and live on in order to travel.
I’m not rich by American standards. Never have been. Have been solidly middle class my entire life – maybe even poor during the time I was in college. Most of my family is in the same boat. I’m 29 and have been to more than 30 countries. Am adding two more before the end of the year, maybe three if I can get to Canada too. I’ve traveled around the entire U.S. alone and have done more roadtrips between Oregon and California than I can count.
What did I do differently? What can you do? Here’s an outline of my entire lifestyle, more or less. Figure out what’s different between your lifestyle and mine. Make the necessary adjustments.
I don’t shop. No, really. I don’t go shopping for new clothes. I have friends who spend $100-$1000 per month on clothes, shoes, makeup, accessories, etc. I don’t. My yearly expenditure for these items is $300ish. I don’t buy makeup, nail polish, hair cuts, hair dye, hair brushes, or any other styling products. I splurge on a pedicure once or twice a year and I always have a Groupon.
I have a gym membership that is $27/mo. I go to yoga classes a few times a week. I rarely visit a doctor. In fact I went once last year and haven’t been at all this year. I have dogs and I splurge on good food for them, get them groomed 4-5 times a year, got their teeth cleaned recently, and get expensive flea treatments. Total monthly cost for both of them is roughly $75. This is probably my biggest unnecessary expense, but I can’t imagine a life without dogs in the same way I can’t imagine a life without travel, so it’s worth not sacrificing in this one area.
I don’t buy new furniture or household goodies. I live very simply. We entertain, but I don’t decorate myself or my home. In my home there’s a bed, a closet, a dresser, a desk, a deskchair, a couch, a small table, a small chair, a bookshelf, and a folding ikea kitchen table. That’s it. All items are shared and have been owned for 10 years or more save for the couch that was given to us as a housewarming gift and the kitchen table my mom bought for us for Christmas. We don’t buy or accumulate shit. Period.
I didn’t have a car payment until I was 29. I bought my first car that I didn’t save up for first last year (the interest is only $11/mo, so it was acceptable). The payment is still in a range that is affordable to save up for a couple months and pay while we are out of the country. It’s also an extremely reliable road trip car and I bought it with a big enough back seat that two people could sleep comfortably with a little cushioning on the floor. I got warranty that allows me to have it fixed at any VW dealership in the entire country for the next seven years for a $100 deductible. This means that when I travel and something in the motor malfunctions, it is only a minor blimp on the itinerary instead of a major headache.
When I go out at home, I generally do free things. Now I will admit that my boyfriend tends to sponsor lots of our leisure activities, so I do a lot more than I would on my own. But when I was not with him, I still kept my weekly fun expenditures low. And by low I pretty much pay for gas to get to a location and often bring my own food or snacks and spend less than $10 for food or $20 for food and an activity. I go to the beach, to parks, to walk.
When things break, we try to figure out how to fix them ourselves on Google or call friend who is part of our network to come help us. We generally help friends with whatever they need as well. You know those friends that actually show up to help you move? The ones that pick you up at the airport? That check on you and help you when you’re going through tough times? We’re those people. People come through for us too. Not everything in life revolves around money. In fact the stronger your network, the less likely money is involved in any exchange.
I don’t exchange gifts except for immediate family (mom/dad/boyfriend) and it usually has something to do with travel. For example, my boyfriend took me to Santorini the first year we were together because he knew all I cared about doing was travel. We made a joke that every following year I’d get an island instead of a gift. The next year we had to save, so we stayed local and went to Catalina (boat ride is free on your birthday). The year after that we were traveling and went to Koh Phi Phi (stayed in an AirBnB next to a resort and spent most evenings relaxing by the resort pool). The year after that was back to Catalina. This year things have been tight too, but since I’m turning 30, we wanted to go big. I hustled and negotiated a solo catering event and he made the money for my ticket in one night. We’ve both been saving and will continue until the day we leave for a month long trip to Fiji and New Zealand in September.
I also don’t change any of these habits when I travel. I don’t travel to buy shit. I don’t travel to eat out every meal. We spend money for very specific events and very specific meals, but we shop at grocery stores, do a lot of walking, and find good or free deals for local activities. Staying with locals helps too. Couchsurf, WWOOF, do homestays, or work abroad. Be willing to crash out in your car or in a tent if you’re into camping.
When traveling, we look for good deals and do lots of research on the best way to travel from place to place and the best (cheapest) times of year to go. Luckily my birthday happens to fall at the same time as most travel deals (back to school). Buy the tickets on your birthday and wait to travel to take advantage of this time of year (September/October).
Now that I’ve covered the money part, let’s discuss time. If you want to travel, you’ll have to find a job that accommodates it. This is a sacrifice. I absolutely cannot work a corporate 9-5 job. Cannot. Will not. I’ll be poor and destitute before that happens. I’ll do odd jobs and sleep on couches. I refuse to be trapped in a job that doesn’t allow me to make my own schedule or at least take significant chunks of time off. It’s not easy, but they exist, and if nothing else, you’ll have to start your own business that allows you to make money on your own terms. Something has to give.
I suppose there are some traditional style jobs where you can get a week or two of vacation, but then you’re going to have to decide not to spend that with your family at Thanksgiving or Christmas or however people finagle that time. I want both holidays with my family and travel time for myself. I require both. I’m working to live. I schedule my work around my life, not my life around my work.
Ultimately, you’ve got to make the decision for yourself to sacrifice for travel. Until you make that decision, you won’t go. Until it becomes an obsession, until it becomes more important than whatever excuse you’re making to buy or do something now, you won’t go. When you’re ready to sacrifice, when you’re ready to put it before everything else, you will.
Until then you’ll have to follow some of the other advice here. Start small. Make yourself go to a new city for a weekend once a month. Send out couch requests well in advance and spend some time researching the area and free stuff to do. It takes three hours to drive to Rosarito, four to Ensenada or Vegas, five to Phoenix or the Bay. Those are all reasonable weekend trips and there are dozens of cities between here and there.
There’s not a cure for the sadness you’re feeling except to change your behavior. It’s depressing to want to travel and not to be able to – I know, believe me. I know. That’s why I choose the lifestyle I have and stick to it even when I think I want or need something now. I make a plan and have a specific trip to look forward to and then the saving becomes easier, the goal-sabotaging behaviors are easier to curb, and I become very creative in figuring out how to get things done now and get what I want in the long run.
You can do it too, but it takes focus, practice, and a shit ton of behavioral changes (not to mention life changes if you’re living to work). It’ll seem like life sucks until you’re on the plane, train or boat; then it’ll all be worth it. Trust me.
Love you. Bye bye.