As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I have a full-time job. In an office. At a desk. I’m not particularly wealthy, and I don’t have absurd amounts of vacation hours doled out to me at my job. In many ways, I’m probably like most of you. I get up early Monday through Friday. I drink my coffee and sit in traffic until I work behind a desk for 8 hours. I have bills to pay, a retirement savings to contribute to, and lame chores to do when I get home like laundry and washing the dishes.
I wanted to write this blog as a note to those of you out there who live a similar life and for one reason or another feel they are unable to travel. Perhaps it’s that you don’t feel you have enough money to go anywhere, or you don’t feel like you are able to take the time off of work. Perhaps you simply think you’re too busy to take the time for yourself. I’ve heard all of these reasons and more, and I’m here to tell you that when there’s a will, there’s a way.
The way it works for me is that I prioritize travel over other things in my life. I forego luxuries like a nicer car, new clothes, and even a nicer apartment in favor of saving that money for travel. I try to save as much money as I can each pay period into a special travel fund, which I never touch except to fund my travels. Some months I’m able to put away hundreds of dollars into that account, which is great. However, other months I am only able to put away maybe $20 into the account. Even if I can only put a small amount away, I diligently put away everything I can into that account and then pretend like that money isn’t there (except in the most extreme of emergencies). I also save money for other things. It’s important to have a retirement fund, and an emergency fund. My husband and I have decided to save up for a house of our own, so we also have a house fund. Putting money into compartmentalized accounts like that helps me to have the peace of mind necessary to justify spending money on travel.
The important thing is to set a goal and stick to it. Would you like to go on an African Safari? Do some research on how much that might cost, and then start saving. Even if it takes you five years to save up enough, you’ll be so glad you did and the memories of that safari will last you a lifetime. Perhaps you just want to save up enough money to take your kids on a road trip to see some national parks? The same principal applies. Just figure out what your goal is and stick to it. You can do it!
You might say to me that it’s great to talk about saving money, but you are barely making enough money to survive! How can you possibly think of saving extra money? That’s a fair and valid point. Not everybody has enough money to travel. Those of us who do are privileged. However, if you live a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, I bet you could afford it if you make travel your priority. And if you just can’t afford it, I do encourage you to find some creative ways to do it anyway. Perhaps spending a weekend camping somewhere locally will be the inexpensive break you need, or maybe you have some friends or relatives who live somewhere nice that would enjoy a visit. There are even volunteer opportunities on sites that will match travelers up with volunteer work in exchange for room and board, so your trip might end up being nearly free. At the very least, take some time to get outside and explore the unique things your area has to offer.
There are other sites out there where travelers on a budget can connect with people who are willing to put them up in their homes. Couch surfing is a great community for people who are outgoing and enjoy making new friends and hanging out with new people. I’ve personally never done it but I have friends who both host and “surf” and have said they really enjoy the experience.
For many of you, myself included, it’s time that is the issue. You make enough money to travel, but you just don’t have the time. If you’re an American like me, you probably don’t get a month’s vacation leave like some lucky people from some other countries. I know, I’m bummed about it too. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy traveling. It only means you have to get more strategic with how you do it.
Personally, I like to save up my vacation hours for 1-2 big trips per year. I analyze the accrual rate and determine exactly when I will have enough time (and money) in the bank to go to my choice destination. Then I start looking for travel deals around those dates. I try to leverage weekends in order to get the most out of my trip. Not only is flying mid-week usually less expensive, but it also allows you to use those weekend days as part of your trip, thus allowing you to take off fewer total days from work while still enjoying a longer trip.
1-2 big trips per year is great, and may be enough for most people. For me, however, it’s not quite enough. I have an insatiable desire to travel constantly and explore new places, so waiting another 6 months before I get to go somewhere new isn’t enough. That’s where the weekends come in. From where I live in San Diego, there are a number of fabulous destinations I can travel to over the course of a weekend. After getting off of work on a Friday, I take off, my bags already packed the night before and stuffed in the trunk of the car. Anywhere within a 6 hour drive is fair game. I usually arrive at my destination late on Friday night, explore all day Saturday and half of Sunday, and then leave for home after lunchtime on Sunday. I get home on Sunday evening with enough time to rest before work on Monday morning. The same rule can apply with flights to various destinations within a reasonable flight time.
If you’re able to take off a Friday or a Monday, or if it’s a 3-day-weekend holiday, even better. Use that vacation time wisely!
When Work Says NO.
We have a problem here in the United States. That problem is that a lot of people feel like their jobs would be in jeopardy should they ever choose to take some time off to travel. There is something very wrong with that. I’ve heard so many people talk about how their jobs won’t let them take time off, or how they feel like they would “never catch up” if they were to leave for a week.
My response to that is that when you look back on your life when you’re older, how are you going to feel about having skipped life’s great experiences in favor of spreadsheets and emails? My guess is not so good. I understand better than most that it isn’t always as simple as that. Just a few years ago, I was still paying off massive amounts of student loan debt on a small salary. My job at the time had an absolute fit any time I tried to take time off for travel (even with months of notice ahead of time, just for a week off). I was miserable. I couldn’t quit my job because I had too many bills to pay and was drowning in debt. I couldn’t just “find another job” easily, because we were in a pretty big recession and there just weren’t that many jobs out there. I’ve never felt so depressed in my life.
But…instead of drowning in that trapped feeling, I found a way to dig myself out. I spent my spare time looking for jobs, improving my resume, and working on portfolio pieces (I’m a graphic designer so the portfolio is important). I also spent time in the evenings improving my skills and adding additional skills to my resume. The internet is such a wonderful resource for that. I didn’t give up. Over time, I was able to improve enough to get noticed and hired at another job that I absolutely love and is much more understanding of my need to travel from time to time.
If you’re stuck in what seems like a dead-end situation, don’t despair. Go online. Look for other opportunities. Look for tutorials to help you learn and improve in your field. It helps. It really does. And most importantly: don’t give up. Sometimes these things take a while, but you’ll get there if you keep trying.
A Few More Tips
In order to get the most out of my money when I travel, I like to find the best deals out there, as I’m sure all you do. One of the things I really like doing is following all of the travel companies on social media. If you follow airlines, hotels, tour companies, etc. on Facebook and Twitter, you will often be the first to hear about deals and specials they are running. Often I will snag an amazing deal to travel somewhere for a long weekend because of an incredible sale I saw posted online from one of the airlines.
Learn the peak season for your destination of choice, and see if you wouldn’t mind traveling during the off season. You’ll still have a lovely time, even if the weather isn’t ideal, and you’ll save a ton of money.