Regardless of age, traveling can be an expensive endeavor that involves hours spent planning and years of saving to afford the extra amenities everyone secretly wants. There is a common construct about traveling-that it is for the wealthy, or the rich and famous. The truth about traveling is that anyone can do it, any time- with the right amount of discipline and just a touch of finesse.
I did not grow up in a wealthy family, in fact, my family took maybe only one or two vacations during my entire childhood- and they were to local amusement parks. Traveling was not commonplace for me or any of the people I knew. People who traveled were ‘privileged’- or their fathers were state senators; so basically going to far away places with different languages and vibrant colors seemed as attainable as climbing Mt Fuji at 12 years old. So then, at 21, when I had the opportunity to visit Europe for the first time- it was a big deal. From the moment I set foot on French soil in the summer of 2016, I was hooked. I immediately got lost, I understood absolutely nothing, accidently ordered a dish that included beef tongue once, and regularly looked like a stereotypical American tourist (dont worry- I ditched the floral button down shirts).
Some might consider my sheer lack of preparation pure ignorance; although, none of the adventure and grandeur of the local culture was lost on me. I found myself immersed in a culture to which I could only watch. Being unable to communicate clearly with those around you forces you to see, and to listen. It forces you to stop, and look around at what and who is around you so that you can make some sense of the backwards-looking street sign in front of you and somehow make it back to your hotel before midnight. (this happened more times than I’m willing to admit).
As a young adult (sort-of) at 21-22, I was attempting to find a solid place in the world and understand my piece of the puzzle. My mind was, and still is malleable and open to the ideas present in other cultures that may not necessarily be up front and center in American culture. The experiences I’ve had traveling have led me to find a sense of compassion, understanding and find a global ‘we’ collective. That being said, from the summer of 2016, my passion and continual goal is to find new and culturally rich places to travel and learn. Being the type A person that I am, when I take off on a new endeavor, the first step for me is learning. I read everything I can get my eyes on about a particular country, or city. What language do they speak? is there a dialect? What do they eat? Where do most of the people live? Does this place have history? Is that history good, or bad? Is it rude to ask where the bathroom is? And so on. Until my teeny little brain cannot think of one more possible question. And then we plan.
Step #1– Learn about the place you are going. Decide for yourself if it is truly worth it for you to visit this place. Determine if there is something to be learned by going there- either about yourself, the place, the people, the culture. It could really be anything. If it is significant for you to know, it is important that you go One of the tools that I use to research any travel destinations is Frommer’s Guidebooks. There are so many of them and the information is incredibly reliable!
Once you have a ‘why’, you need a how. This is the most difficult part of preparation for many. After I graduated college, I took an office job making roughly about $15/hr. After rent, student loan costs and other expenses, there was really not too much left over to consider something like financially preparing for a vacation. After a few months in this job, I knew I needed to change my perspective. So i researched countries and felt a special pull toward Costa Rica. Oh boy- what did I get myself into with this one…After diligently researching the country and the various locations within it, I created a target cost of $5,000 total. This would include for mid-level accommodations, flights, a few adventurous excursions and one or two fantastic meals. It was not luxurious, but it was not sleeping in tents on a hillside (I’m saving this experience for when I feel the need to herd some English-countryside Alpacas).
Step #2- Identify your target cost of the trip. Knowing the total cost, down to the last miniature detail, is crucial. Write your goal on everything- post it on your refrigerator, save it as your phone’s screensaver, or even set alarms to remind you throughout the day. Be mindful of your goal and be diligent about the ways in which you decide to achieve this goal. Many people cannot get a grip on the runaway train that is their finances or even think about achieving something like an international trip. But it is possible, you just need to pay attention. As a rule of thumb- give each dollar you earn a job. If it is jobless, it will end up untethered and will fly away without you even noticing.
Now that you have a ‘what’ and your ‘how’, all you need is self-discipline. After graduating from college with my undergraduate degree, my finances were tumultuous at best. And my financial management skills at 21, were hardly existent. However, with a whole lot of practice and self-discipline- and only a handful of mental breakdowns- I finally reigned in the beast that was my life. Now, by no stretch of the imagination am I an expert in personal finance. Quite the opposite- however, the best lesson I learned is that in order to make your goals a reality, you’ll need a little elbow grease. It won’t just happen overnight; you are not going to win the lottery, nobody will do it for you- If you want it, YOU need to make it happen.
Also, it is important to note that things happen, life happens. Things can, and will, get in the way of ambitions to reach your goals. Cars will break down, rent will be increased and the dog will get sick from getting into someone else’s garbage. Dealing with a setback is alright, and it shouldn’t derail your travel aspirations. Don’t be too hard on yourself and be flexible with the challenges that might come up along the way. Your ‘when’ may change, but your ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ shouldnt.
Step #3- Recognize that things along the way may set you back or throw you off course. Even the most self-disciplined individuals love a good slice of pizza every now and then. Remember your ‘why’ and get back on the wagon.
A few tips & tricks to save money on travel:
1. Be purposeful with your travel. If it means something to you, you’ll have a reason to make it happen
2. Figure out when the low/high seasons are for a particular place, and plan accordingly. There will be major discounts in the low season, and price hikes in the high season. Many guidebooks will include this information
3. Sign-up for frequent flier miles with airlines regardless of if you ‘actually’ frequently fly. The miles will add up- three years from now, you might get a free flight.
4. Work some side jobs to save some extra money. If you attended a four-year university, there are many freelance writing gigs you can find online. Each little bit will add up!
5. Use a budgeting software. I use YNAB (You Need A Budget!). It’s simple, easy to use and helps me stay on track and assign each dollar to a task. Check it out here: https://www.youneedabudget.com/
6. Don’t give up on the things you want! Traveling isn’t just for the wealthy, and you can go where you want! You might need to postpone, or you may get sidetracked, but always recenter yourself and charge full speed ahead