“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
– St. Augustine
We have a dry erase board at work that we use to ask each other different questions every month. A few months ago the question was, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” It’s an innocent enough question, but it actually really bothered me. And it bothered me because of one word: if.
As I literally found myself writing a public service announcement response about how attainable travel really is, I thought better of it and decided to write here instead. So let me just state the obvious: Traveling to your favorite destination IS possible!
The problem with the word “if” is that it qualifies travel as this mysterious thing that only happens to really rich/lucky people and is something that is never going to happen to you. Don’t accept that. You get one fucking life. ONE. You CAN be a person who travels to a place they read about in a magazine, or saw in a movie, or heard about through a friend. Like anything in life, you have to make travel a priority and you have to come up with a plan. Here’s what you do:
Step 1: Pick the destination in your mind. That’s all you have to do for step one. Just know where you want to go.
Step 2: Do some research. Figure out the cost of flights, hotels, rental car, and any activities you might do there. You’re just ball-parking at this point—no need to get exact.
Step 3: Get real about your money. Now that you know how much the trip could potentially cost, look at your finances. Do you have that much money in your bank account? If yes, awesome! If not, time to analyze. Excluding bills, what are you spending your money on? Look for items that you could curtail, like that $5 Frapp you buy each morning. Expenses that don’t seem like very much in the moment add up over time. A $5 coffee each morning = $35 a week, $150 a month, or $1825 a year! That’s like an entire trip right there! Maybe you have an online shopping habit, or maybe you go to the movies each weekend. Whatever it is, ask yourself, “Is this more important than traveling?” If it is, I have no time for you — goodbye. If it’s not, read on!
Step 4: Setup a savings account JUST FOR TRAVEL. Did you gasp at this idea? I know, me too when I thought of it originally (note: I did not invent this idea). When my partner Dan and I were first getting into travel and doing these same steps, we knew we had to do something different than saving money in our bank accounts. If we saw money in there, we were going to spend it. So I had the idea of us physically withdrawing money every paycheck and putting it in a “travel jar.” Beside this being a really dumb idea if we had been robbed, it was also foolish because it meant the money we were saving was not gaining any interest. So instead we looked for a savings account with a high interest rate. We landed with an online bank and a 1% interest rate. I highly suggest using a different bank than the one you keep the rest of your money in so that you are not easily tempted to use it. What you want to do is pretend this account doesn’t exist or that you don’t have permission to access it. I love my bank for this reason because I don’t have an ATM card…BUT if shit hits the fan, I can do an online transfer to my other bank in a couple days.
Another tip is to open a credit card that earns travel points. There are lots out there that help you earn miles, or will even forgive travel related expenses.
Step 5: Start saving money. Some people will interpret this sentence as, “DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF EVERYTHING.” But that’s not what I’m suggesting. What I’m suggesting is little improvements here and there. Think back to step 3 and how much you’re spending on non-essentials and decide on a number that is doable for you. I don’t care if you can only afford to save $9 a paycheck–do it. Go to your HR department, give them that magical number and setup a direct deposit. You will be shocked at how quickly this money adds up!
Step 6: Get obsessed with savings. You’ve got your travel savings account, you’re making regular deposits, and now it’s time to get obsessed with saving money. How exactly do you do this? Challenge yourself to make deposits whenever possible and then be really proud of yourself when you do!
Let’s pretend you were thinking of going out to dinner. After booze and food, your meal might have cost you $25-$50. Let’s also pretend your plans fell through and now you’re making dinner at home. Take the $25-50 you would have spent on that meal and deposit it! Here’s another scenario: you just got a raise at work. Guess what? You survived on the amount you were making before. Time to invest the difference. Calculate your increase per paycheck, go back to HR, and change the amount you are depositing into your travel account. Again, I don’t care if you’re only make .38c more per paycheck — deposit it!
Step 7: Get prepared to actually use some of your time off. I can’t tell you how many people I know who lose PTO by the end of the year because they didn’t take enough days off. What the actual fuck is wrong with these people!? They’re PAID vacation days. They are one of the perks of your employment! If you are one of these people, first of all, I feel sorry for you. Secondly, what are you worried about? That the office is going to fall apart without you? That your boss will deny your request? If you have a good boss, they will understand the importance of taking time off. It’s not just some cush benefit; we receive time off to RESET so that we can come back and continue to do our jobs well. We are not doing ourselves or our organization any favors by being overworked, super grumps. So use it!
Step 8: Be flexible on the timing of your trip. Did you know timing can greatly affect how much your trip costs? A recent study said that the best time to book domestic flights is 54 days out; the booking window for international flights varies greatly. Even the day of week you fly on matters. I highly recommend using Google Flights to try different days and months.
Another factor is that every destination has a peak tourist season.You can save yourself a lot of money and avoid big crowds by booking off-season. For example, Italy’s peak season is May-August. Dan and I have visited twice: once in April and once in late May/early June. The trip we took off season saved us upwards of $500 per person!
But let’s be honest — sometimes you are choosing a location because of the season. For example, you might be booking a trip to a Caribbean island to escape winter. In that case, understand there’s not much you can do and get used to the idea of paying a premium.
Step 9. Keep your eyes peeled for deals. There are tons of travel websites out there that offer vacation packages. They often come up suddenly and disappear just as quickly. But if you can find one, bundling your airfare and lodging will save you so much money! I personally swear by Travelzoo. They release a weekly email called The Top 20, which features the best deals they’ve come across from each week. I’ve booked at least three vacations through them. Remember how I said we found an off-season deal to Italy? That was through Travelzoo: 7 nights, airfare, hotels, and rental car for a total of $699 per person. Literally less than the price of one airplane ticket to Italy. You can also try the vacation bundle options at Priceline, Kayak, and Travelocity (or a million other sites).
Step 10. Make a more concrete budget. In step 2, you researched ballpark prices of airfare, lodging, car rental and activities. Now it’s time to get exact prices. You should have an idea of when you want to travel, so start plugging in some dates and times to get costs. Try different websites, different days of the week, and different months. Think about the activities you want to do while you’re there and get some prices. When you’ve collected all the pieces, make a budget that includes:
- Anything you need to buy for your trip. For example, do you need a passport?
- Transportation to/from the airport
- Car rental or public transportation at the destination
- Activities (entrance fees, tickets, etc)
- Food and drink
After making this budget, you might find you still don’t have enough money. And that can discouraging, but it’s part of the process. Keep saving! When you finally do have enough to take this trip, you will appreciate it so much more.
Step 11. Pull the trigger! When you’ve finally saved enough money to get to the destination of your dreams, pat yourself on the back! You set a goal for yourself and you did it! Tell work you’re finally going to take a freakin’ vacation. Then book that trip and have an amazing time!