"I wish I could travel like you guys do!" I cannot tell you how many times Jess and I have heard some variation of that phrase. There is no doubt that the travel spirit is out there. In today's increasingly connected world, I don't see how anyone could possibly avoid the longing feeling to see other places.
The downside is that most people seem to think that travel (especially long term travel) is simply out of the question for them. This belief is often based on a whole variety of excuses, some good excuses, and other excuses are just plan..excuses. Kids, no money, work, school, responsibilities? The list can seem overwhelming.
But hey, turn that frown upside down! I'm going to show you how a few simple steps, and how a few tweaked perspectives will have you well on your way to the trip of a lifetime before you can say "I'm on a plane going to... (insert dream destination)"
Step One: Prioritize
In most cases, if you're working a full-time job, you actually have a lot more money than you would think. The problem is, that money it's being spread out really thin. Since you are not spending all of your money each month on one thing, but rather a whole series of little things, you begin to think you don't actually have that much, when in fact you do.
Make a List
Sit down with some paper, a pencil, and a calculator and take a good hard look at your finances. Make a list of everything you spend money on each month and how much. Check out your bank statements (or online account) to help you out. Now cross out everything that isn't absolutely essential. I mean it! Water, food, shelter, medicine, gas to go to work, those things can stay. Everything else, cross it out. Now, look at all of the money you already have freed up to put in your saving each month for your future travels.
Some people might say that seems a little extreme or "That's easy for you to say" and trust me, I know. I'm well aware of that fact that this is incredibly hard to follow through with. Jess and I struggle every day with drawing the line between having a life and saving for travel. But this is where the change in priorities comes in.
“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.” —James W. Frick
If you want to buy the coolest new electronics or go out regularly and have some drinks at a bar then that's great, and you should do that. By all means, have fun, but don't expect to have money for travel either. Everyone has their own limited amount of disposable income, and that can be spent on either going out to dinner, or on travel. But it's one or the other, you must choose what is most important to you in the long run.
Cut back some more
Okay, let's go back now and look at that necessities list. Is there anything else you might be able to lower a little bit? Do some calling around, you might be surprised. Student loans for example. Did you know that most people qualify for "Income Based Repayment" on their federal student loans? Talk to everyone you make payments to and see if there is any possible way to reduce that payment.
Step Two: Make a Plan
Alright, now that you have your expenses down as low as absolutely possible, it's time to make a monthly budget and a long-term plan. The monthly budget is simple, put anything you cannot avoid spending money in one column, and whatever money is left for travel savings in the other. To help you stick to this I would recommend taking your allotted bills and spending money for each week out in cash, and avoid using debit or credit cards altogether. Once the cash is gone, you know you can't do anything else that week that involves spending money.
Now, start making a long-term plan. Look at the calendar and pick a day or month in which you would realistically like to leave for your trip (lining that up with the end of your lease if you are renting is a good idea, so you don't have to pay rent while you're gone.) How many months are there between then and now? Take that number and use it to multiply by the amount of money that you know you should be able to save each month by sticking to your budget. Now you have the total amount of possible money you could have for travel. It's more than what you thought, isn't it?
Step Three: Make Travel Plans
I have put this as step three, but honestly, there are two ways to go about doing this:
It's important to see how much money you will have first because it's hard to see where you could go, and for how long until you get some idea of how much money you will have. I personally don't really like the idea of getting all excited about going to some new amazing place, only to do the math and realize that it's going to take me 10 years to save up enough money to go.
Jess is the complete opposite. She loves nothing more than researching for hours and hours about all of the wild wonderful places the world has to offer. She lets her wanderlust guide her travel interests and trusts that we'll make it work.
Be sure to check out: 5 Tips for Traveling as a Couple
The reality is that you probably need a little bit of both approaches in order to make it work. To sit and crunch numbers all day is, let's be honest, boring. But at the same time, all dreaming and no budgeting will result in never going anywhere at all. So this, like so many other things in life, comes down to finding a good balance between the two.
Step Four: Stick To It!
I know living like a hermit for a year or so sounds awful. Trust me, I know, and sticking to a saving budget is absolutely one of the hardest parts of travel. But I promise you, it will all be worth it when you're standing in line, ticket in hand, ready to board that plane. You won't be able to wipe the smile off your face. With a lot of hard work and some money management, and you can do it, too! Every penny you save for travel will pay back a hundred-fold in the experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.
If this sounds like a plan that you can get behind, then get to it! Be sure to read the second half of this post: Travel Budgeting: On the Road
What tips do you have for saving your pennies for Travel? Having a hard time figuring out how to make it work? Comment below or contact us!