Every time anyone goes on vacation and posts gorgeous photos on social media, frequently someone says, “You’re so lucky. I wish I could travel more.” You can almost hear the wistful sigh.
In most cases the answer to “Why can’t you?” would have something to do with not enough time or not enough money. If I dig deeper those are usually related—the person is working crazy hours to pay for all the monthly expenses they have locked themselves into with the big house, the nice cars, and the the kids’ organized activities. Plus they had to buy the four iPhones, the three iMacs, and the upgraded media room. They had to get a new sofa set and the kitchen needs renovation of course because those cabinets aren’t in style anymore…
It’s seldom “lucky” that someone travels more than you do. Even if they travel a lot for their job as I do, that’s no accident. The person chose that field, that position, or that company because it fit their goals—their priorities. If they wanted to be stuck underground in the dark as a coal miner, they would have dropped out of high school, foregone higher education, and stayed in the bleak town where they grew up in Appalachia. (Then complained about globalization and free trade taking all the “good jobs.”)
It took me 20 years of effort to get as “lucky” as I am now.
True, if you’re unemployed, on disability from a (real) injury, and are collecting food stamps, regular travel might be kind of tough. But even then I’d argue you can take the commuter train or bus line to the very last stop and at least get a change of scenery. You can get a Megabus ticket for the price of a combo meal at Burger King. You can travel around the world by visiting cheap ethnic eateries in your city and shopping at their stores.
For most people though, it’s just a matter of shifting priorities. Instead of buying memorable experiences, they’re buying more stuff. Then that stuff locks them in place and puts them in a financial jail of their own making. “I can’t save up money to travel” usually translates to “I have two car payments, a big mortgage, and that home renovation to pay for.” If you add up the price of the last four electronic gadgets or toys an average American family bought, it’s usually enough to travel a month or two in one of The World’s Cheapest Destinations—or to buy a flight to anywhere in the world.
Move Travel Up the Priority List
If you have trouble putting money away for travel, then it’s probably just a matter of moving it up on your priority list. Start small if it’s tough to change your spending habits. Forgo a few weeks of Starbucks or lunches out and you’ll have enough for a weekend at a state park. Put off the phone upgrade for a while and you’ve got enough gas money to drive across the whole USA. Don’t buy that new pair of shoes you really don’t need and spend it on a hotel night instead. Use Uber for a few months instead of getting a second car (plus the insurance) and you might have enough for a flight to South America.
Those are small wins, but imagine the big ones you could gain if you downsized where you lived, or moved to a cheaper city, or drove a paid-for used car instead of a new one with a car payment. I’ve met plenty of people earning 1/3 what I do who are traveling the world regularly and living a happy life.
They’re not staying at a fancy all-inclusive resort every night though, so the first step is getting over the idea that you have to stay in places like that for it to be a real vacation. It’s actually a bad way to see an area anyway since you’re locked behind a wall, so explore less expensive lodging options and you can do more for a longer period. (Here’s an oldie but goodie book I put out on that for people who haven’t ventured out much: Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.)
Turn Your Spending Into Travel
If you are spending thousands of dollars a month on something besides rent or a mortgage, then that could be turned into travel as well. I just flew to Fiji and back on miles. A flight that would have cost $1,700 to purchase was less than $100 (in taxes) because I used American Airlines miles on AA and Fiji Airways. Most of those miles I did not get by flying. I earned them through a credit card sign-up bonus and by putting some regular monthly bills on that card. My night at a Westin Resort before flying back was paid for with Starwood loyalty points obtained the same way.
I’ve used airline miles to fly to Chile, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Hungary, and Thailand just this decade, but only a fraction of those cashed in miles were earned through the act of flying. Hitting those goals just required a bit of strategy with my spending and some prioritization. (If all this is Greek to you, see this basic strategy post on free flights and hotel stays to get at least one guaranteed free trip.)
This is Not a Year for Staying Home
Back during the start of the great recession and housing bubble pop, you couldn’t open a travel magazine without seeing the dreaded word “staycation,” but anyone uttering that word now is just plain lame. (Editor’s note – if you’re reading this in 2020, different reason to stay home! Put it off a while.)
- Gasoline is cheaper than it’s been since 2002, adjusted for inflation.
- The U.S. dollar is very strong against most other currencies
- Brazil, Colombia, and Chile are cheaper than they’ve been for more than a decade
- A worldwide hotel building boom has kept lodging prices stable
- Airfares are finally coming down due to lower fuel prices
Get outta here!