At the end of the year, we usually take stock, set some goals, and maybe make some new year’s resolutions. After the god-awful year we experienced in 2020 when our movements were so confined, many people want to travel more in 2021. If you’re one of them, you should take some dream time and make a bold travel resolution. No excuses this time.
I’ve been running this Cheapest Destinations blog since 2003 and put out five editions of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, so I’ve heard more than my share of excuses on why people can’t or don’t travel more. This past year a truly legit reason was added to the mix: restrictions on movement. Some countries spent most of the year with their borders closed and some of them will remain closed for the next six months.
It was also a scary time to get on an airplane, especially if you picked one that wasn’t blocking out middle seats instead of one that was. I took very few flights this year and none in the last five months.
Sure, some of the other reasons to avoid international travel are legitimate too. “I’m a convicted felon” is one that may give you some visa trouble. “I can’t leave the country until the custody case is settled” is reasonable. “I don’t really enjoy packing up and leaving home” was a response from a friend that I really didn’t have an answer to. Fair enough. We can’t assume everyone likes to travel. And some people really can’t. There are not many travel agencies in Cuba or North Korea.
If you live in a free country and want to travel but don’t, however, and this goes on for years, the excuses you give are probably the same ones I’ve heard 100 times. Nearly everyone who brings up the subject with infrequent travelers hears the same lame reasons over and over again. With so much time sheltered at home and so much time to save money and build up points, this will be the year to drop the fatalistic scripts and start doing some dream manifestation instead.
The B.S. “Why I Can’t Travel More” Excuses
As I’ve said many times before, “I wish I could travel more” is usually code for “My priorities are out of whack.” Sure, some people in supposedly rich countries really are destitute, mentally ill, or too physically incapacitated to travel. In all fairness, 2020 was a really rough year for a lot of professions, like chef, musician, events planner, or travel writer (ahem).
But for most first-world citizens, the oft-heard excuses below are otherwise usually b.s.
1) I can’t afford it.
2) I don’t have the time.
3) I’m scared about/not good at foreign languages.
4) My family wouldn’t approve/I’m scared to leave my family.
Why These Are Obstacles to Overcome, Not Walls
First, unless you’re in such poverty that you can barely afford groceries, you can likely afford to travel. Because if you choose the right places, it’s cheaper than being home. While living your normal life, try shopping less, buying fewer gadgets, brewing your own coffee, etc.—in other words, prioritizing. Then when you take off to travel more with the savings, you’ll spend less than you would at home in much of the world.
Do some basic research and you’ll find ways to stay somewhere for cheap, get free flights, work abroad, or just get by for far less than you’re getting by now. If you have a job you can do from anywhere, you’re just plain nuts to live out all your years in an expensive country anyway. You could cut your expenses in half just by getting on a plane. There are lots of locations in the world where you could stay in a hotel every night even and spend far less than you do now on rent.
2) If you’ve been in your job a year at least and don’t have a couple weeks to travel, something is seriously wrong. If you’re self-employed, even worse. That’s called not taking the time; it’s not a lack of time.
Nobody is so important in their position that they can’t take a couple weeks to travel unless they have “president” or “prime minister” next to their name. If you’re worried nobody will miss you if you leave and you’ll be easily replaced with another warm body, then you’re not making much of an impact when you’re there, are you?
3) When it comes to languages, you can get by with English alone in about 90% of the places you’ll go on this planet as a tourist. Learning basic Spanish will take care of another 5 or 6%. So unless you’re going to visit rural China or some undiscovered tribal region, I think you’ll get to where you need to go and find a place to eat and stay.
If you’ll be somewhere more than a couple weeks, you can pick up some basics with minimal effort and a phrasebook or app. Heck, these days you can even take a real-time translator on a smartphone, Star Trek style. You can point Google Translate at a menu and know what you’re ordering.
4) I’ve heard so many iterations of the family resistance sequence now it’s become a short story I could write in my sleep. Daughter announces to her family that’s she’s going backpacking for a month, for the summer, maybe even for a year. A family member (usually the mother) responds that it’s a horrible idea, that she’ll be raped or killed, that she’s abandoning the family.
She forges on and goes anyway, sending them photos along the way about her fantastic time and telling them all the things she’s seen and learned. She returns home looking fit and radiant, she’s worldly-wise, and she’s exhibiting a new self-reliant streak that’s going to help her create success on her own terms in the future. Her parents can’t stop telling their friends about her wonderful adventure and they share her photos with everyone they know.
I once saw a round-up article where bloggers talked about the excuses they heard from infrequent travelers. I liked this one from Benny at Fluentin3Months the best:
Usually people will latch on to what seems like a totally logical reason to not travel, such as lack of money, no time, unable to get off work, family responsibilities and so on. At times these are legitimate, but many times the true reason they are not following this passion is fear, and the reason they give you when you ask is founded in nothing but this fear.
They can repeat the mantra of “I have no money” all they like, ignoring stark evidence about how they should embrace minimalism and stop buying so much crap, or perhaps they think that learning a language is a rare genetic gift even though over half the population of the planet is multilingual. It’s time they stepped outside of their self-fulfilling prophecies.
Finding the time or money to travel more is just like finding the time or money to do anything else worthwhile: to buy a house, reach a sales goal, raise a child, get good at a sport, get in shape, learn a language, write a book, finish a painting, dance the tango, or build a fence. Make it a priority and it’ll probably happen–you’ll easily move from inaction to action. Put it no higher on your list than the latest slightly better gadget Apple is feeding you, however, then it probably won’t.
Do you want to travel somewhere epic this year or are you just saying it would be nice? Like winning the lottery would be nice?
If you’re not just fantasizing, stop dreaming and start finding ways to make it work.
Let’s just assume the first six months of 2021 are going to be a bust for travel because you want to wait until lots of people are vaccinated. If we take that stance, you’ve got plenty of time to make this happen in the second half of the year.
Bold Travel Plans to Turn Dreams Into Reality
First, where do you really want to go? This past year was one of exploring close to home, visiting state parks, taking road trips, and generally trying to avoid crowded places. It was a great year to rent an RV and stay in your family bubble. Some international destinations were open in Latin America, but most countries of Europe and Asia were off-limits. Once we can move around freely and safely again, what’s at the top of your wish list?
This time, don’t settle. Dream big. Reach into your gut and emotions and remember which place you’ve long dreamed of visiting. You probably don’t have any overtourism worries this time and no high season prices to worry about for a while. So if you’ve always wanted to go to Florence, Easter Island, Machu Picchu, or Kyoto, then make that place your destination!
This may be the opportunity of a lifetime to visit famous places and find them half-full. Venice won’t be packed again until the cruise ships return and that might not be for years. Some other hotspots, like Dubrovnik, had already dialed back on those floating hotel dockings and it might just become permanent. Don’t make excuses, settle for third-best, or hold back this time; make plans to go to the place that will get you the most excited.
How to Make This Travel Resolution a Reality
The knee-jerk reaction of many pessimistic people is to immediately make excuses about why this travel resolution goal isn’t achievable. See the earlier section on that. The two excuses that have some grounding in reality though revolve around time and money. There are often false narratives supporting these excuses though, ones we can easily counter with a little effort.
1) You have the time to travel. You probably haven’t taken a real vacation for a while since we were cooped up much of the year, so you should already have vacation days banked up if you work for a company. Keep banking them the first half of the year when you’ll probably still be staying close to home. By the time the borders of the world open up and it’s safe to mix with other people again, you can take off for weeks.
If you are a remote worker, you can even rent an Airbnb place for weeks or a month and mix business with pleasure. Wouldn’t it be cool to have your office in Paris or Bali for a while if that place is at the top of your list? If you’re self-employed as a freelancer or business owner with something done online, your “home” can be anywhere.
Or if you’re self-employed with a physical business, figure out how to delegate what you do for two weeks or more. You’ve got plenty of time to work out the kinks before departure.
2) You can probably get your flights for free. Unless you have a poor credit history, you can get a flight to nearly anywhere in the world for close to nothing if you sign up for the right credit card. You can also get two or three hotel room nights too with a different card. See the full basic travel hacking strategy here, but to give you an idea, right now you can get enough miles for a flight to Europe or South America just from the sign-up bonus on cards for American, Delta, United, and several foreign carriers.
Don’t forget that they all have partner airlines, so you’re not limited to that one company. I’ve taken free flights on Air Fiji, LATAM, Avianca, Copa, Lufthansa, Singapore Air, and Thai Airways from miles earned through credit cards. Or there are various Chase cards that will let you book with a variety of airlines using a bank of points. They all have a minimum spend requirement to get the bonus, but apply for the card when you’ve got a few major purchases to make (I even paid my daughter’s college tuition on two of them) and use them for automatic bills to keep racking up more miles.
3) You’ve got plenty of time to plan and save money. Americans reduced their credit card balances by a whopping amount in 2020, reversing more than a decade of rising debt. “WalletHub now projects that U.S. consumers will end the year with a decrease of about $89 billion in credit card debt for the first time since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.”
One silver lining of the pandemic was that it slowed down the need for many people to live beyond their means just to impress others around them. With less moving around, going out, and shopping, monthly expenses went down. Hopefully you’ve managed to reduce your spending during this time and actually put away a bit of cash.
If not, make a plan. If you put away $200 or $300 per month starting now, you’ll have a nice vacation fund to take off with in Q3 or Q4 of the year. If you’ve played the travel hacking game as well, you’re all set!
4) Get creative to fill in the gaps. If you’ve followed these steps and are still worried you’ll come up short, find solutions instead of excuses. There are all kinds of ways to get free or cheap accommodation, from house sitting to home exchange to couchsurfing.
Plus if you’re not an experienced traveler, you probably have a warped idea about what a hotel room really needs to cost you. There are places in the world where $15 per night will get you a decent room with a private bath and if the fortress of Jaisalmer is on your list, it might be more like $5. A room that would cost you $150 in the USA will be more like $30 in much of Southeast Asia. Plus it’s going to be a buyer’s market for quite a while worldwide. Pull up your dream destination on Booking.com and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
Also, getting from city to city within a foreign country is probably going to cost you far less than you thought. Bus tickets, train tickets, and Eurail passes can be a great value, or take advantage of the huge number of budget airlines connecting cities for unbelievable fares. Book adventure tours after arrival if you’re traveling independently, or let a company like Intrepid Travel take care of the details and you might only pay $200 or so per day after the flight. Booking policies are flexible now, so get the process started and you’ll have a clear budget.
As for me, I’ve got some work-driven plans to visit Patagonia, Thailand, Italy, and the country of Georgia in the second half of this year if possible. The wife and I area also talking about visits to Malta, the Greek islands, and Albania while we’re in the Mediterranean. Whatever doesn’t happen this year, we’ll try again the following year. Like nearly everyone else, we’re waiting to see how the next few months play out before booking any flights. (Meanwhile, our loyalty points balances keep growing.)
So…what about you? Are you going to travel more in the coming 12 months when it’s safe? What’s your bold travel resolution for the year?