A common question we get is, “how are you managing to travel for so long?” Most people are curious about the financial implications, and no, unfortunately, we are not independently wealthy. But some are more curious about our ability to be away from home, friends and family for so long.
Although it may seem like an unrealistic dream to many, the realities of taking an extended trip may be closer than you think. We’ve actually met a handful of people that are on their own similar adventures which indicates we’re not the only ones “making big plans”.
Here are a few tactics we’ve used to help enable us to undertake this extended adventure.
Prior Planning (and Saving)
We are planners. Thus any of our major decisions or undertakings will involve establishing a plan. Our trip was no different. We discussed the idea of an around the world trip for multiple years. We originally planned to depart in the summer of 2012. However, for some tactical reasons (not to mention my cold feet) we delayed the start by a year.
Pre-planning allowed us to save towards travel. We looked for opportunities to cut some of the “extras” out from our daily life. Every little bit adds up. We established (and attempted to live within) a tight budget. For us, we decided to reduce the frequency that we went to Starbucks for a morning beverage. We started packing lunches during the week. We cooked at home one additional night each week instead of going out to eat. I even started price comparing at the grocery store, as well as taking advantage of sales and coupons. These changes were mostly habits we had acquired as a matter of convenience. Yes we are all busy and have many things vying for our time, and yes, some of these changes did require more time and effort. However, we soon started to adopt the new habits, it became more normal, and we knew that we were making progress towards something more significant. Every little bit we saved along the way has helped.
Taking Advantage of Points
Depending upon how you look at it, I was lucky or unlucky to spend many years traveling for work. Over the years I accrued many airline miles and hotel points. Once we decided that we wanted to take an extended around the world trip, I looked for ways to maximize the accrual of my points, and started saving. We have been able to use the points to help reduce some of our travel expenses.
Credit Card Points
Even if you do not travel for work there are many ways to accrue airline miles, hotel points, or even credit card points that can be cashed in for travel. For example, some credit cards award a significant amount of points for just opening an account. Read the fine print. Look for no annual fee and other useful benefits, such as NO foreign transaction fees (which will save you $ while you are traveling)! We made a habit of using a credit card to pay some of our monthly bills, allowing us to accrue additional points. However, we also ensure we pay off the entire balance each month, to avoid any finance charges.
Maximizing Hotel Points
We also try to evaluate the cost to point ratio. This helps us determine if we should pay for something out of pocket or if we should use points to pay. In many popular destinations, there is less of a return on points, thus it makes more sense to pay for accommodations rather than spend precious points. Every hotel chain categorizes each of their properties, which is directly associated to the number of points that are required to obtain a free night. In order to stretch our points as far as possible, we also try and choose the lower category hotels. Although they may not be quite as luxurious , they still offer similar amenities and allow us to experience a destination comfortably for fewer points.
Establishing A Budget
It sounds so simple. Create a budget and stick to it! This applies to when you are at home and when you are on the road. Kevin can tell you that I am obsessed about tracking our expenses. This is the only way to keep a pulse on your spending and make adjustments accordingly.
There are many ways to track a budget. I prefer the old fashioned Excel spreadsheet where I can create my own formulas and data models. I guess I’m a bit of a data nerd. Kevin prefers the more automated method and online tools like Mint that track and categorize expenses automatically. Whatever your preference, get in the habit of tracking your expenses so you know where to make adjustments if necessary.
Selecting Destinations Wisely
Evaluate the cost of living in the destinations that you are traveling. Places where the cost of living is less means that your dollar will go further. Destinations in Southeast Asia can be very budget friendly!
On the other hand, Europe and the South Pacific are decidedly more expensive for transportation, lodging and food. Pick your destinations according to your budget. Many travel bloggers and even some travel books can give you rough estimates of what a daily budget looks like in any given destination. Just note that this varies depending on your style of travel (luxury, mid-range or backpacker).
Minimizing Home Expenses
If you are going to be away from home for an extended period of time, it is ideal to eliminate or at least minimize expenses at home. To minimize expenses while we travel we did a number of things including:
- Rented our home for the year. By doing this we not only saved on mortgage costs, but also on utilities, television and internet fees.
- Changed our auto insurance to “lay-up” coverage
- Placed our cell phone plans “on hold” and reduced plan costs as much as possible
Doing these things greatly decreased our monthly expenditures and allowed us to use the money for travelling instead of on fixed living expenses.
Working on the Road
Kevin is a freelance graphic and web designer. We are fortunate that he is able to continue to work while we travel—at least as long as there is an internet connection. Although finding the right balance of travel and work can be challenging, it’s definitely helpful to still have a little bit of income while we continue to travel.
Even if you’re not able to take your job on the road, there are many options to work while traveling like teaching English, fruit picking or waiting tables. Where there is a will there is a way!
Looking at Travel as a Lifestyle, Not a Vacation
Traveling the world sounds glamorous, but it is not always that luxurious. We may splurge periodically, but it is not something that we do frequently. We would love to stay in upscale accommodations, eat at the best restaurants and see as many sights as possible. However, this is not the reality for long term travel. We have found ways to make travel more affordable by:
- Staying In Hostels: Although not always nice, they tend to be more budget friendly.
- Renting Apartments: Cheaper than hotels with amenities that help minimize costs, like washer/dryer, kitchen, and free internet.
- Cooking Meals: Grocery shopping and making meals can help save significant money on food costs.
- Packing Food: Packing lunches, snacks and beverages for the day can decrease food costs. (We still splurge for the occasional mid-afternoon ice cream though! Ice cream doesn’t pack all that well.)
- Using Public Transportation or Walking: It’s not always the fastest or most comfortable, but it’s often the most budget friendly. Hey, if you’re on an extended trip, you’ve got time, right? Plus walking is a great way to see more of the city and absorb the culture.
- Staying on the Outskirts: Accommodations just outside a city can be less expensive. It’s not as convenient, but oftentimes you can catch a free shuttle or cheap public transportation to key sites within the city.
- Arranging Travel Ourselves: Tours are great but often come with a premium price tag. We have not eliminated all tours, but have found that with the internet and a little time, that most things can be done independently, for far less money.
We are trying to keep people posted on our whereabouts through this travel blog and facebook. We also have tried to use other communication vehicles to keep in touch, including snail mail (postcards), email, facetime, Viber, and Skype. The world is big place, however it seems much smaller with today’s technology.
We do miss the face to face interactions with friends and family. However, we have also been blessed to meet up with both on this journey. This has provided some much needed connections to home.
Sure, it can be expensive to travel as well as difficult to be away from our friends and families but with a little discipline, sacrifice and creativity you can minimize costs and stay connected. It also helps to know that our journey is only temporary and that the experiences we gain will stay with us for a lifetime.