This is the post I've wanted to write for awhile now, but wanted to be on the road long enough to make sure all of our predictions and planning actually worked before I tried dishing information and advice out to people. My instincts won this round! My world has not fallen to pieces after I made the big decision to quit my job, leave home and backpack for 4.5 months. In fact, it's gotten remarkably much better. This blog is to help answer the question I'm always asked in regards to my traveling (and frankly, am getting tired of answering), the one about money. "How can you afford that?" "Don't you have bills to pay?" "Aren't you clearing out your savings?" panic panic panic....
Without getting too far into the social and economical issues our generation is currently dealing with, I will start off by saying that over the past few years, my philosophy on money has been shifting (living in one of the highest taxed states with a pretty hefty chunk of student loan debt makes one a bit cynical). Money is scary because it controls a huge portion of our freedom. We all live in the world of bigger and better, and we let it get the best of us. I'm here to tell you to stop it. The key is learning that money only controls what we allow it to. Money is just a tool. Also, a quick dose of reality, you're going to deal with money for the rest of your days. Sometimes you'll have a lot, sometimes you'll have very little. Get on the ball and do the things in this life you want to do with your money. Stop wasting it.
Traveling in general gets a bad rap because it so often equals dollar signs that everyone seems to think they don't have (we're starting to find this is just an American thing). You do have money, its on your wrist in that $300 watch, its in your gas tank, it's coming through your high speed internet. And I get it, money is a huge hurdle for the majority of us who aren't already sipping champagne on a yacht somewhere. So let's talk hypothetically: you're sitting at a desk right now (I was also sitting [uncomfortably] at one of those 3 months ago), earning your paycheck (workin hard or hardly workin, amiright?) and you're thinking about a place. A place you've never been (or maybe you have), and you would give anything to get there. So let's start with that, what are you actually willing to give to get there?
To answer that, lets begin with you...
REFLECTION: Where am I in my life?
Are you a student? Are you 5 years into your career? 10 years? Do you have kids? Do you own a car or a home? Each of these elements is going to affect what kind of trip you can plan.
At the beginning, I was 26, in a long term relationship, renting my grandmother's house, mother of two cats and had a 9-5 with an okay salary.
Take the time when you answer this question to really evaluate this point in your life (even if you don't end up traveling, this is important stuff). Where does travel lie in your list of priorities right now? What do you want more of in your life, and more importantly, what is no longer good for you that can be eliminated? Oppositely, its also important to figure out the things you cannot change; the realities, if you will. Are you healthy? Are you in debt? Do you have dependents? How are your realities going to affect your trip? Make a list of these realities and come up with some solutions. Get creative, and don't give up.
I made a list of the things that needed to be arranged and planned for, starting with things like student loan payments, and someone to sublet our house. Those were my realities. In the process, I made decisions about what behaviors and portions of my life I wasn't happy with. At that moment, the feeling that I was a getting to a point where I was missing out on the opportunity to take a long term trip was my biggest disappointment. I was also feeling incredibly overwhelmed with bills I didn't think I could afford. I found myself pining over the comfort of a job I liked and felt lucky to have, when in reality I was feeling stifled and frustrated knowing there wasn't much more I could learn from the position.
CHOICES: What kind of traveling will fit into my life right now?
The answer to this question can be as responsible or irresponsible as you'd like; I will not judge you. Maybe other people will (you still shouldn't care), but I will not. If you decide you're going to pool every minute of your vacation time and hop on a red eye so as not to miss one possible moment of your allotted 2 weeks in Ireland drinking with the locals, I support you. If you decide your cushy 6 figure job is no longer fulfilling and you want to sell all of your stuff and spend two years living out of a suitcase, I support you. Above all else, you need to support you. I will though be stern with the condition that whatever you choose needs to be your choice and that whenever your travels end (if they ever do), you're still responsible for taking care of yourself and your affairs. But never ever be afraid to push through your comfort zone (travel longer, to places that are harder to get to, and less like home). That is what traveling is all about! We've seen plenty of people traveling for all sorts of reasons; some are with their young kids, some are backpacking for a few months like us, some are here on a weekend because they have a work visa in Australia. There's a right answer for every traveler.
Because I was doing this with my significant other, this decision was a joint one. If I didn't decide to quit my job, travel wouldn't have really fit into my life at all. Once I toughened up and made the decision that I would leave, our "realities" seemed less scary, because I just gave myself a goal; motivation to bite the bullet and start planning. Things began falling into place once we convinced Brandon's sister to sublet our house and take care of our cats while we were gone (we had to pay abut $100/month toward rent which we paid before we left, and bought all of the cat supplies prior to leaving as well). Realities do not have to be roadblocks! We also are lucky to be in a field that allows us to work from the road if push came to shove. The pay isn't fantastic, but it could be enough to keep us afloat if we needed. What it really came down to is knowing that even if traveling required a huge chunk of our money, we are resourceful human beings who are willing to work hard (in any job we can get) to bounce back.
The real question here is 'what kind of travel do you want to fit in your life right now'? How important is traveling? For the purposes of continuing my blog of advice, let's say you have finally just decided, enough is enough, you're going to Rome, or Cape Town, or Beijing, whatever. You just decided, "I want to travel, and I will do whatever I need to to make it happen."
PRIORITIES: Making travel fit into your life:
Research your destination (or if you don't have one, start googling places that have great shopping or elephants or world class art, whatever you're into), and set realistic expectations for cost. Know going in that depending on where you go, the amount of time you can afford to stay is going to vary. There are countless blogs and travel sites out there that range from luxury to budget travel for any location in the world. Trust me when I say, take the time to read the personal accounts if you can't decide on a budget. Compare pricing in one region with another. If you want to spend a week in Disneyworld, that's great, but I can tell you about a thousand other places in the world that, for the same budget, you can live like a king for a month. This is where you have to decide how travel will fit into your priorities and things you want to do. Are you okay with staying in hostels to compensate for the gourmet meals and local culture you're really traveling for? Keep in mind, things you may have to deal with to save money (rustic accommodations, long rides on slow vehicles, staying outside of a major city) usually end up being the best parts of your trip. You learn more and you meet great people. It doesn't matter if you are 18 or 65, budget travel is always an option, and one you should always consider.
Prioritize your budget for the parts of the trip that are most important to you.
We chose Southeast Asia based on the fact that, aside from how insanely beautiful and culturally rich it is, it's incredibly cheap to stay here for long periods of time. We decided if we were going to go out on the road, we were going to do it in an area of the world that would let us stretch our budget as long as we possibly could (which ended up being approximately four and a half months). We also considered that backpacking at this point in our lives was totally our style. There may come a time down the road that we don't want to travel that way anymore, but now is the time to take advantage of our young, adventurous hearts (and backs).
SACRIFICE: What will I give up? (here comes the hard part)
Depending on where you decide to go and when, your switch to money savings mode should start immediately. Like, right now, take the money out of your wallet and put it in a bowl or a jar or something. Take a good look at your expenses (in fact, have a friend do this with you so you can't lie to yourself). Really look deep at your credit and debit card statements. Where is your money going? Are you paying for a car? Are you spending on new clothing every month? Are you living somewhere that eats up your whole paycheck? Start slashing darlings. Anything that is not essential, ditch it. If this trip means something to you, these things won't mean as much anymore. Sell your car (yes I'm serious), drop cable TV, only take $15 cash out with you on a Friday night so you don't ruin your savings (actually don't even go out Friday, FOMO is just a state of mind). Be ruthless. Make it a challenge with yourself.
Aside from our #putitinthejar tactics (read more about that here: #PUTITINTHEJAR), Brandon and I cut down on eating out, drinking, slowed our home internet speed, sold stuff like clothing and video equipment, and I started riding my bike 30 miles to work a few times a week. We both drive older cars, live in an affordable place and I even got a deferment on a few of my student loans (something that I felt a little nervous about, but I have plans to consolidate when I return). I decided to take my car off the road when we left, as well as postpone my cell phone plan for 6 months to eliminate those bills on the road (talk to your carrier, most will let you do this). The most drastic step for me was taking $200 out of every single one of my paychecks starting the week after we booked our flights (and in reality I wish I would've started sooner). If you would've told me a year ago that I could live off of the remainder, I would've laughed in your face. We gave up a lot of material things, as well as some time, but as I sit on a porch writing this from Koh Tao, Thailand, I'm telling you every cent saved is worth the sacrifice.
By the end, we had saved about $9,000 between the two of us (inside of six months). That put our budget at about $1,000/month for each of us while we were here (for me this includes various minimum payments I have to make on the road for credit cards and the student loans that would not give me a full deferment, all of which I set up to auto-pay from my checking account). I also opened a travel credit card which not only gives us cash back on travel purchases, but also gives us some cushion if we run into any emergencies. Now that we've been on the road I would've probably saved another $1,000 just to have more wiggle room, because in all honesty it's hard to stick to a budget sometimes when you're celebrating and enjoying your trip (#realtalk). But it's also easy to make up that money by staying in less expensive places or eating on the cheap. Overall, this budget is working pretty damn well for us.
DETERMINATION: What will I have to give?
Saving money takes serious hard work, especially if you've become accustomed to a certain lifestyle. The thing to remember is that you will never regret the times you had to say no to something, when you finally step off that plane and get to say YES to every amazing experience awaiting you in your new destination. Set up a timeline with a strict savings schedule. Open a savings account and get a portion of your pay direct deposited every pay period, and then DO NOT TOUCH IT.
Also, if you want to cut down your waiting time, get another job. I know that no one wants to hear that, but even another $100/week can be the difference in staying somewhere temporarily, and staying somewhere long enough to get the full experience. Also, spend the time to look for job opportunities on the road. I swear they are out there! You can work in hospitality helping bars, restaurants and hotels speak English to their customers, you can pick up freelance work on sites like elance.com, as well as just connecting with locals to see if there is any work they need done for pay. There are also many countries who will provide you with a work visa to spend an allotted amount of time there. Working on the road is all a matter of putting yourself out there.
You will need to exercise self control and balance, which are great tools to have for life in general. You will have to take the time to seriously evaluate your lifestyle and be willing to be hard on yourself. Keep yourself accountable, and always remember, it's worth it in the end!
We had 180 days from the time we decided to take this trip to when we actually left to make our savings work, and we did it. Between our savings, as well as working our side jobs (Brandon DJing weddings, and me doing wedding videography), we met our goal. The important thing we learned is that, from here on out, whether its a trip, or a wedding, or a house, or a future baby, we now know we have the ability to save money for the things that mean something to us. Saving requires patience, something we're not told to do very often anymore when everything can be bought with credit! But having the cash in hand to do with it what you please is gratifying in a million ways.
Life is short, and money will always come and go. Never second guess a dream, and never wait too long to make it a reality!
If you need a little inspiration, check out our album from the Phi Phi Islands. Truly out of this world. Trust us when we say you'll want to see it with your own eyes and not just through our camera!