After a dozen or so trips around the world and 66 countries (and counting) under my belt, I am always asked the same questions: “Where do you find time to travel? How do you finance your trips?” Of course, if you’re from Norway, taking 6 weeks of holiday travel time is no problem. Not only does your employer have to give you the time off with pay, they have to give you a bonus of 6 weeks salary so that you’ll have travel $. Most American free-market advocates are against this type of “social” benefit. But you have to wonder, who doesn’t want 6 weeks of vacation? If every company did it, no one would be at a disadvantage.
Bottom line up front: The average American gets the short end of the stick when it comes to holiday time.
So, if you are an American, or from some other place with a stingy employer who regards time off from work as some sort of disloyalty, you must get creative to find time to travel. And, if you have only limited financial means, you must get creative in funding your holidays.
Probably the best advice I could give to anyone that wants to travel is this: Stay out of debt! This is not a financial class but being in debt will lock your life down to a never-ending cycle of chasing a paycheck and fighting to pay bills. Don’t use credit to travel unless you have a PRE-ARRANGED plan to pay the debt off in a timely and REALISTIC manner.
Perhaps you need to make alternate financial decisions in life. Do you really need that large SUV? Do you really need a new car? Do you really need a 4,000′ house or can you live with something more affordable? I don’t buy a new car every 3 years and car payments alone allow me the opportunity for one trip a year.
Make travel a priority
Perhaps the most important step is that you must make travel a priority. I know so many people who get a work bonus and some time off and use the money to do home improvements or buy a new car. Sure, a new car is nice, but if you want to travel, you have to push it further up on the list of priorities.
Finding time and money for travel
Now, once you’ve decided that you want to travel, the two biggest obstacles facing you are time and money. There are several ways around these obstacles and one of the easiest is to find employment that requires or allows travel. Believe it or not, there are jobs that go overseas, might even station you overseas or otherwise will give you time to go overseas. If you are still young and in university, start selecting classes and majors that will allow you to take a job in another country. Once there, you can travel that country and those surrounding it. Also consider foreign language training – at university and self-study if you can manage it. Many companies (say for example, McDonalds) have overseas opportunities for those fluent in a second language.
If you are ever sent overseas while on a work assignment, plan short trips on layovers. Heck, if you are on any travel and a layover is in a place (or country) where you haven’t visited before, try to amend your schedule to lengthen your layover to allow travel (see Lessons I’ve learned).
Also, try to take your vacation time during or at the end of your business; utilize the company paid airline ticket and pick up your hotel bill and travel expenses during your “off time.” If you can, try to fly out on a Thursday or Friday to have the weekend to tour and then start work on Monday. Alternatively, if your flight home is on Friday or Saturday, try to get a return on Sunday evening allowing you the weekend for travel in your work destination.
If you work for a corporation that has overseas branches or facilities, volunteer for overseas assignments at work. You might be surprised to find out that the company has problems placing people in overseas work because they don’t want to be separated from home or family. Working in another country provides a unique experience to learn about a culture in a way that most “tourists” will never know.
Get a new job
Consider a new or different job that is located in another country. You should look at jobs even if it means taking a cut in salary. Even if the job pays 1/2 of what you make now, you may be able to live better and save more $ than if you lived at home. I met an airline pilot who took a job flying in India and his salary was only about $35,000. But, for only $1,000 he could afford a nice home, maid, driver, meals and all living expenses. He was able to travel to all parts of Asia, Africa and Europe (for free) and still save about $20,000 a year. How many Americans do you know that save $5,000 a year, let alone twenty thousand?
Teachers always get a “bad rap” for being under paid. But, with 3 months off each summer and an ample Christmas holiday break, that leaves a lot of room for travel. If you head overseas, there are many places in the world where you can live for very little and still be in beautiful environments with peaceful beach settings or mountain views. There are many places in the world where you can teach English and actually earn your way through a nice vacation.
If you do go into the teaching field, try to continue your school and finish a master’s degree or Ph.D. University professors make a lot more $ than elementary school teachers and they have ample time for travel. As Nate points out in my About page comments, he has a lot of time for vacation and he puts it to good use.
Look for a job that is located overseas. Many American (or other nationalities) companies have assignments overseas. It took me about a decade to find a job that was overseas and allowed for liberal travel time. There are many opportunities for overseas work, you just have to look for them. Sometime in the future, you will consider a new job, be sure to check out jobs outside of your country of residence.
There are many opportunities for overseas travel through volunteering. My sister and her husband went to Brazil on a mission through their Christian church. Check with your religious institution or charity that you work with to see if they need help with their overseas projects. There are a number of charities that always need expat workers, a google search should reveal some opportunities – especially for English-speaking teachers. If you are still “young” enough, consider a tour with the Peace Corps or similar organization. I have met many travelers who started in the Peace Corps and travel and expat living became a lifelong passion.
Consider quitting your job
If you have always had the dream of traveling, what may be holding you back is the sum of your monthly expenses: car insurance, rent, cellular phone bill, internet service, cable TV bill. With just a few thousand dollars, you can take a trip for a few months or even a year or more (if you work or supplement your income) provided that you don’t have your monthly “overhead.” If you are on a break from work, consider putting everything in storage and taking a road trip. This is exactly what Jenny did, took her online business, put everything in storage or sold it and went for a year on the road. Travel is expensive if you live “high on the hog.” There are many ways to live inexpensively on the road. In my recent 2009 Trans-Siberian Railroad trip, I started with about $15,000 in my checking account. 4 months later, I still had $7,500. That means I lived on seventy-five hundred dollars for 4 months while traveling Ukraine, Russia, Mongolia and China. That may sound like a lot but consider I didn’t have to pay car insurance, rent and a cellular phone bill. Add up your monthly expenses and see if you spend more than $1,875 a month. Chances are that you do.
The next time you are at a book store, pick up a copy of the Lonely Planet country guide for whatever country you are considering visiting. Check out the costs and see if the trip is affordable. There are a lot of ways to stay for free including Couchsurfing, a network of travelers that stay at each other’s homes. This unique idea allows you to live with and learn from a local guide. Certainly a richer experience than taking photos out of the side of a travel bus full of geriatrics.
Network while you travel – make friends. Host them when they come to your country and go to visit them. If you visit a friend in London and spend a 3 day weekend, you’ll save from $150 to $450 in hotel fees. Use some of the savings to take your host to the theater and a nice dinner. I have stayed with travelers I’ve met on the road and also with colleagues from work. Believe me, 3 days with an old work friend is a lot more fun (in a foreign city) than 3 days alone in a hotel.
Consider cruises and pre-packaged travel deals. In my Yucatan Deals post you can get some idea of some great travel deals that are out there. Also consider “last-minute” deals. A quick Google for “last-minute” deals will give you travel agents that specialize in last-minute deals. If you have a flexible work schedule, you can really take advantage of some super deals. To take advantage of last-minute deals, be sure to stay out of debt and have a cash “slush fund” for “once in a lifetime” travel deals.
Consider moving from where you live now. If you live in New York or Los Angeles, unless you make six figures, you probably never will travel. Consider a more affordable location. Since I moved from LA to Texas, I’ve had plenty of disposable income for travel.
If you take a package travel trip, do make good use of the restaurants. If you are going on a day outing, bring some snacks from the buffet. While traveling, frequent grocery stores instead of restaurants. Try to go to “locals” restaurants instead of trendy tourist restaurants that are usually lacking in quality but three times the price.
Plan holidays around major changes in life
Just finished college? Before you start that new job, consider a 1, 2 or 3 month trip. You may be locked into that job for the next 40 years, get your trip while you still can! Have you been offered a new job? Accept the job but ask that you be allowed to start in 90 days. If they give you the green light, grab your cash slush fund, find a last-minute deal and head out on your holiday. Many of my “longer” trips have been between changes in employment.
I hope these travel hints have been helpful. I’ll add to them as I can think of some more. Do check back in from time to time. Thanks for visiting :)
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