The Honest Truth About How I Can Afford to Travel So Much
I’m not like most people. I don’t want to appear wealthy or privileged. I just don’t think of myself that way — not in my childhood and not now. I grew up in a low- to middle-class household, my mother working two jobs to make ends meet. Her tireless hustle and stubborn dedication to budget was a blessing. I love shopping as much as the next girl, but there’s nothing I would go into debt for, not even a travel experience.
I say all this to explain that my frequent travels are not borne of a trust fund or a large income. Even my friends and family sometimes get it confused and I find myself defensively explaining how I can afford to travel so much.
I am also writing this post because I find 90% of the articles about quitting your 9-to-5 to travel the world to be complete B.S. Travel ain’t cheap and being a travel blogger isn’t a formula for overnight financial freedom. In fact, becoming a travel blogger is an expensive start-up.
Still, travel is a fundamental part of my happiness. It is more than an addiction; it’s vital to my mental health. So I make travel work for me. Here’s the honest truth about how I can afford to travel so much…
Work like a dog
A good portion of travel bloggers don’t travel full-time and that’s because we have jobs. I have a home base in Guam and although it’s a great jumping off point to Asia, Micronesia, and Oceania, it’s quite expensive to get anywhere from here. So, I simply work like a dog. I am independent, but I rarely say no to client work (web design, social media management, photography, and writing). I hustle even while I’m traveling. I’m never truly off duty. When it all gets to be too much, I take an afternoon off to go hiking or lay on the beach.
I’ve been in some form of marketing and journalism since I was 19, so I’m at a point in my career where I make good money. My highest paying journalism job was writing and photographing the cover story for United Airlines’ Hemispheres Magazine. I charge between $50-100/hour for client work and have a steady roster of satisfied clients. I also sell advertising on my two travel sites — Global Girl Travels and The Guam Guide. I make some money from affiliate advertising (commission links on my sites), but it’s not a ton. About a year ago, I started filmmaking and licensing my photography and footage.
I am constantly developing new services and products. For example, I hosted my first Guam photo tour in April. My first documentary film came out on DVD in May. I designed film merchandise that is now available for purchase. My brain never shuts off. I have a dozen more business ideas I haven’t time to develop. You’ve seen these dark circles under my eyes, right? No? That’s because I wear about an inch of concealer!
Even though I look carefree in that photo above, I am on vacation in China working. Ever since I quit my full-time job in 2011, I’ve been working on vacation. I don’t mind. In fact, I don’t know any other way.
So, when someone casually accuses me of having tons of disposable income to travel, I am offended. There is a science to this; I’m not living a fairytale. It really all comes down to this:
If you’re already working like a dog, but still don’t have money to travel, you might not be saving stubbornly. Saving stubbornly means refusing to give in to high prices or temptations. It means that retail can’t be your therapy. If you need to develop a mantra, do it (“Norway 2016” is mine). If you’ve never budgeted, take it out of the ether and put it in writing. Create a spreadsheet, download an app, whatever you need to do to stick to your budget at all costs!
Here’s a little trick I do when I’m tempted to buy something. (Why are you even in a mall if you’re on a budget? you might ask. Touche. Touche.) Let’s say you’re eyeing a new bag or iPhone or whatever quickens your pulse in the store. Carry it around with you. It sounds silly, but hear me out. Hold it in your bosom like a lost puppy. Coddle it, talk to it, love it, then put it back on the shelf! Remember that it will be there until it gets replaced by a newer model. And guess what? If you really need it (a.k.a., it’s within your budget), you can probably find it used on eBay, Amazon, Poshmark, or Craigslist! Never buy new when you can buy used. This is what I mean by saving stubbornly.
Now what about refusing to give in to high prices? This means never buying anything that’s not discounted. You simply can’t afford to pay full price if you want to travel more. This rules out impulse buys because it takes time to find the best deals. I can’t count how many times I sat down at a store to scour the Internet for a better price.
What if you get overcharged for something? Is it worth fighting for? My rule is that it’s worth it if I will save $25 or more. You’ve got to pick your battles.
And now, I think you know I’m going to say this next one, right?
This OR that, not this AND that
If you want to travel more, it usually means you have to do something else less. It’s all about priorities. Rarely does life give you this AND that. It’s usually this OR that. For example, I’ve never owned a home, which is totally fine with me. I don’t have kids or an expensive car, jewelry or handbags. What are you willing to sacrifice to travel more? Full-time travel bloggers usually sell everything. If you can’t sell everything, can you clean out the closet or the garage and pocket $500? If yes, then do it! You won’t miss that old stuff when you are climbing a volcano or waist-deep in turquoise water.
You’ve probably been hearing this expression a lot lately among travel bloggers, and as cliched as it is, there’s meaning in it:
Collect experiences, not things
Once you change your mind about the value of material possessions in your life, you realize that being a collector of things makes you less rich than being a collector of memories. While things can make life more comfortable, they also make life more complicated. And being a collector of too many things is called hoarding. No one wants to be accused of being a hoarder because they make reality TV about those people. If material possessions keep you from achieving your goals of traveling more, you may need to adjust your view. Here’s a great read to get you inspired:
Travel like a pro
Finally, and I’ve written about this before, you’ve got to learn how to travel like a pro. Think of budget travel like a game. To win the game, you have to save money at every turn and avoid being scammed. You know you’re a travel pro when you annoyingly tell everyone how you got a free heli ride to a volcano in Iceland or when you flew around the world entirely on miles.
There are two ways I travel like a pro: 1) I trade media exposure for accommodations and tours. Obviously, this is a game exclusive to travel bloggers. But my second way is achievable by anyone: 2) I use miles and points.
If you’re new to the miles game, just know that it is exactly that — a game. Airlines and credit cards don’t want you to save money any more than Donald Trump wants Hillary in the White House. Yet, they offer sizable bonuses to open a credit account. If you can score 50,000 miles just by starting a credit card, do it! In fact, I recommend the Chase Sapphire card because not only do you get a nice sign-up bonus, you earn two and three times the points per dollar on food and travel. Over the past year, I’ve banked hundreds of thousands of miles by using Chase, Citi, and American Express credit cards. In layman’s terms, that’s several trips to Asia (25,000+ miles) or a couple of big trips to the U.S. from Guam (70,000+ miles).
Now, the airlines would like it if you never booked with miles, so they make those seats scarce and subject to blackout dates. The workaround? Book early. If you can’t find seats online, call the airline. Ask about alternate airports, routes, and if possible, dates. Read my 5 Ways to Earn Miles You Probably Haven’t Thought Of.
Traveling like a pro also means getting discounted accommodations, transportation and tours. I started using Airbnb (get $20 off) and Uber (get $20 off) last year and saving a ton on hotels and taxis. I only stay in big hotels on paid media tours or if I score a free night from Hotels.com (book 10 nights, get 1 free), my Marriott credit card (once a year), or by booking with my credit card points.
How can you save on tours? Again, book early and look for discount codes. Black Friday and Cyber Monday now mean something in the travel world. If you’re flexible, call the tour company and ask them if there are any single or double seats they need filled last minute.