How Do You Pay for Your Travel?
Over the course of ten years, I visited every country in the world, many of them several times.
When I first started writing about the quest, the most common question I received was, “But how do you pay for that?”
Since then I’ve tried to be very clear on how much it costs to travel—not just for me, but for anyone else. In this post, and in the follow-up on Thursday, I’ll outline my general response to travel and money.
First, Define Your Priorities
Put simply, what do you value?
There’s a proverb that states “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I chose to value travel, and I chose to do whatever I could to support my adventures.
When I realized it would cost only $30,000 to visit 100 countries, I was astounded at how cheap it was. I didn’t have a spare $30,000 lying around, but I didn’t need to—I could simply pay as I went along, with the expectation that it would be several years (at least) before I came to the end of the goal.
$30,000 was well worth it for the joy and challenge of seeing half the world. The second batch of 93 countries was more expensive than $30,000, but it was still affordable when paid for over time.
Lesson: choose what you value, and direct your spending toward those experiences.
Second, Practice Selective Frugality
Frugality is a controversial topic, and for the most part I’m not a fan of telling people to pinch pennies. If you have a low income, you’ll never get rich simply by saving. You need to raise your income!
That’s a subject for another post (mostly), but I should also say that I adopted frugality, in my own way, for much of the quest. I used to be what I’d politely call “a cheap bastard.”
I wouldn’t buy anything I didn’t absolutely need. If a sandwich in the airport was $9, I’d go hungry. I used only public transportation and if that meant a spent an hour and a half schlepping my bags in the rain to a guesthouse because I didn’t want to pay for a taxi, so be it.
These weren’t always the most intelligent choices.
After skipping a lot of lunches and getting soaked by the rain in random countries, I created the $10 rule to inform my spending on the road: if it costs less than $10 and will improve my life, I purchase it immediately.
Nevertheless, I still tried to be intentional on my spending. I didn’t buy things I couldn’t afford. I stayed away from all kinds of debt. I saved money in some places to better use it in others.
Lesson: if you don’t have a lot of money, be even more careful about how you spend it.
In part two (coming on Thursday) I’ll focus on more practical tips, including some specific travel hacks that allowed me to pay a fraction of the cost for extended worldwide travel.
By combining the values of intentional spending with practical strategies to pay far less than most people for flights, hotels, and other expenses, the entire quest became obtainable for me—and travel can be obtainable for you, too.
Question: what about you? If you travel, how do you afford it?
Chris, I’ve followed your journey for quite a while now and will be joining you at WDS2014 next year.
I too love to travel and have a lot of air miles through travel hacking and using my points credit cards for all my expenses. My biggest struggle is always using my points for flights and accommodation that isn’t really expensive.
I tend to opt to pay for the ticket out of pocket rather than use points if the air fare is reasonable. As for where the money comes from to pay for travel… I consider traveling a priority in my life and set aside a portion of my income to travel and allow for spontaneous travel expense as well (which tend to be my favorite trips).
As more and more airlines announce devaluation of their points I’m regretting not using my points up sooner but from now on I’m making sure that I use my points rather then spend the out of pocket cash on travel.
I just flew a 4-city multi-city trip on points and saved over $2,200 on the air fares! Travel hacking for the win!
I’m starting to plan an extended ATW trip that I hope to use points to book the majority of my travel with.
See you in Portland next year!
Live simply (both at home on the road).
Travel slow (monthly rentals are way cheaper than nightly hotel rooms).
Spend some of your time doing cheap and beautiful things. Go for a hike. Take a walk around the city. Those are free and fulfilling.
I traveled by train (mostly weekend trips) while studying abroad in Europe in 08-09. I spent about $2000 on several Eurail passes, stayed in hostels, and took the bus whevever possible..
I spent a little less than $10, 000 on my 5 month excursion including aparment and airfare.. not exactly frugal but vastly less than most people I knew.
Good solid advice Chris!
Besides what was mentioned in the post; I afford to travel by working where I travel. You’d be amazed how many places you can work on a working holiday visa or for cash on sites like Craigslist or even online. Plus it really immerses you in the culture.
But like you say the life of the nomad awaits for those who choose it.
I am just getting into learning about travel hacking, which I think is a great way to travel within means. I like the idea of using the loyalty system to get treated well…which of course will lead to my loyalty for a particular brand.
My goal is to travel the world, but still keep a home base. I see a lot of location independent travelers who are coming to the realization that they don’t want to do it full time anymore. They’re burnt out.
Part time travel allows me to have a home base and still see the world. Now it’s a matter of learning from the full-time travelers and applying it to my travel style. Thanks for everything you do, Chris!
“I chose to value travel, and I chose to do whatever I could to support my adventures.”
This touched me a lot, seriously.
I chose to value freedom.
I chose to value travel.
I chose to value the lifestyle that I want to live than conform to the society’s.
Thus, I chose to
And I chose to do whatever I could to support all these.
I felt this is the part about travelling that borders me the most,am that kind of person that sometimes don’t want to ever be stranded,or be broke. Though I have a lifestyle of never having to borrow, atleast I have succeded in doing it in my adult life and making sure I don’t spent money on what I don’t need.
Let’s see…I’ve hitchiked, picked up guys in bars, got a grant from the GRAMMY foundation to move to NYC to work on music here, I ask my mom to borrow money. I save money as long as it gets me on the Megabus to go to New England, my rich boyfriends just buy me plane tickets with stars in their eyes and I asked my mom to use her credit card.
Next flight will be paid by some record label.
We travel the world with our family of four. We, like others here, make it a financial priority over other forms of “fun.” (Who needs to take the kids to Epcot when you can take them to *actual foreign countries*?)
We tend to “follow the deals.” Our philosophy is “you can go anywhere in the world you want as long as you don’t care where or when you go.” That is, we very rarely say “We want to go to X destination from Y date to Z date.” If there’s a deal to Stockholm in January or Southeast Asia during the monsoon, we jump on it. We travel a lot in the off season, which has the benefit of keeping the crowds low in addition to keeping costs low.
Home exchanges have been terrific for us. We spend time developing the trust of other families around the world, and enjoy simultaneous and non simultaneous vacations with them. We can take quick weekend trips, and also long journeys to remote destinations this way. We have access to kitchens, privacy, bikes, cars, snorkeling gear, and incredible recommendations from people who love their communities. We’ve hand firsthand experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have without their knowledge, from food tours in Italy to paddleboating mangrove forests in the Keys.
We also list our extra bedrooms on Air BNB so we can have extra cash for traveling. Often, we have paid for the trip by hosting others in our guest room.
Both these opportunities allow us to meet fascinating people, and expand our view of the world. And we wouldn’t have the chance without spending the time developing trust with a stranger.
If I can get it back home, I’ll skip it- unless I really need it. Example: I wouldn’t buy a meal in McDonalds when in Rome, but would spend extra for an authentic meal. If I could buy a blue scarf back in Alabama, I wouldn’t buy it in Naples. Only if it unique to the area is it worth it. I also remind myself, “What am I really going to do with this little statue of David salt shaker? Really?” With this stuck in my head, I’ve rarely come home with unneeded things that end up in a garage sale.
Also, we tend to snack during the day on local produce or small deli things in order to enjoy a full more expensive dinner at night. We also seek hotels that provide shuttle service, breakfasts, and even cocktail hours.
I’ve been living on the road for a few years, though I’m now semi-based in Malaysia. I’ve couchsurfed a lot, and I’ve also found pet sitting assignments which have enabled me to have space to myself in a nice home for a longer period of time. I’ve done a lot of Wikipedia research on airports and the destinations they serve, figuring out how to get from A to B via C, D and E on budget airlines: this is often much cheaper than a direct long-haul flight, and enables me to see more places. I’ve also used liftshare websites and hitch-hiked occasionally. I think I paid for about two weeks’ worth of accommodation last year, and living like this has proved to be cheaper than staying put and paying rent.
I did a bit of traveling when I was 19-22 years old. I spent 2 years in Mexico and then lived in Puerto Rico and various other states within the USA.
I really had no idea what I was doing back then. Now that I have a small family I looking for ways to travel more affordably. I don’t have all the answers yet but I am excited to try anyway!
I haven’t done any international traveling, but am a huge fan of road trips. The last time I came to Portland (for WDS2013), I used a couple strategies I have in the past: 1) Go to a grocery store and get peanut butter, bread, apples, carrots, a gallon of water, and a few other things that don’t need refrigeration. I did go out to eat too, but I had at least one meal a day that was super cheap, not too unhealthy, and portable in case I was out. 2) I did rent a car so I could do more extensive exploring in Oregon, but I made sure to bring a pillow and a blanket and got a hatchback so I could sleep in the car. Since I am a woman traveling alone – I generally either get a space at a campground, park on a quiet residential street, or if I have to sleep some place on the road – I choose a busy truck stop over a wayside, park in a fairly well lit area, and put a blanket over my head so the light doesn’t bother me so much.
3) Look for local places and ask the people who live there where cheap, good food is and fun things to do.
Thanks for being such an inspiration for farther travels, Chris!
I’m one of these “cheap bastards” too when I’m traveling and my wife is even worse. We make a good team 🙂
Sometimes though I wish we would just pay for something if it makes our lives easier, so I will bring up the “$10 or less” rule.
Thanks for bringing this up!
I’ve spent the last year thinking a lot about how much I and my husband value traveling – we’ve taken a few month or so long international trips that hit our bank accounts pretty hard, but the experience was so worth it. As we look towards a more sustainable future of travel, where we want to own a home base at the same time, we started automatic withdrawals from our checking account to specialized savings accounts: one for travel and one for a down payment. We’ve already booked a trip for 2014 off our travel savings and our down payment fund is looking better every day.
if you are staying in a location for more than three days, investigate a rental vs. a hotel. Our favorites are vrbo.com, airbnb, and home-away. Not only is it often cheaper, but it also provides more space, an insight into the place you are visiting, and also a spot to keep groceries for breakfast, lunch, dinner.
We usually eat a “big meal, if at all,at lunchtime. Dinner is often good cheese, bread, pate, etc. for a local market. Cheaper and usually better on all counts.
Make reservations ahead of time on the Web; this applies to transportation (trains, buses)(avoid U.S. based “brokers” on a commission), cultural events, etc. Usually cheaper. TripAdvisor forums are especially helpful in figuring out how to do this. PLan AHEAD.
Read contracts carefully–especially for rental cars and overseas airline taxes.
We prioritize travel!
We don’t buy things, we buy experiences!
We put a monthly allowance away, from which we can use any way we’d like for travel – it’s a large chunk of our savings! As long as we don’t spend more than what’s saved – we can spend it however we like.
To exploiting life!
Great post! Thanks for the tips… love the $10 or less. I can be a bit stingy with myself when I travel too and often wont buy lunch if I can wait to get back to my home base wherever that may be. Choosing the supermarket sandwich for a fraction of the cost of a sit-down dinner.
I’ve travelled several different ways, 5 star during my marriage (was a great experience but was all on credit), then backpacking (post-divorce, using savings) also wonderful but there were times I yearned for a nice hotel! For 2 years I lived off savings in Canada while I waited for permanent residency (and depleted said savings), during that time I became super frugal on all of my spending, I was not allowed to work and I had to cross the border every 6 months.
Now, I like to travel a few times a year, and while I’m still thrifty on the vacation itself, I tend to pay for the foundation of the trip using credit (love collecting the flyer-miles – have had several free trips as a result, not so fond of the debt!). Next trip in 4 weeks – cruise to the Bahamas! Woo-hoo!
I hope that at some point in the future I will be so flush with funds that I can travel more with my future children, and quit my day-job!
When I travel i usually pay cash and of course use my credit card for purchasing tickets online but, I immediately pay off the balance as soon as I get the next statement. It is so much better than getting into debt to travel.
I work while traveling as much as possible! Teaching English, various volunteer gigs… anything that makes the adventure more interesting!
We use homeexchange.com to support our travel habits. We share our home, our car, our snorkel gear, our bicycles, our space and our local travel tips… and in return, we enjoy awesome hospitality with local insights. We’ve been to: Maine, Montana, Seattle, Connecticut, and New York. We even use out-of-the box home exchanges… one time we went to the registered home exchangers home but sent them to my sister’s home. We recently contracted four 3-day weekends (throughout 2013 and 2014) in a Manhattan apartment in exchange for a 2-week stay at our Florida home. I have a location independent job, so I can work where I travel and extend the duration of the stay. By using infrequent hotel stays, and numerous “free” stays at home exchange properties, we get to travel on a budget to unexpected locations. Strategy helps: I buy my tickets to keep my airline elite status, and book my travel partner’s tickets with miles. I eliminated another travel expense: souvenirs. I don’t buy stuff… I do stuff.
My only question here is. Okay you stayed away from Debt, but you travel hacked by having credit cards. So rationally how did you manage the debt of those cards? Did you make sure you always had the money to pay it off? Sorry I’m just really really curious about how this works especially because managing credit card debt can be one of the more difficult tasks out there.
Yes, I’ve used cards for years but I’ve never carried a balance. If I can’t afford something, I don’t put it on a card.
I took my family of 5 to Costa Rica for 5 weeks this summer. I am sure all my friends must think we are so rich… but the difference in the cost of going to Costa Rica for 1 week for our family and 5 was the same amount that a new SUV would’ve cost for a year. So, we simply didn’t buy one the previous summer when we thought we needed it, and that allowed us to save enough money for our extended trip. We also worked some of the time we were there to keep the income coming in (we’re both self-employed). We also used FlightCar to rent out our SUV while it sat at SFO for a month, which between saving us in parking/shuttle costs and income from the rental was almost equal to the cost of our car rental on our trip.
Now THIS was a fun read! Much of my travel is business related, so I’m either getting paid to do the traveling, or it’s an expense I can bring to my profit/expense come tax time. It really depends on what kind of travel you do and what you do while you’re traveling.
But when I was younger and traveled just for the thrill of traveling, I did a lot of the same stuff you talked about. If it wasn’t necessary to get, it was necessary to NOT get. I learned to be thrilled with the experience that people who lived where I was had every day…including if necessary stretching the food budget. I remember sitting on a train with my friend with what we called a “food bar” of unknown origin purchased from a supermarket in Zurich. We made it last all day…into Milan and back! (OK..we had to have some Italian pizza)
Thanks for the great post, Chris!
Don’t spend money on mediocre experiences. Eg. if you are going to pay above budget prices for a hotel room, do it for something totally special and memorable not a chain hotel that would be the same anywhere in the world. Same with food – sensational meal or street food.
I am being careful not to waste money on things I don’t need and purposefully allocating funds to more travel. I have been a number of places this year to photograph…I love spending time exploring and learning and capturing it all with my camera.
I usually save the gift money that my family gives to me during holidays and birthdays. I’m a Taurus so I have no problem being frugal. That said, I definitely know when to splurge and as many others have posted, memorable experiences are always worth it. I’m getting better about living within my means and not spending extra money/miles in my accounts, but it’s hard. I think barriers to travel have more to do with creativity/resourcefulness than how much your salary is. It’s all about having fun on my journey doing things a different way.
For me travel is one of the most important, beautiful, exciting and fulfilling things in life, so I do everything I can to go as often as possible. In the past I used to couchsurf a lot and stay in hostels when traveling(whilst meeting the most awesome people) and share accommodation and work seasonal jobs in the ski resorts, so I could take off and be free the rest of the year. Now I work in the laptop lifestyle, so I can travel even more and don’t have to come home from my travels because my funds don’t run out.
I didn’t travel much, Chris, only to some places in China and Australia. Because they were holiday vacations, we spent some of our savings.
Now with the kids, I don’t think we will be traveling without having the money first.
But of course, although I’m not doing this myself, I find this way of living and traveling very interesting. Thank you for sharing.
Namaste Chris! I pay to live and study in the fine arts school my joint family operates in Chennai, India 3 months per year by
#1 Automatically depositing a fixed amount into a savings account for my educational/family stays in Chennai. Then, each time I return to the US, I decide when I will return next, how much it will cost (including any business overheads I have; and I eliminated all of the personal ones, and live debt-free), divide that by the number of days between now and ten, then save this small daily amount in an interest bearing account.
#2 I re-structured my service as a family physician to be 50/50 office visits and nutritional supplements, and also take no new caes for 2-3 weeks until I leave. I have chosen intentionally to live in a secluded, popular mountain-biking town that is loyal, economically sound, and values family as much as I do; and Itake excellent care of my patients when I am in station. That means I have income while I am gone, and a local secretary who returns calls, fulfills orders, and announces my arrival and sets appointments 10 days before I return from a 6 week stay in India. So I usually return to a 3/4 full schedule from day #1. Thanks!
I haven’t travelled much and perhaps traveling isn’t much of my passion, but I think these advices fit life in general. In the same way when you do have low income, you can still live a good life. You don’t have to become rich to do so. It’s all about priorities, as you also mention above. If good food is your priority and having a car isn’t, then sell the car and buy the good food with the money you’ve saved. It works, I would know. 🙂
Just phoned for a taxi to the airport. Leaving for Barcelona, Catalunya, Rousillon Langued’oc this afternoon. Finally, as an old woman, I have stopped meeting other people’s expectations.
Traveling by regional and local trains and buses. Trying to avoid renting a car although I can get one for $9US a day from Sixt. Expect to explore the hill towns and villages and bastides.
I am running away from home for my seventieth birthday. Back, maybe, in five weeks.
Thanks to your inspiration Chris, we afford our travel mainly through travel points via our credit cards. At first, this felt scary because I hate the idea of debt and mismanaging credit, but it was actually much easier than I thought. By automating our regular expenses on our cards, we get the benefit of points and more time if we ever need it.
Also, a really big win for us is we run all our business expenses (including our team’s wages) through a business version of the same travel credit card. Our points tend to accumulate pretty quickly that way and in less than a year they equated to a flight to Thailand (only 13 more days ’til departure AAAAHHH!!)
The other ticket was covered mainly by renting out a guest room in our house over the summer via Airbnb. At first, I was a little nervous about this too, but it was so exciting sharing, learning and making new friends from all over the world. It enriched our lives so much, I almost felt like we should be paying Airbnb.
It’s crazy to think that these 2 small decisions have allowed us to fulfill our snowbirding dreams this winter. (Can’t thank you enough!!)
Lesson learned: With the right creativity anything is possible – http://changefear.com/anything-is-possible/
My husband and I have been taking the month of January off to travel for the last 10 years. (We live in a cold climate in the northern U.S.) I think the most important thing is that we made travel and experiences a priority a long time ago. We bought a house that has a smallish mortgage, we own one older car between the two of us and don’t have lots of fancy things. We are debt free besides our mortgage and don’t buy things we can’t afford. We live a great life – we work less than 40 hours/week, 52 weeks of the year and take 4-6 weeks to go to a foreign country each winter. Life is sweet and it’s all a result of our choices.
This year, we are going to Chile for $200 thanks to travel hacking!
I quit my job and traveled with my husband on his job. The places weren’t always where I wanted to go, but I’d always find something worthwhile to see or do. His company pays his expenses and mine are minimal. We’ve saved all our airline and hotel points for the next stage of our lives which is about to start: my husband is leaving his job and we’ll live on our good looks and our savings. We’ll see which runs out first. We eat light and frequently head for a grocery store for salads. I carry food with us much of the time. I got a few of the credit cards you recommended and the miles and perks have been worth it.
I travel extensively for work and rack up the air miles (1K status every year and am million miler quickly going on 2 mil), hotel points (Platinum status for life with Marriott, which I recommend Marriott over Hilton), and rental car points. Other than that I invest my money wisely, choose experiences over things, and married someone who won the uterine lottery. I’ve been blessed. My 8 year old daughter has been to 41 countries. Chris, she may beat your record for youngest to visit every country in the world!
For me travel is always the priority, and I rarely buy ‘stuff’ knowing that 1) it locks me into one place (I hate having possessions be an excuse for not doing something!) 2) Consuming is bad for the environment and 3) I want more money to travel!
I find the best way to cut the travel expenses is to look at alternative accommodation and consider transportation well in advance. Couchsurfing and home swapping means paying almost nothing for accommodation, and get a local’s experience on a new place. Airbnb is a great alternative to hotels when you don’t have time to organize the free option. I try to buy bus and train tickets ahead when I’m going to expensive countries like the UK & Japan, which can save a bundle.
But the hardest thing is finding the time to travel, with family on the other side of the world and only limited vacation days…
I think the best way to save is to travel with one or more friends. It makes the trip more enjoyable, and you can also share some of the costs along the way. Choose someone you wouldn’t mind sharing a room with, and also wouldn’t mind seeing every day for the duration of your trip. Personally, the biggest cost to traveling I’ve seen was shopping, so the less you shop, the more you save. Unless its something you know you won’t find back home, its better not to buy it. Most importantly, have fun!
I would love to hear from parents (or solo parent) who travel with their children and how they make it work financially.
Just having a beautiful baby girl this year I’m somewhat new to this challenge. Having kids certainly changed my perspective on a lot of things.
Travel though doesn’t mean international or month long adventures. Travel is what you make it. I’ve seem some lovely country towns and amazing beaches and forests on day and weekend trips. The people all speak the same language and culturally its quite similar but it’s not home we are exploring and experiencing something different. Which I think is an invaluable lesson for kids.
Congrats on your baby Girl! Yes, it does certainly change perspective when having kids involved. We used to spend half our year in a tropical climate and the other in Canada. After my children’s father passed away unexpectedly a few years ago it changed things. I still live a non-conformed life in so many ways, but looking for ways to make it once again work financially so we can escape the cold! As a matter of fact we are soon heading out on a road trip that will take us on an adventure to sleep in a yurt in the forest! Always looking for new experiences and ways to live a life of freedom. Thanks for the reply.
I must say that your site introduced me to the wondrous world of traveling hacking and opened my eyes to the possibilities before me to travel. Before, I had already traveled and lived abroad, but I never knew the tricks that you learned over a long time that have helped you to do it on a reasonable budget.
Regarding how I pay for travel, I share several sentiments with others here regarding making travel a priority. I would rather have a few trips abroad than a brand new car and the payment that goes with it. I also worked very hard to have a remote job that with a flexible schedule. This means that I do not do the work that I can make the most money from, but rather the circumstances to life how I choose.
For me, my faith is the driving force behind my life and being able to travel as I have has enabled me to experience the blessings of my brotherhood of faith more than most. It has enabled me to meet others of like faith, and to make more friends of this sort than I ever could have done before
The $10 rule is a great one. It took us ages to realize it was ok to allow ourselves to spend $10 on lunch if we wanted to!
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