Everyone has a question they’re tired of answering. For people who travel frequently that question is a simple one: “How do you afford to travel so much?”
What really grates our nerves is the delivery. Not just the incorrect assumption that travel is outrageously expensive, but the attitude of scorn that an average person shouldn’t be able to see the world. The self-righteous sneer that comes with the presumption that travelers must have been handed their lifestyle by rich parents.
How do I afford to travel so much?
How do you afford to drink Starbucks every day?
How do you afford a gym membership?
How do you afford going to every concert that rolls through town?
All the little lifestyle accouterments so many of us don’t even think twice about, really do add up. And saving for travel isn’t much different than saving up for grad school, or for a new car, or for retirement. I’ve made many a concession, both small and large, in the name of saving for future travel, though those details are part of a different Indie Travel Challenge.
It’s all paid off. Making savings a priority, and gradually cutting down day-to-day expenses has already put aside well over 10% of my ultimate goal, after just a couple months.
I currently manage my savings and general finances in four different places:
- Mint.com, where I link all my bank accounts in one place and track spending in detail
- A small dry erase board, which acts as my fundraising thermometer
- A draft email, where I keep a projected itinerary with budget estimates
- A separate draft email, where I track my spending more generally
Mint’s website and mobile app both offer a variety of tools for financial management. I have all my checking, savings, and credit card accounts linked, so every transaction is automatically recorded. I can break every sale down by category and subcategory, from coffee shops to the electric bill, and also track progress towards a goal.
As useful as Mint is, it’s not perfect for me. I like to also track my spending by the more general categories of “Rent and Utilities,” “Savings,” and “Other Spending.” Having that noted in a draft email also allows me to keep an eye on spending before it records on my bank account.
It’s also not motivational. The physicality of coloring in a fundraising thermometer, however? That’s very motivational. With each paycheck, I get to inch up to the next milestone and see just how much I’m accomplishing in terms of the big picture.
For the small picture, I have a projected itinerary in a draft email, detailing every potential cost. Price of Travel’s Backpacker Index provides a rough estimate of basic costs in over 100 cities worldwide, including hostel beds, cheap meals, public transportation, entertainment, and paid attractions. Flight aggregaters like Kayak, Hipmunk, and Skyscanner help me sketch out airfare costs, while Rome2Rio and its corresponding mobile app FetchMyWay can do the same for overland travel. I’ve also costed out travel visas based on information from the U.S. Department of State’s official website.
Much of it may change, but it gives me a good blueprint for motivational purposes. I can look at each minor step along the way and tell myself that cooking dinner for me and my boyfriend tonight means spending another full day in Vietnam down the road.
Most of these tools and tricks are the very same ones I’ll use in my travels. The fact is, living a simpler lifestyle now doesn’t just make travel possible from a practical standpoint, but from an emotional one as well. It’s good practice for keeping a shoestring budget on the road.
And how will I afford that? Hard work and devotion. Just like you afford anything that matters to you.