Most people will be alarmed at how my bank account balance fluctuates every month. It holds the biggest clue to how I afford my travels; I choose to take risks. I am 24, and choose not to be disillusioned by the ‘need’ to save every penny for something better and bigger in the future. I choose not be dismayed by thoughts of a very rainy day either. I choose to take it as it comes (and to take it when it doesn’t come), the money that is. I choose to live in my today, instead of dreaming about what may be in the future. That might sound foolish to some, at best naive, but through these five mantras that have afforded me 99% of my travels, I shall strive to prove otherwise.
1. Money won’t save itself.
As much as I wish I had a secret magic formula for each time people asked me how I find the money to travel so much, I don’t. Not even a grand inheritance. And no, no rich uncle to sponsor my travel whims. I afford 99% of my travels entirely on my own, and after a year of relentless travel blogging & writing, I’m lucky enough to have 1% sponsored by kind travel companies. To fund my travels, I save relentlessly. You can read my practical money saving tips in detail, but I’ll tell you this: shopping and partying are the two single biggest expenses for most 20-40 year olds I know, and I substitute the two together to travel to places I’ve never been before, in search of experiences I never knew existed. I also don’t own a credit card, which means I never buy anything (not even a flight ticket) with money I don’t already have.
2. Addictions can pay.
At the time I quit my corporate job, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to make a living. But if 4 years of college and 2 years of work taught me anything, it was that if you can make an income from what you love doing, you’ll never be poor. You probably know that I love to travel and write, but I have a third love, that for social media. In fact, that is an addiction, a notch above love! Shut me off from Twitter, Facebook and the online world for a day, and I’ll become grumpy and slowly start to wither (now I’m being dramatic). I’ve tried to give the otherwise unproductive addiction a positive spin. I start most days with reading Mashable, the BBC of social media news, and have become good enough at it for people to want to pay me for handling their company’s social media presence. You’ve probably heard how social networks are fast becoming gold for marketeers, so that’s a big market we’re talking about. I could go on, but my point is, I have found ways to earn money while doing what I enjoy, while retaining flexibility with my time as a freelancer. It’s the same with my travel writing. The scenario might seem far fetched to you now, as it did to me until last year, but if you really want it, you’ll find a way to make it happen. It will only be fair to confess here that as a freelancer, your income inflow could be very, very erratic, as my bank balance will suggest, and that’s just something you need to have the heart to live with.
3. To Google costs nothing.
Anyone who thinks it is too expensive to travel hasn’t made friends with Google search. Think of Google as a molten lave chocolate cake; the deeper you dig, the more satisfying the outcome! Lurking behind that first page or that paid ad are tons of good flight deals and travel sales that’ll save you precious money. Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds of airlines, hotels, guest houses, tourism boards, travel companies, are forever brimming with special offers and contests. These contests are how I have afforded a stay at Nikoi Island in Indonesia, a return flight to Europe, and most recently, a return flight to Turkey, and these special offers are how I afford most of my travels without going bankrupt (sometimes close enough).
4. Priorities make all the difference.
Since the day I started working on a corporate payroll, I have wondered why people who have held a corporate job all their life claim they don’t afford to travel much at all. Where does that fat paycheck, every single month, vanish? I didn’t get kind glances when I asked. Saving for the wedding. Saving for a house. Saving for kids. Saving to move to a better place. Saving for retirement. Saving for the future. Heck, when are you going to live, I would think in my head. The truth is, there is no end to saving, no end to desire, no end to the bigger & the better. At the end of the day, it all boils down to your priorities. If travel is what you want to do, none of these should be in your way. They definitely aren’t in mine. And yet, to not have any savings at all can be a scary thought. I’ve often wondered what I’d do if one day, I don’t want to travel or write anymore, or worse still, if I can’t. I’ve pieced together what I call a ‘fall back’ fund, one that I can fall back on if such a day comes, and one that I can comfortably live off for 3 months. Within that time, I anticipate that I’ll get my act together and crawl my way out of the situation.
5. There is no such thing as petty work.
Something we in India can really learn from the west is the dignity with which they do everything, from manual work to other blue collar jobs. There is nothing wrong with any kind of work, as long as you do it willingly. And it really takes getting out on the road, in other countries, to adopt that line of thinking. The road can put so much into perspective. That feeling you get when you find yourself overwhelmed at the kindness of people you didn’t even know a minute before, or when you lose your way and stumble on a freshwater lake surrounded by mountains with not a soul in sight. Those moments make you wonder whether having a stable career really matters. Those moments liberate you in a way that is hard to put down in words. And if you must keep a blue collar job to find the flexibility or the money to make such moments possible, then so be it. It is my dream to be on the road for several months at a stretch and work while I travel, keeping jobs that let me meet new people, perhaps as a receptionist (any offers?), and take the challenge to sustain myself financially on such work and my blog alone. But I digress…
If you’ve ever wondered where it is that people find the money to travel extensively, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board, evaluate your priorities, dissect your life, and start living in the present, doing what you love most. The future can wait.
What is your biggest challenge to affording your next trip? How are you going to tackle it?
Check out my FAQs section for more tips on a life of travel.