It’s become a common occurrence for me to hear something along the lines of “So it seems like you’ve been traveling a lot recently! Where did you just go?” followed by “I wish I could travel as much as you do!” after I tell them where I’ve been. When I take the time to ask some of those people why they don’t travel more often the reasons given are usually time and money. The hard truth is that for 99% of the us time and money for travel are never going to be in abundance by default. When you take a look around at people you know who travel a lot or if you follow any travel bloggers I can pretty much guarantee you that those people don’t have a ton of excess time and/or money.
I personally have an extreme shortage of time and the obvious limitation on spending money (gotta pay the mortgage after all). I have no special tricks up my sleeve that make my trips uber affordable. Sure I know tricks for finding some good travel deals but at the end of the day the biggest key to how I afford to travel as often as I do is this: I’ve chosen to make travel a priority.
Let’s break down the two biggest reasons people don’t travel:
The Time Factor
I don’t have a ton of time at my disposal. I work full time and get two weeks of vacation a year (I’m in the same boat as most Americans). Some of my vacation time gets eaten up by a couple of non-profit organizations that I help run. The rest of my vacation days end up being my “big” trip of the year. All of my other trips are squeezed into weekends here and there. It’s a bonus if I can make it an extended weekend. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about travel is that you have to have a lot of time in order to go somewhere.
I’m living proof that you can travel a ton by just using your weekends to travel. Sure, going on an international trip does not make sense over a weekend but what about all the places within driving distance of where you live? Or the ones a short plane ride away? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that traveling a lot means having large chunks of time at your disposal!
The Money Factor
The other big issue is always money. There are countless blogs out there that can help you find ways to save money on travel. There are also tons of articles that outline how to quit your job and earn money while traveling the world. For most of us that isn’t what we’re aiming for. If you’re like me and want to know how to fit travel into the life that you have now then keep on reading – I’m going to share a few tips below. But at the end of the day there’s no reason to sugarcoat the fact that traveling costs money. It just does.
But then we come back to the fact that you have to make travel a priority. I could stay home this weekend and go to a concert on Saturday and then go shopping on Sunday to buy myself a new outfit. I could go to Starbucks in the morning and eat out for lunch after church. Or I could go to California for the weekend. It really boils down to choices and what we choose to use our money for. I personally choose to set aside money in the budget for travel. The fact that I’m at a unique place in my life where travel is easier than it probably will be later in life gives me even more motivation to give a larger chunk of my budget to travel during this phase of my life.
One elephant in the room that needs to be addressed is the fact that I work for an airline. So yes, I get to fly standby for free. This is obviously a huge perk and it is a large part of how my travel increased as much as it has in the last couple of years. The fact that I can fly to the opposite side of the country for the weekend is a huge, huge perk. I do realize that not everyone can do this. But what everyone can do is travel to the places closer to their home. I wouldn’t expect the average person in Phoenix to fly to Chicago for the weekend the way that I do but I would expect that someone who lives near Chicago would visit for a weekend. The same way I wouldn’t expect someone from the east coast to fly to Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon over a weekend because that would be poor use of travel funds to pay for a pricey flight for such a short trip. However, I would expect that those of us in Arizona and the surrounding states could easily fit a fantastic trip into a weekend to visit the Grand Canyon. Travel doesn’t have to be extravagant.
A little history
I didn’t grow up traveling a lot. My family went camping a lot because it was more affordable. We went to California (I grew up in Arizona) for Disneyland and the beach. We rarely flew anywhere and I didn’t cross the US border until after I graduated from college. My parents have never been overly interested in travel. I don’t have rich family members who take me on trips with them. In case anyone is thinking that I have some other undisclosed secret for how I travel. ;) The travel bug bit me when I was 21 and I’ve been traveling as much as I can ever since then – and I pay for every trip I go on. I have to map out my vacation days for the year in order to use them to their best advantage.
The bottom line
Time and money will always be scarce. If you want to travel more frequently then the biggest thing is that you need to make it a priority. Add it to your monthly budget. Create a separate savings account if need be. Plan a trip to somewhere closer to home. Visit family members to cut lodging costs. But at the end of the day – you have to decide to make it a priority over other things or you’ll always be that person saying “I wish I could travel as much as you do!”.
Insights Into How I Afford To Travel As Often As I Do:
+ I’m not afraid of using rewards credit cards
A couple of years ago I signed up for the Southwest Airlines credit card and the sign-up bonus was enough Southwest points for about $800 worth of flights. I maximized those points by booking during Southwest sales (see my next point) and managed to squeeze 3 round-trips out of those points. I also have the Marriott credit card and the bonus was enough points for at least 6 nights at any of their “cheaper” hotels. Since I only use one or two nights per trip those lasted me a while.
Some people have strong opinions about credit card rewards but if you’re someone who can use a credit card wisely I encourage you to use them to your travel advantage. My everyday credit card is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and it’s absolutely fantastic for redeeming the points against travel related charges. I use the rewards points from that account to cover all sorts of travel related expenses.
+ I subscribe to emails
Every week I get an email from Southwest Airlines and some others that tell me about their sales for the week. I always take a look at what is on sale from Phoenix and these emails are how I managed to maximize the Southwest points I got as a sign-up bonus with the credit card (see above). I get emails from Marriott that allow me to opt-in to special promotions they have that help me to earn extra rewards points.
+ I’ve learned how to use the various booking search engines
This could end up being an entire post in its own so I’m not going to go into explaining it. The more travel you have to book the better you become at using various search engines and the more you know your way around them. Everyone has their favorites but I recommend Skyscanner, Adioso and Hipmunk for flights (be sure to check Southwest separately) and Hotels.com or Priceline for hotels. If you’re looking for hostels my top choice is HostelWorld. For rental cars I use Costco Travel, AutoEurope (even in the US) or go directly to the various companies sites.
+ I check prices often and I book at odd times
I check prices for rental cars and flights often when I’m getting ready to book a trip. I’ve learned that I can usually get Southwest flights at their cheapest when I book mid-week. Occasionally they offer sales that start on a Friday or some other random time but I keep up with those by subscribing to their emails (see above). I find the best rental car deals by checking often and at different times. For more info on how I save money when booking rental cars see my 5 Tips For Getting The Best Deals On Car Rentals post.
+ I setup email alerts for specific things I’m looking for
When I know exact details for a trip in advance I set up email alerts so that I know when prices drop. This helps alleviate the need to check prices as often (see above). My favorite for flight alerts is Airfarewatchdog.
+ I sign up for loyalty programs
I had a short stint where I was traveling quite a bit for work and I was able to rack up a lot of Marriott points by exclusively staying at Marriott properties (double bonus since I also had their credit card). But even if you don’t travel for work or sign up for a credit card it’s worthwhile to sign up for loyalty programs. They’re free and you might as well accumulate whatever points you get. It’s even better if you can stay within the same brand every time (whether it be hotel chain, car rental company, airline) because a large amount of points in one place is better than a few points at every loyalty program out there.
+ I utilize membership discounts
I usually find the best rental car deals through Costco Travel. If you have access to any sort of discounts be sure to use them! Whether it be through your work or a membership program like Costco or AAA.
+ I travel as much as possible during the off-season
Most people travel a lot during the summer when their kids are out of school. Flights are the most expensive during those months and places all over the world are crowded. I tend to travel less during the summer and more during the fall or spring. January and February are some of the best months to find cheap flights and hotels are almost always cheaper during the off-season (which can vary depending on location).
+ I’m not afraid of hostels or public transportation
Whenever I’m in a city where public transportation is a valid option for getting around in a timely fashion, I use it. It’s almost always the cheapest mode of transportation. I’m also willing to stay in hostels in order to make larger cities more affordable. I’ve used them in San Francisco and Boston in order to save money versus getting a hotel. It’s a bit less convenient to share a room no doubt but the cheaper budget for the trip is a big deal.
Do you have any tips for making travel a priority or secrets for how you make travel more affordable? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
*As always, affiliate links may be present in this post*