Undoubtedly the question I have gotten most often the last two years is, “How can you afford to travel?” The truth is, it takes a lot of work, planning, and discipline to be able to travel as often as I do, but rarely does it take a lot of money. My goal is to debunk as many myths as I can about the practicalities of traveling early on in my blogging journey, and be as transparent as possible in the process.
At some point during my undergraduate career I decided I wanted to backpack through Europe. I think it was a combination of being in a constant state of wanderlust and my mom telling stories about how she always regretted not traveling more. Either way, my mind was made up that I would backpack through Europe. It took a little convincing for David to jump on board. He wasn't opposed to the idea per se, but he had practical concerns, like could he afford it, what if we get jobs, and is it safe? Me being the daydreamer that I am, I convinced him that if we created the right system to achieve our goal, we could afford it, and it would definitely be safe. He was convinced.
The two years leading up to graduation we increasingly spent more and more of our down time preparing for the trip. From brainstorming places we wanted to go, to researching the cost of travel in each place, we deep dove into the world of backpacking. By no means were we the first to have this idea. Plenty of people have embarked on similar journeys for a long, long time, and fortunately for us many of them have started blogs (like this one) to document how they did it.
We relied heavily on blogs throughout the planning process. Particularly budget backpacking sites. They provided us with great recommendations, encouragement, and inspiration, which eventually led to an amazing seven-week trip on a thin budget, and the conception of Dolby Travels.
Back to the question at hand. "How do we afford to travel?" Traveling is often times thought of as a luxury that can only be afforded by those with lots of money. While the reality is that, yes, you do need some money to travel, but you can get by with way less than you think. David and I try our best to live by these five tips in order to see the world on a variety of budgets.
David is much better at this than I am. He can articulate well-thought-out, reasonable goals like it's his job. It is one of his many hidden talents. I am more of a brainstormer, and terribly indecisive. Step one is deciding you want to take a trip or set traveling as a priority. The goal may be as vague as "I want to travel" or as specific as "I want to travel to Bulgaria in October and my budget is $2,000". Either is fine, but you need a starting place. Once you have established your goal you can start working it out in more depth. I recommend working through the goal until it is tangible. For example, my current goal is to take a trip in October to a cool climate for a low cost. I have a budget and a few regions of the country in mind (Canada, Oregon, and Utah- recommendations welcome!) and have been monitoring flights and accommodation prices to ensure I stay within my budget.
But setting the goal isn’t the end of it. It’s important to develop a system by which you can achieve your goal. What are you willing to sacrifice? What aren’t you willing to sacrifice? How can you get from A to B if the goal is G? Writing down limitations/obstacles, important to do’s, and intermediate steps to your goal will go a long way to actually achieving it in the end. Ultimately, it feels good knowing you are working towards a goal that will make you happy, and it will feel even better when you achieve it!
This one is much MUCH easier said than done. My biggest tips for saving money revolve around sacrifice, but only of things you don’t necessarily need. Remember: this isn’t supposed to be torture. It’s supposed to be fun! Get motivated by the thought of achieving your goal!
First, I recommend tracking your expenses and purchases for a month. This will give you an idea of where your monthly income is going, and a decent long-term idea of how much money you can reasonably save. I do this regularly and I am always ashamed when I have to write down "Taco Tuesday" four times in one month. Figure out exactly where your money is going and brainstorm ways to cut costs. For me, alcohol is an easy one. I enjoy a nice glass of wine every now and then, but I rarely order a drink while I am out to dinner or at a bar. If I do, it's during Happy Hour, or David and I will split a drink. You wouldn't believe how much money this saves.
Food is another big cost people struggle with. I get it, not everyone likes to cook, and meal prepping is so much work, and you're tired when you get home at night, and the dog is sick, and you don't have food in the house, and on and on. I struggle with all these same excuses, and sometimes I break and just go out to eat. The truth is, eating out is more expensive than cooking in, unless you chose to cook lobster and steak five nights a week (which I don't recommend for health reasons, but that's another story). My advice is to start small. Dedicate one day of the week to make a list and go grocery shopping. Plan one or two or even three nights’ meals that week, and buy the necessary ingredients (so you already have them – this will force you to eat in). Make sure your kitchen is stocked with everything you need for the whole week. This is key.
Real-life Tip: When you get home from work and you are starving and the last thing you want to do is make a meal, think about your next trip. Think about that beautiful beach in France you are in the process of saving for. You will get to sip rosé and eat fresh seafood while watching the yachts roll in for the night. Now, wouldn't you much rather be enjoying that meal than a meal out wherever you are now. If the answer is no, then go out to eat, but I find the answer is almost always yes. This tactic got me through my senior year of college and I am proud to report I only ate out three times the whole year. And you know what? Getting to binge eat croissants in Paris made it totally worth it.
One more tip: Figure out what travel item you’re giving up when you want to cheat the budget. For example, if you’re about to buy a new $80 stereo even though the old one works just fine, think of how many plates of paella $80 (at least 4 ) could buy you in Barcelona. Is it worth it?
Make Do With Less
Several months ago, I watched a documentary called Minimalism on Netflix. The documentary really spoke to me as I was in the process of selling everything I owned to move across the country. Minimalist principles have come in handy since the move and starting over from scratch. When you make do with less, you don't spend as much money, plain and simple. The first two weeks in our new house we didn't have a place to sit other than our quickly deflating air mattress. In those moments you realize what is a need and what is a want. A place to sit inside is a nice thing to have and I recommend it, but buying two couches and a chair for 2 people, maybe not so much.
By no means have we conquered the minimalist lifestyle, and I am not suggesting you sell everything you own. It’s all about degrees. If you’re desperate to travel every second of your life, minimalism might be a lifestyle choice you want to make. If you’re just trying to make it to Mexico in a couple of months, then I recommend trying to get rid of one thing/day for the next 30 days. It can be anything, big or small, and you don’t always have to make money off of it. A lot of the benefit of minimalism comes from just the mindset.
Minimalism has made me seriously consider what brings me joy in life. Family, friends, Sammy, fresh flowers, candles, and succulents. That about wraps up the contents of our house. I encourage you to look into minimalism and see how you can apply some simple principles to your life. There are lots of books out there on minimalism. I can't say I've read any (still working on the 200 page Mindfulness in Plain English book I promised David I would finish by July 1), but they are out there and I am sure they are plenty helpful in the process of living and making do with less.
Selling belongings can be annoying, rewarding, sad, and relieving. I was very overwhelmed when David and I decided we would sell everything and start from scratch in California. I had so many things and I had no idea where to sell or donate them. The two most useful platforms I found to sell my things were Facebook Marketplace and a local clothing consignment store. I also hosted a moving sale where I made ~$250 but by no means was this the most profitable route.
Facebook Marketplace was my best friend. I would post a few good pictures of an item, provide a good description, and a fair price, and that was it. I was shocked by how many messages I would get about an item. I also researched consignment shops in my area. This can vary from location to location, but I found a great clothing consignment shop that took 80% of my clothes (J.Crew, Gap, Lilly Pulitzer, and other name brands) and they have sold within a few months.
This is one of my biggest tips for people looking to travel more often. Traveling off-season has a lot of advantages. Airfare and hotel prices are lower, there are WAY fewer crowds, and you get a much better experience as to how the locals live. Backpacking through Europe during January and February was not our original plan. I am not a huge fan of cold weather to begin with, and I certainly couldn't imagine packing two months worth of cold weather gear into one small backpack. However, life happens, and we graduated in December instead of May, and that ended up being the time we had off. And we had a blast. The Christmas markets, the snowy, wintry weather, the warm cafes, not to mention the distinct lack of crowds and lines. It was an amazing trip, and a lot of the fun came from it being off-season.
I’m not sure I fully appreciated being in Europe during off-season until I started planning my second trip to Europe during peak season (June-July). During off-season we had the luxury of booking accommodations the day of, seeing twice as many sights in one day, and taking great pictures with not a tourist in sight. Compare that to peak season. Everything had to be planned in advance, sightseeing took twice as long because of the crowds, and our photos were full of tourists wandering the streets. Not to mention the heat. I understand traveling in the off-season is not always realistic. Limited time off, kids’ school schedules, or other personal commitments may keep you from having a flexible schedule and that's ok. That might just mean you have to take a little more time to save money or take several weekend trips instead of a weeklong vacation. But keep in mind it does pay to be flexible, so if you get the chance, consider planning your trip off-season.
I hope you find these tips helpful! They have helped David and I travel to 12 different countries in Europe, as well as to the mountains every summer, New York, Denver, Wyoming, a road trip across the country, and a lot more. By setting goals, saving money, and traveling in the offseason, we have had the opportunity to travel more often and for longer periods of time than we ever thought imaginable.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!