After graduating from university in 2015 I decided that I was going to spend the next three years travelling as much as I could. I made this decision because I realised that this may very well be the only time in my life where I have little to no responsibilities and a steady income.
Travelling is expensive, but I have consciously decided to only travel around the Caribbean and North and South America because they’re what I can afford right now. I get questioned on how in the world I can afford to travel so much and I always answer by saying that I don’t spend my money on anything else. That’s true, but I’ve decided to go a bit more in depth on the tips and tricks I use to afford to travel.
Before I start though here’s my privilege disclaimer: I pay no rent, I have no loans, I get paid well, I pay one bill.
Having a steady income and little expenditure obviously help greatly but aside from this, here are some other ways I afford to travel.
I make sure my destinations are realistic and affordable
My travel bucket list is longgg because there are very few places I have zero interest in visiting. That said, I can’t afford 80% of those places right now because they’re just too expensive. I’ve concentrated my travel for the past 3 years on the Caribbean and North/South America because it’s what I can afford. While I don’t have a lot of expenses, I still need to save monthly because #adulting. This guides my travels. If I can’t afford a trip right now, it means I either have to save for a long period of time or I have to pick somewhere cheaper. I opt for the latter.
I make a pre travel budget
Once I decide on a specific destination I calculate the total cost of the trip and then sit and make a ‘payment plan’ (guided by my monthly budget).
Example: Let’s say I’m going to St Maarten in 3 months (I wish!), and the total trip budget is $800 USD, I’ll split the trip costs up into plane ticket, accommodation and spending money and decide when I’m paying for what. I then include the potential monthly trip costs in my monthly budgets for the next three months to make sure I can afford the trip without cutting any fixed costs (things I have to spend money on monthly).
Also, I almost always book tickets as soon as I get my salary, it somewhat ties me into the trip so I’m forced to save properly for the next couple months. This may not work for everyone but it certainly works for me.
I’m flexible with my travel dates
I live in Trinidad which has an insane number of public holidays which help me to maximize my travel days. While these long weekends are often a great time to fly because you get extra vacation days without actually taking vacation days, tickets are usually much more expensive then. Sometimes I’ll pay the extra for a couple more days but most times it does well to play around with dates. Google Flights is great for this. I booked a ticket for my next trip just based off of the cheapest dates in a particular month.
I use miles programmes
Have you’ll seen the price of airline tickets? If I can get anything discounted from an airline I run to it (in most cases). I sign up for every single last miles programme on the airlines I use most. I’ve booked a number of tickets using Caribbean Airlines’ miles programme and scored a $40 trip to Panamá last year using miles from Copa Airlines. Note that miles tickets aren’t free – you pay taxes. You can also opt to get a credit card which will build miles for you every time you use it.
I use Google Flights to track and book
I can’t stop talking about how great Google Flights is. Once I have a trip in mind, the first thing I do is use Google Flights to find the best (read cheapest) trip and then track it. I receive emails when prices fluctuate. This helps me figure out the best time to book. Check out my post on using Google Flights here.
I spend hours researching
I literally spend a ridiculous amount of time online searching AirBnb, TripAdvisor and travel blogs for the most reasonable places to stay and free or affordable high quality tours (trust me, they exist). I don’t travel to places for more than a week, so tours are the best way to learn about the history and culture of the place. Most tours are ridiculously expensive. You really have to search to find the best ones as sometimes the very cheap ones may not be as good while there are some shoddy overpriced ones.
I try to stick to my trip budget
I sometimes end up overspending while travelling but I try to make sure I don’t overdo. Very often I return from one trip thinking about the next. In order to make the thought a reality I need money – this simply means I can’t spend all my cash on one trip.
One very simple way I stick to my travel budget is by identifying one souvenir I’d like to purchase and not buying anything else. People overspend on souvenirs while travelling – it’s a thing. I’ve seen people spend a lot of money on bags, bands, stuffed toys and other souvenirs that they’ll never use. Something about souvenir stores make people crazy. I’ve never formed the habit of bringing back souvenirs for people and I’ve stuck to only buying a mug for myself when I travel. I truly believe that this saves me money.
Self funded travel means sacrificing other things I like to do. I don’t eat out often and I sometimes skip events or other social activities because every last dollar counts when saving to travel. Eating home cooked meals and budgeting how much money I spend while out is annoying sometimes but always so worth it when I have enough money to book a ticket or tour.
Travel is expensive but I see it as more than just going on a vacation, it’s really an investment in an experience so I don’t mind saving seriously toward it. If you’re a self funded travel lover, share your tips with me! I’ll share them over on my Instagram profile. How do you afford to travel?