After almost three year of non-stop travel, I cannot help but recall some of the questions I had to answer during one of the many reunions I had with my former college friends upon returning from my travels ages ago.
- “How did you manage to travel that much while studying abroad in Europe? “
- “Should I start working right away or take a gap year?”
- “How come you never got fired in Buenos Aires? You were traveling all the time!”
- “Is there a way to have sex in a hostel without getting caught?
- “Israel? Really? Isn’t that country at war right now?”
While I cannot provide a concrete answer to all of them (specially not the fourth one!), I decided to create a small list of tips that can (and will) help you to improve your finances, and set you on the right path to travel way more this year than in the previous ones.
If you’re a young non-wealthy person like me, traveling should be easy as long as you follow these seven magic steps.
Stop Thinking that Traveling is for Rich People Only
Of all of my college class-mates, I’m way below-average in terms of purchasing power and yet, I traveled way more than even the richest kid of them all. Rich people prefer to fly first class for one hour instead of spending six hours in a crammed bus.
If you’re willing to sacrifice comfort for money, then you, my dear middle-class young person, can travel too. Quite easily, I might add.
How? It’s all about having the right mentality and to be able to overcome the social stigma of living frugally. I’m not saying that you should become a stingy bastard, but it is quite telling that the number 1 expense of the young middle classes are luxury versions of basic goods (branded t-shirt versus Wal-Mart t-shirt) and new electronics.
Do you really need to buy new versions of the hottest electronics (Televisions, phones, laptops, video game consoles…) every year or two?
Set Your Priorities Straight
Ask yourself: “Where do I want to travel this year?”. If you want to play it safe, why not start in a country that speaks your own language or even in your own country? It shames me to admit that before 2012, I have never ever had the time, knowledge and courage to travel alone in my own country.
Maybe you want to explore your country first before taking the leap outside, maybe you want to venture into the unknown and take the leap to an exotic location such as South-East Asia or the Middle-East, maybe you want to relax in a beach resort like Acapulco and forget about the world for a while.
Whatever your travel goal is for 2015, you have to make it a priority. After all, you shouldn’t spend all your life breaking that jar of savings every time something unexpected happens, right?
You don’t want to end up like Carl Fredricksen and his eternal dream of visiting Paradise Falls! Work to enjoy living !!!
Make Small Sacrifices Every Day
Do you really need to drink six beers every time you go out with your friends? Is eating out a necessity? How about taking public transportation and selling your car? Small or big, we all have to make sacrifices in order to fulfill our travel goals.
When I was studying in France with the help of a scholarship, I chose the small town of Clermont-Ferrand instead of the cosmopolitan capital of Paris because I had the goal of saving money in order to travel all around Europe.
I managed to narrow-down expenses on local transportation, food and most importantly, lodging. Sure, I missed out all of the fun of going out every single night to fancy clubs but hey, in the end, it was totally worth it.
Make an in-depth analysis of your daily expenses and cut the fat. That $1 USD dessert sure looks tasty but…what if you avoid it every single day?
You’ll not only have a more healthy body but also savings of $365 USD at the end of the year, more than enough for a plane ticket from France to Egypt!
Don’t be Afraid to Get Loans
Gasp! A loan? From a bank? For travel? Yes, this might sound like a terrible advice (and according to your parents, it is!) but hear me out!
If you’re thinking about traveling in your youth while studying/working, chances are that you are not rich (I know I am not) and sometimes, our daily savings might not be enough.
In May 2012 I faced two choices: Stay in Clermont-Faire-Rien and die of boredom (all while paying full rent for a house that was now devoid of any roommates) or get a loan to cancel my lease contract, leave my bags at a friend’s place and use the rest of the money to backpack intensively around Europe for two months.
I ended up owing 1000 euros to a French bank at a very low-interest rate (Hint: if you decide to study abroad for more than 6 months, I suggest you to open a local bank account as a student, European banks have this kind of special loans during summer and winter time in order to encourage the tourist industry) and visited Austria, Czech Republic, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, Scotland, England (during the 2012 Olympic craze, no less!) and Ireland during the summer.
Plus, I was able to go to Egypt, Israel and Jordan during my October vacations. Not bad, uh?
Live Frugally on the Road. No Shame Allowed!
I won’t sugar-coat the truth. Traveling in Europe IS expensive. Not because of transportation costs (they are the lowest in the whole-world thanks to EasyJet and RyanAir) but because of the daily cost of living. Hostels in Europe’s hottest capitals will set you back about $20 USD per night.
Convenience store cheap food (basically bread plus cheese) will set you back 3 to 5 USD per meal. Attractions on average will cost you at least 10 USD a day, even more if you’re not a student of any European school!
Having said that, there are ways, legal ways, to cut those expenses considerably. Did you know that in Europe the local bread stores throw away their products at the end of the day? You can grab free (and clean, I must add) baguettes outside of the local boulangerie at closing time!
You can also try to cut lodging costs by volunteering at your hostel, sometimes they need the extra help to run the bar at night and in exchange they let you stay for free. How about renting an RV and sleeping there instead of paying for a hotel night? There’s always a way to save money my friends!
However, as tempting as it may sound, I strongly advice against jumping the barriers at metro stations, traveling without valid train tickets and undertaking in any sort of illegal activities such as street performing, offering services as an unlicensed tour guide and the commerce of any goods in public areas.
You risk getting fined and/or arrested. DO NOT DO IT.
Do it Now or Regret it Later
Is there anything certain in life?
Ever since she was a kid, my aunt Nelly always dreamed of seeing Europe and yet, she was never able to take the leap on her own. Life basically took over her and she always said to herself “Next year…maybe”.
By the time she had both the money and the availability to fulfill her dream it was already too late. Her youth had vanished, her spirit of adventure had died out and she had basically given up on her dream.
In August 2012, tears came down to her face when she saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time in Trocadero, with the splendid fountains and the amazing melody of the Vie en Rose playing in her head. Yes, it took me a while to do it but I finally convinced her to join my mother on a trip to France to visit me.
And no, neither she nor my mother spoke a single word of French…or English for that matter. I still cannot believe that I had to rescue them from customs but that’s a story for another day.
Just do it. Really.
My aunt is, at age 74, an inspiration to me and the living proof that it is never too late to travel but it is, most of the time, too late to travel the way you originally wanted.
Today, her health has taken to the worse and while I’m sure she’ll live for many years to come, the truth is that she would probably not be able to withstand another trip to the Old Continent.
Yes, I am extremely happy that we were able to travel together to France, Italy and Portugal and yet, I cannot help but feel a deep sadness because I know that it’s never going to happen again.
Enjoy your youth while you have it. Travel. Make mistakes. Get in debt. Gain experiences. Live to the fullest. Fall in love on the road. Donate your clothes. Meet tons of awesome friends that you’ll never see again. Quit your office job. Practice an extreme sport without insurance.
Sell your electronics. Ride a camel in the desert. Sleep in a cave. Befriend and feed cute llamas. Experience the kindness of strangers. Learn about life, learn about nature, learn about yourself. And most importantly, be happy. You deserve it.
Trust me, of all the blessings in life, time is the only one that we’re never going to get more of.
Until the next time my wonder friends!