I think it’s safe to say that most people would like to travel more. So often, we think this is impossible, that we can’t afford to, or don’t know how.
By far the most common question I get is “How do you afford to travel?”
Money is a legitimate concern, but not as much of a barrier as you think. Here are a few ways to make travel a possibility.
Save for as long as you can, as much as you can
This seems obvious, but we don’t always understand our budget.
For one week, write down every dollar you spend. You’ll be surprised at how much money you are spending on nothing. Depending on where you go, what kind of comforts you are willing to sacrifice, and how many extras you want, you can survive on $1000 a month in a lot of places. That's about a month's rent. Next time you think about spending $20 on something you don’t need, ask yourself if it’s more important than one day of travel.
Make money while you travel
I’ve done work in hostels in exchange for room and board. Anything from bartending, to housekeeping. If you speak the local language, you can get paying jobs, like working at the reception desk. If you’re looking for something more permanent, there’s a high demand for English teachers, especially in Asia. Working online has also become popular in recent years. There’s also many volunteer programs, in almost every country. The more connections you make, the more opportunities you will find. You’d be surprised how much happens just by asking.
It’s exponentially cheaper to stay in a dorm at a hostel than a private room. There are usually lockers to keep your stuff safe, and it’s a great way to meet people. I’ve made so many friends this way and gotten the best travel tips. You can also find people to travel with. Use hostelworld.com or hostelbookers.com to book your room in advance. Both sites list the hostels by price, accommodations, and reviews. You don’t have to plan out your entire trip. I usually just focus on one city at a time. Airbnb.com or couchsurfing.com are also great ways to find places to stay, or people to meet up with. You can learn great tips from locals and other backpackers to avoid getting scammed. I suggest talking to other travelers that just came from the place you are heading next.
When I was in La Paz, Bolivia, the cab drivers always charged me different prices. I was told by another backpacker that a cab ride anywhere in the city is always the same price. After that, when a cabbie would try to overcharge, I’d say "Yo no lo creo compañero." In Buenos Aires, vendors and cabbies would pull a scam where they’d switch your real bill for a fake one. They'd tell you the bill you just gave them was fake and force you to give them more money. This sort of thing happens everywhere, especially if you are wearing a pink fanny pack and have a thick Wisconsin accent. Whatever, I’m awesome.
Know what to expect
I’ve stayed in a hostel with no AC, in the middle bunk of a 3 person bunk bed - and I’ve stayed in a hostel with a full size swimming pool and charming bungalows with TVs. The prices will change drastically during the high season. When I arrived in Brazil a week before Christmas, prices increased 50% by the next week, and the hostels were all full.
When you know which places are costly, you can decide if it’s really worth it. If you want to do excursions, check out a local travel agency. Your hostel will also have information about things to do. There are plenty of affordable adventures, and some of the best things to do don't cost a thing.
There’s a difference between travel and vacation
Travel is a verb that means to move from one point to another. Vacation is a period of suspension from work or other activity. The two overlap, but are pretty different animals.
Although I would love to, lying by the pool of a 5 star hotel is not something that happens when I travel. Well, unless I’ve snuck into the hotel to pretend to be a jetsetter for a moment. Backpacking involves a lot of schlepping, confusion about bus schedules, always looking for a bank, calling your sister to wire you money, chicken busses with no bathrooms, border crossing hassles, and dirty clothes. That’s the part no one posts about on Facebook. Travel is often uncomfortable and lonely. If you don’t cry at least once, you’re on vacation.
That’s what makes it so rewarding. When you step off a bus into an unknown city, with no idea where to stay or even which direction to go, you are exhausted and you wonder if you can do this. But you figure it out. The next day when you are lying on a beach after taking the first shower you’ve had in days, you realize you can do anything. There’s nothing as empowering as figuring it out on your own. You really learn how strong and capable you are.
I've highlighted a few of the less glamorous realities of travel. All the frustrating and uncomfortable moments don't even compare to the good stuff. The excitement of exploring a new place, the intense bonds you will form with new friends, the amazing experiences you will have - these things are priceless. The best money I've ever spent was on a plane ticket.
Life is short, go out and get it.