Tuesday, October 29, 2013

(Almost) Anyone Can Travel: On Prioritizing

I’m a big proponent of prioritizing. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might already know this about me. Prioritizing is especially important to me regarding two things: time and money. I’ve talked about my feelings on being “too busy” before, specifically in this post from last summer. In this post, however, I'll be focusing more on the importance of prioritizing money, especially if you dream about traveling for an extended period of time.

Various foreign currency I haven't gotten around to exchanging yet.

I am a firm believer that (almost) anyone can travel. That being said, as you read this post, please know I am writing it for an audience similar to me. I know not everyone can travel based on extraordinary financial issues or family obligations or medical conditions, but most (if not all) of the people I have personally heard complaining about not being able to travel only have themselves standing in the way. So many times before and after my recent backpacking trip, friends and acquaintances expressed feelings such as, “You’re so lucky!” and “I wish I could do that.” My answer to them? You can. These friends and acquaintances were around my age, with about my work and education experience, and had no student loans as a result of either the generosity of their families or hefty scholarships or a combination of both. When these people told me I was “lucky” to be able to travel, I was honestly a little offended. I don’t really think luck had anything to do with it: I think my trip was a result of my own passion for traveling, years of saving and planning for the trip far in advance.

I worked hard to be able to travel this past summer, especially financially. As mentioned above, I am very blessed to not have any student loans. In fact, one of the main reasons I picked my undergraduate school was of the scholarship package. Obviously, saving money has been a priority for me for a very long time. During school, I always worked at least one job, and I even worked two jobs for most of my collegiate career. After paying my sorority dues, buying a few plane tickets to visit the boyfriend or siblings, feeding my unhealthy Starbucks addiction and forking out $5 cover at the bars for $1 drinks on select weekends, I tried to save almost everything else I earned. I wasn’t really “into” clothes, I didn’t do my nails or color my hair or participate in any other regular beauty treatments, and I was happy making leftover containers with the food from my meal plan rather than eating out every weekend. If I did want some new clothes, I bought them on sale. If I wanted to eat out, I bought a $5 footlong from Subway and split it between two weekend meals. Basically, I was very conscientious of the money that was leaving my savings account, and I kept a very detailed budget broken down by category so I could see where I was spending my money and cut back if necessary. (Side note: I have seen some great posts out there on how to travel even if you DO have student loans, so if you are serious about traveling, don’t let loans hold you back either!)

Note: I’m not saying spending $100 on shoes or getting weekly manicures is bad in any way, shape or form. If that’s how you want to spend your money, it’s your money! Go for it. But if you want to travel and are serious about it, maybe it’s time to start prioritizing travel a little more, and your bank account isn’t a bad place to start.

Finally, once we embarked on the trip, we were budget-friendly travelers! We stayed in hostels, sometimes sharing a room with 19 other people (cough, Amsterdam, cough). We smuggled bread and meat out of the free hostel breakfasts for lunch or a snack later that day. We bought cheap snacks at the train station rather than buying overpriced refreshments on board. Likewise, we bought bottles of liquor and mixers for our hostel room rather than dropping 50 euro at a single bar. We carried only backpacks to avoid luggage fees from airlines. On the other hand, we splurged on events like a flamenco show in Madrid and a guided tour of the Colosseum. Don’t let frugality get in the way of a great travel experience; just know where you want to save your pennies and where you’re willing to spend a little more.

The whole group in Berlin. Our lifestyle ranged from student to recent graduate to unemployed to full-time employee taking vacation, but we all made it work!
One last note: One thing that was very fortunate about this trip was the timing. I would suggest scheduling a long trip in between jobs and/or academic years, just for the convenience factor. Personally, I chose to spend six weeks traveling immediately following the end of my consultant job. My fiancĂ© was at a spring internship that offered him a full-time job, and he told them he wouldn’t be able to start until July because he would be out of the country. As long as you plan ahead and let the people around you know those plans, you can travel if you take it seriously. (Or, you know, you can be like this awesome lady and just quit your job to follow your travel dreams.)

What do you think? Am I making it sound too easy? What do you prioritize travel over? (Or what do you prioritize over travel?) As always, all travel-related posts are welcome in this weekly link-up!


Britta Marie said...

I'm totally there with you! I do my best to save everything I can .. money is tight these days!

Mandi Noel said...

Definitely a great post! Most people I know travel within the US only or go to resorts in places like Mexico or the Bahamas. (This is really common for people that live on the Gulf coast because it's convenient.) I'm more of a European vacation girl, myself. When my husband and I spent 10 days in Paris last year for our honeymoon, all our friends were amazed. Like you, they all said we were "so lucky" and "I wish I could do something like that." The truth is, I know how much some of them paid for their own trips to Mexico, and they could have easily spent that same amount and gone to Europe. I think a lot of people assume it's much more expensive than it is or are just intimidated by planning a trip so far away. Granted, my husband and I spent way more than we needed to (like eating dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant) but when we travel together, we like to go all out. When I traveled in Europe with friends, though, we stayed in hostels and saved money any way we could. Like you, I feel like you can have and do almost anything you want in life- it's just a matter of priorities.

Katherine Levasseur said...

I love this Megan! You definitely do an admirable job budgeting and prioritizing what you truly believe to be important. I think you are "lucky," in that you have the sense of self and determination to make the necessary sacrifices to prioritize travel....not everyone has your great maturity and skill set there! Your determination and ability to see the big picture is very admirable :)

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely of the same mindset as you. We live on one income, yet we still find ways to get out and travel. It's all about how badly you want to do it.

Meghan said...

I really love this post, and I couldn't agree more. I love to travel, and I am a big proponent of never going into debt as a result. I always save far in advance - I even have a change jar that I cash in before trips which usually ends up paying for meals. But I agree - I would rather spend money on travel than concerts, shoes, purses, etc! Travel will provide me with so many memories that material objects cannot!

Fran said...

Love this! It's so true. Sometimes I sick back a wish I *could* travel more but I know it just hasn't been a priority in my life, but maybe in the future :)

Kate @ Daffodils said...

We have a separate savings account for vacations and whatever is 'left' at hte end of hte month, we put in there. It is always a fun challenge to stay above of monthly budget goals and then when we decide to go somewhere, we dont feel guilty because we cant afford it! Your tips are all great. I do agree that anyone can travel if they prioritize!