Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Making it happen

Aït Benhaddou
In recent years. several people in my life have said to me 'I wish I could travel like you do'. It always baffles me at first because I'm thinking 'I wish I could travel like [insert the name of one of the savvy super travelers I've had the pleasure of meeting over the years]'. Some days nothing is good enough and other days, you feel accomplished. Such is life. Anyhow, I wanted to write this post to share a few of the ways I've been able to travel just in case it could help a friend or acquaintance who's looking for tips (and it's a good reminder for me on those less accomplished days to remember I CAN make it happen).

Firstly, I want to say: I have yet to actually 'live off the road' or earn money during travel and have mostly kept my full time job during all of my travels. I'll explain how I'm able to this. This is important because you'll find a whole host of blogs and articles describing how to save for __ years then quit your job and become an overnight success at travel writing, food photography, or some other rarity. Lucky for those people, but that goal isn't quite what I'd call attainable for the average person. If we could all be Tony Bourdain, I wouldn't be sitting at work right now writing this blog with my coffee.

Secondly, I want to gear this post towards Americans. That is my experience and what I know. Plus the fact is that there are many nations in the world where travel is so normal ahem, Australia, and part of life, they don't need any tips. Also, if you live in Europe, travel gets a lot simpler and cheaper. Americans have a harder time, I think, because of three key factors: 1. our culture isn't supportive of world travel (they don't include watch the sunrise over the Sahara in the American dream), 2. airlines make it very expensive to leave, and 3. our jobs don't provide enough paid leave.

With all the said, I want to start with the mindset. No matter what tools and money making schemes I've utilized to book a trip, in the end - you have to know when to just do it. I'm very lucky to have a lot of family and friends I can count on. I mean, don't get the wrong idea, no one is handing out cash to support my backpacking. But, if I ever get down on my luck (knock on wood), I'm not going to be homeless. This is important because there always comes a time when you have to ask, What's the worst that can happen? Figure out your worst case scenario, and stop being afraid of it. So often life is a perfect storm. If you don't learn to sit on the porch and watch, you'll end up cowering in the bathtub missing everything. (Just a little Oklahoma joke for you.) The important thing is to always have enough in the bank to get you home.
Next up, the inevitable: money. What you care about most in life is usually a direct correlation with what you spend money on.  Here are a few things people often value most:
The architecture of Tangier, Morocco

Religion
Career
Children
Marriage
Home-ownership
Continued Education
Animals 
Health
Vehicle
Gaming
Retirement
Lifestyle
Clothing
Environment
Sports

Guess what? I care about travel more than any of those things. I like to think I lead a life full of balance but if given the option of A. African safari or B. new car, I'm going safari. (Unless selling the new car gets me safari + sailing trip...a good sturdy sense of ghetto scheming always helps things.) Designer jeans or a flight, fly me anywhere. Season tickets or northern lights, duh. Move to a new city every year or stick out a job for 4 years and further my career, I think we both know what I chose...

Trekking the Sahara, Morocco
The thing is, if you want to travel: budget. Prioritize. What do you care about? What things on that list can you replace with travel OR what things can travel nudge down a peg? This is how you get the money you need. Unfortunately for ALL people, you can't have everything. You have time, you need money. You have money, you have no time. You have money and time, you probably can't find what you love. No one has a perfect life, but if you can manage to find something you love to do and make it happen, you've got a shot at happiness.
Here are Ellie's 20 tips that help you get the money once you've decided to prioritize travelling:
1. Buy a water filter pitcher, bottled water is expensive.
2. No more Starbucks, Pret, Gregory's - name your poison. Get a cheap coffee maker. Even better, drink the free coffee at your work.
Fun fact: I have the hardest time with this one. I'm a regular sinner.
3. No more cheap jewelry you have to toss out after the 3rd wear.
4. Learn to cook. Make pasta, $4 per bag or $.80 for enough flour to make 5 bags. You do the math.
5. Stop buying drinks. Have one at home or sneak a flask in your sock. Get creative.
6. Never pay for cable. It'll get to Netflix eventually. Or, watch at a friend's place.
Fun fact: I haven't had cable since 2009.
7. Stop paying $100 for your phone bill. You don't need the data, use What's App instead of texting. There's wireless everywhere. Start carrying a book for when you're bored. Might I recommend Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference by Lynne Truss.  
8. Carpool.
9. Sell some stuff on Craigslist. I doubt you need to hold on to that collection of TY beanie babies.
10. Start Lyft driving on Saturday nights.
11. Stay with friends once a month and rent your place on Airbnb. Even better, find people who need house sitters AND rent your place at the same time.
12. Get a travel credit card and put everything on it.
13. Roommates.
14. Pet sit. Fun furry friends and extra cash!
15. Spend the afternoon finding new clothes at Goodwill.
16. Hang your wash. It makes clothes last longer and you don't have to pay for the dryer.
17. Shop smart.
18. Learn to change your own oil. If I can do it, you can.
19. Find extra work online.
20. Throw pot luck parties. Provide cheap drinks and you'll probably get to keep leftover food.
Javanese ballet, Prambanan Temple, Java, Indonesia
Another road block for travel is often time off work. As I said, I've managed to keep a full time job and have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit over the last few years. I mostly attribute this to 1. getting smart and crafty with days off and 2. moving. Most jobs in the US, you get 2-3 weeks off work and most of the time they don't want you taking it all at the same time. SO, every year I sit down and look at the office holiday calendar. Where can I add on a couple days to make it a week? Is it possible to take unpaid time off once my PTO is used up? What is the sick time? Can I stay super healthy and be 'sick' on strategic days? I literally use every single crayon in the box in order to milk my time off. On any given day, I know exactly how much I have left and what I'm using it for. This may not work for everyone, you have to be very disciplined (and unfortunately you might miss out on some family holidays and such) but it has made a huge difference for me. The second thing is moving (or just switching jobs). In my opinion, this is the easiest way to really travel. It's a lifestyle choice but every time I move, I travel during the gap. That's how I did Southeast Asia and Italy. It's risky. You don't know how long it will take to get a job on the other side. But, that does help you stay budgeting during the trip. If you don't know when you're next paycheck is coming, you're a lot more comfortable staying in a hostel bunk bed above a guy sleeping in his shoes who's snores sound just like Darth Vader. Obviously this way I've been able to utilize depends on you doing a kind of work with a fair amount of turn around and demand. I started out as an administrative assistant. It isn't glamorous by any means, but I learned to find cheap flights and create schedules/itineraries like a pro. Usually administrative jobs provide a good amount of downtime as well, which supports my travel research/planning and this little piece of the internet I like to update. These days, I work in finance doing something a bit more specialized. However, if I ever need a job - I'm not above going back to being assistant or a receptionist. It's a great way to earn well with low stress.

Side note: In the end, my variety of industries and well-rounded work experience over the past few years not only helped me figure out what I did (and did not) want to do in the end but it usually gives me the edge of knowing at least a little about a lot of things. Somehow things do seem to work out when you follow your heart.

Grand Place Square in Brussels, Belgium
The best and last way to make it happen is to look for adventure. If your goal is to stay in a high rise hotel in Dubai or a resort in Spain, I can't help you. But, if you want to see the world and you don't really care how you get there or what you do, I'm your girl. Don't go into your travel with expectations. Maybe chose one or two must-see's and have one fancy dinner rather than packing an itinerary with tourist recs. If you're just along for the ride and open to adventure, it always finds you.
Here are Ellie's 20 tips for cheaper travel:
1. Carry on. It's free and there's no weight limit. You don't need half the stuff you're trying to bring. Anywhere you go in the world, there is always a way to do your laundry and buy shampoo if you run out. My girl Staz,can help you choose the perfect bag. Also, these are amazing; the packing cube theory is solid gold.
2. Don't splurge on accommodation. When you're traveling, you are rarely at the place you are staying. Plus, hostels are a great way to meet people. Personally, I prefer Hostelworld because you only pay a small deposit up front and can check the cleanliness rating. If you're braver than me, Couchsurfing is supposed to be awesome. Boyfriend traveled for like a month without paying for one night stay.
3. Cook sometimes. When you stay at a hostel or home, there is a kitchen. Hitting the grocery and attempting a local dish or snack can really save money and you'll get a better understanding of local food.
4. Buy travel size containers to refill. Those tiny brand bottles add up in price.
5. Do your airline research. This is a big one. Here are some sites I use to find the cheapest prices:
  • http://skiplagged.com - doesn't force you to fly round trip with a single airline. Instead, it will find the best deals each way separately. 
Honestly, the biggest tip here is to look at the surroundings. I know it takes a while, but the airline is probably your biggest expense. It is worth it to exhaust all options. What are nearby cities to your ideal location? Can you drive or train to another American city where it's cheaper to fly from? Can you drive or train to the city you want from one where it's cheaper to fly? Can you take a domestic flight with airline points, then hop on an international flight? Is there a airline special that gets you in the country and a cheap flight from city to city? It can literally take forever so eventually you have to just book - but still, make the effort and you can save BIG.
6. Do your excursion/activities research. Sometimes it's cheaper to book ahead, sometimes not. There are scammers everywhere. And reviews on everything. Here are some sites I use to look up activities and info on the place I'm going:
  • https://travel.state.gov - always check the government's current safety notice on the country AND whether or not you need a visa.
  • Obviously travel blogs! This list for me is much much too long. If you'd like it, please message me and I'd be happy to send you my "following" list.
  • Sometimes I just Google a question and read random answers like, "Do I need to cover my knees in India?"
7. Travel off season. High tourist times results in not only more expensive bookings, but also more expensive and more crowded everything.
8. Bring your own food to the airport. As long as it's not liquid (i.e. no salad dressing), you can take food through security. Don't pay airport prices unless you have to.
9. Free walking tours and/or walking tour apps where you listen through your headphones. Rick Steves is my hero on this. He's been my date on numerous occasions.
10. Eat local. Restaurants in tourist areas are traps. Whether your in Prague or New York City, steer clear of eating anywhere near the site-to-see. You won't regret it. The food is dulled down for the masses and expensive.
11. Bank with Charles Schwab. Schwab is a brokerage with no banking locations. Because of this, they refund you all ATM costs (for the machine, the other bank, literally all) and they don't charge any foreign transaction fees. They also have a great app with deposit. You won't find a better way to bank as a traveler.
12. Don't forget about trains. As Americans, it's easy for us to forget to check out trains. Most of the world has train options and it's usually cheaper than flying (with the UK being the only exception that I know of).
13. Use public transportation. There's nothing to fear and every single place I've traveled, I've figured it out eventually. BUT be sure to look up the hours or be caught at 1 AM paying for a taxi or walking all night.
14. Don't rush. Being in a hurry or squeezing too many activities into a day can make your trip so much more expensive. If you keep a leisurely pace, you'll have time to source the cheapest option.
15. Travel overnight. I know it's not always easy, but you save on accommodation and wake up where you're going - it's really a win-win.
16. Get travel insurance. You can find excellent deals and the fact is, you never know what's going to happen. You could miss a flight or get robbed. The more you travel, the more likely you are to experience some fluke accident or situation that leaves you kicking yourself for not shelling out that $60 bucks for insurance.
17. Share meals. This is a hard one for me and the boyfriend, but you can save quite a bit by eating less, and more often, while traveling.
18. Skip the extra bit (or the bit entirely). You can get an equal or better view at a rooftop bar as going up the Empire State building. Don't always think that the thing to do is a must-do. Sometimes you'd have a better time walking by it and down the block to something else. I usually save by looking up local recommendations.
19. Travel where it's cheaper. If you can travel to a place with a lower cost of living than your own, do! Vietnam, Indonesia, Albania, Turkey, Morocco, there are so many places cheap for travelers.
20. Walk, walk, walk. Make sure you're gellin' and hit the road. You are more likely to come across things and see more of a place by walking than going direct from A to B every time.
I really believe you just have to know you can travel and have the will to make it happen. It's just like anything in life, the first step is deciding - from there is easy. Go forth padawan and do what you love! I hope this info helps someone sometime :) In the meantime, I'll be off gathering more research. Ireland this weekend! The Ring of Kerry here I come.