Making Adventure a Priority — The Unconventional “How To”: Travel on a Tiny Budget

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Been in a slump? The perfect thing to give you some lustrous perspective—GET OUT of here, mojo—take a trip. Make yourself a priority; make adventure a priority. Go see, do, hear, taste something out of the ordinary. But how? Vacations are pricey.

Somewhere along our journeys we’ve conceived this notion that traveling is this luxurious hobby fit only for the wealthy. “It’s not in the budget”. “We don’t have the money”. It’s an unfair stigma. Let’s step away from the real world for a moment. Think Huck Finn . . . travel could be seen as a means of adventure, a way of finding something, finding something when you’re not even sure what you’re looking for. Huckleberry was as poor as could be. Saddle up, cowboy.

TRUTH: If you want to figure out what someone’s priorities are check their bank statement.
Make adventure a priority.
The foundation is –> It’s not what you make, it’s what you save.

A typical conversation that I have a couple of times a year goes something along the lines of. . .
“So, I heard you and your husband are going on another one of your trips, where are you going this time?”
Me: “Yep, we’re going . . .”
The person usually replies with something along the lines of :“Wow where do you guys get all of that money?”
This is where I boldly try to defend the fact that it really doesn’t cost much. We just play our cards right—but by the time we get to this point in the conversation the other person has usually tuned me out (but what I’m really trying to do is let them know that you can go to Europe for less than what it costs to go to Disney World!!). Here’s how:

The Key: Get Out of Debt
Debt is the end-all, be-all enemy of fun. Period. It’s hard to set aside money to take trips if you’re continuously making a $200 monthly payment on that credit card . . . $200/month X 12 months= $2400 (AKA: two really nice trips). The same is true for a monthly car payment. House payments are the only smart form of borrowing money. This is the biggest challenge that you will face by far. Bite the bullet, pay em’ off.

Is anyone still with me?

The Mindset: Treat Yourself, Financially.
Well that’s a strange saying.  What exactly does it mean? Be financially disciplined throughout the year. Do you really need that Venti Frappuccino from Starbucks? What about that bangin’ new sound system for your car? Uh, negatory. When Andrew and I decided that adventure was a priority (the first year that we ever really traveled, coincidentally also the first year that we were married) we had a year comprised almost entirely of rice, beans, and Hamburger Helper . . . and it really wasn’t that bad. Italy was totally worth it. If you’re financially disciplined for the majority of the year then it’s okay to splurge on yourself for a week or two on vacation. The mindset is skimp now, splurge later.

Controversy: Use Points to Your Advantage
Most gimmicks are out to screw you. If something sounds too good to be true, then it usually is. The system tries to screw the “little guys” in society as much as possible. Credit cards have developed point and cash based rewards for spending in hope that, said little guy, won’t be able to exercise some fundamental self-control. In other words, Delta and Capital One offer reward credit cards in hopes you’ll sign up for a credit card, max it out, and forever be indebted (enslaved) to their monstrous corporation. Out smart them.  Screw them back. Use credit cards as a debit card. Use it daily, *pay it off entirely every month* and rack up on free points. (Pay your bills, buy your groceries, almost everything can be fronted with the plastic). Personally, I prefer the Capital One Venture Card. We cashed in on points to pay for an entire honeymoon. You can combine points! (In other words,  if four people in a family all have the same reward points, you can combine the points by calling customer service). Sign up for frequent flyer miles and a hotels.com account . . . work the system–reap the benefits!

The Mindset: Don’t Be Picky
Pick the itineraries that are the cheapest. Don’t be adamant about where you want to go & be flexible about when you can go. Non-coincidentally, Christmas and New Years are usually the cheapest times to fly. It’s because nobody wants to spend holidays on a plane; everyone wants to be with their family. Three places that I’ve always wanted to go but they’ve been just too darn expensive: London, India, and Russia. Does this mean that I’ll never get to go? No, it just means that I will have to wait it out until flights go on sale. In the meantime I’ll find somewhere else to go. Begin to look at traveling as an annual reward instead of a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. You may have to put that trip to Paris on pause in lieu of the cheaper (but just as glamorous) trip to Prague. That being said, check exchange rates. Where is your currency the strongest?

The Honest Truth: You Don’t Have to Have the Best
Some people need the nicest hotel in town. They’re unreasonable (and quite frankly financially irresponsible).  The truth is, you’re probably not going to spend much time in your room. Fun fact about me that I’ve mentioned in my blog before—confession 101—I’m a germ-o-phobe.  As long as the room is clean, Kate-er is happy. Some good rules of thumb: book in advance, never book a room online that doesn’t have above a 3 (out of 5) star rating, ask to preview the room before you check in, never pay more than $105 [very max] for a room (but I usually aim for about $75 if and when I actually do pay for a room . . . usually I use points instead). If a room is crummy get a refund, & take advantage of your free nights (Marriott Rewards, hotels.com rewards exc).

Lose Your Bubble: You Don’t Have to Fly First Class

Long flights have got to be one of the most miserable experiences ever (remember, this is coming from a wide-hipped curvy girl ) I like my bubble. I neeeed my bubble. Personal space is virtually nonexistent for the 8+ hours that it takes to cross the pond on international flights. The seats are narrow, they’re uncomfortable. I can see why it might be tempting to fly first class. Good luck finding discount flights though. As a matter of fact, purchasing a ticket without picking a seating option is always the cheapest option when available.You get in, where you fit in. (Some large companies won’t let you do this, check Norwegian and Iceland Air). Use airlines that you normally wouldn’t think of . . . Turkish Airlines, KLM, non-U.S. airlines are normally cheaper. Sometimes you can save a couple hundred of dollars on a flight if you opt out of a meal on the plane.

Flights are usually available at their cheapest online on Tuesday afternoons 6 to 4 months before the leave date.
Only take carry-on size luggage to avoid check fees.

Breakup: Eat Street Food
In general, I look forward to things. Sometimes I build things up so much in my mind that when the experience actually comes, it’s rather anti-climactic. This was the case in my first ever heartbreak travel story. Italian food, French food, and I, well . . . we had a breakup. I was looking forward to savoring every mouthful of lasagna and spaghetti in Tuscany. The thought of French braised meats made my mouth water. I spent several weeks in Italy and France looking for the perfect meal. I never found it. In fact, I was rather disappointed. So after throwing away so many Euros (at about $60USD/person per sit down meal), I vowed never to waste my money at sit down restaurants abroad. Midway through the trip I opted for slices of pizza (3 Euros each),  and these phenomenal little chocolate French croissants (1 Euro each).
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I like to call this my European diet . . . Now, I know that I may have just blown your mind. Basically, I told you not to eat out on vacation. So what do you eat? Eat street food. Street food consists of meals from stands and food trucks. I survived on waffles in Belgium and pretzels in Germany. [On a domestic side note, the Philly Cheesesteaks I sampled on the streets of Philly where 1000Xs better than the Philly Cheesesteaks at the restaurants I patroned while in Philadelphia]. When street food vendors aren’t available, pick up a few items at the market (an incredibly strange and wonderful experience—going to the grocery store in a foreign country . . . ). Also BOOK HOTEL ROOMS WITH FREE BREAKFAST [and pig out on said breakfast]. Don’t be scared to put a few snacks in your pocket, it’s not considered rude it all parts of the world.  I usually survive on two big meals a day when I travel.

Easy Peasy: Don’t Drink Much

Drinking overseas is a proverbial headache. Bar tabs can be high. Sometimes local alcohol can hit you harder than you might expect (Think Belgian beer: Leffe & Grimbergen) . The biggie is: sometimes scams targeting drunk tourists are run at night. This is a real thing! Plus, it’s easy to get lost in unfamiliar places. Try walking around Venice or Amsterdam– it’s hard enough sober. In a worst case scenario, international jail is not a place where any fun loving tourist ever envisions the evening ending. ‘it happens.

The Golden Rule of Taxi: Use Public Transportation
Unless you’re desperate, Taxis are a waste of money.

Avoid Travel Agencies and Group Tours
Travel agencies are for people who are too lazy to plan a full trip themselves. Planning is half of the fun. I like group tours. I like them because as a self-proclaimed nerd, I love history. Group tours are great, but you can find the same information online. Print the information out and take it with you or tote a guide book from your library at home.

WHAT?: Take A Job Overseas?
Now that’s a strange thought. We’ll see how well it works for me.
Unbeknownst to most, there is a large market that seeks qualified Americans to work abroad. Statistically, studies show that Americans are one of the least likely groups of people to entertain the idea of working abroad. (Yet people tell me all of the time that they wish that they could travel, strange).

Thoughts on this post? Love it? Hate it? Please share.

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