That’s the answer everyone wants, right? When you see someone’s Instagram feed full of travel photos you think, “HOW DO THEY DO IT? Where do they get the money to be on the move all the time?” Well, I can’t speak for everyone else, of course, but today I’m going to share how I how afford to travel. But there’s a slight catch. This post isn’t about how you can save money to travel or even how I save money. It’s about how I divvy up the savings and time I do have and use them to travel on a modest budget without sacrificing comfort.
First things first, let me say that I don’t believe in debt. If I can’t afford to go somewhere, I won’t. What I mean by that is if I go someplace where I know I’ll be pinching pennies, it’s not worth it. When I travel, I always make sure I have enough wiggle room for things to go awry or to treat myself to something nice like a full day spa. Anyway, let’s get into it.
Frequency of Travel
Contrary to what Facebook updates might tell you, I actually don’t travel all the time. Like many of you, I have a full time job with about 2 weeks of paid vacation. Usually, I only take 3-4 big trips every year. That’s still more than the average joe, but above all else, I choose to spend my money on travel. Outside of that, most of my travels are day or weekend trips. Since there are so many cheap flight deals from major US ports like NYC or Los Angeles and I have a flexible work schedule, it’s easier to fulfill my restless wanderlust more frequently.
Hotels are for emergencies, short overnight layovers, or occasional splurges as I cannot justify spending $100+/night on a hotel I spend so little time in. Most often, I opt for private rooms in hostels ($10-50/night) or rent apartments ($30-90/night) that offer more privacy and the ability to cook my own meals.
All the Noms
Food is always my biggest expense when I travel. I tend to forgo many of the main tourist attractions for eating out, food tours, and cooking classes. Typically, I steer clear of 5 star restaurants or hotel restaurants and go for more modest cafe-type places, small mom and pop restaurants, and street food. The quality of food is usually better, and I don’t drain my wallet as quickly. My general rule of thumb is not to spend more than $10 on a meal, or if I’m splurging, no more than $20.
For the few tourist attractions I DO visit, I’m very picky. Therefore, a lot of research goes into itinerary planning to assess the value I’ll get for my money. If an entrance ticket to one place costs $50, I always run through how I could stretch that money further or how it could be put to better use for something else on a future trip. Many museums and historical sites are disappointing simply because that’s not where my interest is. History is not my calling. I prefer live performances, hands on activities like aforementioned cooking classes, and hiking.
Most places are well equipped with inner city and long distance transportation so I rarely rent a car. Unless I’m traveling with a group of friends, it is much more economical to travel without the responsibility of a car. That way, I don’t have to worry about gas, insurance, maintenance, or parking. Taxis are right behind rental cars on the list of transportation modes I rarely use as it is way too expensive. For example, if I took a taxi from the Nagasaki airport to my old apartment, it would cost around $20-25 for a short 10 minute ride. A much cheaper alternative was taking the bus that dropped me off 3 minutes from my place for $2. No brainer. I like to use trains, buses, bicycles, and my own two feet to get around. It helps me understand the layout of the place and move seamlessly through like the locals do.
When I lived in Japan, I rented a cozy, clean, modest studio apartment that cost me $350 a month. Housing hadn’t been that cheap since I was in college. Furthermore, transportation to and from work was covered by my employer. Other than that, I walked or rode a bike everywhere.
My monthly costs included rent, food, utilities, phone/internet, Japanese lessons, health insurance, and miscellaneous charges (post office, books, travel, etc.), and that’s it. See below for the breakdown of my monthly costs. As I said before, I don’t believe in debt. If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it until I have the money or I don’t buy it at all. I don’t shop for clothes or big ticket items mainly because I hate shopping and spending money on things I know I’ll get rid of in the first few months. I’ve learned to live quite well on a simple budget and steer my savings more towards experiences and hobbies that I’m passionate about.
- Gas: $20-40/month
- Phone/Internet: $100/month
- Water: $15-30
- Electric: $15-30
- Food: $300-350/month
- Japanese: $90/month
OCD Flight Research
Between websites like Skyscanner, Kayak, and ITA Matrix, I am always scanning for cheap flights to new destinations. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are 75% alerts for flight deals and cheap flights. For example, my flight to Japan in September 2014 cost $70, and I once flew to and from Banff for $60. In August 2015, I flew to Korea for less than the price of a domestic ticket to/from anywhere in the United States. Using credit cards associated with various airlines, I rack up frequent flyer miles and use them to reduce or eliminate all together the price of my flights.