You don’t need to wait until you’re old or rich to see the world


I’ve been in Scotland for the past week, the first time I’ve been here in about twenty years.

Scottish castle
I can’t imagine not wanting to be here.

The first time I was here was on a break from college. I had taken a spring semester off, and was planning to transfer to a new school in the fall. My friend was living over in England for a year, and he invited me over. We spent a few weeks together traveling around continental Europe and the UK.

It wasn’t a luxury trip by any means. We routinely slept on trains and on buses to save on money, and primarily existed on baguettes and butter, which we fed to each other as we walked down the streets.

If I recall, my budget for that trip was around $25 a day. Even in 1998 dollars that feels like an obscenely small amount of money, and I was scarcely able to make do with it, but I did. It was all I had from spare money made from working at the local gas station.

A few years later, I went on a cross country road trip. We had no plan, we just drove west and went whenever fancy took us. I got to see Canada for the first time (okay, we headed north too), Chicago, Kansas City, South Dakota, and Denver. Some places I went on that trip I’ve not been back to since.

I don’t recall what my budget was for that trip, but I do know that in a week and a half, we stayed in a hotel exactly once. (Ahh, I will always remember you, Comfort Inn in Fort Morgan, CO.) The rest of the time, we just slept in the car.

Now this might seem the seventh level of hell for some of you, and that’s okay. But I bring it all up to show you that you don’t need to be older—and certainly not rich—to travel the world.

What you need is a plan

Travels are not much different from your “regular” life. Everything needs to be paid for, and it’s better if you figure out as much as possible in advance.

Not everything needs to be figured out in advance though—that impulsive flightseeing tour I took in Alaska in 2002 is one of my fondest travel memories—but the more you do figure out in advance, the better off you’ll be.

For example, your money plan. The best way to use your money on your travels is to figure out how much money you will spend per day, and then track it as you go, not after you get home. That way, you won’t bring your bills home with you as souvenirs.

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Or alternately, you could figure out how much you have saved up to spend in total, figure out how much an average day of spend costs (here is a good guide for European cities) and then figure out how many days you can go for.

For example, if you have $500, and it costs $100 per day to go where you’re going, you can go for five days.

Now granted, that doesn’t include airfare, so you’ll have to add that in too. But even with airfare, advance planning helps. For example: on the trip I’m on right now, the outbound leg to Europe (Portland to Glasgow, with a stopover in Reykjavik, in case you’re curious) cost only $450 when bought 9 months prior. Two months prior, the exact same ticket had risen to $3,000. Not joking.

My current budget

On the trip I’m currently on with my partner, we budgeted $100 per person per day, with 15 days of travel. To some, that might seem the height of unobtainable abundance (including my 20 year old self), while to some, that would seem the lowest of backpacker slumming.

But for us, it has meant private rooms in hostels, and the odd B&B. (Only for three nights am I using any hotel points.) This is my view out the window as I’m writing this right now.

I’m going to wish I was back there very soon.

I am not slumming it.

If you can, do

Not everyone has the luxury to travel. Some jobs don’t offer enough time off; some people have children or parents to care for. Some lack sufficient health to be able to make the trip.

But many more people can travel, they just don’t. And I understand this. It can be overwhelming. There is so much in the way of logistics to figure out, and if you’re not able to figure that sort of thing out, it will cost you.

For example, package tours can be great: all you do is pay a fee and everything is figured out for you. Perfect for those who don’t want to figure it out themselves.

The problem is that you pay through the nose for these tours. The organizers aren’t doing these tours for their health, after all. (Nothing against them, of course, you understand.)

Perhaps if there is sufficient interest I can go into more detail about how I plan longer travels, from figuring out where to go, to the chicken-and-egg decisions about money and time. As always, if there are topics of the subject of money and travel and other practical strategies for sticking it to the man, just let me know!

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And for everyone else, if you set aside a little bit of money every month or so, after a while, you’ll have enough to make something happen. It won’t land you on the cover of Travel and Leisure magazine, but all that stuff is just designed to make you feel inadequate anyway. Remember, if they are advertising something, you don’t need it.

We have so many competing priorities, and travel may not be on everyone’s short list. But with enough forethought and planning, it can be on yours.

Tell me about your recent travel successes! I’d love to hear about them, and perhaps they will entice others to make their own plans.

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