How to Travel More
So by this time you've probably already broken your new year resolution to eat better, go to the gym, and drink less. Don't feel bad, those things are hard. I too have made my fair share of declarations to be healthy and drink less, but for my New Years resolution instead of telling myself what I'll limit in the coming year, I focus on what I plan to gain—and what I plan to gain are passport stamps. For the last 10 years my resolutions have always been the same, fit more travel in. Travel does something that no other resolution can do, it opens you up to new places, foods, fashion, and people—with the potential to change you forever. Travel forces you to get organized, make decisions, and be independent, and the more you travel the better you get at all of those things. So give yourself a break this January and instead of putting your body through withdrawal expand your mind with these tips to help you fit more travel in this year.
The first question I get from people when they hear how much I travel is ‘where do you find the money?’ Well I don't make an extraordinary salary, and I certainly don't get things for free, but there are a few things I do throughout the year that make travel costs a little more realistic. The first thing to understand is that for me travel is the main goal—that means that I curb my spending throughout the year so that most of my disposable income can be rolled into my trips. That's not to say I don't break now and again, I'm only human, but for the most part I try to look at those daily $6.00 lattes, and weekly shopping sprees as roadblocks to my end goal. I try to really think about my purchases before I make them and always ask myself 'do I really need this?' Most people don't know where their money goes each month, sure we all know about the big bills, the ones you can't get around paying, but it's the little daily expenses that really deplete your travel fund without you even noticing. More on this in step 2 below.
Apart from changing your mindset on your day to day spending there are a few other steps that can help you keep travel costs low.
Planning for travel is something that seasoned travelers are constantly doing—even while they are traveling sometimes they're planning their next escape. So where do you want to go, and for how long? Have you always dreamt of Paris during the spring? Well you aren't the only one, and for that reason spring is the high season in Paris when prices are inflated. But if that is your ideal time to see the city of love, compromising to travel during the winter months when hotels might be cheaper just won't do. The best option in this scenario would be to travel on the cusp when you can still get your warmer spring weather at a reasonable price. Another option is to plan to budget a little higher on hotels and flights, and try to save on your food and entertainment while you're there. Either way you need to know where you want to go and what time of year you want to be there in order to plan how much money you'll need to save. Once you know the approximate costs you'll see that the any trip is possible just by altering your daily spending throughout the year. Don't skip this crucial step, it not only helps you vet out the major issues before you start to budget, it also shows you that your travel goal is possible, turning it from a dream into a plan.
I'm not a super saver by any means, and I won't be featured on any coupon show in the near future, but I do think about what I spend my money on. In the beginning this was tough, I was use to shopping all the time, eating out, and not looking at bank statements. After I got a taste for travel though I started to put things into perspective. I started to see each espresso I purchased at my local coffee joint as one less espresso I would be able to enjoy in Rome. Each time I had the urge to indulge in some retail therapy I put the money away telling myself I really didn't need another generic black dress, and I'd much rather have something unique from Tokyo or Paris.
Just a few small changes in your daily spending can add up to big bucks at the end of the year. So make your coffee at home, pack your lunch, and really think about whether or not you need those new shoes. Also call your bank and have them automatically transfer a predetermined amount of money from each pay cheque into a savings account. Maybe it's only $10 or maybe it's $500, it really depends on your budget, just make sure it's an account you won't be dipping into. When your bank automatically transfers the funds it becomes normal and you start to not miss the money. It's also less tempting to spend the money in your saving account than to simply dip into your trip fund that you've conveniently stored under your mattress. Anything you can put away ahead of your trip will be less debt you need to pay off when you return. The idea here is to save little by little so you don't reduce the quality of your day to day life but you're still able to put some money away for your trip. Note: some of those other resolutions could be nice ways to start your saving, just think of how much you spend on alcohol, cigarettes and coffee each week. Maybe you could cancel that unused gym membership and workout at home, that money would go a long way to help you reach your travel goals.
Although travel can be expensive, it doesn't always have to be. Research is the key to get the most bang for your buck abroad, and the more research you do the more money you'll likely be able to save. There are plenty of deals on flights, hotels, and discounts at major attractions to be had and with a little bit of solid research you can really cash in and save yourself a bundle. There are a lot of websites that can help you compare prices to get the best deals on flights, such as Kayak and Google's Flight Matrix. Consider all your hotel options as well, and when you find a good price make sure you compare it against other bulk hotel discounters such as Expedia to see if they are offering a deeper discount for the same days. Check online sites like flyertalk to find hotel discount codes, and sign up to receive notices from hotels when they have their sales. Although this seems like a lot of work, if you plan on traveling a lot getting into the habit of checking all your possibilities will ensure you don't spend more than necessary.
Now while we all like a good deal, I will admit there are certain experiences you need to splurge on while abroad, and they will of course depend on the person. Maybe you've always wanted to have tea at the Ritz in London, or see a Broadway show in New York. These experiences shouldn't be overlooked because of the cost. Instead consider your entire trip as a high and low scenario, meaning you splurge in some areas and save in others. Doing everything with a budget mindset will seriously put a damper on your plans when you see how much some of these experiences cost. By blending your high costs experiences with lower experiences you get the most out of your trip without bleeding your bank account dry. If you plan on dinning at a Michelin star restaurant that looks like it will blow your entire food budget, research what the city has to offer in delicious cheap eats for all your other meals to keep you a bit more neutral.
Thorough research will also go a long way to help you avoid tourist traps that often charge a lot more than they're worth. For instance, many cities have tiered public transit systems that travel from the major airports into city core. London, Paris, and Tokyo all have several options to get you to your destination and often the cheaper option is not made available to tourists unless you specifically request it. Researching these things ahead of time will make sure you spend your hard earned travel dollars in the right places.
If you work for yourself and every hour away from work means you aren't making money, the only thing you can do to reduce the stress of dropping everything, would be to budget half an hour a day while traveling to answer emails and keep everything running smoothly. If you're an entrepreneur there's a good chance you're a workaholic and not very good a limiting yourself, so plan ahead and try and organize your business so that it can survive without you for a few weeks. A good way to do this is to start a reduced contact schedule the month before you travel to get into the daily routine you will be following during your trip. Inform your clients that you have a new policy on communication and you will be designating a specific time to answer emails and calls each day. Get them in the habit of not expecting you to drop whatever you are doing the second they email you. That way you can set aside time each day while traveling to check emails and return phone calls, and your clients won't even notice any interruptions.
Many of us don't have the luxury of working for ourselves and instead work a nine to five with only a few precious weeks of vacation each year. One thing that can really help you get the most out of your travel days is to try and plan your trips to coincide with other holidays and long weekends. For example, during the December and January many workplaces give their employees reduced hours and paid days off above and beyond their regular vacation time. If you plan to travel during this time period you may be able to book your trip within these days so you can stretch your two weeks into almost three, without actually requesting additional vacation time.
If you work for the government and even in some private industries, some employers are willing to allow you to purchase extra vacation days, rollover any unused days from the year before, or borrow days from your next year to fill out your time off request. This can will help you extend your trip and keep your employer happy as well. Another thing to think about is your workplace downtime. Many offices have periods during the year where they are much less busy, planning a longer trip during these months will make your extra time off request seem like less of a haste to your superiors.
If you plan on taking a once in a lifetime trip that will have you abroad for months instead of weeks you don't necessarily have to quit your job. Speak to your employer candidly once you have made solid plans and done all your research to see if they would be open to you taking an unpaid sabbatical. This option really only works with a signed contract outlining the details of your sabbatical to ensure that you are protected upon your return.
In some cases, depending on your job, you may be able to convince your employer that you can maintain your department while abroad as though you work for yourself. This I will admit is a hard sell, but it has been done. If you do try to swing this option you better start laying the groundwork long before you tell your employer about your plans. Show them you are independent, and try and work from home as much as possible to get them use to the idea of you not being in the office.
I meet a lot of people who worry about the language barriers when traveling abroad. I don't fluently speak any other language, but I've successfully made my way through many a non-English speaking country with little issues. There are a few words and phrases that are handy for a traveler to study, simple things like how to say please and thank you, ask for the washroom, and maybe order a coffee. The Rosetta Stone program can teach you another language quite well, the UN uses it to train it's people and it really is a great program if you have plenty of time to give yourself lessons. There are many Apps you can download for your phone and tablet that are set up like games to teach you the basics of many languages, and there is a program called EarWorms (terrible name but interesting product) that uses music and repetitive translations to help you subconsciously learn a language. This one you can download to your phone or iPod and listen to while you drive to work everyday, or as they suggest, while you sleep. I've tried them all, and they can all be helpful if you use them enough, and practice out loud. Before any trip I manage to learn a few words and phrases in the language of choice in order to feel a bit more at ease when I arrive.
If you're a picky eater and worried about not knowing what to order try downloading a English to whatever language dictionary (or a paperback book if you're technology challenged) so you can look up menu items before you order.
The key to not fluently speaking the dominant language is to always be polite and smile a lot—think about the last time you encountered someone who didn't speak English who needed directions or had a question, you tried to help right? It might have took a little longer but through common gestures and small words you were probably able to help them find whatever it was they were looking for. When you are abroad and English isn't the first language you will be in the same situation, and honestly, in my experience most people are willing to try and help someone if they can. Sure you might get a few crossed wires, and things might take a bit longer, but eventually everything will work out and at the end of the day it's all part of the adventure.
In a nutshell these are a few tips that can help you start to fulfill your travel resolutions. If you follow through, and make this the year you actually get out there and start seeing the world I guarantee you'll begin to understand exactly why people become so addicted to travel. Seeing the world from a new angle will give you a new lease on life and change you for the better sans fad diets.