Prioritize Travel in 2018
People often "live vicariously" through others' Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest feeds, envying their adventures yet they never go anywhere themselves. Why not? It’s not because they don’t want to travel, rather, it’s because they aren’t making travel a priority in their life, as I have. Here are some suggestions to start working on that bucket list.
Acknowledge why travel is important to you
Unfortunately, many people consider travel a luxury, an unnecessary expense that falls behind other expenses. For me, travel is crucial to both my happiness and creativity. Life is hectic, especially in New York City, and when I travel, I reset my brain and come back rested, calm, and with more perspective and bandwidth to take on the world. Considering the insight or inspiration travel can add to your life may help you rationalize spending time and money on it. Rather than a luxury, you may decide travel is necessary and important for your lifestyle.
Why Traveling is Important
Traveling helps you discover more about yourself
It teaches you how to handle unexpected and difficult situations (especially as a solo traveler!)
It expands your appreciation for other people and cultures
It helps you learn languages and teaches you to communicate with people around the world
Navigating new territories and risks taking build self-confidence
Breaking out of your comfort zone abroad emboldens you to take risks at home
Comparing your good fortune to the humble lives of others makes you more compassionate
You earn bragging rights to say “I’ve been there,” while watching Anthony Bourdain on TV
You create memories more valuable than anything you could ever buy
Developing Your Bucket list
Write down your bucket list of places you want to visit in your life then think about when you want to go, who you want to go with, and what you want to do there. Perhaps you've always dreamed of spending a week on the beach and snorkeling in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Or perhaps you want to take your mother to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, or hike Machu Picchu with your boyfriend, or visit the pyramids in Egypt with your sister. By writing down your travel goals, you can better visualize them and figure out how and where to work them into your life THIS YEAR.
Working it in Financially
Weather you're saving for occasional trips or consider travel a yearly expense, you need to know what you're able to spend each trip. Budgeting for trips helps you plan ahead and then enjoy the trip rather than feeling stressed or guilty about money during the vacation. Here are a few tips for funneling extra money into your travel budget.
Arrange for a pre-set amount of money to come out of each paycheck and go into a dedicated travel savings account
Request donations to a travel fund in lieu of traditional birthday/holiday/wedding presents
Cut back on unnecessary expenses like eating out, a daily Starbucks fix, and cable TV
Use a rewards credit card for all purchases to rack up airline miles that can be used to book free flights (just be sure to pay off the balance each month)
Earmark your 2018 tax refund for a trip
Use Your Vacation Time
This may seem like a no-brainier but according to the US Travel Association, more than half (54%) of employees left vacation time unused last year. A former boss once announced in a team meeting that I was the only employee who used all my vacation time. At another job, a friend lost two weeks of vacation when it expired. You probably aren't being paid enough to begin with so stop being a work martyr and take advantage of what you're entitled to!
Getting Around the 9-5
Up until last year, I worked a fairly traditional 9-5 at a non-profit focusing on increasing access to healthy foods in undeserved communities. I received the standard two-weeks of vacation but traveled far more frequently. How? One method was banking overtime or "comp" hours and then redeeming them for 4-day weekends. I also tacked comp time onto official vacations and holidays to allow me to get away 2-3 weeks at a time, even if it meant having to work overtime when I returned. I also sought out professional development opportunities in my field that allowed me to travel. In some cases, I was awarded scholarships that paid for some of my travel. When my job would grant time off but didn't have a travel budget, I would Couchsurf to keep costs low. In just two years, I attended conferences in Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans. Conferences are typically three days so I could use two days of comp/overtime and enjoy the weekends on both sides of a trip, turning a 3-day work trip into a 9-day adventure.
When I was teaching nutrition in public schools last year, I still managed to visit Egypt & Jordan over winter break; escape to Bermuda for a 4-day weekend over Memorial Day; and led TWO group trips to Cuba during the Mid-winter (February) and Spring break (April) recess. When there's a will, there's a way.
Granted, not everyone's boss is as agreeable and not everyone's job is as flexible but in every position I've ever had, I've worked in more travel than my coworkers because I prioritized it and worked it out with my boss and co-workers. Now it's your turn.
Flexible & Last Minute Travel
As a new entrepreneur, I'm thrilled to be able to have more control of my schedule and be able to do a lot of my work from anywhere in the world that has a wifi connection. This has allowed me to take advantage of last minute travel deals or error fares (I love Scott's Cheap Flights for this). Even when I had a "regular" job, my co-workers and I would sometimes need to use up our vacation time before it ran out or would have a light week that didn't require being in the office every day . This was the perfect opportunity to check out cheap last minute flights or travel deals.
If flying isn't an option, consider where trains and buses can get you for a long-weekend. Perhaps you could stay with friends or family you haven't seen for a while or you could book a quiet cabin in the woods if you need to be alone. Use my promo code to save $40 on AirBnB. Perhaps you can only spare one day, no worries, you can still escape to the closest bit of nature near you, be it the beach, hiking trail, mountain, or national park. Spending the day looking at clouds, water, and trees can bring many of the same benefits of a full vacation.
Being flexible can also make it easier to sneak in travel. Had your heart set on a spring trip to Mexico then realized your approved vacation time falls during busy spring break when prices are inflated? Consider visiting a less-popular but equally beautiful destination like Guatemala or using the time to explore a driveable/busable option and postponing the Mexico trip to later in the year. Is Tokyo too expensive? Consider Thailand! My best friend and global solo traveler extraordinaire, Judi, desperately needed a break from the cold winter in NYC and just booked a 10-day trip to Guadalupe in the Southern Caribbean. Why? Because it was the cheapest warm destination during the busy holiday travel season. Better yet, the island's lower profile means it won't be as crammed with tourists as neighboring islands.
Turn Off Your Phone
Did you know that being on your phone during your vacation actually takes away from your travel experience? It takes you out of the moment and shifts your focus to your regular daily routine and headaches. Over-documenting a trip can cause you to be more focused on the picture or video you're taking instead of enjoying the experience and creating full, vivid memories. Given that my travel business requires me to share constant updates about my whereabouts, I personally struggle with this principle. By turning off your phone, your vacation seems to last longer and actually feels like a vacation. I have spent several weeks abroad at a time yet spent so much time checking email and social media that I felt like I never left home. I've also enjoyed quick overnight nature escapes where I put my phone on airplane mode for 24-36 hours and felt like I had enjoyed a full vacation.
Don't get me wrong, I don't miss hunting for internet cafes or having to pre-print out maps, directions, and lists of attractions and restaurants and bring them with me around the world. Technology has made traveling SO MUCH EASIER and accessible. Check out a list of useful travel apps in my recent holiday travel tips post, but try to keep the phone usage to a minimum during the vacation.
Travel on the Cheap
Once you get to your destination, here's a few quick tips for stretching your dollar:
Opt for inexpensive street food instead of dining in expensive restaurants.
Instead of staying at major hotels/resorts, try out hostels, bed & breakfasts, or AirBnB.
Buy ingredients at the supermarket and cook your own food or have a picnic!
Use public transportation or rent bicycles instead of paying for taxis.
Ride shares are a cheaper, safer option than taxis in many countries. Uber is available all over the world. New users discount with my Uber promo code.
Traveling with Kids
As an unmarried woman with no kids, I often hear "well, it must be easy to travel since you have no kids." You're right, it is! I traveled to Mexico with my three nieces and nephews (including an infant) so I absolutely understand kids make a trip more challenging. I am constantly inspired by families who travel, some who even consider themselves "nomadic parents" providing their children with a world-schooling experience. Travel is one of the best educations you can ever give your kids, so don’t use them as an excuse to stay home. Even if taking your family across 13 countries in a camper van isn't your goal, shorter trips can also be fun and fulfilling.
My good friend Jen, a social worker and single mother in Brooklyn, has been taking her 12-year-old-son around the world with her since he was two. Their adventures have taken them from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, to Trinidad, Puerto Rico and dozens of US cities and national parks. They enjoyed their recent two-week trip to Kenya so much that she is taking a 3-month break from work next summer to take him to explore Uganda before returning to Kenya to volunteer in an orphanage. That experience will surely beat out any summer camp Stateside!
Yes, it’s harder to travel with kids and the majority of people on the plane would rather you left the kids at home, but who cares about them? Your kids will thank you later and you'll be amazed at how travel can open their eyes, reset their priorities, teach them to value what they have, and finally get off their phone!
Avoiding Other Common Excuses
But I have pets! - Pets are great but they're no excuse not to travel. If you don't have friends or relatives to care for your animals, hire a pet sitter! Some will come to your home to check in on your furry friends and others will care for your animals at their home so they get round-the-clock attention.
Mortgage/Rent Payments - Is a hefty mortgage/rent payment burdening you? Great! Sublet your place and put the money toward travel. This is particularly true in large cities where the $1000-2000 you pay per month on living expenses is more than enough to live off of in at least half the countries around the world. Many of my long-haul flights were paid for by the money I got from subletters. Did I mention my AirBnB promo code can get you $75 for listing your space? Craigslist is also a great option to find short- and long-term renters. Worried about your stuff? Don't be. That's what references, renters' insurance, and the security deposit are for. Any particularly valuable items can be moved to storage or stashed with trusted friends/family.
What about my car? - For those of us burdened (or blessed?) with a car but not fortunate enough to have a driveway, finding parking can be a hassle. Alternate side parking rules provide an additional challenge when traveling. Again - not an excuse! I was happy to borrow a car from my previously mentioned friend, Jen, while she was traveling. I moved the car to avoid parking tickets and treated myself to a Korean day spa that's hard to reach on public transit. When my boyfriend needed to stash his car when we traveled together, a center where I've taught fitness classes allowed him to park his car in their parking lot. Another friend offered her grandmother's driveway. Of course, there's always long-term parking at the airport. There's so many options so stop making excuses and start asking around!