I was thirteen the first time I left the country. I went to the UK with a student exchange organization. I spent two weeks exploring England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Without my parents. When I was fifteen my parents took our family to India, with a stop in Bangkok. I saw the Taj Mahal at fifteen! I spent seven spring breaks in Mexico with my church. I went to Taiwan in college, to New Zealand with friends in 2008, back to the UK with friends in 2010, to Italy with my mom in 2011, twice to Canada in 2012, and to eight countries in Europe on our honeymoon. We’re planning a trip to Bhutan later this year. I’ve also been all over the US, starting with a road trip from California to Indiana when I was two weeks old.
Needless to say, I love to travel. I was born for it and I have my travel-loving parents to thank (they’re headed to Africa later this year for a month!).
I get a lot of questions about how and why we travel the way we do. So I thought I’d share a bit about my philosophy of travel, as well as some of the nitty gritty about how we make travel a part of our lives. I hope that some of these tips and tricks will help you plan better, save money, and live a life of travel.
Make Travel a Priority
Most people have some expendable income once they shelter and feed themselves. Here are a few ways I’ve saved for travel:
- I automatically pull money from my paycheck and put it into savings.
- I haven’t had cable or even network TV for years.
- Most of my books come from the library.
- I don’t buy expensive personal care products or makeup.
- I don’t have a gym membership.
- Up until recently, I’ve shopped for clothes on the cheap (but read why I’m changing my ways).
- Our mortgage is small and we do not live an extravagant life at home.
We also budget our vacation time for travel (or at least I did when I was working, and Ryan still does). Fortunately, our family is all in the area so we can use our vacation time to actually travel, as opposed to spending time visiting family for the holidays.
Travel to Experience, Not to Relax
Both Ryan and I would go stir crazy if we took a vacation to a place where our only option was to sit by a beach or a pool for a week. We love to see the sights, experience the culture, walk around a city all day, take a long hike, eat a local meal, or enjoy the natural beauty of a country (especially from the seat of a motorcycle!).
Traveling to experience can be expensive in its own way, but we don’t spend a lot of money on accommodations or amenities. On most of my recent trips, our nights were at bed and breakfasts (a great option because it usually has a kitchen so you can cook and eat on the cheap), small hotels, or hostels. We spend most of our time out and about, seeing the sights, experiencing the culture. Which meant that a hotel really only needs two things — a place to sleep and a hot shower, with occasional laundry. We don’t have an expectation of luxury — we’d rather spend a little on a hotel and a lot on seeing the sights.
While we do spend some time relaxing here and there, traveling to experience is much more rewarding for us.
Take Advantage of Opportunities
My parents had friends in Dunedin, New Zealand, so we added it to our itinerary and got a free room board for two nights as well as the opportunity to be shown around by a local. We needed a car so we bought a Volvo through the Overseas Delivery program and were able to use it to travel around Europe without having to rent a car. The only reason Bhutan is even on our radar is because we have friends who can get us in without having to pay the standard $250-a-day visa fee. My parents have Marriott points so we were able to score some hotel nights from them on our honeymoon. Some friends on Twitter helped me decipher the Norwegian ferry system.
Find out if you have any connections in a place — staying with a trusted friend of a friend is a great option. Reach out on social media where people can help you find great deals in cities you’ll be visiting, as well as help you figure out what to see while you’re there. If you are traveling for work, see if you can tack on a bit of personal time to the beginning or end of your trip. Go on a service trip with your church. If you have friends in some weird place on this big Earth, go there!
For my last few trips, I’ve traveled with only a backpack I could carry on to the plane (like this one by Osprey). My post about packing light is one of the top posts on my blog and has lots of great tips for traveling without excess (plus Justin Beiber jokes, just for fun). Packing light is not just less of a physical burden, but an emotional burden as well. I have found that heavy luggage made me feel guilty, frustrated, and regretful. Let it go.
It’s cheaper and easier to travel unburdened. No checked bag or overweight luggage fees, and you can walk off the plane with all your belongings without having to wait at the luggage carousel—and you will never lose your bags if you’re carrying them yourself!
And as far as souvenirs go, buy as few as possible. Memories and photos are the best souvenirs. If you do want a little something to bring home with you, Christmas ornaments, jewelry, and bookmarks are easy to stow away and don’t take up much space.
Roll with It
Don’t expect things to go perfectly all the time. They never ever do. Our flight to Italy was canceled (after we sat on the runway for two hours), but we made it to Italy after we were rebooked. I got a migraine on our last night in London. Our hot air balloon ride got canceled due to weather in New Zealand. Our first few days in Norway were incredibly wet and miserable, but we pushed through those days and ended up seeing some the most incredible natural beauty on Earth. Any of these things could have been cause for anger and resentment, but why go through all that?
Instead, don’t get your heart set on anything and roll with the punches. Change your outlook from seeing these things as challenges to looking at them as adventures. The times when your trip doesn’t go as planned often make the best stories!
I hope that this might give you some ideas on how to travel more and get the most out of your trip. If you’re a seasoned traveler, what are some of the ways you live a life of travel?