Many of our friends ask, “how do you guys travel so often?” The reality is, we do not come from wealthy families nor do we make boatloads of money, but we are very lucky in the flexibility our jobs offer. Moreover, we are the type to go the extra mile in trip planning, as opposed to simply purchasing a LivingSocial or Groupon deal. Not that I am criticizing people who do this. Everyone has a different travel style – some just want a getaway without stressing over the logistics. Let someone/something else – be it a travel agent, tour company, or deal package – handle that. We are just the type that enjoys taking the process into our own hands.
To begin, we realize that our schedules are much more flexible than others. Many of our friends have a maximum of two weeks vacation per year. Tie, a long-time employee at his company, has accumulated six weeks. An exorbitant amount, at least by American standards. As a freelancer myself, I can take off as many days as I want – but will have to consider the fact that none of it is paid. Not only that, but there might not be a job to return to. That’s the nature of my profession, though, and I’ve come to accept the uncertainty. And still there are folks who quit their jobs for long-term travel. I say, kudos to them. It is definitely an entirely different experience, one I’ve contemplated taking on. But we’re pretty happy with our current situation. We get to travel a fair amount of time each year without having to worry too much about our finances. It’s what works for us, and that varies with each person. Besides, even long-term travelers need to find a way to make some money while on the road to afford basic necessities.
I’ll be frank – Tie and I make a decent wage, so the standard of comfort we can afford when we travel is generally higher than most backpackers’. True, many days out of the year we are slaving over our 9-5s, but I am also grateful we get to spend more time with family and friends by living in New York. I love working on personal and freelance design projects, and they usually require a length of time dedicated to them. In between trips, editing photos and writing posts get me excited about the next vacation. I almost never work on the blog when I’m traveling (except for shooting videos and photos) because I feel it kind of takes away from the whole experience. I much prefer to reflect on our trip when I’m back at home. Besides, traveling can be physically draining, especially with time zone differences, and I would rather get some extra rest to prepare for the next day of adventure than hunched over a computer.
Before I became a freelancer, I also had only two weeks of vacation each year. This scarcity of time off allowed me to learn how to maximize my days by stacking them with weekends and holidays. For example, celebrating Thanksgiving is an American thing; flying domestically would be more expensive, but it’s not necessarily the case for international flights. You quickly realize that you have more time than you think.
Not only that, but travel does not always have to mean flying across an ocean. During long weekends, we might drive to Boston for clam chowder, Maine for lobster, Baltimore for blue crabs, or DC for museums. Don’t underestimate what is already around you. Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery, and that can be a mere two hours away. This is especially beneficial for families who need to take into account the schedules of 3+ people. It is also a cheaper alternative to international travel. I cannot speak for people with small children, since we have not yet reached that stage in our lives.
As for money, we have many expenses that are completely unrelated to travel. Utility bills, groceries, car payments, helping our parents out, and paying off our mortgage. We don’t aggressively chase name brands and keep a somewhat tight budget. Certain comforts are sacrificed, some things are prioritized over others. We commute a long way to work and don’t have a fancy apartment in the city. In turn, half of our salaries do not go towards paying rent. We exercise at home instead of a pricey gym and cook often. It’s all a matter of what kind of lifestyle you want and can afford to have.
Moreover, travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Many of our flights and hotels are booked using points; Tie has written posts about it throughout the site. When I was a college student, I stayed at cheap hostels and dingy little hotels. It never discouraged me from traveling; most of the time, you’re going to be outside anyway. As long as you have a decent bed to sleep in at night, anything else is just a luxury. Admittedly, however, that has changed in recent years as Tie found ways to travel more luxuriously without sacrificing a ton of money. Americans actually have it really good. All these credit card companies want to encourage you to spend more and in turn throw points at you with crazy sign-up bonuses. Capitalism. Yeah!
It also helps to be open about where you want to travel. Tie and I have a long destinations wish list. Honestly, most of those places aren’t going away anytime soon. We often choose a location based on current flight deals. And right now, airfare is the cheapest it has been in years so there are options aplenty. You don’t even have to wait for the off-season. If you spot a great flight deal, snag it and go on a spontaneous vacation!
Most importantly, I think you just need to have the courage to step out of your comfort zone. Anywhere you go, you’ll be a fish out of water. We’ve gone to countries where we had to resort to hand gestures and a handy dictionary. But that’s the beauty of travel – realizing how big the world is and yet how similar we are. More than just snapping a few pretty pictures, it’s an opportunity to humble oneself and embracing all the world has to offer. Now go out there and explore!