Saturday, September 22, 2012

How To: Travel When You're Young, Married, and Probably Poor

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I have a lot of people who tell me I'm so lucky to be able to travel, or that they wish they could do what I do, or how brave I am to pick up and go to a new country.  The thing people don't know is that I'm just the same as them.  I don't have a magical fairy godmother who waves her wand and plops me in a different country at request (though I do occasionally travel with my mom, which is sometimes similar!).  The thing is, there is no big hidden secret to getting out and traveling the world, it just takes a little planning and a little bit larger leap of faith.  There are dozens if not hundreds of opportunities to travel, but the task often seems so foreign or daunting that people get scared off right from the get go.

I'm here to tell you that traveling is not scary, okay occasionally it's a little nerve-wracking, but it is definitely possible no matter what your situation.

Now that I've said that, there are very few people who can just pick up and go wherever they like on a whim.  Since we've all got either school, a job, a spouse, kids, bills to pay, or all of the above, a little planning is generally in order.

First things first:

Make a Goal:  If you don't have a goal in mind, you'll never get where you want to be.  Get out a paper and pen and make a list.  Make a list of the places you want to go or things you want to do or trips you want to take.  Don't edit yourself on the first draft, just brainstorm and write whatever you want.  After you've done this, go through it again and pare it down to your top 5.  From there you can begin to make priorities and do your research.

Make the Cut:  Once you've done a little bit of research and figured out what you want to get out of your trip, choose your destination.  It'll make it all feel more real and start to get you excited about saving your dollars.  It will also be a good reminder when sometimes it's hard to put your pennies in the "Argentina Fund," instead of going to see a new movie. 

Create a Budget:  Sorry folks, but money makes the world go 'round and you're going to need some money for your fabulous trip, so here's where it's going to come from:  

  • Sit down and write out your income, including your monthly expenses like bills and gas and food.  
  • To start with, you shouldn't be spending more than you're making.  It sounds simple, but it's easy to get tricked by credit cards.  Currently, Cameron and I run on a strictly cash basis.  This means that if we don't have the cash for something, we don't buy it, and that if we need some extra dollars we pick up extra shifts or do odd jobs.  Anything that goes into our savings account stays there unless it's an emergency.  Of course this might not work for everyone, we don't have a car and we don't own a house, but it has worked for us, and we can say that we are comfortably 100% debt free.  
  • Once you've written down all your expenses, it should be fairly easy to see where you need to make cuts.  When Cam and I were dating we used to go out to eat, a lot.  Going out to eat burns through cash fast.  Try cutting it down to once a week or packing a lunch for work.  Bringing a paper bag lunch won't seem so lame after you get back from an amazing trip around South East Asia.  And it's healthier, too! You'll quickly see that there is usually some unnecessary spending.
Start Saving: Once you've made your budget, you'll see that there is always a little bit that can be scraped off the top. Take this extra, whether you can take off 10% a month, or even just fifty dollars a month, put it in a savings account, or in a jar under your bed, and don't touch it.  Once you part with that money, don't think about it anymore.  Just pretend that it's gone, there's no sense pining over it.  It might feel like a sacrifice at first, but you'll get used to it, and you'll be grateful later that you did. 

If you really want to travel, the opportunities are not going to run up and smack you on the face, you've got to make things happen for yourself.  Once you've followed these few simple steps, you're well on your way to getting on that plane and being whisked away to a new adventure.  If you still think that your savings may not be enough, try some of these ideas:

Live a more minimalist lifestyle.  When I first arrived here in Taiwan there was always a list of things in the back of my mind that I wished I'd brought, wished I could afford to buy, or thought that I needed.  The longer I stayed here, the shorter that list got.  Not because I suddenly acquired a whole bunch of money and stuff, but because I learned to live without it.  I learned to make bread in a rice cooker and survive without a kitchen, to hang my laundry up to dry, and to eat cheap local food.  You're much stronger than you think, and more adaptable than you give yourself credit for.

Study Abroad.  There are a lot of countries where the price of living is far below that of the North American average.  If you're still in school and looking for a way to travel without giving up your education, consider completing that education in another country.  It might not be an Ivy League American school, but the experience you'll gain from getting out of your comfort zone and the lessons you'll learn about yourself will be of far greater value in the bigger picture.  

Scholarships, Grants, and Exchanges.  A lot universities and programs offer scholarships and grants to do a short term study abroad.  A couple that we met over here was on a five month study abroad that was funded by a government grant.  All they were responsible for was the cost of living over here, which is significantly lower than back in Utah where they were from.  Cameron and I are both on full scholarships here.  If you're not comfortable with moving away long term, most universities have "sister schools" in other countries that offer easily transferrable classes and an opportunity to try something new. 

Volunteer.  If you can save enough to get yourself to another country, often times there are organizations that will give you room and board in exchange for labor.  This usually includes building houses or orphanages, maintenance, or even teaching English.  With a little bit of google help, you can find hundreds of places like this; just make sure to read reviews and find something relatively well established- you don't want to show up to nothing.  

Work Abroad/Working Holiday.  There are countless opportunities to work abroad depending on your skill set.  If you have a degree, start scouting through your connections.  Chances are you've got an old professor who knows someone who knows someone overseas.  Don't be afraid to ask, the worst someone can say is no, and you try again elsewhere.  Try applying to work on a cruise ship.  It's hard work and the pay isn't great, but you get room and board, and that ship is taking you to all kinds of fascinating places. On your off days or breaks you get a chance to explore those places and still have a free place to sleep at night.  Try being a tour guide.  I've got friends who work every summer in Alaska leading ATV tours and have the time of their lives.  All you've got to do is get looking.

Go Fund Me Account.  If you've got a lot of friends and family on Facebook and Twitter, chances are a few of them would be willing to pitch in if you give them a good enough reason.  Create an account on Go Fund Me and start collecting donations.  Post it (but don't spam people) and write about your plan.  If you've got a dream and you're passionate about it, people will want to help make that happen.  They'll feel good about helping you out, and you'll feel even better that they did.   

If all else fails and you need to get away now, then try being a tourist in your own town.  Take your truck out or borrow one from a friend.  Stick an air mattess and some sleeping bags in the back and drive out of the city for a romantic night under the stars with your loved one.  Camp out in your own backyard, visit a local museum, take a walk in the park, take a dance class.  Most of what drives us to travel is a desire to see and try something new and to learn something about ourselves.  That doesn't have to be somewhere half way across the world.  Even a couple hours drive can take you somewhere totally new and unexpected.

Just don't get discouraged or think that you're not lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel.  Chances are that if you put in the effort, you'll get back way more than you ever expected.


  1. Wish I had done the study-abroad bit when I was younger. Some things become much more difficult as you accumulate ties, stuff, pets, etc.

    1. Lauren Roerick MillerOctober 26, 2012 at 1:02 AM

      That's definitely true. It wasn't easy selling all my belongings on craigslist and leaving everyone I knew behind! It gets harder, but not impossible :)



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