I think we’ve all been in the situation where you’ve got the travel bug, and you’re just dying to go somewhere. Anywhere, really. But for external circumstances, you’re not able to right now. Maybe it is for a job commitment, your studies, lack of funds, a sick family member, or a global pandemic that grinds the travel world to a halt. All of these things shall pass, and you’ll get your opportunity to take that trip, whether it is a typical vacation or an extended trip abroad for a gap year or sabbatical. Honestly, it is the times that you CAN’T travel when you should take steps to ensure that your future travel dreams will happen.
Here are a few ideas on how to keep your travel dreams alive and on track when circumstances or the world have conspired against you making them happen.
Plan that Dream Trip
Just because you can’t travel RIGHT NOW, doesn’t mean you can’t start imagining what it is you would want to do. Research has shown that the process of planning and then anticipating a big trip triggers the same sort of levels of happiness and contentment as actually going on the trip.
Beyond that, planning it out makes the whole idea more tangible and thus more likely to happen due to some interesting but subtle psychological factors at play. By saying ‘Plan that Dream Trip,’ I mean:
- where you would go,
- what time of year,
- how long,
- plan out an itinerary,
- what sites you’d visit,
- what restaurants you might like to go to,
- how much to budget,
- international volunteer opportunities,
You aren’t making any reservations or firm commitments at this point.
All of this research will help you become a smarter and more informed traveler in general, even if, in the end, you don’t take this exact trip as planned. Maybe you go somewhere else, or only use a piece of it, but either way, it is a fun and important thing to do. Save your notes in something like Evernote or Google Docs and add to it periodically in the months to come.
At the least, it keeps your travel plans on the forefront and prepares you for other steps to come. Sometimes you just need that underlying drive or inspiration to keep you on track for the more tangible things like saving money which is tougher.
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Having a sort of dream trip planned out or in the works can help you frame other parts of your life in terms of that trip. Saving money, often to the tune of thousands of dollars, to go on that dream vacation or to take that long sabbatical abroad is a crucial step. We can often be quite mindless with our spending, embracing all sorts of modern conveniences that start to add up when you take a step back and look at it over time.
If you’ve got a trip in mind, hopefully, with a projected budget, you can start to frame your other daily or monthly expenditures in terms of how much it eats into your needed travel budget. Now comes the tricky part of how to save money to travel.
Spending $100+ per month on your cable and Netflix bill may not seem that much in the scope of things, but when you realize that just ten months of cutting that expense could mean $1,000 in your travel fund, then it seems like a much bigger deal.
Lots of people spend upwards of $100 per month on just their cell phone bill, too, even though they spend 90% of their days connected to WiFi. Why not try a low-cost provider like Mint Mobile that only costs $15 per month? They are what I use whenever I return to the U.S.A.
Likewise, the daily coffee habit and regular eating out can be a much bigger budget suck then you may have realized. Having a travel dream trip planned can help you decide whether you need the fancy $5 foo foo coffee or whether you’d rather be kicking it on a beautiful island in Central America, climbing up to the ruins of Machu Picchu, or whatever your dream might be.
The first step to becoming frugal is to actually track where ALL of your spending is going. How much do you spend per month on gas, restaurants, coffee, entertainment, etc.? If you don’t know, you can’t really decide where to cut (Step 2).
If you’re in debt, then you should immediately change your lifestyle to put out that fire. Consumer debt will crush any goals you might have in the future and chain you into servitude. Furthermore, reading some good financial literacy books during this period can really help you toward your long-term goals, beyond travel.
Read More: Conquer Debt Mountain
I highly recommend getting set up with Mint.com (different from Mint Mobile mentioned above) — it is a free service that will track your spending across all accounts and provide you with a comprehensive overall financial picture. I’ve been using the service for more than ten years now and give it massive credit for helping me track and manage my finances. You can also set up goals with deadlines in Mint to see how much you should save each month and help you visualize your progress.
Whether you travel or not, being frugal and tracking your finances is SUPER essential to having the money to invest (these big market drops mean the perfect time to buy), purchasing a home (interest rates are at historic lows), and pretty much anything. Rule #1 should always be to spend less than you make. If, as a percentage, you spend much less than you earn, you can more quickly approach the F.I.R.E. Movement, which stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early,” which is a great framework to approach your overall earnings and spending.
Read More: Save Money to Travel
This goes hand in hand with becoming more frugal, but with a slightly different take. I believe strongly in the minimalism movement for several reasons. Namely, because the less you have, the less you have that literally and figuratively weighs you down, but it can also be an essential part of your future travel plans. Admittedly, this may apply mostly to those who want to take extended travels abroad by leaving their jobs and so forth, but it can also be a factor for those taking shorter vacations.
The fewer things you have to worry about, the less you have to worry about in general. In the modern western world, we live with a lot of space (McMansions?) and a lot of conveniences. You’ll see when traveling that plenty of people all over the world live with houses or apartments that are more modestly sized, without the giant two-car garages, and without a kitchen full of gadgets for every imaginable scenario. Not only that, but these people are content and even much happier in general than modern Americans.
As a rule, the more space you have, the more things you HAVE TO own to just fill that space. This is like Parkinson’s law where the work expands to fill the time available.
Spending less on things you probably don’t need will mean more room in your budget for experiences like travel that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Rather than devoting your precious life hours (what money actually is) to buy a gadget you pull out once per year and eventually forget about until it gets donated to Goodwill.
Minimalism means fewer things, less space needed for those things, and lower bills. Fewer things means more time for life. Your income goes further, and your time is freer. In this context, less truly is more. So yeah, start to get rid of everything now.
Less consumption of things means more time for experiences, even if it just means more time with friends and family doing things rather than putting in 40 hours per week to fill up your big house or apartment.
You can also sell some of your excess consumption and use that money for your travel and experiences fund. Minimalism, to me, doesn’t mean buying “nothing” but buying more deliberately. You can spend lavishly on the things you love (buy the best you can afford and which will last the longest), and cutting spending ruthlessly on the things you don’t really care about. It means conscious spending on what matters to you so you can better allocate your time (and thus money) on what matters most to you.
Read More: Stop Buying Things, Start Doing Things
Start Travel Hacking
While global pandemics will certainly curtail travail, it is essential to remember that even this too shall pass. The travel world may be a little slower to rebound, but there will be a time when things return to normal, and there will be plenty of destinations all over the world that are hurting for your tourist dollars.
I prefer to spend my travel dollars with small businesses that most directly benefit the local community as opposed to being siphoned off to other countries. Honestly, I try to limit my actual dollar spending when it comes to flights and big hotel chains, much preferring to travel for free thanks to travel hacking.
You should take the months or even years (but no more than two) to start racking up as many points as miles as possible for your trip. Doing so can mean saving quite literally thousands of dollars on your total travel budget and even open up the world of luxury travel (first-class flights and four or five-star hotels) for basically nothing. This is something you have to do beforehand, so when you can’t travel, it is the perfect time to rack up as much as possible. My last round-trip flight between South America and Seattle was just $68!
Thanks to the world of travel hacking and credit card bonuses, you can easily get a free round trip international flight within about three months (then leave a little room to book the perfect flight, at least a few months). If you have more lead time, you can rack up even more miles that you can dedicate to hotels, or whatever your travel plans entail (perhaps you need lots of miles for multiple flights on an around the world (R.T.W.) trip.
Check out my guide to travel hacking 101, how to stay in hotels for free, or the best travel credit cards for a fuller rundown. As I always tell everyone who will listen, if you aren’t travel hacking, you are spending too much on travel.
Read More: What is Travel Hacking?
Learn a Foreign Language
Learning the local language can dramatically change the nature of your trip. When you can communicate with the locals in their language, you open up a whole new world of connections, resources, recommendations, and more. You can make friends, find the best local eats, or just have chance random encounters that you’d never have if you only speak English. The more of a language you know, the more you can get out of your travels abroad.
The months or even years leading up to your trip are the perfect time to study a foreign language. There are tons of amazing free resources like Duolingo that will allow you to get the basics. You’ll find dozens of YouTube courses online, audio classes (free from the local library), or even online language learning opportunities like iTalki where you can practice with an experienced tutor over Skype.
I was working on learning Turkish while living in Colombia thanks to the power of the internet and being able to converse 1:1 with Turkish tutors in Turkey. With enough time, you could master the basics of a language and have experience conversing with native speakers without even leaving your house!
At the least, you can master the basics and give yourself a running start when you arrive. If your dream trip is for a specific region, then you can focus your learning efforts there. If you don’t have specific plans, then I’d recommend a more global language like Spanish, French, or even Russian or Arabic.
Read More: Best Resources to Learn Spanish
Start a Remote Side Hustle
If you’re planning on taking an extended career break, rather than a short vacation, then one of the BEST steps you can take in the months or years leading up to your planned departure date is to focus your free time on building skills that can be done remotely online.
There are dozens of jobs across all sorts of fields that people use to make money as they travel overseas. We’re talking things like website design, marketing campaigns (Facebook ads, etc.), freelance writing (write for Desk to Dirtbag!), tutoring in specific fields or just tutoring the English language, and so much more.
If it can be done with a computer or over the internet, that’s all you need. You don’t have to quit your day job to start a side hustle.
Having this side hustle can be an emergency plan if things were to unexpectedly go south with your job (layoffs), diversify your resume for future opportunities, and provide a boost to your travel fund as you travel the world even if you’re just working part-time.
Having a side hustle can dramatically alter your travel time frame if you want to take it long-term in the future, even if you aren’t covering 100% of your travel expenses. Just take a look at my side hustle calculator where you can input your estimated travel fund and projected side hustle income to see how that impacts your overall timeline. The results may surprise you!
Having a source of income that isn’t dependent on where you live can help you achieve synergistic results where you can earn more (hopefully even move beyond working for an hourly wage) and spend dramatically less than you used to.
It is no secret that the best-paying jobs are usually in places where you have a higher cost of living. These are typically big cities with congested commutes and higher associated expenses (like buying suits as I had to back in D.C.). If you calculate the true hourly wage it can often be surprisingly low (read Your Money or Your Life). I’d rather earn and spend less but still have more time for my life… I dunno about you.
Get Off the Grid from Time to Time
The months or years of buckle down to scrimp and save for future travel can be somewhat draining and isolating. You’ll often find yourself saying no to invitations to head out with friends for drinks or a bite to eat. Or maybe global pandemics curtail things like that. Either way, one of the best remedies that I’ve found is to embrace other activities, like getting out there camping, hiking, and going off the grid.
You may be itching to get away for a long weekend, and even if you’re cutting expenses, there’s no reason you can’t hit the road for a short road trip on one of the most beautiful drives in America, find some free camping opportunities far away from civilization, or hit the trails to find some solitude and calm your mind in a stimulus filled world.
Who would’ve thought that my pickup truck camping setup could also serve as the perfect bug out vehicle to practice social isolation to the extreme? Haha.
For me, mother nature is a bit of calm from the storm, a place that keeps me balanced in an often crazy world… The news these days is non-stop and always absurd. This type of travel is also quite affordable when you’re camping for free away from civilization, even when you factor in gas and such, especially when compared to heading out for a night of drinks or a visit to many big-city restaurants.
Read More: Guide to Road Trip Planning
So there you have it, a few thoughts on how you can prepare yourself for future travels when you can’t currently breakaway, either as a result of your own circumstances or for situations imposed upon us all, like a global pandemic. Fret not, life shall once again return to normal. Now is not the time to panic, but a time to plan for the future. By thinking ahead and starting now, you can get a leg up on everybody else who is distracted and stocking up on toilet paper and bottled water.
Action Step: Pick up a copy of my book Big Travel, Small Budget for more concrete tips about saving hundreds or thousands of dollars on your future trips. These are ways to save big money, not little wins like eating Top Ramen in your hostel dorm room. Definitely check it out!
What do you say? What other steps can one take to prepare themselves for a big trip when they can’t otherwise travel? Sound off in the comments below!
Read Next: My Top Budget Travel Tips and Tricks
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