As we planned our one year around the world trip, the number one question contemplated by all, but asked by none, was “How can they afford this?” The reason no one asked us this is because in America, it’s just not polite to talk about money. Therefore, the question was not asked to us, just about us. Friends would ask this question to other friends. Those who knew my mother would ask her. People speculated about the cost of this adventure and how it was possible we could afford such an “extravagant” trip. Only one friend, right before leaving, was brave enough to actually confront me and ask me to my face, “How much is this going to cost you?” My reply, “Not as much as you think.”
We live in a very nice home, in a very nice neighborhood in the very affordable city of Cincinnati. We drive a twelve year old minivan and a six year old Toyota Matrix. Our children go to public school and my husband’s favorite clothing store is the local thrift shop. We own only one TV and the number of other electronics in our house is minimal; and many of those are dated. We are far from poor, but we are hardly what I would call rich. We make very conscious choices about how we spend our money, making sure our resources go to the things in life that are important to us. Travel is one of those areas we deem important.
Taking this trip was not a spur of the moment thing. It was a seed planted in my brain almost 20 years ago. I can’t say we’ve been consciously saving for this trip that long, but certainly, saving is in both my and my husband’s nature. So money had been meticulously saved for years: for retirement, college education, a rainy day, or maybe even a rainy (or not so rainy) year. When in 2006 we decided to attempt to make this trip a reality by June 2008, we knew money was not going to be what would hold us back.
While saving is not difficult for us, it became even easier once the goal was set. A daily latte at $4.00 is easily forgone when you know that a week’s worth of coffee will pay for one night accommodation in Thailand; a bottle of wine, a ferry ride in Tanzania and an iPad will buy you an entire month in India. I believe most of us would be amazed at how cheaply we can live when the sacrifice is justifiable.
And just as there are different ways to live our lives, there are all different ways of traveling. We are not the camping, eating take away out of the supermarket kind of family, but neither are we resort type people. We are somewhere in between – and, of course, there is a lot of somewhere in between. But we travel like we live our lives; frugally, spending bigger dollars on what’s really important to us.
There were all sorts of ways we kept the cost of our travels low. We found that by planning out the trip in advance, we were able to save a lot of money, being more organized about our travel. We would meet travelers who hop scotched around, back tracking and circling, creating a need for more flights than would otherwise be required to cover the same countries. We were also able to take advantage of air broker discounts by advance planning. We paid for one flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Buenos Aires, Argentina, which enabled us to stop in Tahiti, Rapa Nui, Chile, and Santiago, Chile. I’m not talking about a stop over, I’m talking about anywhere from an eight to a twenty one day stay in each of the three locations, all on one airfare!
We rented apartments in any country we visited that had one available to rent. Not only did it give us a lot more space but typically it was cheaper than a hotel, and, it had a kitchen! Being able to cook our own meals was a huge cost savings. We packed lunches and snacks for our day trips and carried our own water bottles so as not to have to purchase expensive drinks along the way. We took advantage of free museum days and other free activities and festivals discovered along the way.
Can it be done for less than what we paid for our year long adventure? Yes, without even trying really hard. Avoid the splurges, eat in all the time instead of eating in restaurants, take fewer flights and use more overland transportation (which is not always a guarantee of saving money), don’t buy any souvenirs, don’t ship home the souvenirs you’re not buying, stay in less expensive accommodations, camp, spend more time in less expensive countries and little or no time in the expensive ones.
Before you dismiss the whole idea as a financial impossibility, you need to consider all the things you are not spending money on over the course of the year while you are travelling. I’m talking about the cost of living at home. In our case, this included: food, eating out, vacations, entertainment (movies, theater tickets, ball game tickets, concerts, etc.), summer camps, clothing, violin rental and lessons, dance classes, skiing lessons, gasoline for our cars, insurance for our cars, phone, cell phones, utilities on the house… Have you ever really thought about how much it costs to live? If you add up all the expenses you won’t have for a year and subtract it from the cost of life on the road for a year, you will discover that your year abroad is just not as expensive as you think; it may even prove to be cheaper!
Some people figure out a way to take their jobs on the road with them. We, however, quit our jobs in order to travel. Therefore, our biggest expense was not what we were spending; but what we were not earning by being gainfully employed for the year. Keep in mind you are not giving up your whole salary, only that portion you actually get to keep. You have this gross salary figure (what you would tell someone you make if they were rude enough to ask). But you really don’t get to keep all of that, do you? Federal Government gets some and the State Government and even your City Government gets a piece of the action. Social Security wants their share as does Medicare. And, if you are paying for a portion of your health insurance, you don’t get to keep that money either. You end up with a net figure – the amount written on your paycheck. That is the amount you are giving up. Still a huge loss, but maybe not as big as you first thought when you were thinking in gross terms.
In the end, the numbers can’t even begin to determine the value of such an experience. If this is something you want to do, you can make it happen. And, of course, you will discover the adventure is PRICELESS!