That is the question.
Honestly, it’s the first thing I ask (usually out loud, to no one, in a quiet wail) when I see a blogger or Facebook friend who has jetted off to another great location.
If I thought about it for a second, though, our friends could easily ask the same about us. They probably do!
Without a bit of perspective, I think of myself as someone who doesn’t travel as widely or as often as I want. But from the outside (and if I take even a short moment to consider my life), both M. and I travel a LOT. Taking two or more trips per year that require air transit and take longer than a week is an incredible and rare privilege.
So how can we possibly afford it?
I’m going to try to be as frank and transparent as I can about this question because a. it’s what I always want to hear from others, and b., I think it’s something that can be useful to some of you.
First of all, a disclaimer: we know that we are extremely fortunate. We have many privileges that most people our age don’t have, and it’s not because we worked any harder than others– it’s just pure luck.
We both did our further education in countries that don’t have unreasonable fees, and we both have incredibly generous parents who helped foot the bill for the fees we did have. So we are able to travel with zero student debt, which is a massive head start for anyone of our generation. As well, Australia has a mandatory 9% retirement savings requirement, which means that money from every paycheque is being put away for our future without us even noticing.
We also both have very secure, steady, well-paying jobs with attainable opportunities for salary growth. Getting and keeping our jobs did and does require some pretty hard work on our part, but the circumstances of our frequent paid holidays, working conditions, raises, etc. is completely out of our control. Again, luck. We know it and we are grateful!
With that disclaimer done, here are a few of the ways we’ve tailored our lives to allow for maximum travel:
- We live in sharehouses.
Yup, that’s right. We’re in our late twenties (C.) and early thirties (M.) and we still share our houses with friends. Choosing to do this allows us to cut our rental payments by $200-500 each per month, while still living close to the city in interesting, trendy neighbourhoods.
We both live in 3-bedroom homes with two other people, which also means that all utility bills are cut in thirds. Most of the furniture, kitchen supplies, garden equipment, etc. was purchased by our housemates or sourced from their families (since our parents can’t exactly ship us a old couch from another continent!).
As you may have guessed by now, this means that though we have been together for several years, we still haven’t moved in together. At this point, we still can’t justify the expense of buying a bunch of stuff and spending a lot more on rent– we still have so many trips to take.
2. We drive old cars.
My car was made in 1993. M.’s car is early 2000s. We paid for both in cash and both cost well under $10,000.
We do expect to pay about $1000-1500 per year on maintenance fees for such old cars, but that still saves us thousands compared to people who lease new cars or buy more gently used vehicles.
Our cars are still reliable, despite their beat-up appearance, so choosing to cut auto costs saves us a ton of money for travel.
3. We autopay our savings– travel and otherwise.
M. had been trying to convince me to do this for years before I actually listened to him. He was right, of course.
When I say autopay, I mean autopay. I found that if I set myself the routine of manually transferring a few hundred into different savings accounts every paycheque, I would still find a way to… ‘adjust’ those numbers based on whether there was a sale on shoes that week.
So instead, I now follow M.’s lead and have my paycheque directly deposited into three different accounts (four, if you count our mandatory retirement savings)– one amount for daily expenses, one for small trips and discretionary spending, and one for our big dream trip.
Now, if I want to go over my regular budget, I have to be at work on the work computer system to change all my paycheque distribution settings– not worth it. I just don’t spend what I’m supposed to save anymore.
4. We take on extra paid duties.
We are lucky to have opportunities through work to take on extra hours, but it’s our choice to take on as many of those overtime tasks as we can. This often only adds up to an hour or two per week in addition to our normal workweek, but that extra $50-$100 goes straight to travel savings.
M. has also picked up a few chances for consulting-type gigs that he can do at home in his own time. He did such great work with the first of such opportunities that he’s been asked to do the same big project every year. That in itself just about pays for an entire plane ticket somewhere.
5. We’re mindful of where our money is going.
Ok, clearly M. is better at this than I am. But I’m getting better.
Listen, despite everything else on this list, we don’t pinch pennies. We rarely say no to an invitation to go out, we give gifts to all our friends and family members on their birthdays and Christmas, we host parties and dinners at least every few months. We love going out for dinner and drinks in Melbourne– there’s always something new to do or see here.
But we know what we value and we try not to spend money on things that don’t fit with what we love.
For example, M. plays a lot of sport. He pays fees every week to the squash courts and to his indoor soccer league, and spends money to go rock climbing or bouldering in a special gym. He’s invested in sturdy equipment for all of those sports. He’s obsessed with baking bread, and is happy to pick up newer and more sophisticated tools for his little home bakery. And he’ll always be up for a beer or three when he’s out with his friends.
For me, that extra money usually goes directly into the cash registers of the cafés and restaurants in this city. I also like to have clothes that make me feel comfortable and stylish, plus I spend a fair amount of my monthly budget on things like a good haircut, waxed eyebrows, and the occasional mani-pedi.
If we’re about to go on a trip, we try to cut down on some of those things so that we can have more to spend overseas. Generally, though, we try to enjoy spending the money we do have on things that we’re really passionate about.
6. We’re investing only in travel experiences.
Lastly, we are not trying to save for anything else. Aside from that 9% of our salary that goes to a retirement fund, almost every cent of our savings is earmarked for travel. We may not actually spend all of it on our trips, but we know that we could if we wanted to.
We both understand that this makes property ownership and investments completely out of reach for us at the moment. We’re ok with that.
Someday, we’ll probably have to stop and catch up to our peers on that front; though the reality is that we probably never will catch up to someone who at, say, 25-ish, bought a house that has been appreciating in value the whole time we’ve been off abroad.
We both agree, though, that we’d rather have had some adventures before we decide to find a stable place to live and call our own.
So that’s how we afford travel. We’re lucky to be in this position, but we’re by no means mega-rich or sponging off parents or friends. It all takes a bit of sacrifice and a clear vision, but if you really want to travel frequently, it may not be as impossible as it seems.