My husband and I are often asked how we can afford to travel. We’re usually asked if we’re independently wealthy (haha, nope) or if our families help fund our trips (no). The easy answer is that we’ve made traveling a priority, so we don’t stop until the finances fall into place to support our trips. But we’ve also learned to prioritize while we’re ON a trip to really maximize the fun. I used to think everyone was like this, but I’ve learned that’s not true. So I wanted to share this lesson the best way I know how – by sharing a simple story.
Allow me to paint the picture
There we were, total strangers, sitting around a small fire pit in an international hostel in Singapore. Hailing from all around the world, the only thing we had in common was that circumstance had brought us to this dusty, chaotic spot. We had all introduced ourselves and, as is common in hostels, our entire group had become fast friends.
The group of 8 was made up of the following people:
My husband and I – we had just quit our jobs and bought one-way tickets to Asia. We’d been on the road for a few weeks, and as we had no jobs lined up back home, we were trying our best to make the trip last as long as it could.
We also had among us (Full disclosure: I’m totally making up these names because I don’t remember their actual names…)
Kurt, from Germany – a young man traveling solo for a few months in between University.
Jill was 18 and from California. This was her first trip overseas.
Chris and Michelle were from Australia – they’d been on the road for about 5 months and Singapore was the last stop on their way home.
Laura was the oldest in the group. She was Italian, widowed and retired. She came to Singapore for a couple week and was planning on visiting Hong Kong next. She didn’t have any plans beyond that, but knew for sure she wasn’t ready to go home quite yet.
So there we were – a mixed group, a rag-tag bunch of travelers.But the conversation was lively, the minutes were flying by, and we were beginning to realize that our stomachs were rumbling.
That’s when the front desk attendant, Charles, came to tell us about the bar across the street.
“It’s Thirsty Thursday. In 30 minutes, they’re going to start their nightly specials. Good prices on beer and appetizers. I’m going to head over there in a bit in case anyone wants to join me.”
Charles had been working at the hostel for a almost a year. He was also American, and was working to save money for his next adventure. He had started in Asia as it was so cheap to travel through, but was hoping to make it to Europe soon.
Now, I tell you a bit about everyone’s background because it’s actually relevant to what happens next. We, of course, decided to continue our little party at the bar across the street.
We had thirty minutes to spare
My husband and I, in an effort to conserve our stash of cash, headed to the hostel kitchen. We’d decided to have a little snack before heading out. We quickly boiled a couple eggs, and steamed some dumplings to munch on.
As we were nibbling on our appetizers, Chris and Michelle wandered in. We watched as they made themselves a full meal of hot soup, fried garlic rice, steamed green beans and stirfried eggplant. They sat down next to us on the rickety hostel kitchen table.
A little while later, we all assembled in the front lobby and headed across the street.
Chris and Michelle, having already filled up at the hostel, each ordered a few of the beers on special. My husband and I each ordered a drink and a small plate of spring rolls to share. Laura ordered a bowl of Laksa (a spicy Malaysian coconut soup with shrimp) and a Diet Coke. Charles ordered dumplings off the specials menu, stir-fried shrimp noodles off the regular menu, and 4 imported (non-special) beers. Jill ordered nothing, but came along for the conversation and camaraderie. Kurt, the German beer snob that he was, ordered only some egg rolls and noodle soup.
My husband and I were intentional about our spending that night
We wanted to enjoy some food and drink, but we also wanted to conserve our travel fund. By preparing some snacks ahead of time, we were able to order minimal food and we each nursed one drink each. Chris and Michelle, the couple from Australia, were finishing up a long term trip. To survive a round-the-world trip, this couple needed to master their budgeting skills.
They had decided beer sounded better than food, so they ate dinner cheaply at the hostel, and splurged on a couple cheap beers.
Kurt, deciding the beer wouldn’t be to his liking, opted instead to order his favorite foods.
Laura, who was undeniably rich, was trying to be inconspicuous with her humble order.
Jill had spent all her money on the plane tickets and hostel charges. She couldn’t afford much else, but she didn’t care. She was just happy to listen and talk with us.
Charles, however, was neither intentional nor pragmatic with his spending. His bill was the highest on the table. In fact, it was almost as much as all the other tabs combined. From the easy way he was talking with the waitstaff, I suspected he was something of a regular.
Here’s what I find fascinating
As we all sat around the table, telling our travel stories, and giving advice about life on the road – one thing was clear. Regardless of the amount of money we spent that evening, everyone shared in the magic of the night. We all enjoyed ourselves and laughed until we cried. If anything, Charles was the least enthusiastic that night – complaining about the long hours he worked at the hostel and wishing he could go to Italy, Australia or Hong Kong but he just didn’t have the money saved yet.
The people who had the means to spend a ton of cash that chose not to. Budget conscious travelers realize that being ON the trip is the splurge.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy meals, tours, or souvenirs to get the most value out of your trip. If you think you can’t afford to travel, really spend some time thinking about where you can compromise.
What makes the trip for you? If it’s trying all the amazing food, can you compromise on a cheaper accommodation? Or if it’s those once-in-a-lifetime tours, can you make most of your own food cheaply?