“How do you afford to travel so much?” This is the question I get all the time from disbelieving friends, colleagues and relatives who want to travel more but think they can’t afford it. No one’s ever come right out and said it, but I know some must wonder if my wife and I are drug mules, or if we have some other illicit source of income we’re not owning up to (the answer is no).
After returning from a three-month working trip in the Mediterranean a couple months ago, I told a good friend that we were heading off for a camping trip on Cape Cod and he quickly shot back a text, which read: “I don’t understand your lifestyle. Please explain.”
We are fortunate to be able to work from just about anywhere because for those who want to see the world the problem is always time, not money. The other day, after spending around $200 at Target on a whole cart full of random items, it suddenly dawned on me how affordable travel can be. When we were traveling, I didn’t need most of the items that were in my shopping cart. We put all of our things in storage prior to our long Mediterranean trip and cut out a lot of non-essential items we wouldn’t need while out of the country. So while we were traveling, we were paying $248 per month to store about 7,500 pounds worth of household goods (for a family of four), but we had no rent/mortgage, utilities, mobile phones, cable, or Internet service bills.
In calculating how much a trip will cost, we tend to estimate our total expenses and then consider that the cost, but that’s not really fair because it’s not as if you spend nothing while you’re at home. If you live in an expensive city in the U.S., like us, you might actually save money by being somewhere else.
When I looked through our cart at Target, there were so many items in there that we either didn’t need while on the road, or simply didn’t bother to buy, because we like to travel as light as possible. Napkins, paper towels, household cleaning products, light bulbs, zip-lock bags, condiments, snacks of all sorts, toiletries, toilet paper, spices, Kleenex, hair spray (for my wife), coffee and humidifier filters, a printer cartridge and a dozen other miscellaneous things at least.
When traveling, especially without a car, you have to carry all your belongings, so every time you consider a purchase you are forced to ask yourself if you really need it and if it’ll fit in your suitcase. But while at home, we can accumulate as much junk as we like, so we tend to buy more random stuff we don’t absolutely have to have.
I can’t tell you how much we would have spent had we remained in the U.S. for the three months we were in the Mediterranean, but I’m pretty sure we spent less while in the Greek islands and about the same or perhaps slightly more in Italy. In Greece, we spent about 50€ per night to rent budget hotel rooms with kitchenettes or apartments and we could have gone cheaper than that. We also traveled by ferry and lingered in each place for at least a week, which is usually the key to getting a good deal.
If you look online, renting apartments by the week in many destinations both here and abroad can seem very expensive, but if you spend a night or two in a hotel and then negotiate in person, you can often get a much better deal.
To be fair, there are some expenses, like laundry and car rental, for example, that crop up on the road but not at home. But the bottom line is that travel, especially overseas travel, can be cheaper than staying at home if you travel smart and eliminate your rent or mortgage by renting your place out or putting your things in storage while you’re away. And even if you can’t or don’t want to give up your base, even temporarily, don’t forget that your utility bills will be cheaper while you’re away.
Now for the hard part: finding the time to travel. The truth is that these days, many of us have jobs that can be done anywhere via the Internet. The problem is that many bosses are control freaks and they want to have your close by, supposedly to facilitate communication, but maybe also just to keep an eye on you to make sure you aren’t slacking off.
Here’s my suggestion. If you want to try a working holiday somewhere, start modest and tell your boss that if he feels that your work suffered while away, you’ll consider those days to have been vacation days upon return. It might not work, but it’s worth a shot, and if that fails, make the case for unpaid leave.
And when it comes time to plan your next trip, look around your house and just think about all the things you aren’t going to need while you’re away. It’ll make you feel great about getting the hell out of town.