Travel, Travel Tips

This is how we do it.

As we’ve mentioned before we get asked a lot about funding our travels, although rarely directly. Most of the time the question asked is, “How do you get to do all that?” rather than, “How can you afford it?”

Neither of us will pretend that we haven’t been afforded any privileges in life; however we do have to work incredibly hard to get to take these trips. We skip out on many of the things our friends and colleagues are doing in order to save up for our next trip. We don’t take random days off of work; instead we save them up to take a trip to Europe each summer. For us, the things we don’t get to do are not nearly as rewarding as the things we get to do instead. Here are a few examples:

  • We don’t go out for lunch during the work-week. Instead we bring leftovers from the night before, or keep staples for simple salads and sandwiches on hand. This is better for our wallets and our waistlines. We also rarely eat dinner out, opting instead to create meals in our homes that remind us of places we’ve been. It’s fascinating how something becomes way more special when you do it infrequently; any dinners we eat out now have become an experience rather than a way to just eat.
  • We don’t go out to the movies, and we don’t have cable/satellite. We have Netflix and free video streaming through Amazon Prime (bonus – ordering items through Prime saves me trips to stores and inevitable impulse buys. It is well worth the $99), and we occasionally receive free tickets to plays and concerts through my office, like that time we got to see Les Ballets du Trockadero for free.
  • This one was rarely an issue for Michael, but was a big money-drain for me: I’ve somewhat stopped shopping. I fell hard into the trap of shopping out of boredom and would head to the mall/craft store/Target as a way to kill time or relieve stress. Instead, I’m approaching shopping more carefully, questioning anything I’m considering buying to ensure it will add something of value or meaning into my life. This has saved quite a bit of money, and is also better for clutter reduction and the environment. Also along these lines, I’ve found myself visiting the tailor or cobbler (or bringing out my sewing machine) to extend the life of the items I’ve purchased.
  • As for beauty “needs” I keep things simple, or do it myself. I get my hair cut twice a year, don’t color or professionally treat it, and I don’t make mani-pedi appointments. I do, however, make time for an occasional massage and get a pedicure before and after a really long trip as we tend to do a lot of walking. Otherwise, I keep a few shades of higher-quality nail polish around to paint my nails myself.
  • I spend some of my free time doing things that will bring in extra money. Though I’m way beyond traditional age at this point, I still babysit on occasion. Also, while I guess it doesn’t count as “income” because I’m selling things I’ve already bought, I joined Poshmark to unload clothing that is no longer working for me.
  • Instead of joining the swanky local gym, we joined our local YMCA and we love it. The facility isn’t sparkly, and it’s definitely seen better days, but we always look forward to seeing everyone’s friendly face and supporting this asset to our community while bettering our bodies.
  • The hardest thing to give up was going to Starbucks daily. As I’m a brewed coffee drinker, the $2 a day felt relatively painless and I could justify spending it because of their rewards program. When you do the math, $730 a year is a lot of dough (that’s more than my roundtrip ticket to Italy!), and they eventually made their rewards program less-generous. This was the kick I needed to purchase Chemex and a hand-grinder. I haven’t looked back.
  • We grocery shop (mostly) smartly. I used to be a big couponer – there’s almost a high to walking out of the store with a cart full of groceries for mere pennies. But I realized that not only is it incredibly time-consuming, we were bringing home junk food and either eating it (bad) or throwing it away because it expired (also bad). Now we shop more seasonally, focusing on fresh and local produce, dairy, and bread items. We are fortunate to have a great local grocer in our area, and fill any gaps at Aldi and Trader Joes.
  • As soon as my paycheck is direct-deposited, I make sure that a portion of it goes toward my vacation fund. Many banks offer this feature; mine locks the money into the account and releases it on May 16. I often use this as spending money on our Europe trip to pay for meals, souvenirs, and the occasional trip to the hospital

Once we’ve secured funds for traveling, it’s important to spend them wisely. We’re incredibly flexible with our destinations; for the most part we choose our destination based on the cost (to note, our flight price points for an overnight trip are under $150; for a three-day weekend, we’re willing to shell out up to $200; a longer domestic trip should be under $300; and we’ll generally spend $500-600 for going overseas. These are our maxes; most of the time our flights cost less than that). Through Google Flights and ITA Matrix (also by Google) we are able to search for flights departing our nearby airports at our desired price points to see where we are able to go.

We also choose accommodations wisely. I’ve mentioned before that we use Airbnb frequently, but not always exclusively. On our recent trip to Boston we stayed at the Hotel Marlowe as Kimpton was running a promotion on Boston-area hotels. This, plus the perks associated with their Karma Rewards program was enough to convince us.

A really great welcome from the Marlowe!

We don’t do everything when we travel. We pick and choose based on what sounds interesting. Sometimes old, historic buildings are best enjoyed from the outside. We also like to check museum websites, as some offer free admissions on specific days or nights.

Boston’s Old State House

We tend to share any big “must-eat” food items to save money and calories (unless it involves Nutella, then I get my own!). We’ve split a NY pizza, Philly Cheesesteak, Parisian baguette sandwich, Chicago pizza, and Italian gelato, and enjoyed them just as much as if we had each had our own.

(this is where the part about the Nutella comes into play)

While some of these may feel like sacrifices to some, or simply not worth it, they don’t feel so big to us because we know we’d never get to leave our state without doing them. My brown-bagged lunch doesn’t feel so sad next to someone’s takeout sushi when I know we’re going to enjoy more authentic sushi on our next trip to a large and diverse city.


Have you made any small or large sacrifices to travel? If so, what were they? If not, what’s one small change you’re willing to make in order to see the world?