How to Budget Money for International Travel

Upon hearing that I was traveling to Nicaragua only two months after returning from Asia, my friend Lisa asked me, “How do you afford to travel internationally so often?” Her timing couldn’t have been much better due to the fact that I was about to launch this blog. I now have a platform to express my thoughts and answer these questions on a broader stage rather than just an email or coffee shop with one other person. Since I have labeled my brand “The Budget-Minded Traveler,” I can’t think of a better question to kick start the posts for this blog. Here’s a nutshell answer about how to budget money for international travel.

My response to Lisa had to do with two things: keeping bills to a minimum and keeping my priorities straight. The average American is not very good at keeping bills to a minimum. I actually Googled it and found that as of July of 2012 the average student loan debt is $23,000 and that the average American owes approximately $47,000 (DailyFinance.com). Yikes.  As you can probably imagine, I do not fall into the debt category, which is the most important factor in being able to travel abroad so much. I basically put myself through college, choosing the only university I could afford, rather than the ones I wanted to go to (I loved my college experience, by the way). This was an easy decision for me, I simply didn’t possess the money to pay for any other college, and I knew I didn’t want loans. I applied for scholarships all throughout my college years which really is what got me through. In the end, I graduated without ever having taken out a loan = debt-free. I also own a ’94 Toyota Pickup (it’s still my dream car) which I own outright and do not have any payments on. New cars are overrated. So is credit in a lot of cases. If you can’t afford to pay your credit card bill in full every month, you should not be adding to your balance. Period.

Over the years, I have worked and saved while I was in between travels in the States, always planning my next escape abroad. Travel is such a high priority in my life that it’s really easy for me to live on a budget. I know what my money is being saved for. There are so many things that go into living on a budget, down to every little decision I make. For example, I usually just get a water rather than purchase a drink with my meal if I go out to eat, and instead of buying coffee out everyday, I prefer to make mine at home. Every $3 I save here and there adds up to a lot in one year, and that’s just a very low cost example. There are two things I hate more than anything: wasting time, and wasting money. I’m not afraid to take the extra time it takes to save a buck, whether it be shopping around or only buying things on sale, or waiting for that coupon to come out. I also love Craigslist and cheap finds at garage sales.  And as long as I am generating some sort of income, my bills are being paid and my savings account is steadily growing. I hate numbers and have never been good at math. I do, however, love to see most of the money from my paychecks go straight to my savings. I have heard it suggested that 10% of your paycheck should be saved, and I will tell you right now that I save way more than that.

I realize that this question was asked of a frequent traveler. I think when most people save up for travels, it means they may go somewhere once every year or two, and maybe just for a couple of weeks. Being that I like to be gone a lot more than that, I have to work harder at saving and living on a budget, but I do it, and it works, apparently.

Obviously this rather narrow answer to such a broad question is only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg can be found in my book The Aspiring Traveler’s Handbook: A preparation guide to international travel. The book describes the countless things that come to mind that have to do with how I can afford to travel internationally so frequently, including: finding the best deal on flights and hotels/hostels, knowing my budget abroad and sticking to it, temporarily freezing accounts at home that don’t need to be paid while I’m abroad, working abroad to pay my way, even choosing the right credit card that gives me the best possible rewards. There is a system out there to be taken advantage of, and that’s what I do. The bottom line is that I am constantly aware of living within my means and I keep travel as a high priority in my life. When those two things come together, I am able to take trip after trip after trip…

I would love to hear from you about this: what are your top priorities and how do you make room in your budget for them?