I was a late bloomer. Even during my eight year stint in the US Navy I remained on US soil and never traveled any further than Tijuana for a brief interlude with a double shot of tequila. Before the age of 40, I had only traveled outside of the continental United States three times, twice on a cruise (does that even count? I didn’t need a passport at the time.) and once to Cancun, Mexico (you guessed it…a timeshare). I didn’t give much thought to travel and certainly didn’t think I could afford to see the world even if I had wanted to. After all, what would be the point?
That all changed in my mid-forties when my partner, who has a serious “travel bug,” took me on my first 30-day vacation. At that time we both were making good money and had two incomes that were as stable as possible when you are self employed. We headed to the east coast for a whirlwind tour. My life changed forever, then 2008 happened.
You remember 2008, the stock market crashed and we wondered if we would ever have financial security again. We all decided to tighten our belts, decrease our spending and debt, and handle our money better. Although my commitment to better money management has ebbed and flowed, one thing changed for sure, I ALWAYS include travel in my annual budget.
It is no secret that spending money on experiences rather than “things” leads to greater satisfaction. Even the ANTICIPATION of an experience that you have purchased increases happiness. Think about how you felt when you KNEW you were going to an event or on a trip and the joy leading up to the actual event. It is true.
So, how do we prioritize travel when we have so many competing financial priorities and challenges?
Consider these six simple steps:
Know Your “Why”
When it comes to travel. When I was younger I didn’t realize the value of traveling abroad. I didn’t know that my life would be enriched by meeting people of different backgrounds and cultures on THEIR own “turf” and how that would change my view about national pride. I now know that I can never REALLY understand another culture if the lens I am looking through is that of the United States. I know now that the fact that we must assimilate to some degree to succeed here impacts how we hold our culture and if I want to truly understand other people I have to do so on their terms.
In your daily, weekly, monthly and annual budget. Yup, create a line item and even if you only choose to save a little bit each month, just having that “travel budget” can help you stay focused on how you spend your discretionary income.
Make A Plan
Decide how much you want to spend on travel and create a plan for saving that amount. For instance, I take one international trip per year. I use the 52-Week Money Challenge to fund that trip. It takes me two years to save enough money so I am ALWAYS saving, even if I don’t know where I’m going. I have been doing this for 4 years now and I always have enough to take the trip I want because I have established a travel fund. Follow the 53-Week Money Challenge as a guide to your savings plan.
Set Your Limits
Decide how much you want to spend BEFORE you start out on your journey. My annual international trip is usually about $4,000 for the trip itself, plus about $1,000 – $2,000 on spending money. I tend to tip heavily and because my trips are always focused on Africans in the diaspora, I am committed to leaving money in the communities I visit either through donations or by purchasing the items they have for sale.
Decide how you are going to pay for your spending while you are on the trip. If traveling abroad, learn about the currency exchange and the fees BEFORE you go and prepare accordingly.
Reflect and Repeat
“Debrief” with your money when you get back. Did you stick to your plan? Did you spend more or less than you expected? How can the information help you prepare for the next journey?
Notice I said “simple” but the steps may not always be easy. You have to decide what is important to you and align your actions with your goals. Once you know your “why” and how your life will be impacted by making the necessary adjustments, the rest is smooth sailing (or flying).
Keep saving, the next trip is right around the corner!