How I Afford to Travel as a girl in my 20’s
I’ve been asked this question all the time through friends, clients, acquaintances and even random emails from people across the world. The famous Vagabond travel writer Rolf Pott’s wrote an article on how he affords to, a journalist, accomplished book author, a guy at age 40. I’m writing as a complimentary response to that, geared to all my female compadres in their 20’s wanting to, but hesitant. I’ll be honest with you, many females never end up doing it. Maybe one day with their family or when they’re older.
I took on the job which I’m still at today at the Title Company which has provided me a flexible lifestyle. Being a commission job, it’s anything but stable, it’s the risk I take. Through the years, through all the amazing females I’ve befriended in the industry – Escrow Officers, Loan Officers, married women, women in their 30’s, 40’s, even 60’s, it has all been one clear message to me. Many of them tell me stories of their lives, and ask me kindly to follow my passion, to travel, to have fun, and to not worry about making so much money early on. Sometimes later never comes. Especially once a girl gets married. Not that you can’t travel with your husband. But I hate to stereotype, but girls are pressured to get married way earlier than guys do. And once they get married, many girls lose their drive to do anything but to start a family. I had heard endless heartfelt stories of dreams and passions they had in their early 20’s, but because of taking on jobs which lead to consumerism which lead to mortgages and more debt, they no longer can afford to take off time and money to travel. Be self-loving when you’re young. I know that when I become a wife and mother, I will dedicate my life to my family, but until then, I’m going to find myself and learn to love myself before putting anyone else first.
Through books like “Eat Pray Love” where we read about Liz who’s always had a burning desire to travel but succumbed to the 9-5 job/married life, it wasn’t until her messy divorce in her mid 30’s did she pull the trigger to take off and travel for a year. Same with Rita Gelman’s “Tales of a Female Nomad”. All these circumstances gave me a push to just go. And you can too! I am doing it for all the women who cannot, and hope that you will too.
I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you all the secrets. There’s no secret to how I can afford to take 3-4 week vacations, and maybe 2 months more a year if we were like our lucky European neighbors with higher taxes but better benefits, or our Australian friends who go for years at a time. I will say though that America’s mentality does not encourage the global traveling as much as the Europeans, Australians and even some Asian countries. Some don’t find the need to leave such a privileged country to live ruggedly in Africa. Well then traveling’s not fit for those.
The mentality in US is work until you’re a grandparent so that you could ‘someday’ retire and then travel. Well honestly, who knows if ‘someday’ will come, and who knows if you’ll ever be able to retire with the way the Economy is going. Who knows if you’ll have the energy to hike the Inca trails at age 70, stay at 5$ hostels or have the carefree spontaneity to hitchhike. The time is NOW. If traveling the world has lingered in your mind, and you find yourself envious of those facebook albums of your friends in certain countries, then do it.
The first thing is the whole misconstrued connotation with ‘Traveling’. People have this idea that traveling must be so expensive. It must cost at least 5,000$ for a 2 week vacation. So instead, most my friends decide to go to Las Vegas or Miami a few times a year, because it’s “cheaper”. Because a trip may cost 700 or 1000$ each. Well put that into perspective. I’d say the average trips to Vegas or any domestic trips for most friends are around 3 times a year. That’s easily 2000$ you could save if you did not. Ok, so all the girls will say “Well, I don’t spend much money in Vegas. Guys buy me drinks, and we split the gas to get there.” The hotel, the gas, the food, some drinks, poolside drinking will still cost you a few hundred bucks. And a new Marciano dress and swanky heels will cost you another few hundred. I have saved thousands from not going to Vegas more than once a year. Well I also don’t find a smoke-filled casino as a proper vacation, definitely not an enlightenment. And I use this example of Vegas because it’s what I encounter the most with all my lovely friends in their 20’s.
Another major fear is whether or not the world is a safe place. There’s definitely certain war zones or more chauvinistic cultures than others that is more dangerous than say, Switzerland or Canada. But even in places that are considered “war zone” or “chauvinistic” have proven to be some of the fellow traveler’s favorite places. Why? In many cases, those places are less traveled, more authentic in culture, the locals are more inviting not to make your money but to learn about you, and simply because it’s somewhere different that will shed you new wonderful perspectives. I’ve had a few friends who have been to Kashmir, India (the Pakistan & Indian border which has been war zone for years) and brag that it’s one of the most beautiful places with the nicest people they’ve ever met. Israel may seem scary to some people because of the constant bombings in certain parts, but that small strip is so miniscule to the rest of the beautiful country I spent a week there last year with my friend. Mexico has been noted as a traveler’s warning for the kidnapping and drug wars. But tons of friends still go vacation at Cabo San Lucas or Cancun and come back with beautiful experiences.
Ok so you don’t care to put your life at risk at edgier countries. There are many safe countries. For those that have traveled, I’ve never heard of one person saying that the world is not a safe place. Anywhere you go, people are living day to day as we do. To look out for their families and friends, to live a comfortable happy, meaningful life. When they encounter travelers, they all want to help. I have so many heartfelt stories of strangers I met across the world. Locals and backpackers who will forever be in my mind.
Manage your money
Travel Cheaply. If I bought tour packages from American tour agencies, I couldn’t afford it either. I decide on the country I wish to go. I start doing my research online for the cheapest flight from Kayak.com, Vayama.com. I also consult with a travel agency on their price. And every time, I’ve been able to find it online for the same price or better. Sometimes travel agents will even offer you the more expensive flight so they can make a higher commission, unless you mention to them that you know of cheaper flights. “Oops! Must have missed that,” they say. So I book it myself. There is more control that way too, you have direct contact with your airline company, with mileage points, etc etc.
I travel on a major shoestring budget. I stay at hostels and home-stays which can range from 5$ – 20$ a night. Many people may have this idea of 100$ Hilton hotels abroad. Those 3 star+ hotels are great for romantic getaways or when you have that money to spend. I don’t find it necessary. I look on hostelworld.com for cheap hostels, I get lists from usservas.org for cultural exchange/Homestays for Free. I always buy a Lonely Planet guide book from Amazon (cheaper, no tax and free shipping for over 25$) and start the research a head of time. LP will offer high-end, mid-range, and budget accommodations. I’ve always gone with the Budget. And to save even more money, I use those recommended hostels as starting points when I arrive at the destination. For example, when I was in Cambodia, we would show up at a suggested hostel and price shop. They would tell us 15$/night for a double (very likely 8$ a night before it was listed on guidebooks and became popular), and then I would go 2 hostels down to one that’s not as popular, with the same amenities and it would cost 5-7$ a night. Those few dollars here and there allow for longer travel times. Especially from a 100$ hotel to a 7$ hostel.
Eat locally. You’re traveling to gain perspective and to learn about their culture. Why wouldn’t you eat the local food? Ok ok, I understand you have concerns with the potential infamous bowel movements that you hear about, or have even experienced. So that’s why you pack your Pepto Bismol and take your vitamins! I’m not telling you to eat from street carts, although I do. I have a stomach of steel and rarely get sick. But that could be from my early childhood training from eating everything and anything. And all my late night bacon-wrapped hot dogs in Hollywood from unregistered boxed carts who flee the scene when the po-po pulls up. When I use to go on those tour trips, they would always feed us Intercontinental buffets from the hotels and eat at these fancy Westernized versions of the local food. Yuck! I’d rather eat fried crickets from a Vietnamese bus stop if that’s what the locals eat for 10 cents each! Those tour-arranged restaurants would cost at least 5 times the cost of eating at a local restaurant. No wonder the tour packages are so expensive! And who wants to eat Hometown Buffet food when you’re in Thailand?
If you’re under 26, you can apply for an international traveler’s student card from statravel.com. You’ll save at least 10% or even free access to many museums and famous tourist attractions! Certain lifestyle changes will have to be modified if you’re serious about traveling. If a 3000$ Chanel purse is more important to you than taking a 3 week vacation abroad, then I can’t change you. But cutting down on some shopping, from eating out, driving hybrid cars to save on gas (which I have reduced 400$ a month from downsizing from a SUV to a Prius). I sacrificed living in my eccentric studio in West Hollywood to move home with the parents so I can save another 1500$ a month. That may not be an option for certain people, so I do feel blessed for having that option. For others, it’s just a matter of lifestyle change. I sucked up my pride and figured after 3 months at home, I could afford to travel for a month somewhere. So in retrospect, I could travel for 4 months straight if I lived at home for a year.
Also the countries you choose to go to, will make a difference in how long you can afford to go for. If you choose France or Japan, you will expect to pay double than your American life. I have shied away from the more expensive places for now, partly because of the cost. Also because the developed places, I feel, can wait. Developing countries will not be the same in 10 or 20 years. China and India is not the same as it was even 5 years ago. I feel the need to go before Globalization or Tourism changes their culture. Thailand is a beautiful country I’ve been to 3-4 times. It will always be beautiful, but there are certain parts like Bangkok or Ko Phi Pi Island that are over-saturated with Tourism culture that I feel a lot of authenticity has been lost. And the locals live to extort your money.
I took a month vacation through SouthEast Asia summer of 2009. SE Asia has been known to be among the cheapest places to travel through. My whole cost including the flight that whole month was only 3000$. Many friends asked how I was able to afford to take off 1 month as a 24 year old, like it was some kind of secret. My expenses living in the US can be easily 2000$ a month. That extra 1000$ can be saved, if you choose to. I am fortunate to work a mainly commission based job that allows me to take off more time if I have good months. But even with the typical 2 week vacations per year, if you cut down on the domestic trips and sick days, you could take that 2 weeks to somewhere exotic. Most Americans love going to Mexico for a short vacation or Europe. But there are other beautiful places to see, and cheaper.
If this blog post even inspires 1 young female to travel, I would be ecstatic. I truly believe that each time someone travels, you are opening your mind to what’s out there and become more loving. I am here to tell you that the world is a safe place. That crimes that may happen like theft or worst things can happen here in Los Angeles, in many cases, more likely. I’ve traveled alone. I’ve traveled with girls, I’ve traveled with a friend. Any way you choose, it will work itself out. You will come home with stories and tales that seem but a myth or a faint memory that you share with your family and friends. You will get the travel bug that will only get itchier through time.
Traveling will make your Life more meaningful and reveal your Dharma. You will begin to appreciate the different cultures and religions here at home. You’ll understand your friends and why they do what they do because of their upbringing and the generational traditions they still practice from their native country. I have appreciated my country United States of America more than I could have ever if I never left. The US government has their flaws, like everything in life, where there’s Yin, there’s Yang. I choose to see the beauty in our country that 95% of countries don’t have especially when it comes to choice and realizing that we really are a “Free Country”. You may think that you can’t afford to travel and that “one day” you will do it. Just remember the older you get, the more ‘baggage’ you will accrue, tying you down to the point where you’re just a product of the rat race and the hopeful 401k. Get out while you’re still young. Explore the world and see what it has to offer.
“The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page” – St. Augustine