Ever hear someone go on and on about how everybody can travel the world if they really want to? Let’s keep it 100—traveling is a privilege. If you’re tired of people telling you how easy it is to travel the world, yet it doesn’t line up with your reality, I’m here to share an alternative perspective.
Before you let someone guilt you into shelling out your coins on travel, it’s important to consider that your situation might not be the same as mine or any other diehard travel enthusiast. I am writing this to acknowledge the very real opportunities, advantages, and privileges that have afforded me to travel the world (which also apply to why I was able to have a lavish wedding, drive a luxury car, and build my dream home, but I’ll dive into that more in other finance posts).
The truth is—you can read a ton of tips, and still not have enough vacation time or money to travel the way you want to. Depending on how your finances are set up, even if you do save up the money, it might be wiser to put that money towards financial freedom instead of going on a dream trip.
My advice to you—financial stability should always be your main priority. There is a huge difference between NEEDS and WANTS. Travel is a want. If you aren’t where you want to be financially, why not consider using your wants (like travel) as motivation to reach financial stability FIRST before making it rain on vacay. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy your travels without feeling the burden of wondering how you’re going to survive when you get back home?
It’s possible to still travel even if you’re not monetarily stable, but the trick is to analyze your lifestyle and learn how to work around it so you don’t hurt your progress towards financial stability (and don’t forget, you could also do a cost-effective staycation instead).
Here are 7 realities about the advantages and privileges that allowed me to travel so much in my 20s (before I quit my job and turned travel into a career).
WHY I’M ABLE TO TRAVEL THE WAY I DO
A lot of my travel is sponsored nowadays, so this post specifically addresses my corporate, pre-blogging days (Age 19-31).
1. MY PAYCHECKS FUNDED MY TRAVEL ADDICTION
There are plenty of different ways people travel. Some quit their jobs and live like nomads. Some are expats who work in different countries. Some become successful travel bloggers and fund their travels that way. Me? Before I became a full-time travel content creator, it was from saving up every cent I could from holding down a 9-5 and utilizing my vacation time wisely.
Whether I was making pennies as an intern in my late teens or bringing in higher salaries as I got older, I’ve always worked hard to ensure I had the money to do what I love. Here’s a breakdown of my income from over the years:
Age 19-20: $8.00/hr, 20 hours a week (internship)
Age 21: $33,000 salary (production assistant)
Age 22-23: $38,000 salary (associate producer)
Age 24-28: $60,000-$65,000 salary (video editor)
Age 28-31: $70,000-$78,000 salary (senior video editor/on-camera host)
Post-Corporate/Present-Day: $100,000++ (personal brand)
No matter how much I made, I’ve always made it a priority to travel anywhere in the world I was curious about, regardless of the size of my paycheck. At age 20 with an $8.00/hr internship I was able to study abroad in Egypt for 2 weeks—just as big a trip as my vacation to Cape Town, South Africa that I made at age 31 right after I quit my $78,000 job.
The reality is—whether I had a lot or little, I always had steady income flowing into my bank account that made traveling possible. I adjusted how I traveled based on the amount of money I was able to save up from these jobs.
2. I DIDN’T HAVE STUDENT LOANS
A lot of kids go to college and sign paperwork for loans without fully understanding how loan repayment and interest work. Financial literacy is not taught in schools and I don’t see it changing anytime soon so it’s up to us to seek this knowledge, teach it to OUR kids, and encourage our local community organizations (churches, libraries, etc.) to step up and host workshops on this stuff. Loan debt can be a serious burden.
Those who tell you all you need to do is save a little more money each month in order to afford travel—might not have exorbitant student loans to pay each month. I’m one of them. I had a full scholarship and was fortunate to have walked away from college debt-free (thank you Georgia for offering the Hope Scholarship—you made my lifestyle possible). Therefore, you tell anyone shaming you for not saving up to travel to stay out of your pockets. They don’t know your financial situation!
Not having a ton of debt means it was a lot easier for me to save all that money I made from working and put it towards travel instead. That’s a privilege I’ve always been hyper aware of, and therefor I know better than to preach to people about how easy it is to travel the world. It’s not always that black and white.
However, that’s not to say that people who do have student loans can’t travel. One of my travel buddies said she managed to travel even before she paid her student loans off. She said it was a lot harder, but she made it work by meticulously budgeting (she was also single, had no kids, and had a high-paying job…so perspective).
3. LOW COST OF LIVING—GEORGIA PEACHES HOLLLLAAAAA!
I live in an affordable big city. I could have moved to New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., or another big city where the cost of living is much higher, but I decided to settle down in Atlanta. It has a big city vibe without the big city prices.
I had a friend who moved to LA from ATL and she moved right on back after 6 months. Even I considered moving to Cali at one point, but sticker shock is real. I’m not trying to pay $18.00 for a veggie burger. One glimpse at a cost-of-living calculator and you’ll see that whatever my income is here in Atlanta is worth around half that much in Los Angeles. The average median home cost for an ATLien is $230k vs. $670k for a Los Angelean.
So I have to be honest about the fact that my cost of living is a real advantage that has allowed me to save the kind of money I stacked up over the years. For my readers who live in high cost areas—you absolutely can still travel. I’m just acknowledging that it’s easier for others like me who have lower living costs.
4. I BOUGHT A FORECLOSURE HOME WHEN I WAS 25
I bought a home at just the right time. The townhouse I purchased was half the original price—which ended up being worth more than double what I paid as the years went by. EVEN with the 15-year loan I went with (most people do 30-year loans to reduce their monthly payments), my monthly home mortgage was still cheaper than most people’s rent (more on my homebuying story in a future finance tip post).
My point is though, a low mortgage meant more money I could put towards travel. That was an advantage that helped me save.
5. I DON’T HAVE KIDS
In life there will be a lot you need to save up for—retirement should be at the top of your list, as well as…kids (if you want any). If you are planning to have kids or have them already and you are not financially stable, traveling doesn’t need to be your priority. Getting your finances in order to provide the best life for you and your family should be—and THEN take ‘em on some dope family vacays.
I know plenty of people who have kids and travel the world. The traveling families I know also have their finances together. So traveling with kids is totally possible. It’s just a lot harder to do if you are not where you want to be financially.
According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child from birth through age 17 is over $230k. Add inflation and it’s probably over $280k. Since that’s based on 2015 numbers, let’s just go and assume the cost will be even higher for babies born since then. Kids are expensive AF.
I don’t have children yet. So every cent I’ve made has gone towards me. If I had kids in my 20s, my money and time would have been reallocated to taking care of them and I would have needed to adjust my life accordingly. Sure I would have still traveled. But would I have traveled as often? Doubt it.
6. I’VE NEVER HAD CREDIT CARD DEBT
My next post will be dedicated to credit card responsibility. It’s a conversation that needs to be had. All too often, kids will go off to college and make the mistake of going ham with their first credit card—because again, financial literacy is not taught in schools.
Thanks to the “minimum payment” mindset, credit card debt just gets worse and worse overtime for people. If Americans paid their full credit card balance every month, that would alleviate the comfort people have with spending more than they can afford on a monthly basis. But of course, that’s not the case. Less than 50% of Americans pay their balances in full, and the way interest works…#whompwhomp
I was taught about credit cards at a young age, which is rare. I approached credit cards like they were debit cards. If I didn’t have it in the bank, I didn’t swipe my credit card. That kept my purchases in check and ensured I never had an issue paying my balance off in full every month. No credit card debt = yet another advantage I had to travel more.
7. I WAS BORN FRUGAL AF
My cheapness had no bounds growing up. My frugality didn’t even start when I went out into the world on my own. It started as a kid. My parents recently found an old Christmas list of mine from when I was young. You know the only two things that were on it? Toe socks. And hand sanitizer.
I had a very early understanding of the differences between needs and wants and spent my whole childhood and adult life letting that influence my decisions.
• I grew up on thrift stores and pawn shops.
• I gave myself a $20 grocery budget in college.
• I bought generic brand everything.
• I ate sandwiches for lunch every day when I was in corporate.
• I didn’t update my wardrobe until I was 27.
• I barely wore makeup in my 20s.
• My skincare routine was basic at best.
• I lived with my parents after I graduated college to save up for buying a home.
• I only rented an apartment for 1 year—and even then, I had a roommate so it was hella cheap.
• The only “furniture” I had was a blowup mattress—to me it was a waste of money to furnish my apartment with cheap furniture, when my ultimate goal was to buy a home and fill it with nice things.
• When I finally did buy my first home, I rented out my basement to a friend to save even more money, even though my mortgage was already pretty low.
• I met my now-husband around the time my friend moved out. He eventually moved in and we split all our bills. Now I’m on Home #2.
I was teased (lightheartedly) by my friends who knew how cheap I was back then. In the end, it paid off. I aimed to never have less than $20,000 in savings in my account throughout my 20s (except for when I put 20% down on my home at 25—I had to build it back up after that).
Even though I had a good nest egg, I lived as if I didn’t.
But let’s be real. Not everyone is willing to live like this and that’s okay. What worked for me won’t work for someone else. Some people want real Cocoa Puffs and not its generic counterpart Cocoa Puffed.
That being said, I’ve always been frugal. A frugal mindset does not come so easily to everyone. Therefore this is my final advantage on my list of realities that allowed me to travel the world so much (among other things).
IS TRAVEL A PRIORITY FOR YOU?
Overall, while I have very practical tips to help others prioritize their finances in order to save and travel more, I also have to recognize that I have certain advantages that allow me to stretch my time and dollars as far as I’m able to. Despite that, no matter your situation, the biggest key to being able to see the world is to carefully examine your finances and lifestyle and develop a plan of action that makes sense for you.
Have you cut back on your spending habits and still find that you aren’t saving up enough?
Consider utilizing one of your skillsets to make extra money on the side. Put that money towards both securing your finances and saving up for your next trip. For example—I’m skilled in photography and video production, so while I was in corporate, I made extra money by shooting videos, editing videos, and taking professional photos for both friends and businesses. Figure out your skill and use it to get them coins!