One of our favorite things to do is travel. There are so many places we want to see, I doubt we’ll ever make it to all of them. However, despite the fact that we want to see so much, we are not willing to incur debt to do it. People ask me how we afford to travel so much if we don’t go into debt to do so. It’s a good question because while we may not have any debt, we aren’t wealthy, either. The simple answer is that travel is a priority for us and we give up other things in order to travel, but of course it’s not quite that simple. There are other considerations, as well.
I know plenty of people who are willing to incur debt for a vacation. The rationale seems to be, “I (or my kids) could die tomorrow so I want to have all the great experiences I can and hang the expense!” I, too, want to have all the experiences I can in this life, but I’m also assuming that I will live to a good old age. Therefore, I want to make certain that I won’t be paying for great experiences in my youth by living in a rat infested rest home in my older years. That means that I have to balance my desire to see the world with my desire to live comfortably later (or to have enough money to survive a layoff or medical emergency that might happen next week). If I want to travel on the limited budget that I have, that money has to be subtracted from other budget areas.
I have to ask myself, “What am I willing to forego in order to travel?” The answer is never to decrease or raid my contributions to savings; otherwise, while I might not be incurring debt, I am hurting my future plans which I am not willing to do, even to travel. I am willing to give up short term thrills in order to travel. I don’t go to the movies and instead choose to wait and rent the DVD from Netflix. I don’t eat out often while we’re home because I’d rather be able to eat at great restaurants on a trip. I don’t go to clubs or bars seeking entertainment. I don’t buy high end clothes, shoes, or bags, choosing to save that money for great souvenirs from far away places. In other words, to free up money for travel, I give up a lot of the day to day thrills that so many of my friends spend money on.
When my friends travel, they’ve already spent their money on other things so they have to put the trips on credit. “I just don’t have the money,” they say. They don’t yet understand the relationship between spending lots of money on the day to day things and giving up that sort of spending in order to do other things. Very few people can have it both ways. To remain debt free, that’s a choice you have to make: Have fun at home and go out a lot, or save that money for something bigger.
We also have to give up some bigger things in order to travel, or vice versa. Some years we have to decide which is more important: Do some big home improvements or travel? Buy a better car or travel? There are always things coming along to compete for our travel money. Which one wins depends on how dire the situation is and if it’s something that can/should be put off. Sometimes the winner is something that we just want more than travel, although that’s rare. Sometimes we have to be mature and admit that some things have to take precedence over traveling. We have to admit that we can’t do it all and choose the necessary over the unnecessary. It stinks, but it’s the choice we make in order to keep our debt free lifestyle.
There are other choices we have to make in order to travel debt free. We can either have one big, long lavish trip per year and one small, shorter trip, or spread the money out to get five or six less expensive trips per year. We don’t always choose the less expensive option. If there’s some place we want to go that’s very important to us yet extremely expensive, we’ll make that trade and take the big trip and put off other trips until the next year. We did that last year when we went to Italy. That was an expensive trip with exchange rates so out of balance. But it was important to us so we only took that one trip and then camped a couple of times in the summer. This year, we have five much less expensive domestic trips planned. Next year, who knows.
We also have to look at the total amount of money we have for the year and decide how to allocate it for each trip. Do we choose low cost lodgings in all destinations, or do we splurge in one place but scrimp in others? How much can we spend on food and souvenirs? Do we drive or fly? We also shop for every bargain we can get in order to make the money stretch further. Frequently, the bargains determine where we stay or how we travel. A really good deal can even make us change destinations entirely. We literally cannot afford to get locked into a certain dream hotel or destination. We stay flexible and open minded as we make our arrangements and then we choose the best priced option from the acceptable choices.
Most importantly, we know when to say no. No matter how much we may want to travel there are times when it simply isn’t advisable. If either of our jobs look shaky, all travel plans are put on hold until the situation gets better. If we have spent the money somewhere else, like on an expensive repair, home upgrade, or an emergency, we stay put until we’ve saved the money again. If our income or savings drop we adjust accordingly, even if it means giving up trips we’ve already planned. As much as we love to travel, there are times when we just have to say no because the money simply isn’t there.
It is possible to travel extensively and still remain debt free, even if you aren’t wealthy. However, it will likely mean giving up or putting off some other things. If you judge it to be worth it, as we do, then you won’t miss the dinners out, the designer clothes, or the granite countertops.