How to Travel When You Can’t Really Afford It

I wish I could travel more. I’m probably one of the few people blogging about travel who hasn’t been wandering between U.S. states or different countries for some amount of time.

Lots of people will tell you that, if you want to travel, you need to let go of your excuses and just do it. In a way, you do. If you want to be a travel Buddha and roam the earth as an enlightened version of yourself, you need to let go of your attachments.

Whether or not you should is an entirely different story. It’s one that can only be answered by each individual. What no one seems to say when they tell you that you too can travel is this:

Your priorities are different and that’s okay.

I would love nothing more than to venture out and not come home for a few months, but besides helping my wife through engineering school, I’m responsible for two mangy cats, one of which has a heart condition. Some people might see that as a silly reason, but as much as I want to get out there, I value my current responsibilities too much to leave them behind.

Maybe you have children or elderly parents to look after. Maybe you’ve got a disability that prevents you from moving about freely. You feel like all the travel advice in the world won’t help you. But you still want to see everything.

The honest truth is that traveling isn’t just about seeing the sights. The sights are wonderful. There are pictures to prove it. Traveling is different than vacationing. It’s about looking at the world in a new way and stepping outside of your comfort zone to experience an aspect of life you didn’t know existed.

You don’t have to go halfway across the world to do that.

Stop viewing travel as some luxury getaway.

Seriously. Sometimes, we need to stop looking at traveling as backpacking across Europe and lounging on a beach in Maui with the locals.

Travel is what you make of it.

My wife and I haven’t really gone to too many places, though we try to prioritize it. This usually results in some odd trips.

For instance, a few years ago we went to Bonnaroo in Tennessee without actually going to Bonnaroo. You see, at the time, my wife worked at Starbucks and her previous manager invited her to help work at a store near the event. Of course, I drove down with her.

So, besides my wife working for a few days, the highlights of our trip included going to Sonic for cheap slushies during Happy Hour, going through the car wash, and eating some amazing BBQ at a place that looked like somebody’s old house.

But I remember it.

More importantly, I enjoyed it. There were no flights to catch and it didn’t matter if we forgot to pack something. We found silly goals like avoiding toll roads and trying to get Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kentucky.

We weren’t expecting to have the trip of a lifetime. We just went to have fun and see something new. So, we took the chance.

Look for unexpected opportunities.

Sometimes, I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in trying to get to a destination that we overlook the opportunities to travel a bit closer to home. We also avoid associating the trips we have to take with the trips we want to take.

At the end of September, we had to go to a close friend’s wedding all the way in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Most of the hotel rooms available required a two-night stay, so we decided to make a weekend of it.

It was the most relaxing trips we’ve ever taken. We stayed at a cute little bed and breakfast where I got delicious pancakes every morning with real maple syrup. Plus, since we hadn’t planned anything in particular, we ended up going on an impromptu trip to the Cannon Aerial Tramway.

I think the pictures for this are enough to tell how amazing it was and we ended up getting our tickets for only $15 each.

Canon view

Plus, on the drive to the tramway, we stopped at a small side attraction called The Basin, which was totally free.

basin

So, even though the wedding was our main reason for going, we found a way to make the most of our trip. It might not have been Aruba or anything, but it was something special.

Don’t compare your trip to someone else’s.

Kind of like how you shouldn’t compare your life to what your friends do on Facebook, you definitely shouldn’t look at another person’s travel opportunities as a sign of your travel failures. I think this is one of the hardest things to remember. I have a problem with it all the time.

You need to remind yourself that your life is not like anyone else’s. Even people in similar situations don’t have some of your hardships or some of your opportunities. One person’s trip to Japan is entirely different from another person’s, even if they see the exact same sights.

In all honesty, this also means you never know how much someone is lying. Our trip to Washington D.C. was great, but the drive back was terrible. The only thing I posted on Facebook though was the pictures of the fireworks and the other landmarks we saw. To anyone who didn’t ask, it probably seemed like the perfect, hassle-free vacation.

But What if I really want to Go?

If you really, truly have a dream destination in mind that seems out of reach, my best advice is to tell people about it.

“Well, what the hell is that gonna do?”

My friend, I would like to submit as evidence this Ted Talk.

Amazing, right?

Now, if you skipped the Ted Talk, let me just say that you never know who you’ll meet. Not sharing your goals with others might be an easy way to avoid potential ridicule, but it’s a surefire way to never meet anyone with the resources to help you achieve those goals.

If no one knows how much you want to see the Northern Lights, then you might never meet someone with the same dream who needs nothing more than a travel buddy.

If you still want a more active way to go after what you want, identify your priorities and see if there’s anything you’re willing to sacrifice.

Now, this might seem like old advice. I’m not saying stop buying $5 lattes, though if you’re the person that advice is for, it might be a good start.

No, if you’re anything like the people I know, you don’t buy $5 lattes. Heck, you probably don’t even put sugar in your coffee.

I mean make a list of the things that are preventing you from reaching your travel destination. Focus on the ones you have control over and see if you can change them.

If money is the problem, find a financial planner. Learn to invest. Use your skills to make money in a smart way if you have the time.

If you have other responsibilities, like children or pets or parents, strengthen your social connections. Branch out and ask around. You’ll likely find others who have the same problem (and they may have solved it) or you’ll find true friends willing to help.

Remember, you don’t always have to choose between abandoning your responsibilities and chasing your dreams. When I finally got to go to Paris, we were only there for one day. It was still one of the best days of my life.

Just be patient and make the most of whatever experiences you can get. If you’re anything like me, you might be desperate to travel, but you still wouldn’t trade what you have for it.

It’ll be that much better when you finally do get there.

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