Whether I’m driving an hour away to camp in the Great Smokies, or taking a 16 hour flight with a dozen students to Shanghai, getting in the car or on the plane (or train!) absolutely thrills me. Travel isn’t just fun, it’s transformative. It’s some of the best personal and professional development I’ve had. Soon, I may write a post on why travel is so important to me, and why I think all people (particularly teachers) should travel, but for now I’m going to assume that you’re already sold on the joy of adventure and you want to know how it’s done! There’s no one-way to make travel work for you, but this is how I make it work for me.
I make it a priority.
Travel is an investment with returns for the soul! It always takes time, and most often takes money, so if you want to travel the world you must make it a priority. But what does prioritizing travel actually look like in my day to day life?
First comes making the time for it. Now, I didn’t get into teaching for summers off, but let’s just say it would be hard for me to give up my summer now that I have it! And while having summers off might actually put us teachers at a financial disadvantage, it certainly gives us an edge on time. I start intentionally planning my summer travels far in advance, which means I don’t volunteer for summer committees or teaching summer school. I have worked summers in the past but now I make it a priority not to. I also seek out travel opportunities over long weekends and holiday breaks.
Since I refuse to take a second (or third!) job over breaks, financial prioritization during the school year is really important for my adventure mindset. I use Mint to make a budget, track expenses, and set savings goals. With a NC teacher’s salary and a hunk of debt, I must cut back on other budget categories to make room for travel. First, I avoid adding more debt. You won’t see me buying a new car unless I absolutely have to. My husband and I live “below our means”, in a small house with a smaller mortgage than we can “afford”. When it comes to day-to-day expenses, we rarely buy new clothes, and most furniture in our house is second-hand. We’ve even started growing some of our own food, and I buy seasonally at the farmers’ market as well as what’s on sale in the grocery store to save on food expenses. I’m incredibly lucky to be in good health, and I eat well and stay active with the hope that I can continue to avoid hefty medical bills. By combining so many strategies to save, we are able to comfortably travel and I wouldn’t even consider myself a “budget traveler”, though maybe I would by this definition.
Your time and budget realities may be different from mine, but what is one change you can make to prioritize travel?
I cultivate relationships.
People > destinations.
When I was a teenager, I brought home a letter from school about hosting an exchange student and asked my parents if it was something they would consider. I didn’t even expect them to say yes, let alone that I would gain a lifelong friend, I daresay sister. Mareike came to live with us from Germany as a junior in high school, while I was a senior and my brother was a sophomore. The three of us in my car on the way to-and-from school make up some of my best high school memories. I’d always grown up enjoying in-country trips to the beach or national parks with my family, but forming such a close relationship with my exchange sister led me to my first international trip at 17-years-old: a 6-week backpacking adventure through 5 European countries. First stop: Mareike and her family in southwest Germany.
Forming global friendships is extraordinarily rewarding spiritually and emotionally, and as a side-effect it has made travel much more accessible. I’ve saved money by staying with incredible friends and family in Germany, Chile, Ecuador, and across the USA.
I also enjoy traveling with the people I love. We have so much fun together, and splitting the cost of lodging and excursions with family and friends benefits everyone involved!
Another important bond is that of teacher and student. In 2017 I finally tapped into the power of traveling with students. Traveling with them, for them, is more rewarding than I can put into words! It is hard work, but there is nothing like seeing their eyes open up wide in the Amazon rainforest the same way mine did in the Atacama desert when I was a teenager. Build up a solid travel program and you can change kids’ lives while spending little to no money!
Hands down, relationships are the reason I travel, and enjoying time in beautiful places with the people I love makes it much easier to prioritize saving for travel when I’m home!
I save where I can with travel expenses.
As I alluded to above, I’m not a budget traveler. I don’t work my butt off for travel savings only to stress about money or miss out on experiences while I’m traveling! I am, however, smart and frugal with my travel expenses. Some tips like traveling with students or friends are mentioned above, but I also employ other common strategies to save.
– Flexibility: I try to stay as flexible as possible with travel dates, though this an area that is difficult for teachers as we have set vacations and it is very difficult to take off days when we are teaching. However, even leaving a day early or late could save you hundreds on airline tickets.
– I budget before I go! ‘Nuff said. If you’d like another post about how I budget for specific trips, let me know!
– Airbnb and/or local lodging options are often cheaper than hotels. If you like to camp, pack a tent! My husband and I drove the entire ring road of Iceland while paying a pittance for the most gorgeous campsite locations along the way!
– Prioritize: How many times can I fit the word ‘prioritize’ into this blog post? But seriously, spend $ on what matters to you, and don’t on the rest. Personally, I have little to no interest in souvenirs and would rather put my money to an experience like a UTV ride in the Aruban desert rather than a new outfit or trinkets. I LOVE trying new food, so I’m going to spend a chunk of money to go out to eat, but I might pass on the second cocktail or the hotel spa.
I’m a “privileged DINK” (quote from my mother 🙂 )
D.I.N.K. = Double income, no kids
I would be remiss to write about how I prioritize and afford travel without acknowledging some of the privileges I have that help make travel easier. Having a hubby that also works and loves travel too is probably the biggest one! Though I have debt, it’s not unbearable and has helped me develop more financial sense over the years. I thus far haven’t experienced financial and time disasters that I know many of my colleagues have no choice but to face (medical expenses, caring for sick parents, job loss, etc.). I’m lucky to be a citizen of the USA and have a passport, a privilege that unfortunately many of the students I wish I could take abroad don’t have.
Knowing that I have these privileges makes me feel even more motivated to help others travel affordably and responsibly. I’m always brainstorming ways to make travel more accessible for my students, like planning a service learning trip to Puerto Rico that doesn’t require a passport, or helping kids fundraise online for international trips. Let me know if you have your own suggestions of how I can create a more inclusive travel program!
So, what are you waiting for? Where will your next adventure take you?