When I graduated college, I made a promise to myself that I would travel at least once a year. The same year I graduated, I went to Guatemala. The following year, I took a week-long road trip to move from the East Coast to central Texas. The year after that, I spent two weeks in England and Ireland. This year, I’ll spend about two months traveling inside the U.S. I’ve kept my promise to myself, even though my income has never surpassed $32,000.
Let’s face it: travel takes time, money, and planning. When one or more of those things is in short supply, many people push travel to the back burner. I don’t blame them. Especially when you’re in your twenties, things like paying down debt and building up a savings cushion should, in my opinion, absolutely come before travel.
Even though money is in short supply in my house, and even though I graduated college with debt, I’ve made travel a constant priority since graduation. Sometimes it almost seems to run contradictory to my longer term goals of beefing up my savings account, saving for a house, and eventually, becoming financially independent of a job. So why do I travel so much?
Before I get into that, let me paint you a better picture of my financial history. Last year I made $32,000, which is by far the most money I’ve ever earned. In 2014, I only earned $15,000! (Both years I traveled for two weeks at a time.)
I graduated college with $25,302 in student loan debt, and I paid off all my loans by June 2015. I’ve got a very healthy-sized emergency fund (over $5,000), and I’ve maxed out my IRA for the past two years, leading to over $10,000 in retirement savings.
The reason I travel on my tiny income is two fold: I love it, and I have my money situation on lock. I am great at saving, and I live a frugal life to be able to maximize that saving. My money goals are clear and constant in my mind. I have a plan to achieve them that I live out every day.
Here’s the big distinction: travel is a passion, not a distraction. I don’t use travel to escape from my life. I use it to enhance it. How many Instagram or Pinterest images of mountains have you seen with text along the lines of “Let’s escape” or “Run away with me”? I know I’ve seen at least a million. And that, in my opinion, is entirely the wrong way to think about travel.
Travel should be folded into your life in a manageable way. When I was traveling in debt, it was the kind of travel that wouldn’t take away from my debt payoff goal. It was smaller, budget travel. I mostly stayed within the U.S., usually drove instead of flying, and took shorter trips. I would camp instead of stay in a hotel, or crash with friends. I wasn’t in a place to run off to Ibiza and blow thousands of dollars on that Instagram worthy travel. So I didn’t — and as a result, I’ve stayed on course with my financial goals and been able to travel.
I firmly believe that travel should not just be reserved for the rich. Finding the time to take and plan out a trip might be a challenge that’s more difficult to overcome for some people, and I want to acknowledge that piece of the puzzle. Money, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be a roadblock to your travel dreams.
For all the readers out there who also have hearts filled with wanderlust, know that it can be done on a tiny salary. I recommend that you constantly be saving something into an account specifically earmarked for travel. If all you can manage to put away is $20 a month, do it. Even if you don’t have a trip planned at the moment, small savings add up to big things. When you do find the time to take a trip, if you save diligently enough, the money will be waiting for you.
Kara Perez is a freelance finance writer who blogs about living the good life for less at From Frugal To Free. After conquering her student loan debt, she’s striving to save more and live debt free forever. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.
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