Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How I Afford to Travel

The other day a friend of mine sent me a text asking if I wanted to go to dinner on Saturday night.  I responded with “Sorry, I’m in Mexico” in which she responded “Must be nice”.  I stared at the screen annoyed for a few minutes.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on why her message was bothering me so much.  And then it hit me:  I invited this friend to come to Mexico with me over a year ago and she said she could not afford it.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that there is a recession and that people are having financial difficulties.  However, in the case of this friend, every time I see her she is wearing designer clothing from head to toe, she is carrying the latest “it bag” and her hair/nails are freshly done.  Which brings me to the point of this blog:  I don’t question your priorities, please don’t “must be nice” mine.

Whew, feels good to get that off my chest.

Now that we are past that, let’s talk about the question I get asked most frequently – “how do you afford to travel?” and the answer is simple - I plan for it.  What does that mean?  It means that I do what I have to do in order to travel the way I want to travel.  This includes:

·       Budget – we have talked about this before.  I have a yearly travel budget.  I sit down at the beginning of each year and map out where I want to travel that year and when.  I then spend some time pricing flight options, hotels, etc. so that I have an idea of what each trip will cost.  I also give myself a cushion for other things I might want to do.  For instance, if I’m going to Australia I know that I will be snorkeling and other water related activities.  If I’m going to Paris, I know I will be doing some shopping.  Add it all up, and I now have my yearly travel budget.   

·        Separate Account – I have a set amount, which was determined based on my travel budget, direct deposited into my travel account each pay period.  I also have certain reimbursements, such as my Flexible Spending Account, sent directly into my travel account.  I use this account only for travel related items such as plane tickets, hotel reservations, and spending cash while traveling.

·     Cut the Fat – I have cut out things in order to save money.  For instance, outside of a regular trim and a deep condition I do not have my hair professionally done, I do my own manicure and pedicure using professional tools that I purchase from a wholesale website, I do not have cable TV and I take public transportation every chance I get to save on gas, parking, etc.

The most important thing I do:

·        Plan in Advance and Remain Flexible – since I know early in the year where I want to go, I set up airfare alerts in order to receive emails when fares to my destinations are dropping.  Most travel websites have this feature, I use Airfare Watchdog, but I do not depend on these websites to find me the best fare.  I randomly check airfare for my destinations, using different departure and return dates.  I also try and purchase my tickets at least 6 months in advance using a site that has a price guarantee so that if the price does drop I will receive a refund.

And there you have my answer to the question “How do you Afford to Travel”.  Of course, there are other things that help such as having points and friends that work for airlines and in the hotel industry; but for the most part, I stick to my budget and never loose site of what is important to me.

How do you save to travel?