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FAQ: Keys to Affordable Travel #1 – Prioritize Travel

How To Afford Travel Part 1: Prioritize Travel | Stroller Packing

How do you afford to travel so much?

So many people ask us this question.

There’s not really a good, magic-bullet sort of answer.  If that’s what you are hoping for, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  Like any hobby worth having, it requires a lot of hard work and some sacrifice to do it.  We are seizing on a crazy opportunity to do something very unique, and we are choosing to take that opportunity to put the resources of time and money into it so that we and our children can both have some amazing experiences.

Since there are multiple answers to the “how do you afford it?” question, I’m going to break down my answers into a series of posts in the upcoming weeks.  Since Mrs. Spletzer told me in 9th grade English that I should “tell you what I’m gonna tell you,” here’s what’s coming at you – the 5 Keys to Affordable Travel:

Key #1 – Make Travel a Life Priority
Key #2 – The Little Things Matter (At Home)
Key #3 – The Little Things Matter (On the Road)
Key #4 – Be Infinitely Flexible
Key #5 – Play Games

Key #1 – Make Travel a Life Priority

That probably sounds trite and obvious to you.  But I want you to take that in for a minute and absorb it.  Everybody has priorities in their life.

We definitely put more resources and work into travel than we do into other things (possibly more than any other thing).  I will get into examples of the little things that add up in terms of money and time both at home and while on the road, so I won’t go into them here.  What I’m talking about right now is the mindset behind the next two principles.  This is what drives them and what provides the motivation to stick with them when they are hard.

We continue to travel because we love it and don’t want to stop.  And we’re willing to put the work in to make that happen, even if some other things fall by the wayside.

There’s no magic wand that gets waved that manifests a fully planned, booked, and optimized vacation right under your nose.  It’s a ton of hard work to tweak all of the little details that make our trips affordable and plentiful.  In order to be willing to put in that work, it has to be a priority.

I do think that there is a certain tradeoff between time investment and money investment.  Travel isn’t ever going to be free, but if you are willing to put in time and effort to learn about how to optimize it, along with the ongoing time to watch for ephemeral deals when they pop up, you are much more likely to need to invest less money.  There’s a ton to learn about this stuff.  So, a lot of our free time gets devoted to analysis, to picking over details, to reading travel hacking blogs and FlyerTalk.  It’s a priority.  It’s a hobby – we really do enjoy the process, the game of it (more on that in Part 5).  At times we wonder if we put too much time into it, but we have never regretted a trip, and I think that’s probably the best balance: at times wondering if it’s worth it, most of the time knowing that it is.

We have made a value judgement as a family that we prefer – that is, we prioritize – quantity over quality.  We would rather get to take more trips and see more places than take one be-all, end-all trip.  Because of this we try to do things on the road to gain the best value, not necessarily to have the ultimate experience.  We also try to never say things like “once-in-a-lifetime,” instead saying, “we’ll have to do that when we come back next time.”  This takes the pressure off trying to craft the perfect trip.  Believe me – trying to craft the perfect trip when you are traveling with kids is just way too stressful for me.  I’d rather have the opportunity to throw my hands in the air and say, “We’ll do better next time!” than to implode with guilt and disappointment over the pain of a bad travel experience.

It’s also important to think about what aspects of travel are most important to you.  Will you live like a pauper in-country if you get to fly in business class comfort on the way there (we have done this)?  Will you sleep in a hostel bunkroom if you get to eat haute cuisine every night?  Will you eat from the grocery store and street food and fly discount airlines if you get to stay at a luxury hotel?

One priority of our is to sample some local cuisine.  This means chili crab in Singapore, meatballs and smoked salmon in Sweden, hummus made with local olive oil in Israel, or cassoulet in Languedoc.  It doesn’t have to be fancy – we got our smoked salmon at the grocery store in Sweden, and street food is often a great local choice — Singapore chili crab being a fine example.

We also prioritize historical and cultural sites (especially UNESCO world heritage sites), funiculars, and places where we can hang out with locals, including taking local public transit and letting the kids explore a playground.  Maybe you prioritize art museums, musical experiences, or experiencing nightlife.  Find your “thing,” and it will help you focus and not feel like you need to spend time and money to see and do *everything* all at once.

Just one more note on the tradeoff between time and money – this is what I would like to provide by offering a travel consulting and arranging service here on Stroller Packing, and at our sister site, Pine Hill Travel.  Not everyone has the time or money resources (or the desire) to acquire the vast depth of knowledge that we have in our 8 years of frequent flying (3 years with kids).  Which is cool – there are very few people out there (maybe no one?) as crazy as us.  But I’d like to put my knowledge and experience and travel-geekery to work for you.  My hope is that by hiring me, I save you some money anyway (even after my consulting fee) and also save you a TON of hassle.  It’s a happy medium for you between investing time (less of that) and investing money (hopefully less of that too, in the long run).

So the first rule of affording travel is don’t talk about Fight Club make travel a priority.  Have the mindset that it’s worth the work, worth the money, and that you are willing to sacrifice some other stuff in your life to do it as often as you’d like to – whether that’s a little or a lot.

Click here for:
Key #2 – The Little Things Matter (At Home)
Key #3 – The Little Things Matter (On the Road)
Key #4 – Be Infinitely Flexible
Key #5 – Play Games

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  • Lara April 16, 2014, 10:01 pm

    Great post, Amy! Looking forward to the rest of the series!