Flexibility. If there is one word in the English dictionary that will help you travel on a shoestring, it’s flexibility. There are so many variables in what makes travel’s final cost.
You can click on the links below to skip to what’s most important to you.
- When do you want to go?
- Where do you want to go?
- What do you want to do?
- Who do you want to go with?
- How do you want to get there?
If you can answer all 5 of these questions with a simple, “I don’t care,” then you really only have one fixed variable (as long as it’s cheap). Don’t worry, in the end, you’ll see it all anyway, so who cares what order you do it?
We can’t all drop everything and catch a last-minute flight tomorrow to Tokyo (but wouldn’t that be great). But you can scan the horizon every day 4,5, or 6 months out. And when you see that Tokyo flight for next to nothing, leaving on a Friday coming back on a Tuesday, you can request those days off or even practice your best “I’m not feeling well,” impersonation. Or if your like me, you use a combination of the two.
Which brings me to my next point in regards to “when.” In the beginning, it might be necessary to accept you’ll have to see the world one long weekend at a time. A three week safari might not be affordable this time around. And getting the time off may prove even harder. Don’t despair, save up those hotel points and keep those frequent flyer miles and suddenly the Serengeti won’t sound so crazy after all. Maybe save your vacation time or tack on to federal holidays and work offered 3-day weekends (Thanksgiving, Christmas, maybe even the 4th). Every country has their own set of holiday weekends, so my friends from other countries get the point too.
Airfare changes almost hourly. Great deals come and go faster than you can click on the link, so you have to constantly be fishing to find the trip that meets your budget. Just last night, I found an incredible deal from New York to Finland at a crazy price. This morning, it was gone. Am I disappointed? Yes, of course. Does this mean I will never get to Finland? No, that’s just crazy talk. Maybe I don’t know when I will, but I will get there, because I want to go there.
Don’t fight the current and don’t ignore the trade winds. They’re there to help you. Every location has an off season. The same people, the same food, and the same beautiful sights will be there, so why not stand out a bit? Go where nobody is going (at least not today). To be honest, this really is the best time to go. It’s not just the airfare, but the hotels as well that lower in price. In my opinion, the off season also allows you an opportunity to see somewhere for what it really is, not for what the magazines say.
For example, ask someone who lives in New Orleans the best place to be for Mardi Gras and you’ll frequently hear them say, “not New Orleans.” The locals leave it to the tourists and come back after the trash is picked up. Don’t get me wrong, Mardi Gras is incredible, but it comes with a price (and it’s not cheap). When your just starting out your travel adventures, steer clear of the event based destinations and focus on the things that are available year round like monuments, museums, outdoor sights, and my favorite (food adventures). Again, save your points for the year you want to participate in Alaska Iditerod. You just have to be flexible.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the “what,” may be the hardest pill to swallow. What do you want to do when you get there? Maybe you want to see gorillas in Angola, climb Mt. Everest, raft the Amazon, or eat at the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant in the Maldives (one of the most expensive restaurants in the world). I know… me too. It’s not that you can’t do these things, because you CAN and someday you WILL. However, it won’t be cheap and there’s so much else to do first that’s just as amazing! Have you stood in a forest of Redwoods so large a car can drive through it? Once you make it to Bangkok, Thailand, you can see the best Muay Thai boxing in the world for less than an extra large pizza! In Paris you can admire billions of dollars worth of art (seriously, think about that for a minute) for less than a dinner for two. You will eventually get that penthouse suite at Cesar’s Palace if you really want it, but you have to prioritize and (say it with me…) be flexible.
A good traveling buddy may be one of the most valuable assets you can have. They make those long flights somehow seem shorter. They make those funny moments hilarious. They add to your story and will save you when you’ve had one too many. In a very practical sense, they can even make your adventure cheaper. Hotel rooms are one of the biggest piranhas of your vacation money and if you are willing to share a room your cost is suddenly cut in half! You can split a taxi when you missed the last bus back. You can also sometimes get a discount on group rate tours. Yes, more planning is needed because now you have to work out the time and place for two. You have to be a little more considerate of someone besides yourself and you have to make compromises. But that little bit of flexibility opens up to longer vacations and nicer rooms. When choosing your travel buddy, start with a small trip (3-4 days and not too expensive). You’ll learn a lot about each other and just as importantly, something about yourself.
Let’s start with the obvious… your not going 1st class. Heck, 2nd class may not even be on the table. It may be next to the guy who has a pet pig on the bus (not sure what that ticket is called, and yes I’ve sat there). Somehow that was actually one of my favorite rides ever. I’m still trying to get my 1st class ticket from L.A. to Dubai (one of the longest non-stop flights out here). I just need to collect a few (maybe more than a few) frequent flyer miles and I’ll be enjoying the same thing the millionaires enjoy (for about 15 hours). But first, I’ll be flying in coach, taking the bus instead of the taxi, and walking instead of the bus. In some parts of Africa, they still let you ride on top of the train (if that’s your thing) for less than a seat inside. It’s all an adventure and we all get home eventually.
My mom grew up in a house without indoor plumbing not far from Lynette Alabama. She paid for an all-girls private school through scholarship and working in the strawberry fields outside Salinas California. She didn’t get her college education completed until she was 37. Worst of all, she had to raise a brat like me (thanks mom).
Today, she can boast of living in 9 different countries, visiting over 40 and being a lifetime Marriott loyalty member (I think it was a million point threshold). Every year, for the last six years she’s flown to another country (always 1st class) and is treated like a princess upon arrival. She worked hard at home and still found her passion. She scuba dives in the Mediterranean, she sails in the Atlantic, and she orders room-service on the balcony overlooking the Pacific (Hawaii is nice).
It didn’t happen all at once, but it did happen. She wanted to see the world and she did. Work, focus, and (seriously… am I going to say this again.. yeah, I am) flexibility made it all possible. Godspeed and happy travels!