How I stopped making excuses and found a way to travel while having a full time job and very little expendable income.
Let me first start off by saying that I am not your typical travel blogger. Yes, I travel and adventure and seek new cultural experiences just like all the rest, but there is one thing that sets me apart. I have a standard 8-5 office job that only allows me to take 14 days off a year. No, I don’t work for one of those progressive companies that lets me work remote whenever I want (although I'm working on that), or will send me traveling as a part of my job. I have an old school manager who has a completely skewed perception of work-life balance.
I travel on my own time, on my own dime.
I got my BA in Geography from the University of Colorado Boulder, thinking that I would become a travel guide for an outdoor adventure company or work for a magazine like Conde Nast (also working on that). Alas, my dreams were put on halt after I graduated when reality set in and the bills for student loans and rent hammered my inbox every month. I got lost in this corporate spiral and found myself getting sucked into this competitive nature that was completely debilitating.
I make barely enough money to cover basic living and I’m trying to do the responsible thing by paying down my debt as quickly as I can. I would love to say screw student loans and not pay them – but in realty, I’m not that person.
What am I working so hard for?
I decided to stop making excuses and start living my life, however little ‘time’ that was each week. So, I put on my girl pants and got extremely creative. With a little elbow grease and lot of trial and error, here's some life hacks that got me out of my rut and onto the road.
Get strategic with your spending
I don’t mean start eating ramen to save money, I mean pay attention to WHERE you spend
your money. Most of us do a budget to allocate for food, gas, entertainment, etc., but do you look to see what stores you shop at or brands you buy the most of? You should start to, especially if you could be earning airline miles for most of those purchases. Shopping through an airline rewards program can help you earn miles on everyday purchases.
Many people think the only way to earn miles is with an airline credit card or actually flying with that specific airline. Well, that’s FALSE. You can use a debit card (hell, even a pre-paid visa gift card) to earn miles by shopping through the airline website. It takes some time to earn enough for a flight, but if you are going to buy that roll of toilet paper anyways, why not earn miles for it? Go to the rewards section on your favorite airline website to sign up for their shopping rewards program. This is the main reason I am able to travel as much as I do.
To learn more, read my article on how to earn airline miles on everyday purchase.
Get a flexible side hustle
Working a full time job can be exhausting, but don’t that demotivate you from the real reason you clicked on this article – to be able to travel! It took some time to restructure my daily routine to allow for a side gig, but I made the time because that's the only way I was going to be able to afford my adventures.
On the weekends and when the weather was crap I would drive for Uber. My commute is about a hour long so I would turn on the app to drive home and picked up an extra fare or two along the way. I gave up my gym membership and started walking dogs for Wag! . I saved $$ from the gym, made $$ from the walks, and still got my exercise in for the day. I even started hocking my old clothes on Poshmark just to make some extra money. There are a bunch of ways to side hustle these days that allow you to make your own schedule and work whenever you need to (I also tried Postmates, Instacart, and Taskrabbit). It’s not glamorous but who cares? You get to travel now because of it.
Promo codes to get extra $$ when you sign up for the following:
Uber --> Promo code: JULESF37
Poshmark --> Promo code: LIVEYOURPASSION
Don’t be picky – let airfare or airline miles dictate where you go
Rather than picking a place to go then saving up for it, make some money then figure where that will allow you to go. I opened a separate checking account just for the extra money I made. It was an easy way to keep my finances on track and not spend more than I should. Whatever was in my spare account was exactly how much I had to spend on my travels.
You would be shocked at how cheap it can be to fly once you eliminate the ‘destination’ filter on a search site. Kayak has their “Explore” function to see approx. costs based on your home airport. The algorithm isn’t the best but it’s a start to get you doing research. One of my favorite apps Hopper, will show you multiple months of airfare for a certain destination so you can chose when to travel if you have a certain place in mind.
There’s two ways to do this: let the location dictate WHEN you fly or let the date dictate WHERE you go. I ended up in Whistler just in time for an epic snowstorm last winter - all because that was the cheapest place to fly with my miles for the date I was looking at.
Take a road trip
You don’t have to fly overseas somewhere to travel. Now, if your idea of an adventure is going to the casinos in Monte Carlo or yachting in the Caribbean then it may take more time to save up for those things. However, in the meantime there are plenty of things to explore within driving distance or a short flight away. It’s pointless to spend a bunch of effort to get somewhere just to spend a day or two there. Make getting there worth the effort by stopping along the way and enjoying the journey.
Personally, I love to camp so lodging isn’t generally an issue for me. However, if you aren’t too keen on ‘roughing it’ then take this time to look up friends and ask if you can come visit them for a night. If you don’t feel comfortable asking them directly, put a post up on Facebook letting people know you are planning a road trip Say you would love to see anyone within a specific area or along a certain route. I've stumbled into some serious adventures because I linked up with old friends from college or shred friends from my winter snowboard days.
Be strategic with your time off
Take a look at the calendar and ask your HR department for a list of company holidays. Use the ones that fall on a weekday to your advantage and couple your days off around weekends and other holidays (4th of July, Labor Day, etc). By taking 4 days of PTO you can get a 9 day vacation. If you need approval for your time off request, put it in even if you don’t have a trip planned yet. They are more likely to approve it if you give them lots of notice.
I like to take one long vacation a year and then do multiple 3-day weekends to satisfy my travel bug. I’m not sure people realize that I pretty much stick to the Western part of North America when I travel. They just see I’m traveling all the time but don’t put two and two together. Alaska, Whistler, Jackson Hole, Yosemite, San Diego… those are all within just one time zone change from where I live. Luckily, I'm a mountain lover and there are plenty of states with access to the mountains.
Whatever your career or financial situation is, there’s a way to make travel a part of your life. It just takes some creativity and elbow grease to make it happen.
life experience > material possessions
The next step for myself is trying to negotiate working remote on Fridays in lieu of a monetary salary raise. Wish me luck! This ought to be interesting…
"Whether you are chasing an idea, experiences, or the globe…the amount of passion it takes is all the same. Our actions are driven by our true desires. There are no excuses."
- The Chasing Summits Project
Follow me on Instagram as I travel hack my way through life --> @J_does_epic