Updated: Oct 29, 2018
One of my biggest pet peeves in the travel community (aside from people who feel the need to tell you how many countries they have visited) is the smug phrase of "travel is not as expensive as people think it is". [Insert Robert Downy Jr. eye-roll GIF here] I'm genuinely not sure what kind of metric we're looking at. Perhaps these people know the secret Priceline password that gives them magical free flights? Or are we just assuming what everyone else assumes - anyone who has been to Shanghai has taken a private jet. That's what we are basing this off of. Seriously, I don't know where this idea came from. It is annoying AF. Travel is expensive, as in travel is an expense. If you're traveling as a family of three or four (and no, those "child rates" are total bull poop) those $1,000 flights to Paris are going to add up fast. So, yeah, Lester the single goober, your $4 a night hostel in Belfast and JetBlue red-eye from Philadelphia was probably "not expensive", but that doesn't apply to all of us.
Here's the dirty secret people who travel don't want you to know: It is expensive. It costs dollars, and sometimes thousands of them. Just like your car, cell phone, computer, health insurance premiums, grocery bills, and Costco membership. I'm so sick of people dancing around this issue. Yeah, travel is going to cost you. There. I said it. But here is the good news, private jet notwithstanding, it doesn't have to be "terribly" expensive.
From time to time I get asked about how we afford to travel. Usually it is veiled as a sort of non-specific-but-implied "So... money?" question. It is a perfectly valid question, albeit sensitive. It seems that when it comes to money opinions it is easy to perceive that I am, or anyone else who isn't you, is making these choices AT you. Money and how you manage it is deeply, deeply personal. So please know that all our financial choices are made for ourselves and for our unique and nuanced life/lifestyle/choices. I in no way think that anyone should do it "my way", it is simply "a way" we do it. Think of it as a Pin on Pinterest. A cute idea... you may or may not use it, but either way it has you ruminating on the subject and how you might translate it into your every day life.
When we were first married Scott and I vowed that we would travel regularly and as a family. We fully understood that barring one of us hitting the big time in our respective fields of work, this was going to be an endeavor that would take some extra planning. Therefore we viewed many of our financial choices through the lens of "Can we do this and still visit Europe this winter?" This posture alone was helpful just to remember the greater goal of what we wanted to do in the long run. Prior to having children it was far easier to travel on the cheap. Once, I recall we booked a summer special deal to Waikiki and got our flights and hotel for a week in Hawaii for the grand total of $1300! For both of us. Yeah. I miss those days. Now thanks to a recession, the high cost of jet fuel, and lots of other annoying economic factors, deals like that are a thing of the past. So how do we do it now? Especially given the 4 tickets we need to buy?
The easiest and least invasive answer is, we travel in the off season and bargain hunt like crazy on AirBnB. Now that our oldest is of "school age" we keep ourselves mobile by doing his education online. (We did the brick and mortar school thing for a year and found it didn't jive with our family dynamic of traveling year-round.) At the moment we aren't pursuing any sort of airline points hustle. There are plenty of families who benefit from that, but we just haven't figured out what works for us just yet.
With all of that in mind the real dirty answer comes down to two choices that we made many, many years ago. One is that we drive old cars that we pay cash for and second, we have the maximum withholding taken out of our income tax. (This is not financial or tax advise. Speak with your Tax Attorney and or CPA before making any changes to your finances.) Our tax return money is always reserved for travel and thankfully we usually get our money in February which coincides with all the amazing "Please for the love of Pete, come to London, it is the dead of winter and super cheap now" sales on British Airways.
Not having a car payment and learning to live off of a maximum deduction paycheck really got us in the zone of keeping our overhead low. Travel is our hobby. So no, we don't have golf memberships, a boat moored at the local marina, or change out our clothing with every season. We don't have cable/satellite television, our children don't take scads of extracurricular lessons, we buy homes that are often significantly less than what we are "approved for" by the mortgage company, and we don't have a financed car that requires us to carry full coverage insurance. All these little choices do in fact add up to the big ability to make large travel purchases.
That is how we manage the expense of travel. We don't take "The Big Fun Trips" every year. Often times, we rotate between a Big Trip or a few Medium Trips every other year. In the end it probably shakes out to be the same cost-wise. Personally, I don't enjoy jet-setting and managing culture shock and jet-lag every single year. Thus, our current schedule ends up working out great for us.
That is how we manage the dirty secret of travel. If you're interested in the "living well on less" mentality, I highly recommend Mr. Money Mustache's blog.
You can Pin it if you want to. Or not. I promise I'm not being smug. Just being honest with how we roll and that yes, we sacrifice for our ability to explore. It doesn't just happen. At least not for the vast majority of us. Even still it is completely worth it to get out there and experience the world (near or far). I'll leave with one of my favorite quotes:
"Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer." - Unknown
* Mr. Money Mustache is not in any way affiliated with me. He doesn't even know I exist and likely would be annoyed by my blog. In other words: We are not in cahoots and I'm not making any money off of me mentioning his genius.