How do you afford travel?

Dear Dr. Kate:

How do you afford all this travel? Do you have secrets? Connections? Do tell. Inquiring minds are stumped.

Inquiring Mind

Dear Inquiring Mind:

You ask a good question, especially given that I’m a teacher.  Most teachers don’t make anything close to the big bucks of a lawyer, doctor, or CEO–and I’m no exception.

However, there are plenty of CEO’s and doctors and lawyers who never travel.  It all starts with desire.

Of course I have two big things in my favor:  No kids.  And a lot of time off.  That said, there are people with kids and people with more traditional jobs who travel a lot. So again:  It starts with desire.

Since you asked, here’s a list of my “secrets”:

1.  Dream and play.  I started collecting travel magazines and cutting out pictures of things I liked.  I pasted images and key words into a notebook.  Each page became a montage of images:  downhill skiing, hanging out on a boat, snorkeling in azure water, swimming with dolphins, hiking in dazzling mountains, groups of friends enjoying food and drink and laughter.  I chose things that didn’t have specific associations for me—just things that made me feel good.  I cut and pasted like a little kid, without an agenda. Just because it was fun.  Eventually I drifted away from that project and onto other things.  But two years later, I found the notebook and thumbed through—stunned to see that every single thing in it had come true.

2.  Explore the web.  There are copious travel blogs out there by people who live a traveling life. I love to Google “travel blogs” and read about people’s adventures and tips.  Many of them share their budgets and talk about choices they made that have allowed them freedom to travel—such as becoming internet-based entrepreneurs.  They demystify traveling because they do it so many different ways.  The possibilities are endless.  Two other good sites to explore are Mind My House and Couchsurfing.  Both provide ways to stay for free in others’ homes.  I  poke around on these sites a lot but haven’t yet used their services, although I’ve had friends who have, and they recommend them highly.  You can also use the web to find resources to trade your house with another family, or to rent out your house when you travel.

3.  Enjoy cheap abundance.  Many people (especially women) spend a lot of money on clothes.  I buy my clothes at Target, Ross, Goodwill and yard sales.  I also buy sparkly fun things and boas at costume stores so I have a bounty of bargain bling! Overall, though, instead of buying a lot of clothes and jewelry, I focus on wearing things I own in brand new combinations.  I also try to spend more time outwardly enjoying life than worrying about how I look.  My little luxuries (which I relish) are an $18 pedicure and a $2 light roast coffee with cream that I take on a morning beach walk.  Also, we live in a small house, which discourages us from collecting a bunch of stuff we don’t need.  And we are able to live happily with one car, which cuts back on expenses such as insurance, registration, and car maintenance.  Whatever you enjoy that doesn’t cost much, relish it!

4.  Take pleasure in free stuff.  My favorite freebies are hiking in the redwoods, walking into town, sex, beach Frisbee, reading books and blogs, street fairs and festivals, and the TV shows “Chopped,” “The Voice,” and “No Reservations.”  Instead of paying for expensive yoga classes, I do my own improvised yoga routines or do one guided by Sarah Ivanhoe on DVD.  Taking pleasure in cheap abundance and free stuff is a different mindset from “cutting back.”  It’s about thriving not depriving!

5.  Relax and compare.  Dave and I enjoy poking around for deals on flights, hotels and rental cars on travel sites such as Kayak.  I sign up for “price alerts” so I can keep track of when prices drop.  I find that if I’m enjoying reveling in the fun of travel (as opposed to being worried about it), magical things happen.  For instance, Dave and I had checked for flights to Hawaii several times over the course of a few months and then just stopped because they were quite expensive.  Then, one day, he just decided to look again—and they were half the price.  We booked on the spot, giggling at the fun of it all.

6.  Enjoy your friends.  How often have you had people invite you to come visit them “any time”?  Well, Dave and I take them up on it.  Two summers ago we spent two months traveling.  We stayed in the homes of ten different sets of friends on our journey.  The summer before that, I planned a trip to Italy and Spain based on the fact I had a friend living in Tuscany and another in Madrid.  Of course staying with friends is free—but better yet, there is no better way to really get to know the people in your life than drinking coffee together in the mornings with sleep-encrusted eyes, or tootling throughout their neighborhood on bikes, or going to their favorite restaurants and theaters and places of worship, or hiking on their favorite trails, or visiting their child’s classroom, or helping set up a party and raging together.  New experiences together add a new layer of richness to relationships.

Another way to enjoy friends is to share travel expenses (and therefore, experiences).  One winter we leased a ski house with another couple.  That turned out to be much cheaper than staying in hotels during ski season, and cooking in the house was more fun and less expensive than going to restaurants.  Finally, post on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, where you want to travel.  When I’ve done that, I’ve often had friends (people I’ve met and those I know only online) invite me to their towns and homes, as well as give me great suggestions for places to see and ways to travel for less.

7.  Charge it!  We charge almost everything (gas, groceries, etc.) to our credit card that gives us frequent flier miles.  Of course, this only works well if you pay off the credit card each month.  We’ve used these miles for flights and rental cars.  Our card company loves us so much they gave us a bonus 5,000 miles when we got married.  Who gets a wedding present from a credit card company?  (Okay, maybe everyone; but I like to pretend we are special.)

8.  Focus.  What I hear in your question is a desire to travel.  So, as I said in #1, milk that desire.  Play around in it.  So perhaps you don’t yet have the money.  Or the time.  Accept that for what it is:  a temporary concern.  Everything is temporary because everything changes.  So instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have–and on where you want to go.

HEY OUT THERE:   Leave a comment below to share your tips for affordable travel!


Upon leaving home and job, I'm traveling the world with my adventure partner and husband, Dave. The author of four books, I'm a personal writing coach.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in money, travel
20 comments on “How do you afford travel?
  1. Jim gillis says:

    Kate , I thought I was doing very well at travel but you have it mastered which inspires me to work harder at more inexpensive travel!
    Thank you

  2. Steve Williams says:

    Like your new site. It’s so fun to know someone so talented. Maybe someday we can meet in Santa Cruz. Your friend from your blog page, Dr. Steve Williams, CSUH.

  3. Julie Brook says:

    Great tips, Kate! We travel a lot, and with a kid, and do it all frugally and fun. We have had many Couchsurfers stay with us — it’s free and feels a bit like traveling! We Couchsurfed for the first time last summer in Seoul (even guest houses are very expensive there) and it worked out great. Adopting a low consumption lifestyle has so many benefits and gives you so many more options and opportunities.

    • Dr. Kate says:

      Hi Julie –

      Great to hear about your Couchsurfing adventures. I really do want to try it sometime. I love the notion that hosting Couchsurfers it a way to travel at home.

      I’m curious if people you stayed with in Seoul spoke English? Did you pick English-speakers, or did you care one way or the other?


  4. Kari says:

    Kate you are right on about shifting your spending dollars to use on things you really want rather than on what you don’t need. I can vouch that it works :)
    I also believe that airlines own websites have the cheapest fares, so sign up for their weekly specials. Southwest Airlines just had a 40% off 3 day sale this past week. I’m going to Santa Fe via Albuquerque RT for $160 from SFO at the end of next month. You have to be prepared to act almost immediately although travel is usually a few weeks later. And take advantage of SWA partner services especially car rentals. Last summer, SUVs were cheaper than economy because they had such a surplus of them. My brother saved $300 over the car rental reservation by adding his flight information.
    AirTrans is part of SWA now, and they had the same big sale, serving Hawaii and other travel destinations.

  5. Dr. Kate says:

    Great suggestions, Kari! I love how the internet has made travel options so widely available to us. So hearing about how others make best use of it is so valuable

    Have a blast in Santa Fe!

  6. Scott . says:

    What a lot of wonderful tips. As an academic myself, I have budget limitations and I let it limit my travel, but now I see I needn’t!

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with your power of intention as it relates to travel and the rest of life. I decided as a reward to myself for finishing my book I wanted to go to Latin America and the next week found a mysterious package in my mailbox. Inside was an invitation to come to Brazil!

  8. Laurie Morgan says:

    Totally agree with the notion that anyone can travel and have great adventures if that is what they want. I traveled to 30 countries while in my 20′s in between school and jobs and without much money! Best decision I could have made. Once you take the plunge you figure out more ways to do it.

  9. Janelle Melvin says:

    Hi Dr. Kate!

    Looking forward to sharing your adventures! Want to know about the weather, the food, the people….

    have fun traveling, I’ll have fun reading about it…plus doing a little travel of my own!

  10. Cheryl Young says:

    Awesome advice, you are going to have a lot of fun with this new venture that you have chosen!!!

  11. Ellen Young says:

    That was a really full answer, Kate. Thanks for taking the time to lay it out so well. Traveling used to be a big thing for me, but not so much in recent years. But why not? There are so many places I’d love to see, some for the first time, some again. One particular little Mexican village still calls me, inviting me back to a string hammock under a tree on a long, empty beach.

    • Dr. Kate says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Ellen. All of life is an adventure. So whether we travel near or far, we’re always adventuring! I love that image of the village. It’s a sweet-spot in your spirit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Send me your questions about life, adventure, happiness, writing, "middle age," publishing, books, travel or anything else juicy. I'm not a "real" doctor nor do I play one on TV. I'm just a nerdy, literature-and-adventure-lovin' Ph.D who adores life and crazy little endeavors such as writing an advice column with absolutely no qualifications. To submit a question, click on "Contact."