How I worked full-time and traveled to 16 countries

Prioritize.

Plan.

Go.

       2017 was the year of manifestations for me. After my first solo trip, I realized I didn’t need to wait on others to see the world. I then set a goal of visiting 27 countries by my 27th Birthday. I don’t want to paint this fairy tale picture for you all in which you believe that anybody can travel. No they cannot! Especially “those people” who have been socially, politically and economically oppressed for centuries now. However, I had a goal so I had to make a plan. How was I going to see the world on a teacher’s salary?   

      Fortunately enough for me, during the beginning of my travels I had a few financial advantages that worked in my favor. First off, I am a very very frugal individual, I live with my parents, I don’t go out much and I believe in saving money at all costs. I am actually a minimalist at heart which makes me feel like I can cheat at this game called “adulting.” Beyond that though, I utilize a few different strategies with a goal of seeing the world.

Deals Not Trends

     I determine my travels not on the latest trend but based on the deals. The deals determine where I will go next. I am loyal to several flight deal websites: “Scott’s Cheap Flights” and “Skiplagged” are a couple of my faithfuls. Whenever I find an amazing deal I can’t resist, I go for it! Which saves me thousands of dollars in the long run as my rule of thumb is never spending more than $500 on a plane ticket. For instance, Iceland and Sweden would have never crossed my mind as a travel destination for me in 2017 until I saw that I can travel to both of those countries for a mere $300 and I am so glad I booked that ticket.

Open-Jaws & Long-Hauls

     Another technique I use is booking open-jaw flights and long-layovers. An open-jaw is a round-trip ticket where you leave a different airport than you originally arrived which gives you a chance to see two cities for the price of one. I usually book my open-jaws through ITA Matrix which is a bit tricky to navigate at first but gives you much more flexibility than other flight search engines which ultimately results in cheaper flights. Long-layovers also have this privilege which means you can spend up to a day in a city waiting to go to your final destination. This was how I was able to explore Beijing and Frankfurt this year. Some people hate long-layovers but I love them, especially if they give me a chance to see a new city. Beijing even had layover tours where your guide will pick you right up from the airport and will assess your itinerary based on how much time you have until your next flight.

Credit Card Travel Rewards

      I also used my credit card points to book a flight last year. My recent flight to Rome cost me only $11 because I used my credit card reward points to book the flight. The credit card I use is Chase Sapphire Preferred. The card comes with a lot of benefits such as free trip insurance, baggage delay insurance, delay reimbursement and 2x the points that can be redeemed for cash so they are basically paying for you to travel. As a fair warning, the card does have a 25.99% APR so if you cannot pay off your card every month to avoid the interest rate then you might want to weigh your options before getting this card. But if you are thinking about getting the card, they have a 100k point in branch deal for 4k in the first 3 months. That’s worth about $2000 bucks in travel credit itself. Worth it!

Minimalist Lodging

      I save a lot of money by staying in more affordable Airbnbs and Hostels. I believe I only stayed in a hotel once while abroad and that was only because I was with my son and wanted him to have all the amenities. If you are a person that values an upscale lodging experience then you may struggle a little with this one but I spend very little time in my room when I travel so a bed and shower is all that is needed for me. I have spent as low as $10/night for a room while abroad. I have even “Coachsurfed” once which is staying with a local for a night or two while you learn more about their culture and they learn more about yours (which was absolutely free may I add!) and to top it off, I made a lifelong friend in the process. Worth it!

50-30-20 Rule

        The ultimate thing that helped me travel more in 2017 is I learned to master the “50-30-20 Rule.” If you guys are not familiar with the rule it says:

  • 50% of your income should go to living expenses and essentials. This includes your rent, utilities, and things like groceries and transportation for work.
  • 30% of your income should be used for flexible spending. This is everything you buy that you want but don’t necessarily need (like money spent on movies and travel).
  • 20% of your income should go to financial goals, meaning your savings, investments, and debt payments (such as credit card payments).

This financial rule has supplemented and disciplined  my life so much. The most difficult part is being consistent and committed. 2017 was the most compromising I have done in all my life. The main things I gave up was eating out so much and impulse buying. And mostly all of my 30% flexible spending went to my travels every check. My 2018 goal though is to flip this rule so that 50% goes to savings, 30% goes to bills, and 20% goes to wants because my ultimate goal is to save as much as possible in 2018. 

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      It also doesn’t hurt that I am an educator and fortunately for us, we get a lot of what many people would call “breaks” but what educators would call “restitution for unpaid overtime.” I use that time to recharge, reflect and pour into myself which I don’t often get a chance to do and I do this by traveling. My students will tell you that I rarely take days off. Last year, I only took a day off to dispute a traffic ticket in court and another day off because my son was sick; the rest of my 12 PTO days were strategically planned for traveling in extension to the winter breaks, spring breaks, etc. I also work extremely hard at my job so when I take a day or two off for whatever it may be, it is looked at as something that was earned not given.

     So as you can see no I am no drug dealer, no I don’t travel for a living and no I don’t run a lucrative business that grosses insane amounts of cash each month. I am blessed to have traveled to 16 countries in 2017 and hope to travel to a lot more in 2018. I think as a generation we need to stop assuming that traveling is such an expensive endeavor (it can be but it doesn’t have to be.) I suggest you do your own research, assess your funds and JUST GO! So in 2018, don’t ask any questions, don’t wait for others to join you, don’t ponder on the “what if?” Honestly, JUST GO!