Whenever we tell people that we are preparing for an open ended family trip around the US, the reactions are almost always the same. At first people exclaim that the trip sounds so amazing/educational/insane for our family. Then they almost always start to look glassy-eyed as they try to figure out a polite way to ask how in the world we can afford a trip like that.
I don’t know if social mores are like this everywhere, but in the south, talking about money is just not done. So with that as a part of my culture, it feels a little uncomfortable to even start to talk about the cost of our trip. Obviously, people are curious, though, more so than any other detail about the trip. Why is it that the dollar signs are the biggest mental stop sign to considering long term travel?
I think there are two pretty big (and false) assumptions that people make when they hear about a traveling family. They assume that travel is an enormously expensive endeavor, and as a natural extension of that, they have to assume that any family that travels extensively must be raking in the dough.
Those two things couldn’t be further from the truth, especially the raking in the dough part. We have a very average American income. We are not independently wealthy and we do not have a nest egg or an inheritance socked away. Luckily, travel, especially slow travel, is not nearly as expensive as some people presuppose.
With that in mind, there are several steps we have taken to make long term travel possible for us financially. Some of these things happened quite by accident and some were part of a purposeful plan. All of them led us to a point where dollars and cents need not be a roadblock to achieving our traveling dreams.
Debt free living. This is a perfect place to give a shout out to our parents who started us out on the right foot in life. Not only did they partner with us to get us in and out of college debt free, but they taught us by example to live life without debt. Staying out of debt wasn’t something that we consciously chose to do as a young married couple. Instead, going into debt just seemed so foreign that we stayed away. Everyone knows that money is power. Debt has the power to control you and direct the path of your life. Possibly nothing has more dream squashing power than the power of debt. If you want to be free to follow your dreams, you must first be free from debt.
Thrifty purchase power. Okay, there is a difference between thrifty and cheap. I could joke and say that thrifty is eating your fill at the buffet, while cheap is getting full then filling your pockets and purse with something for later. But the thrifty vs. cheap conundrum is deeper than that. Being cheap means only thinking about the cost of something, while being thrifty means thinking about the value of something. Sure, the jeans from the big bargain store are cheap, but if they won’t last six washes are they really more valuable than the name brand jeans bought at the end of the season on sale?
We strive to be thrifty in all our purchases. This means very little impulse purchasing and plenty of research to find goods that meet our needs in both price and quality. It also means practicing patience, knowing that many things will go on sale, increasing the value. Buying used is another big way that we practice thrifty spending. By taking full advantage of resale shops and Craigslist, we are able to buy higher quality goods for lower prices.
Sweat Equity. Doing things yourself is a quick and easy way to save money that you can use for family travel. Mow your own grass. Repair your own car and home. The savings will add up fast. We draw the line at cutting our own hair. Some things need to be left to the professionals.
Inexpensive economic area. This is another money saving benefit that just kinda fell in our lap. The mister and I were born and raised in this area, but we went to school elsewhere and decided to return home. Of course, it was family that made us want to make the Metroplex home, but the economic prosperity in this part of the world makes it easy to stay. Housing, gas, food and just about every other expense is much more affordable here and that means there are more extra dollars left over to go into the piggy bank.
Location independent employment. This is the holy grail of long term travel, but what is it exactly? It simply means that you can do your job and earn money just about anywhere. Families who hope to hit the road long term work for years to find a way to break the chains that keep them in one place to earn an income. One day it dawned on us that with a bit of tweaking, we both had jobs that could be done anywhere. That took us one step closer to being able to travel long term.
Long Term Planning. We have been planning this trip for close to six years. From the time that we chose to homeschool our kids, we knew that we wanted to not just read about the history of our country, but to experience it firsthand. Making that choice all those years ago set our financial goals in motion and gave us a target to aim for. Setting a goal not only gave us time to save, it also gave us focus. If you are climbing to the top of a ladder, you want make sure it’s leaning against the right building. (That’s totally not my quote, by the way. Somebody way smarter than me said that, but it couldn’t be truer.)
Once we had our eye on our target, it made it easier to make specific financial choices that helped us to reach our goal.
Reprioritize. Knowing that we needed to begin to save for this trip, helped us to see where we could change the way we were using our resources. One great example of this was in purchasing our travel trailer. We looked a variety of ways to purchase the trailer, knowing that it would take a huge chunk out of our savings and increase the amount of time before we could travel. Instead of hitting our savings, we chose to sell our truck and exchange it for a used travel trailer and a used towing vehicle. Using what we had to get what we wanted was an easy way to reprioritize.
Scorched Earth. Fresh off the victory of our successful truck and trailer swap, we were eager to see how quickly we could begin to save towards our goal. That is when we entered into the ‘scorched earth’ phase of saving. Together we determined what our bare minimum expenses would be and agreed that we would not spend more than was absolutely required to meet our basic necessities. Anything we needed to spend above or beyond that bare bones budget had to be paid for with funds from somewhere other than our paycheck. Creativity became the name of the game, as we began scouring our house for things we could sell in garage sales, on ebay and on Craigslist. I’m not going to lie, there were times when the ‘scorched earth’ phase was about as fun as the name implies. But, it was also fun to find ways to meet the challenge and we were amazed at how quickly we could save towards our goal with a concentrated effort.
Downsizing. This was the move that made the most impact on achieving our goal, while at the same time drew the most confusion from people around us. After running the numbers, we realized that we could technically afford to stay in our current home, but mortgage and taxes and utilities were taking too big of a bite out of our paycheck. At a time when our family size was increasing, we made the “crazy” decision to move to a much smaller house. We gave up plenty of square footage, which included the kids giving up their own room and decreasing our closet space immensely. Sometimes I really miss that closet space, but then I remember that we are going to go on the trip of a lifetime. Closet space can’t begin to compare to the memories we are going to make.
And now here we are. A trip we have been planning for six years is now just six months away. It seems unbelievable, even to us, that an average family with normal means could make a long term trip happen. But we are doing it so it must be true. And if it possible for us, it is possible for your too, just by taking small steps towards big dreams.
This post is a part of Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings. I know the name implies that there should ten things on the list, but in the spirit of sticking to a budget, we cut a little fluff.