Bob: “I’m jealous. I wish I could travel as much as you do.”
Me: “So why don’t you?!”
Bob: “I’m too poor”; “I don’t know who I’d go with”; “I have too much going on.”
I have had this conversation more times than Antoine Dodson’s remix song has gotten stuck in your head. Fo’ real. I’m not trying to boast. I’d like to demystify popular belief that traveling is tough on the wallet and share with you how I was able to travel without a trust fund, still able to earn legitimate work experience, and graduate from college. I traveled to 21 countries in 4 years (.43 countries per month) and it only took a bit of luck, time, and a loooooooooot of BJ’s.
LUCK: NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
I was fortunate enough to transfer from a tiny hick university in the Californian desert to the #1 co-op school in America. I got really lucky because when I chose this school I had no idea what a co-op was. For those of you that don’t know, a co-op is basically an internship on steroids that pays very well. Northeastern University has THE BEST network of companies that hire strictly from a pool of Northeastern students. I was a business marketing major and I did 3 co-ops and was paid around $20,000-$25,000 each year. Granted, I don’t know where 80% of the money went (burritos?) because I definitely did not spend that much on traveling. But that’s how I got some of the funds. Downside: I had to sacrifice my summer vacations. 6 months were spent working on co-op, the other 6 months were spent in classes.
Northeastern is also pumping out these great study abroad programs where you can take 2 classes abroad over the summer. For example, I took the last 2 classes of my college career in a tiny medieval village in Spain. I created a bronze cast of my boob (now featured in the lobby of Ryder Hall) and learned some inappropriate Spanish phrases while getting 8 credits out of it!
TIME: OPTIMIZE, CREATE or SACRIFICE IT
I am a creature of transit and have a strange paranoia of losing time. Although I had no summer vacations, every time I found an open week in my schedule I would find an excuse to travel. Downside: I started sacrificing time with friends and family at home. I made a selfish, life choice to pursue my passion in traveling and to actively keep global opportunities open. I still came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I would celebrate New Year’s in a different country.
BJ’s: BIG JETS & BIG JUMPS
When I was a Sophomore I decided that I needed to get with a BIG JET. So I signed up for a JetBlue American Express card and got a free flight immediately. I used the card to pay EVERYTHING – from $1 PBRs to thousands in tuition. I racked up some major points and got a bunch of free flights. I used one to fly from Boston to Colombia for free. Then I spent $3o0 from Colombia to Ecuador and stayed with my friend Stefi. Including the flight I spent a grand total of $650 for 2 countries, and 10 days of bungee jumps, Amazon jungle adventures, and chillin’ on the beach. Not too shabby.
If you’re dedicated to traveling .43* countries per month then you must also take a BIG JUMP and DO IT ALONE. FLY HANS SOLO. You only have two eyeballs and two legs – it won’t help if you spend 50% of your time arguing with your soon to be ex-bf/gf on which museum will bore you the most. When traveling solo, it’s easier to make friends (you’re forced to). You can also go with the flow and have awesome places to stay for the future! For example, I met some friendly Norwegian dudes when I was traveling alone in Malaysia and then a few months later, I was able to have an amazing place to stay near the Fjords in Norway….for free! I also do a lot of couchsurfing – free places to crash around the world. This is where I saved a crapload of money. Downside: traveling alone can suck sometimes during long train rides. I will be posting more deets about how to effectively meet pseudo traveling friends later.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. Anybody can travel with a small budget. It just takes a bit of open-mindedness, due diligence in research, and the good times will roll.
*Thanks Rafa for the calculation