Affording Travel – Part 1: The Principles
We get asked the question “How can you afford to travel?” a lot. I addressed this question before we set off on our adventure in this post. After almost 17 months on the road, I thought it would be worthwhile to do a couple of posts that capture some of what we have learned from doing this longer term. This first post deals with things at a higher level, and some of the principles that we have used to make things work. A future post will look at some of the more micro-level costs and decisions that we made along the way based on these principles.
Unlimited Money = No
Artie (…several times a day…) poses “Would you rather…?” scenarios to whomever is within his proximity. Often, one of those scenarios is “Have unlimited money.” For the record, we don’t have unlimited money. We do this within a budget. I know there are people out there who squirm when they read the word “budget”. It means different things, to different people. To me, it simply means “The financial resources that we have available to use for a purpose.”
My job when allocating and using that resource, is to ensure that our choices are aligned with our goals and our values.
I originally budgeted $65,000 CDN for our first year of travel. This was roughly what it cost us to live our former lifestyle in Canada for a year. I should add, that $65,000 CDN does not represent an extravagant lifestyle in Canada for a family of 4. It represents a comfortable life, but not an extravagant life. We lived in a four-bedroom house, owned one car, had our children in regular extracurricular activities, rarely ate in restaurants, rarely vacationed and tried to shop as wisely as possible for the things that we needed to sustain us. To put it into context, the Low Income Measure (the minimum amount deemed required to “live” without needing to make difficult choices between food/shelter etc.) in Canada for a family of four in 2016 was $44,266. We lived well above that level. The Niagara Poverty Reduction Network, placed the cost of living for a family of four in Niagara at $71,294. We lived a bit below this level.
We ended up spending $71,000 CDN (on average, $500 more/month than my original budget) during our first year. With that $71,000 we were able to:
- Visit 20 countries
- Set foot on four different continents
- Circumnavigate the globe
- Do the things that were important to us, in each of the places we visited
While there are a few specific expenses incurred in that extra $6000 (…like paying for rushed Australian visas while in line at the Shanghai airport because I didn’t do enough research in advance to know that we needed visas for Australia…) that I regret, overall I am very much at peace with the extra money above our original budget that we spent for that first year. We didn’t go into debt to spend that money, and I know that 10-20 years down the road we will all still have beautiful memories associated with those expenses.
Living… Not Vacationing
The primary principle that made our first year of travel work, is the fact that we were “living nomadically” and not “on vacation”. Since we sold our house before we left, and had no debt, this left us with limited expenses back in Canada while we were travelling. So, instead of having simply an extra budget line allocated towards “Vacation” to work with, we had essentially our entire living budget to work with. This makes all the difference in the world.
When a person is on vacation, they often feel the need to pack most of their days full of excursions and activities. We had a lot of days packed with adventure in that first year, but the majority were not. It is not sustainable (for us), physically, emotionally or financially to spend every single day out doing every single thing that is there to do in a place. We tended to spend 1-2 days a week in intentional adventures, and the remaining time just living and experiencing regular life in another place. This was what worked for us and reflected what was important to us.
As I mentioned above, we visited more than 20 countries in our first twelve months of travel. It is important to understand though, that we did not spend the same amount of time, or the same amount of money in each country.
Six months of that year were spent in Penang, Malaysia where we had a much higher standard of living, for a much lower cost than we did in Canada. Most months, our expenses there were less than half of what it cost us to live in Canada. We stayed in a four-bedroom condo, with access to a pool, gym and sauna and had a lovely woman who cleaned it regularly for us. We used Uber for the majority of our transit. We ate out a lot (and the food was amazing). We had regular massages and reflexology treatments. And… we had FUN. We went to movies, markets, museums, played laser tag and explored this gorgeous and historic island.
Our Canadian dollars had greater purchasing power in Malaysia then it did at home. The lower cost of living that we had for half of the year, allowed us to have more resources to spend in places where the cost of living was higher, and our Canadian dollar did not have as much purchasing power.
What will we regret in 10 years?
We didn’t know when we were starting out if we were going to like, or be able to handle travelling. We hoped to be able to sustain this lifestyle for at least a year, but we also knew that there was the possibility that we would be home after a few months. It was an adventure, but also an experiment. We had no idea how this was going to go.
About four months in, we felt comfortable with the prospect of finishing out at least one year of travel. At that point, I sat down and considered the things that we wanted to do from the perspective of “If we never, ever travel again, what are the things that we want to make sure that we see and do?”
For our family, that list included:
- Visit China
- Tour Angkor Wat
- Visit Japan
- Visit Australia
- See the Taj Mahal
- See the Pyramids of Giza
- See the Temple of Athena in Athens (…since it was out for cleaning on my last attempt…)
- Visit Paris
- Spend time at beach in Europe
This list was based on the collective bucket-list of our family. This isn’t everyone’s list, but it represented the top priorities for us. As I said above, my responsibility with allocating the budget, is to ensure that our choices are aligned with our goals and our values. This means that OUR wish and bucket lists are what matter. Our comfort level and the ethics and values WE live from are the ones that are important.
Based on that list, I began planning a route back to Canada that included stops in these places. Any time where I questioned whether we should add or take a place away from that list, I asked myself “Which choice will I regret in 10 or 20 years?” Some of the places that we visited were expensive. Some of the places were not easy to get to. But, looking at the level of regret we would have a decade or so down the road about our choices helped in making those sorts of decisions.
Our final couple of months of our first year fell into place after a series of discussions with my Mom that led to her joining us for a tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom. We had booked a month in Ireland, and were on the fence about doing anything beyond that. Ireland and the United Kingdom are very expensive places to visit. We quickly got off that fence though when Mom said that she would join us. It moved from simply touring places, to getting to tour those places with my Mom. That month that she spent with us and the memories that we all share together from that time and those places is priceless.
The thing that manages to weave its way into all of these principles is that we were clear on, and made our choices based on what was important to us. We could have spent much more, and in many cases, much less on our first year. Our game wasn’t “do this as cheaply as possible”. Our goal wasn’t to “see everything there is to see.” Our objective was to see and do what was important to us, and to live and learn while doing it.
About the Author
Professionally, I am an e-learning instructional designer who breaks down the barriers of space and time in learning. Personally, I'm the Mom in the Little-Green Family, and co-planner in our adventures.