Traveling Abroad: Where do I Begin?
When I was a little kid, I watched older cousins travel abroad and thought two things:
Logistically, how do you plan a trip like that?
And I'll never be able to afford traveling abroad.
Fast forward twelve years and I've just returned from my first solo backpacking trip to Central America.
Here are three things I did to shift from a "never going to happen" mindset to world traveler!
1. Talk to the people around you.
During COVID, this mostly means messaging people on Instagram. Slide into the DMs of people who have already done what you want to do.
Ask about their trip: did they backpack? Did they travel solo? Was their family supportive? What places would they go back to?
If you have a good repertoire with someone, ask to meet them over Zoom/in person to hear more. People love talking about their travels, so they will probably be eager for a new listener.
Keep in mind, the stories you hear are shaped by the person telling them. If you want to backpack through Latin America, don't spend all of your energy talking to people who have only vacationed at all-inclusive resorts.
Don't shy away from uncomfortable questions! Ask about money. How did they save money before and during the trip? What would they do differently? Did they go during high season? How expensive was it compared to being at home?
2. Get familiar with your monthly spending habits.
If you want to know whether or not you can afford a trip, you have to know how much money you have.
Track your income and expenses with a spreadsheet or an app. I personally use a spreadsheet, but I know people who love Mint.
Here are your goals:
Notice unnecessary expenses and make changes to save that money.
Understand your daily spending patterns so that you can estimate how much you will spend while traveling.
You have to be completely honest with yourself and refrain from sticking your head in the sand.
A small example of understanding your spending habits is knowing how much you spend when eating out.
As my grandmother would say, I'm a cheap date. I usually order a cheap entre and drink water or maybe one cocktail. You on the other hand, may find value in the most expensive thing on the menu and a few cocktails. Either way is fine. What matters is knowing yourself so that you can make realistic estimations of how much money you need to save up for a trip.
3. Google the expenses of potential locations.
One of the best tips that I received while trying to decide where to travel to is to Google the average cost of living in that place.
Your money will last much longer in SE Asia than in Switzerland.
If your dream is to visit Switzerland, do it!
If your only goal is to leave home, be strategic about where you go.
Take into account what experience you want while traveling. Do you want to stay in $100/night hotels or $10/night dorm hostels?
Research "Things to do in X" and consider how much activities will cost. Are you likely to purchase a tour that guarantees seeing at least 5 sloths? Or will you save money but possibly not see any sloths? Again, either way is fine. What's important is that you are honest with yourself about what you really want.
Be careful that you don't try to be too cheap and then miss out on activities that you really would have enjoyed. When budgeting, I always give myself a cushion so that I don't have to say no to unexpected opportunities.
The more you investigate your travel desires and personal finances, the more autonomy you will feel.
Take deep breaths and be patient with yourself. Read the below blog posts for more help.
Read these blog posts:
Passport and Visas--Ahh!
What's the Deal With Hostels?
What Do I Pack?
Don't Follow My Lead on This One