The problem with “how I afford to travel” posts

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English teaching summer camp, Taiwan.
“I get all the ladies.”

I’ve noticed a weird pattern that emerges whenever long-term travelers talk about how they’re able to afford their lifelong travel adventures. Since money issues are at the top of the list for most people, this is often the most frequent question that long-term or frequent travelers receive. And unfortunately, I’ve seen quite a few that don’t bother answering the question as directly as they should.

Generally you’ll see statements like these:

“Because I work, dammit!”

“I just don’t spend stupid amounts of money on fancy hotels, duh!”

“I’m not an idiot who buys designer shoes!”

“Travel can be cheap!”

Okay, fair enough. In some cases, that’s exactly what certain readers need to hear, particularly the ones who accuse any long-term traveler of being a trust fund kid with infinite money. It’s perfectly acceptable to slap these people in the face and tell them they’re idiots. Metaphorically.

But at the same time, it doesn’t really answer the question for those who are legitimately interested in how to travel for several months on a limited budget. They already know that working is how you get money. And they probably already know that staying in hostels, cooking for yourself, skipping taxis, and going to cheap countries will keep costs down. None of this is new information to them.

Sure, there are people out there who have no idea how to stay in a hotel with less than 4 stars, but I doubt they’re reading budget travel blogs. The readers asking these questions are probably aware of many of these strategies already, and if they look at the cost estimates for 1 month of travel, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder how a 22 year old can afford to do it for 12.

You know what I rarely see? Travelers who flat out say “yeah, you need a lot of money to travel. In fact if you want to go for a long-term trip during which you’ll have no income then you’ll need several thousand dollars.”

I have no idea why this is so rare.

The majority of the time I’ll see people talk about how cheaply they can travel, how they don’t spend money exorbitantly, how they’re brilliantly talented at saving for a rainy day, and how you should totally learn from them and everything will be great.

Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia
“I am literally MADE OF GOLD! Muahahaha!”

But then somewhere along the lines they’ll say “And I had $20,000 before I left on the trip.”

Aha. So that’s the secret. Having a lot of money.

Now I don’t mean to call people out on this; in fact in many cases, I’ve seen people describe exactly how they saved that money, and exactly how they spent it on the trip, with no ego whatsoever. Merely a realistic presentation of saving and spending. That’s fine. In fact in many cases it’s exactly what some people need. A simple reminder that you can skip dinner and drinks and new shoes and save the cash instead.

But I’ve also seen a lot of high-and-mighty “I just don’t spend money on designer handbags” kind of talk, which…well, some people need to hear that, sure. But for many others, that is simply not the problem at all. And it bothers me when people fail to recognize this.

I mean, think about how much of a struggle it is for people to save up $20,000. Living expenses, depending on where you are, may very well be $20,000, which means you’d need a job that pays $40,000 (after taxes) in order to save all that money in a year. And for plenty of people who are only earning $20,000 a year, well…you can see why they ask where the money comes from. And I think it’s rather disrespectful to say “I just worked hard and saved” when the real answer was “I had a job that paid way more than yours.”

Now imagine if that person has ridiculous medical bills. Or their car breaks down and they can’t get to work anymore. Or if they have to bail out a friend who’ll never be in a position to pay them back. Or if they get robbed. Or outsourced. Or whatever. Telling them “I just don’t shop at Gucci” is incredibly rude.

Now I’m all for giving useful advice on how to save, and love reading over expense reports after a month of travel in whatever country, because that’s the exact sort of advice people can use. And I’m all for telling people not to buy useless garbage, and recommending they save the money instead. That’s all great.

But I’m also in favor of telling people that if they want to travel the world for a year without getting a job along the way or hitchhiking and begging for food the whole time, they probably need around $15,000 to do it. And even then, they’ll have to budget carefully.

If they accuse you of being rich, then by all means, smack them upside the head. But if they ask where you came up with $20,000 at age 21 or whatever, just tell them.

And don’t be a jerk about it.

Unless they were jerks first. Then go for it.

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