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a southern yankee abroad

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Travel Budget

Stuff: Pack it all and stack it all up

Sometimes, even the most mundane details in life become important. Over the past month, I have reflected a lot on my stuff, mostly as a function of planning for my upcoming travels. I will be living for 3.5 months solely out of a backpack, which is both terrifying and exhilarating. Many travelers sell all of their possessions before embarking on such a journey, but it is not my intention to go “full nomad.” After all, I will be returning to the U.S. to start law school in August (location TBD!) so I neither want nor need to get rid of every single thing. However, it is safe to say I have started a systematic downsizing process with my possessions. Such a seemingly mundane task, I’ve found, is actually quite cathartic and leads to a good deal of self-reflection.

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo writes that one should ask whether an item sparks joy. If it does not, one should thank it for its service and then discard the item. This single piece of advice has been tremendously liberating. Whether it’s something as small as an extra pair of socks I never wear, or as significant as an old card from an ex I for some reason have kept around forgotten in a drawer, I have been discarding a good amount of my possessions.  Do I really need this huge TV, or did I purchase it to please someone else in my life? Do I really need ALL of these sorority t-shirts from 5+ years ago? I have found Craigslist, the Salvation Army, or even the recycling bins in my apartment’s basement to all be worthy destinations for these items. This process is ongoing. I estimate I am about 75% packed for my move on April 28. However, I now count this chore of packing as an important step forward in my traveling this summer and the new direction I am taking in my career and life.

I’ve loved my studio apartment in NYC, but it’s time to downsize.

Logistically, how does it work to pack up everything you own and live from a backpack? Fortunately for me, I realized my lease in NYC was up at the end of April around the same time I had a life-changing realization that now was the time to take my career in a different direction and finally attend law school (which, for those of you who know me, I’ve been talking about for years. I’m finally getting around to doing it!) I decided the months between the end of my lease and starting law school would be ideal to take the big trip around the world I’ve dreamed about for so long. I would be saving money on rent, but what would I do with my stuff? After some phone calls and Google research, I decided on Manhattan Mini-Storage. They cover the cost of the move into the facility, and offer a discounted rate after a 3 month period (I will be using it for 4). When I come back in August, I will hire movers to transport my whittled-down possessions to one of two fantastic cities (yet to be finalized). In the meantime, I will live out of my trusty backpack. More on how to pack specifically for that later!

I also cut down on costs by making friends with the employees at my neighborhood grocery store. The last two times I’ve moved, I’ve purchased boxes from the moving company or U-Haul. Now that I am looking at a traveler/grad student budget, I just wanted to avoid spending money on cardboard boxes if at all possible. Fortunately, all it took was introducing myself to the team at my local grocery store, being friendly, and explaining my situation. I have been stopping by regularly every few mornings for the past few weeks to get some amazing paper towel and cereal boxes. They’ve even started saving these boxes for me specifically because they know I like them them most! If you’re looking to do this too, be sure to get there before 11am or they may go ahead and crush the cardboard.

The big lesson I’ve learned is not to let my stuff own me. Have you experienced the life-changing magic of tidying up? It truly is life-changing.

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Still working on the clothes…obviously!

How Affordable is Traveling Abroad?

 

10338680_10206454388371024_8528537077188326176_o“Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer.”

I could not agree more with this statement. Travel (along with education) is the most important investment you can make in your personal development.

But, let’s be real. Traveling is expensive. Once you decide to travel abroad, it helps to have a game plan in place to make the trip a reality. You do not have to have a trust fund or win the lottery to see the world! With some research, extra attention to spending habits, and patience, the world will be yours to see. Below are some of the tips and advice I’ve found to be helpful in the process.

Save, save, save! Once you decide upon a trip abroad as a goal, pay yourself to go. What do I mean? Take a close look at your budget (fixed costs v. discretionary spending). What can you live without? It is really as simple as deciding you can live without certain things, and setting the money you would otherwise spend aside. For example, as soon as I got back from Africa, I was so inspired to save money to travel more that I cut off my cable!

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There was no cable available in my tent in Africa, and I found out I was very happy to live without it!

Websites like Mint can even help you set savings goals for vacations, and track your contributions on a regular basis. Also, most tour companies like EF Tours and G Adventures will let you make payments on the cost of your trip starting several months in advance, instead of paying the amount in full. Once you decide to travel, treat the saving process like paying bills (except this is a fun bill that actually gives back to you!). Remember, tours are all-inclusive (sometimes even including flights to and from), so this can be helpful if you want to work with a hard figure for your savings plan.

If you’re in college, study abroad! Often, financial aid packages will cover the costs of tuition and room and board expenses for study abroad, and living in a foreign country can be equal to (if you’re careful) or less than living in the US. My one regret from college was not pursuing a study abroad opportunity. All my friends who did it says it was a life-changing experience. At least visit the travel abroad office to investigate your options. It never hurts to ask!

Be on the lookout for flight deals. Flying is not as expensive as you’d think it might be! The growth of low-cost airlines has been a boon for budget-minded travelers, especially in Europe where they’ve been around a while.

I use Kayak to search for flight deals. It is a “metasearch” engine that searches for good deals across multiple search engines, so it’s better than just using Expedia or Priceline. It also includes a lot of deals from low cost airline providers.  You are more likely to find a good deal on a flight if you can be flexible with your schedule (I recommend using the “flexible dates” function to compare prices across a range of workable departure and return dates). I also really like using Skypicker. Often, their results will show up in a Kayak search, but sometimes I like cross-checking against their website just in case (just be careful, because all Skypicker sales are final!)

For my upcoming long-term summer travel, I’ve managed to lock in my intercontinental flights (US to Asia to South America to Europe to US) for a much cheaper rate using Kayak/Skypicker than I found when searching for an around the world (“RTW”) flight ticket. However, this type of ticket may be sensible for you if you have a firm schedule for long-term travel. I highly recommend doing your research on Kayak and comparing it to RTW ticket prices you find on Airtreks.

Tip: I have no idea if it is true or if it is just me being superstitious, but I always search Kayak in “incognito mode” on Google Chrome, so as not to inflate prices on multiple searches. Maybe it is me being silly…but passing along, just in case!

Be as flexible as possible. As mentioned above, be flexible with your dates as much as you can be when searching flights by departure and return date (for example, it is often cheaper to leave on a Wednesday than a Friday). Also, be flexible with your airport of departure if you can. For example, searching a round trip ticket from Atlanta to London yields a price $910, while searching a round trip ticket from Birmingham, AL to London shows a price of $1,625…big difference!

Track “small” expenses. Something as basic as your passport will cost you $30, which is important to keep in mind as these small but critical expenses add up. Some countries will charge you for a visa to enter (anywhere from 35 USD for Zimbabwe to 80 USD for Vietnam to 135 USD for Bolivia), but many if not all European countries and some South American countries will grant US citizens a free visa for a period of time, usually less than 90 days.

Try to avoid foreign transaction fees and currency exchange rates. Keep an eye on foreign transaction fees as you book transportation and accommodation overseas in advance, as well as when you use your credit card abroad. It is best to try to open a checking account with Charles Schwab (reimburses ATM fees) or obtain a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, such as a Chase Sapphire or Capital One card. Bank of America charges a 3% foreign transaction fee for each purchase made outside of the U.S. or Mexico…ouch! Try to use ATMs instead of currency exchange kiosks once abroad, as they will charge you exorbitant rates. You can usually order currencies from your bank ahead of your departure for a much lower rate.

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Beware of foreign transaction fees and currency exchange kiosks!

Stay in hostels. This advice is especially true if you’re young and single (yeah!), but I’ve also found some family-friendly hostels in my search process. Hostels provide dorm-like conditions for the budget-minded traveler at costs as low as $8/night (this is what I am paying each night in Chiang Mai before I meet with my tour group in Bangkok). The trick is to make sure you reserve a hostel with a reputation for being clean and safe, as well as one that provides extra perks like free wifi, free breakfast, and a washing machine. I used Hostelword as well as word of mouth from friends when planning my hostel stays for this summer. Hostelworld features good, detailed reviews for each hostel. I also like their “flexible booking” system, meaning you can pay an extra $1 to receive a credit back on your deposit to use for another reservation should you cancel or change your reservation. This has proven very handy, as my plans have already fluctuated multiple times even a few months out!

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The Man in Seat 61…he’s awesome!

Research the train system. I’m actually very excited for this tip, as I have yet to master the rail system in Europe (I’ve heard it’s great though!). While I am using low-cost airlines for some travel within Europe, I will be using the train for much of my travels. I recommend crunching the numbers to see if it is more cost-effective for you to buy a Eurail pass, or just buy tickets as you go. For me, I will just be buying tickets as I go along. The point is…don’t assume a “pass” is the cheapest option! Visit The Man in Seat 61 for awesome advice regarding train travel.

Enjoy and appreciate destinations closer to home. In the meantime, enjoy your home and the surrounding area as a destination! I’ve met plenty of people on my travels who have never visited the US, so take time to appreciate what is unique about the place around you. When it comes down to it, we all live in and are from a great travel destination…so own it!

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I love being a tourist wherever I live! This shot is from Memphis, Tennessee when I lived there a few years ago.

I hope my tips have helped you realize traveling can become a reality with some planning ahead. Do you have any additional tips or questions about saving money to travel abroad?

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A riverboat on the Zambezi in Zambia, which reminded me of Memphis!

 

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