I can’t afford to travel now. And I don’t have enough vacation / money / time anyway!
Aland Islands, Scandanavia
Aland Islands, Scandinavia

I know how you feel, man. I’ve been there. If you’re anything like me, it started when you were reading a blog like this or one of the many thousands of others. You saw all these young kids gallivanting across the globe, having the time of their freakin’ lives, seeing the world, and not giving a shit about anything except how much of it they could see. They decided to travel now – not like you and me who for god knows what reasons waited for years! And admit it. It made you jealous, maybe even a little angry – at yourself. You thought:

How stupid was it to go to college right out of high school instead or taking a year off to travel? I’m in my late 30s (or 40s or 50s) stuck in this stupid job, working 40-60 hours a week. And for what? So I might be able to afford to buy a small RV and do a little travel in 20 years? Whatever, I’ll mostly be paying bills with what’s left of Social Security anyway.

And you realize you’re stuck, because you know that’s never going to happen when you’re 60. Trust me. I know, because that’s exactly what I was thinking up until a few years ago.

At the Eiffel Tower, Paris
At the Eiffel Tower, Paris

See, here’s what I think: You, like me, put work first. You never say that, of course. Imagine the shit storm if you told your husband or wife that you thought work was more important! But you do! We all do it, for some reason. We say “Family First” and then supposedly we prioritize everything after that. Think about it though: Are you afraid to ask your spouse to go on vacation for three weeks last-minute? No, you’re not. You might get a “no,” but you’re not afraid to ask.

What about your boss? Would you ask her on a Thursday if you can take 2-3 weeks off on relatively short notice? You’d probably think about how that would look. Would she be pissed if, in the middle of her project, one of her workers decided to take that much time off?

What does it say about us that we’re more concerned about making our bosses happy than we are about making ourselves or our families happy?

When I quit [my job] I had saved up only enough for a flight and a few months spend in a 3rd world country; my financial position was not particularly stable.

Freeborn Aiden

The thing is, we think more about the impact of our decisions on our jobs than we think about the impact of our jobs on our mental health. And to a certain extent, can you blame us? The perception is that employees are dispensable and if you rock the boat, your boss can easily replace you. But the reality is most companies want you to take your vacation. There may really be reasons why you shouldn’t go when you really wanna go. But you know when that’s true and when that isn’t. And if you know your co-workers can handle their jobs and yours while you’re gone, then chances are your boss does, too.

So tell your boss you’re taking off for a week or two (or three)! She’ll probably be OK with it, even if it’s a little inconvenient. You’re almost definitely not going to get fired for taking vacation that your employer gave to you in the first place.

The Pyramids at Giza
The Pyramids at Giza

In 2009, I joined Couchsurfing. It’s an organization where people host other people from around the world in their homes for free. A lot of people rolled their eyes at me when I joined. They told me I was crazy for having total strangers in my house. And truth be told, it kinda sounded nuts, right? Some ax-murderer requests your “couch” and you accept. A few days later, Freddy Kruger comes to your house, you give him a key, and he stays a couple of nights and then hacks the shit out of you with his Wolverine fingers!

So that was 8-9 years ago and guess what? We’ve hosted over 450 people at our place and we’re still on one piece.

That’s NOT a typo! We went all in. Were there any issues? Not at all. We had a few boring people out of that 450, but if that’s the worst thing you can say about someone, then I’d say that’s a pretty damned good track record.

I bring up Couchsurfing not to try to get you to join it, but because of what it did to my attitude about travel. CS made travel possible for me. Now, I’m not rich, by any means. I’m mid-career and not hurting for money. But I’ve always thought of travel as a major expense, and if I ever wanted to go somewhere, it was gonna cost a fair amount.

Eilat, Israel
Eilat, Israel

What CS showed me was that there were ways to travel now that don’t cost much at all. And I met people who weren’t afraid to dive right in and do it. I mean, some of these young people didn’t have $300 in their bank accounts and here they were talking about going to Thailand on their own dime.

I decided to take the lessons I learned from 20-year olds and apply them to myself – someone who didn’t have such a constricting budget, but still didn’t want to break the bank.

Now, I’ve always been the type of person – probably like you – who asks for vacation first and then looks for flights that match the vacation time I requested. What I discovered was that this is ass-backwards. Here’s what you do – it’s something my friend Rodney said to me years ago when I was bitching and moaning about whether or not I could afford to go someplace:

“Look for the cheap ticket, buy the damned thing before it disappears, and then ask for vacation! If they don’t give you the time off, quit!”

Auschwitz-Birkenau travel

This was the best thing anyone’s ever said to me because it’s exactly right Except the quit part, at least for me. I mean, I’m not totally stupid yet! Seriously though, if you want to travel now, subscribe to every damned travel site you can, and buy the ticket when you see it. If you subscribe to Secret Flying and see a flight to Bangkok from New York for $425, spend the $150 to fly to New York if you’re not already there and do it!

If you’re 45 and tell me that this is too much trouble, then I don’t know what to tell ya, man. That’s a stupid excuse for not doing something that you dream of doing. So what? It takes you a couple of hours to get to New York? Boo-hoo! You have a 4-hour stopover in LAX? If this is too much for you, then don’t tell me you want to go to Thailand soooo badly. A little inconvenience for your dream trip? If you let that stop you, you’re not committed enough.

SAI Waterfall - Laos travel
SAI Waterfall – Laos

Another thing: You can stay at the Marriott if you want, but I’ll take the $200/night x 1 week, spend $200 on accommodations for my entire trip and bank the other $1200. All over the world, you’ll find places like hostels that can range from $30 a night in the US to $10-$20 a night in Southeast Asia or less. In Thailand, for two of us, it was $20 a night to stay in a clean room with a clean bathroom. The water in the shower was lukewarm at best, but if hot water’s worth an extra $180/night, then enjoy the Marriott!

Besides, if you’re in Thailand, you’re gonna appreciate a cold shower. I promise you that right now!

The thing is, you can do whatever you want if you’re willing to let go of the dumb idea that travel has to be this expensive “thing” that “you’ve always dreamed of.”

Case in point: I just got back from Colombia. I used points + cash to get there and spent $38/night for a private room at a hostel with a shared bathroom/shower.

  • Room at El Viajero Hostel: $266 (I could have done even better!)
  • Flight: 25k miles + $184
  • Food: Less than $100
  • Entrance fees for museums, etc: About $30

I also did some diving and stayed at a more expensive place while I did it, but I didn’t have to do that at all. I easily could have done this entire trip – one week exploring Cartagena, Colombia – for $600.


travel now to Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Indonesia was the same way. I spent $550 in 2014 to fly from Philadelphia (I flew to Philly on points) to Jakarta. Again, I was diving, so it was a little more expensive when I got there. But if I wanted to spend two weeks in Bali, I could have easily done that for about $1200, flights, accommodations, and food included. The trick is to let go of the fear of doing something differently than you’re used to. Focus on the experience of being there – not on whether your bed sheets are 600 thread-count Egyptian cotton.

Would I have liked to stay at the Sheraton and ate at the classiest restaurants? Ten years ago, yes. Now? Not so much. Not even close. The way I travel now is more fun. I eat better food. I meet more interesting people. And best of all, it’s usually completely paid for before I even go.

Only have two weeks a year for vacation? Spend that time in a place you’ve always dreamed of – just don’t do it in a fancy hotel and eat at Michelin-starred restaurants. After all, you can do all that on your company’s dime when you travel for work back home! Life is not worth sitting behind a desk looking at what other people are doing and wishing it was you.

Travel now to go Camping in Mexico
Camping in Mexico

Go! Or be like the person at Walmart wondering whether or not she should buy the $50 Tickle Me Elmo. The longer she waits, the less chance she’s gonna get it. And before she knows it, someone already grabbed the red laughing bastard and now she has to pay $300 for it on eBay.

OK, that’s a super-shitty analogy, but go anyway. Just do it. Travel now. Don’t worry about what your friends might think of you staying at a cheap hostel with a bunch of [really good-looking, btw] 20-ish year olds. Tell them you stayed at the Hyatt. Then, stay in a hostel and eat street food for a week. Experience what Bangkok, or Seoul, or Moscow, or Cairo is really like. Meet real people. Eat real food. Mingle with the locals!

travel now to Bangkok Gay Bar, Hot Male - Thailand
Bangkok Gay Bar, “Hot Male” – Thailand

Subscribe to Secret Flying and The Flight Deal. Figure out how to use Kayak.com/explore and go screw around with the search! When the deal you want comes up, buy it then. Dammit! Go somewhere and eat food that you’ve only experienced the fake version of in Western restaurants!

Don’t wait. Just go. I promise you, you’ll have the time of your life. Which, if you were like me ten years ago, ain’t a high bar!

Go. Now.

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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert and has traveled to over 40 countries to date. Currently saving all his money for a Round the World adventure.

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