We’ve been getting this question a lot lately – how do you travel so much? Or rather, do you work? I guess that’s the appeal of travel for so many – it’s the opposite of the office, of work, spreadsheets, meetings. In fact, work was the driving factor that lead us to get off the wheel back in July 2013, and leave it all behind for 14 months.
Now we are back in Washington D.C., and will call the nation’s capital our home base for the foreseeable future. November 1 will mark a year of us moving back into our house. And yet, we’ve traveled more in this year than in the previous three and half years that we’ve lived in our current home.
How? What changed? And…do we work?
The short answer to the question is yes we work, but we prioritize our time and money to channel towards travel. Just go – it’s that simple. But let’s break it down a bit more:
Perspective & Attitude
Perspective and attitude is the biggest reason we travel all the time. All other factors are supplementary and fluid — they can change at any time. I don’t know if we would have been as committed to and interested in travel if we didn’t do our big trip in 2013-2014. But I do know that having done that, our perspective on the importance of travel to our own personal well-being changed. We long to be elsewhere, to explore, to learn. In our perspective, travel is what makes our life richer with experiences and knowledge. I want to know how people drink coffee around the world, what they have for breakfast, how they celebrate important milestones, what languages they speak, how they count to ten on their hands, what they hold dear, how history affected their communal psyche. I want to know.
We also have a completely new attitude towards travel. Before we left for our big trip, we’ve done a few trips across the US as well as abroad. We used to view travel time as the time to spare no expense to have a good time. We would stay in nice hotels, eat expensive meals, and participate in costly experiences. We no longer view travel as a necessarily expensive proposition or a necessarily luxurious experience. Travel doesn’t take much — of research, money, or whatever else (besides time spent traveling, of course). On our travels we’ve realized that we can just show up in a place not knowing anything about it, and have the best day ever. We know that it’s ok if we don’t know how to proceed from there, or what to do next. This knowledge has been liberating. We also know that travel life can cost us way less than our life here in DC.
Between those two things — that travel is both necessary and accessible — we have’t looked back. We just travel.
For any trip that we consider, we don’t look at the initial price tag, but consider how we can minimize expenses. So for example, we attended two weddings in California this year — one in June and one in August.
Flying East coast to West coast is pricey. But we’ve been using a travel credit card every day for our joint expenses. So we’ve managed to build up a good miles bank (taking into account the sign up bonus). In June, we flew to Los Angeles for free — using miles — round-trip. In August, our one way tickets to San Francisco cost us 11 cents combined. We don’t check luggage, or only check one bag combined, in order to further save on airline tickets. We also used miles for everything from car rental to paying for our camping spots in Big Sur. Another big way to save is accommodation — we rely on good will of our friends quite a bit, but if we want to get away just the two of us, we look to AirBnB, which typically costs way less than hotels, at least in the US and Europe.
Then, there’s the simple rule of thumb that the longer you can spend traveling in any one place, the cheaper it will be per day. So in order to bump down the cost of any one trip, we try to extend it as long as possible. Instead of taking a long weekend to attend either of the weddings, we did about 10 day sojourns to California each time. As a result, we spent nearly three weeks this year exploring what California has to offer: Los Angeles, Big Sur, San Francisco, and vineyards and coast of Norther California.
But even with a minimal budget, you still need money to travel. So that’s what we prioritize our savings for. We have an old car, we don’t go clothes shopping, and we budget in order to have savings. But we don’t just rely on our pay checks. We’ve looked to other ways of making money. So we’ve opened up our home to host AirBnB. We do love it, and have met many, many interesting people from around the world in this way. But it’s work – running the messaging system 24/7, keep up the house, resolving emergency issues on weekly basis. Plus, there’s the whole matter of having someone else in your house at all times — we share the bathroom with our guests too. It’s a compromise and a bit of a sacrifice. But, we wouldn’t have it any other way, because it allows us to do more, explore more, and travel more.
Jobs & Time off
We both work office jobs that require us to be more or less on site. I believe my contract says something like I must be physically present in the office 80 percent of the time that I bill for. Sergey’s work is more flexible, but his typical daily schedule is so peppered with meetings that even if he wanted to work remotely, he would probably have to come into the office at least for a few hours most days of the week.
But! We are both contractors (or at least both of us were until recently). How does that work? Well, I guess we are both lucky to have chosen professional fields where freelance / outsourced work is a standard procedure. For me, I work at the intersection of politics, policy and business in emerging market countries– in broad terms, international politics and international development. Currently, I am a freelance private sector analyst at the World Bank. That’s a lot of jargon there. But point is, I have a contract for 150 working days in one fiscal year. The rest 110 work days I am free to take off. There are busier times and less busy times at the office, but my job is pretty flexible about when I am not in the office…because they don’t pay me when I am not there. And, they also don’t mind, because I get my deliverables done on deadline and I get them done well. I LOVE it. It’s so liberating not to have to put in for your 10 day vacation several months in advance. Sure, I make less money, and my job doesn’t provide health insurance or other benefits. But, I have a renewable annual contract that allows me to take 4-5 months off. To me this is a pretty sweet deal.
Sergey was – until recently – in a similar situation. He was a freelance agent – a sought after one at that – doing user experience design. He actually went back to his old agency where he used to work full time prior to our trip, and was offered to join the team as a freelancer. He took the chance immediately — and never looked back, for 11 months at least. We took as much time off to travel as we wanted and budget allowed. We were professional about it, and of course if one us had a big deadline we respected that. But by and large, we traveled whenever we wanted and for as long as we wanted to.
Things changed a bit recently as Sergey transitioned back to full time for a number of considerations. But, you know what — we will figure it out. Because he proved that he could deliver results despite the time off he took, Sergey was able to negotiate the month of January off. Sure, it’s unpaid, but who cares? One more thing — we both try to deliver at work above and beyond expectations. We check our email at home and when traveling. We answer and help out if there’s a need. Because, for us, it’s more important to be valued at work than to ‘disconnect’ (the truth is since transitioning to having loads of time off, we haven’t felt the need to disconnect from work). So we have pieced this together over time and maybe the balance won’t work at some point in the future. But, then we will figure out another solution. Because, when there’s a will, there’s a way.
So just go – that’s it. Our secret to lots of travel is to approach the situation from the point of view that we will go and then figure out how we will do it. We are definitely lucky that the stars have aligned for us just right. But, we are also willing to sacrifice by making less money on the job and looking for creative ways to up our travel funds.
PS: If you would like to read more about our lifestyle and how travel fits into the picture, we did an interview over on North to South blog exactly about that.
The bottom line is that we prioritize travel, and we look for ways to make it work. What about you — how do you make travel work?