When people find out or know you’re an attorney, they assume that you already have the means to travel. You’re made, for sure. That’s how you get to “jet set” around. It has to be.
Actually, it’s not true. In my case, the last time I saw a six-figure recurring monthly salary for every month of the year was 2008. It was sweet while it lasted, but you know what’s funny? I don’t remember what I used to do with all that money. It seems like a fortune now.
I live a simpler life since leaving my cushy benefits and salaried job in Washington DC and I’m way happier. Less bills, less stress. Less STUFF. More funds and time to pursue my real passions.
How did I afford all those winters away for the past three and half years, three to five months at a time, and all those weekend hops here and there? Here’s the truth of how I did it.
1. I cut the cable TV
Honestly, I was never a television person in the US. I find it numbing. The drama, the bad news, the politics, the pop culture obsession – no thanks. I prefer to read the paper, books or watch documentaries and occasionally of course, movies. I could even save more if I switched to a go phone from my AT&T plan – which is ridiculously overpriced.
2. I rented my house
The house was a major headache – with the housing market in poor shape I somehow managed to rent it out, at a small loss. After a couple of years though, it became a nuisance to stock money into an asset that was devaluating. So I placed it on the market, and said prayers. In the end it all worked out and as of December 2011, I no longer have that burden.
3. I saved like mad
It was easy to do when I had the full-time job. But even afterwards, anytime I had income I would schedule automatic deductions into my >> money market account. I wouldn’t even feel the money go. The more driven I was to achieve my dream, the easier it was to do. Even $50 makes a difference over time.
4. I paid off my car and then sold it
Paying off my car was something I did from the beginning. But after I started traveling and living in the city when home, it made no sense to keep my car (and trust me, I loved that thing). I was paying for parking even though I drove it only on the weekends. One less thing to worry about while I plan my move abroad.
5. I cooked and took lunch to work
It’s incredible how much you can save from not buying lunch outside every day. Those $7-$10 daily can add up. Why give my hard-earned money away when I’m making less already and it could help me travel? No way. The same goes for eating dinners out too often – once in a while is all right.
6. I subscribed to Netflix instead of going to the movies
If I ever get the urge for movies, there’s Netflix and online streaming for just what, $8 a month. Sure it’s nice to go to the movies sometimes – like the recent Marley documentary I caught on screen – but going to the movies isn’t really in my “must-do” list when living in the US.
7. Um… I stopped buying Louboutin, Gucci, and clothes
It blows my mind when I think about it. I blame my lovely mother for this (although I’m thankful she gave me fashion sense). I saw her wearing Charles Jourdan and Dior shoes from when I was ten. Different pair every day. She was a ridiculously fabulous fashionista. Guess what? I followed in her footsteps and so did my sister (who is an accomplished fashion designer). I have about 50 pairs of high-end designer stilettos sitting in my closet, collecting dust since 2008, at $500 each (that was a drop in the bucket back then). Oops maybe I shouldn’t say this online. Anyone want to buy at least half of them?! Size 8, FYI.
8. I contracted out my services
I became a consultant – whether working part-time with law firms, selling my images or taking on photography gigs when possible. Multiple hats means multiple streams of income (I make myself sound rich but I’m so not…yet.)
I took a big pay cut from my full time job, but with less bills and less debt, it was easier to survive and I had more energy to focus on the things I love. And more control over my time.
9. I rented a studio in town
Moving from the suburbs to the city changed my life and my bank account. Even if I’ve only spent half the year here, my rent is less than a mortgage – allowing me to save more for those trips and giving me more time in the day. Since I know I’m not staying long-term, renting makes sense for now.
10. I saved on my airline miles. Yes, it does work.
Oh my, if I could count how many folks have told me they never bothered to register their trips. It’s like throwing away money, seriously. Signing up with airline miles accounts is FREE folks, free. And before you know it, it all adds up. All you have to do is insert that mileage account number when you book a flight online or when you are checking in at the counter. Just like that. You can even register after a trip, if you do it soon enough.
Proof that it works? In three years I booked the following FREE plane tickets from my accumulated miles (and maybe just $10 to $50 dollars in taxes per ticket): London roundtrip in the summer, Jamaica roundtrip twice and one-way once (high season too), Belize roundtrip once (first time in July 2010). And a couple of domestic flights too.
I also use airline credit cards that allow for the collection of miles per purchase (warning – easy on those cards, they add up very quickly).
11. My travel blogging brought in rewards
It wasn’t happening for the first two years while I built it up, but after my blog picked up traction – since 2011 – I have gained sponsorships as a travel blogger and photographer. I’ve been on a few of press trips – from the three-month fully paid gig in Belize to a week in Taiwan. There’s no way I could have afforded traveling to Asia at that time otherwise, and it was an excellent experience. I was also scheduled for Puerto Rico but unfortunately caught the flu and never made it.
I also get sponsored hotel stays from a wide range, luxury to budget – it’s all part of the job. And expense paid trips are not a guarantee of positive review, they just help us get there.
11. I gave back
Giving feeds receiving. I also believe it’s what the more fortunate of us should do – send blessings around to those who need it.
I gave away my old clothes and will continue to downsize every year with used apparel I no longer need.
I donate money even when I have nothing coming in. For instance, for the past seven years I’ve been sponsoring the cutest girl in Ethiopia. I’m not related to her in any way. I just wanted to make a difference in a child’s life and give her access to education. I kept it up even when after I quit my job and long after when I had a couple of months with no income. Nothing gives me more joy than receiving her handwritten letters from Ethiopia in the mail and seeing how much she’s grown (since she was seven) and how she’s doing in school. Today, she’s fourteen years old. Probably the best thing I’ve done in my life so far, no kidding.
12. I sold unused items
I sold some of my household goods and other electronics I no longer used. Like the extra Nikon D90 body I no longer needed when I upgraded.
This section is a work in progress – I plan to sell all the things I have no need for before I hit the road again. That 30 inch (or is it 40?) plasma Sony HDTV that still sits in my apartment as if I watch it? That’s next on the list. What I can’t part with though is my collection of African paintings from Congo.
13. I learned to ask questions and find solutions
Basically, I learned to hustle. That insurance bill that comes every month or the internet service? Those things we subscribe to at home? They almost always have a suspend option -a temporary hold while you’re away abroad. That often means only 10% of your bill has to be paid, or you can have it put on hold until you return in some cases.
It pays to call and ask, knowledge is power.
14. I worked my behind off
Yep, it’s the old-fashioned work-hard and play hard formula. When I was home I worked as much as I could so I can save as much as I can – within reason of course, because making time for friends and family is important. But that meant long hours and sacrificing weekends for weeks on end.
15. I cut down on salon visits
Seriously, when you have as much hair as I do it’s tough to maintain on your own. But I stopped going to the salon every single week (yes I used to do that). Instead staggered it to twice a month, learning how to do it myself the rest of the time.
In a nutshell, if it’s what you really want – to travel or pursue what you love, whether it’s a class or living abroad, then it’s possible. It just takes diligence, sacrifice and gratitude for the tools you already have.
Are there any other ways you’ve saved for long-term travel if you’ve done it before? Feel free to share below.
Note: I just realized since publishing this that I have two number 11s – ah well, bonus tip!