Over the years many people have written to me asking how I fund my travel, specially because it involves more international trips than domestic ones. As is the case with any kind of travel, it involves a lot of saving, an understanding of the opportunity cost and more importantly- additional cash for unforeseen situations. I’m not getting into the question of why you should travel or whether its safe to travel alone, but I will address the “how to” for those who’ve decided to do it anyway. There are 3 important things that helped me integrate travel into my life in a big way:
1. Get a job that pays you to travel:
This one is obviously not for everyone because career goals must be considered. For consultants, analysts, marketing wizards or pretty much anyone else with a desk job or a career that requires you to work out of an office, this isn’t possible. Saving sick leaves and personal time off is your only bet and you would need to make the most of long weekends and midweek holidays for short trips. I worked at one such firm, one of the big fours that involved walking in to office at 9am and leaving work at 1:00 am (on the reg, by the way, I’m not talking exceptions). While I loved the work I was doing, I realised I wanted something more. That didn’t mean I had to change my line of work. It meant I could take my line of work to a different industry, and that’s what I did. One fine day, high on caffeine and exhausted from sleep deprivation, I decided to look at openings in travel companies. I didn’t have to look much further from one of the best travel companies in the country, and I applied for a position that didn’t necessarily involve much travel but could at least give me a foothold in the company. That was the only place I had applied (and casually) but after a few rounds of interviews, they got back with an even better position for me- a product manager position that involved international travel. I took in a heartbeat and have never regretted my decision.
This was a dream job in many ways. I could do the two things I loved most, and it gave me a chance to explore many other things that I hadn’t considered before. I was pushed out of my comfort zone repeatedly- my first solo international trip, the first time I lost my passport, the nuisance of managing profit and loss- among other things. But I loved my job until one day I felt like it was time to move on. By then, I had set up a travel blog and it was generating an income and fund my travel at the same time. I believed that was around the time social media suddenly became “a bunch of bloggers lobbying for sponsorships” which worked in my favour.
2. Sponsor your travel:
This one is more for bloggers or those who want to start their own blogs or even only Instagram pages. (Not everyone who wants to be a social influencer needs to be a blogger, and this is an important decision for you personally. Become a blogger only if you truly enjoy penning your thoughts down. Else go with social media or Instagram only. It’s important to stick to what you like to do most instead of spreading yourself too thin- something I learnt a little late in the day when it became too stressful to manage Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and a website). But hopefully, this part will convince you to take up the world of blogging, for its many benefits outweigh the hours of hard work and the nuisance of creating fresh content for social media on the reg.
It usually isn’t possible to get sponsors to pay for your entire trip or to offer a fully-paid trip (unless you work with tourism boards or travel companies. The latter is a stingy bunch that doesn’t easily shell out money and hasn’t quite grasped the concept of social influencers fully). You could get in touch with hotels who could offer your stay, or airlines who could offer you a sponsored flight. Again, the latter is usually infrequent, because the airline industry is currently operating on low margins and even losses in certain quarters.
The one most important thing to remember here is to carve out your niche. Everyone cannot be everything- meaning, you cannot be “Fashion. Food. Travel” because that often makes you a jack of all trades- and unless you have already established yourself in a particular field before moving to a another niche, chances are you’re confusing your audience and your sponsors.
Another rule of thumb I like to follow is- “If you don’t have anything useful to say, don’t say it” because the internet is full of crap spewing bloggers (just browse through Tumblr) and the world could really use something fresh. Content is important and should never be undermined in the face of quantity of posts or updates. Consistency is key but only if you’re bringing something new to the table. Be known for the quality of your work- not for the quantity of your followers. IMO, that’s how brands are built.
One last thing- do not buy your followers! Brands can see right through it. In fact, I believe Instagram is now cracking down on social influencer accounts who have purchased followers. I know some bloggers who are doing phenomenal work and are truly recognised in their respective fields, with only 25K followers or so. Focus on collaborations, visibility and engagement. Make long-term partnerships, aim for the good brands and respect your work. Shortcuts are for the lazy, and they will never get you quality sponsorships.
No one like to hear this- but the sad truth of the good life of travel is also a life of cutting down on expenditure, saving the pennies and making long-term financial decisions. “Throw a dart at the world map and go where it lands” is for those who have been saving enough (or earning a bomb). A 20 year old might have to wait a couple years before that dream is realised. Travel is a decision, it’s a choice you make between that gorgeous new jacket at H&M or the fancy Saturday night drinking scene. Travel has no place for YOLO and you have to prioritise your expenditure- there’s no getting around that one. My dad would often (in the middle of a lecture) tell me “Money doesn’t grow on trees” so dad if you’re reading this, here’s your free pass to giving me the “told you so” look.
Bad news aside, it’s a possible and realistic goal to save for a trip. I’ve been doing it for years on a 20-something’s salary. And sometimes on freelance money. Here are some tips that worked for me:
- Find an alternate source of income: Let’s be realistic, we live in a country where an international trip once a year is also a luxury. Sometimes that can be said for domestic trips as well. Our incomes and ROE give us limited options to travel. This might sound like a life lesson (and at the risk of sounding like it anyway, take the advice) but it always helps to have an alternate source of income. Some bloggers have full time jobs to compliment their blogging, others have alternates within the online/blogging domain itself- money earned through sponsorships, Youtube, Instagram etc.
- Decide where you want to spend your money: This works best in the short term. Set realistic 3 or 4 month goals to save up for an upcoming trip. Why this won’t work in the long run? Because the rainy days are more frequent than we expect. And because we sometimes give in to the temptation of picking up a new suede jacket. Anyway- for a few months, decide not to spend on night-outs, decide not to splurge on clothes (personally, once I’ve worn a piece of clothing, I’m bored of it already) and decide to skip Starbucks. It all boils down to CHOOSING travel over other things.
- Set aside a monthly fund: No-brainer, this one. Treat it like an overdue credit card payment. Take out a part of our salary and save it in your travel fund. You could set up an online birthday present link where friends or family can add your present money to the given link (this kills two birds with one stone, saving you the pointless gifts you were gonna forward to someone else anyway).
- Stop being a hoarder: Sell the stuff you don’t need. The old mac you no longer use or the first-gen iPad sitting pretty in your drawer- they could earn you some bucks
- Use your credit card points wisely: Do not, ever, cash them out. I once did that and it might be my only regret in life. It always makes sense to take jet miles instead, because its more value for your money. Plus, you can use them for last minute flights (that’s the only time you’re using your jet miles judiciously, btw. Last minute flights. Because miles per sector don’t change and are otherwise a rip-off unless last minute flights are through the roof and you use your miles).
Another random tip: Stick to a particular airline (sometimes not your favourite airline but one that usually provides the best benefits in your country or the best coach sharing partner) and build up your points with that airline. Not only could this get you closer to actually getting the free flights, but could also get you upgrades. Known fact: airlines offer upgrades to their regular customers with a good amount of already accumulated miles. Also, when you fly Etihad on the price of a Jet airways ticket, it will seem like a great idea.