Back when I was in my twenties and the dollar was fairly strong against the euro, I tried to get a group of friends together to go to the south of Spain. You could rent beautiful villas in the mountains with infinity pools that overlooked the ocean, huge beautiful rustic kitchens, fireplaces, and patios with outdoor stone ovens, all for about $100 per person per week. Flights were maybe around $700, and food and wine are dirt cheap there, so the whole thing could have been under a thousand bucks. But all of my friends claimed they “couldn’t afford to” go. How was it that I, who was working in a bookstore at the time making $9 an hour, had the cash to make a trip like that but no one else did?
A traveling life (assuming you’re not independently wealthy) obviously requires you to make certain budgetary choices. I got really tired of hearing friends say things like “Oh, you’re so lucky” in regards to my various trips. Luck had nothing to do with it- it’s just about priorities. While my peers were busy racking up credit card debt shopping for clothes or going out to eat all the time, I was shopping in thrift stores and bringing my lunch from home as often as possible, then jetting off to Japan or Italy or France or the Pacific Northwest. My friend P is even more extreme than I in his dedication to experiential pursuits. He loves to drink good wine and eat good food (I consider these to also fall under the category of experiences in that they’re transient pleasures), and to that end, he forgoes owning a car, among other things. I’m not passing judgment on anyone who makes different choices than I do, but please don’t attribute my lifestyle to luck. Incidentally, science is on our side: studies have shown that people who spend money on experiences over material possessions are generally happier.
My favorite way to travel on the cheap these days is to troll Kayak’s explore function. You just put in your departure city, and it produces a map of the world with the cheapest ticket prices that people have purchased within the last 48 hours. It’s great if you don’t necessarily have a destination in mind. Detroit doesn’t always have the most attractive international fares, so one day last July I was fooling around and thought I’d put Toronto as a departure city, just to see what came up. Lo and behold, I see this little speck in the middle of the Atlantic that says “$283”. I zoom in, and discover it’s an island chain called the Azores that are part of Portugal. Less than 24 hours later, I had convinced my friend A to join me, and we booked tickets for a week in October. My favorite part about this story is that I took a screenshot of the ticket price and posted it to Facebook, which resulted in a chain reaction of sharing, and something like 15 people ended up going to the Azores from Detroit in October and November! I’ve also seen flights to Istanbul and Marrakesh for around $500 that I had to pass up because it was bad timing with work (those places are both on the short list though for my next big trip). But the point being, if you have a flexible schedule and are open to seeing what’s out there, you can get some great deals.My latest travel purchase was a flight to New Orleans for $70 round trip. I mean, that’s less than the price of a pair of jeans. I’ll be there in just a few weeks with my business partner, who is like-minded enough that she agreed we should consider this a “business retreat” and pay for it on the company card. (It’s still my money, but at least it’ll be a tax write-off!)
I never got to rent that villa with friends in Andalusia, but I did go there in 2012 and fell head over heels in love with the region. I’m not giving up on the villa dream! It’s certainly more expensive now, but I still think deals can be had if you share a big house with 6-8 people. Alternate locations could include a seaside house in Turkey, Morocco or the south of France. Who’s in?
P.S. As of this writing, you can still get ultracheap tickets to the Azores from Toronto on Sata Airlines. Tickets for April are even cheaper than the ones I bought!