So far in this blog’s short history, I have talked a lot about both traveling and personal finance. most of those posts have focused on the how. This post focuses on the why.
Why do I choose to spend a comparatively high percentage of my income on travel and everything that goes along with it? Why does the prospect of actually being in a place that holds historical significance fill me with nearly inexpressible joy and wonder?
As a child I temporarily satisfied my thirst for exploration with books. I read books from diverse settings in both time and place. While I read those books and often much after I finished those books, I lived in my imagination, personally taking the place of a beloved character in the events the author did not yet describe in the book.
As I moved into adulthood, simply imagining these places was no longer quite enough. As a newly minted eighteen year old, my traveling adventures began with a high school graduation trip, my first trip north of the Mason Dixon line, to New York City.
In stunned awe I took in the sights and sounds of the city, of things I had seen on Friends and in “You’ve Got Mail.” Places like Central Park and Times Square stunned me with their diverse beauty. I stood in silent reverence on the site of the former Twin Towers and signed my name to a remembrance wall for those who had perished merely twenty-one months before. I craned my neck to see Lady Liberty’s torch. I called my grandpa in giddy glee from Ellis Island to ask when his mother immigrated only to find out that she actually came through Boston. I ate lunch where Harry met Sally and slowly melted in the bleachers of old Yankee Stadium to chants of “1918” as the Yankees faced the Red Sox.
Many vivid memories remain from that trip. A lifelong passion found expression. For the next several years as I progressed in my education my father subsidized my travel. First came our trip to Washington, DC, a fitting trip for a recent Bachelor’s in History graduate. I reveled in the history that abounds in our nation’s capital from the Smithsonian Museums to Mount Vernon and Monticello. Two years later, Dad and I took off on a graduation road trip in which we visited twenty-five states in fourteen days. That trip included sites like Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, Jackson Square in New Orleans, the Grassy Knoll, the 6th Floor Museum in Dealy Plaza, the Oklahoma City Memorial, Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks, the Ingalls’ Homestead in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.
I could spend pages describing all of the places that God has given me the privilege of visiting. None of those descriptions would even approach being able to describe the thrill I felt, for example, when my tour bus first crested a hill and I glimpsed the iconic pillars of Stonehenge. These few paragraphs, however, more than prove my point.
One of my favorite financial bloggers, Frugalwoods, best describes how I have chosen to finance my passion. If your main goal is to travel the world, pause before you buy that diet Dr. Pepper and ask yourself whether you would rather spend that money on the drink or on traveling the world that God has created. (Obviously, I rephrased her point with examples more applicable to myself.) This question and my answers to that question have helped fund further adventures and have helped me better explain what drives how I spend my money.
I started thinking about this post during a recent department meeting. In that meeting one of the items on the agenda was determining the date on which we would gather in the summer for planning, an extra day for which we would be compensated by Title I funds. After I disclosed that I would be on a plane headed to London the day following the last teacher work day, everyone started considering the day before I left as the primary option. While that would be convenient, we would not get paid for that day because it was a regular contract day. I will also add that my disclosure of my London trip was met by the usual casually jealous comments. Those comments, which i hear all the time, quickly paled in comparison to a specific comment from another coworker. I asked if we could consider a non-contract day so that we could be paid like those from other departments will be. She told met hat I would not notice that $150 in my paycheck, not after all the taxes were taken out. It really wasn’t that much.
Many things went through my head then and also permeated discussions of that comment, which she made several times throughout the remainder of that meeting. Most of those thoughts initially centered on speculation that privilege on her part led to the comment. While that certainly factored in, I believe that there also may be a cultural norm ascribing privilege to all those who are able to travel, especially overseas. Many times the other participants in conversations about my travel wish that they had enough money for such adventures or wonder how I can afford so much travel on a teacher’s salary. Perhaps that factored into my coworker’s inaccurate statement. Perhaps she assumed that because I could afford a European vacation, I would not notice the extra $150 in my paycheck.
On the contrary, I can afford a European vacation because I pay attention to every penny in my paycheck. I have never earned a large salary in my entire working career. According to my Social Security records (which you can access by setting up a free account on their website), I have only twice earned above thirty thousand dollars in a calendar year and even then just barely. Those numbers do not scream privilege yet God has blessed me with no debt, a head for numbers and a steady, sufficient income.
Over the years I have made travel a priority. I am also debt adverse. Those two main motivations have helped me travel far more than many might think possible. Sometimes that meant postponing the trip because I had not yet saved a sufficient amount. Sometimes that meant choosing a less expensive attraction like the Chicago Symphony rather than Hamilton with Wayne Brady playing Aaron Burr. All the time it means planning and budgeting well. For example, that London trip? Both Mom and I contributed to saving for it. The final budget came out to $5100 for two people. So far I have spent $4100 of that budget with the only things left to purchase being transportation (like the Underground and one or two Uber rides), food, and a few small souvenirs. We will likely end up spending less than $5,000 for two people to travel to England and Scotland for a total of eleven days including travel time.
That is how I can afford to travel on a teacher’s salary. I prioritize my spending by reminding myself about my ultimate goal. I prioritize how I spend my time by planning ahead of time, both the trip and my budget. I look for ways to maximize experience while minimizing the expense. The next time you start to say that you can’t do something and give in to jealousy of someone who can, redirect that effort into finding what truly brings you joy and figuring out how, not if, you’ll get there.