My lovely backpack. This backpack has been with me to India twice, South America for 2.5 months, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Canada. I had an even smaller backpack when I had done my Euro trip 6 years ago.
1. How to budget travel:
Traveling can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. I don’t know about you, but I do not have a million dollars. Even if I did, I would use that money to fund children’s education and healthcare or start NGOs. Traveling is a side hobby, while being a Nurse Practitioner is my calling and passion. I make time for both. Even before I became a NP, I had a low new RN salary/wage, and it was even below minimum wage for RNs as I was a Pediatric nurse. I was a grad student too back then. I worked my way through school and graduated debt free. Nonetheless, I got a crazy idea to travel to Europe on my own for 2.5 weeks. I saved overtime pay, doing 60 hours a week in addition to grad school, and booked my Europe backpacking tickets. My 2.5 week Euro trip across U.K., Greece, Italy, and Switzerland, cost me about $3000 including plane tickets, lodging, food, and excursions/activities. That is actually a lot of money for backpacking, but I was a novice back then. I also spent $4000 for 2.5 months in South America last year. You learn and grow with more experience. Flight to London from US was too expensive and took up 50% of my budget when I did Europe. On the other hand, for South America, I used airline points/miles with Southwest and flew to Tampa for $5. Then I took flight to Cartagena, Colombia via Ft. Lauderdale for $250. The intercontinental flights in both, Europe, and South America, are super cheap if you look at the right places. I paid as little as $25 for plane tickets in Europe, which was cheaper than the trains even. I paid 60 Euros to get from Italy to Switzerland via train. I love train rides though, and I wanted to experience the nature and mountains. Therefore, it was worth it. All in all, it is about budgeting the cost of travel versus what is a priority on your to do list/or to experience list, and what can be sacrificed for make things works. I paid less to travel across South America in 2.5 months than I would have for rent for that much time is a large city. Budget wisely. If resorts and Margaritas are your thing, then you will not be able to travel as much unless you have a lot more money. Now, if you adjust or are flexible to hostel living, and Air bnbs (which rock IMO), then you got it dude! If it helps, many hostels have welcome drinks and happy hour. I have tried so many free drinks and samples through hostels, and I don’t even drink that much. I just like to try local beverages as part of the new cultures I am trying to experience. My fav so far: Pisco Sour in Peru and Chile. My Japanese, Canadian, and Dutch friends that I made at hostels/air bnb/and on a group tour of Machu Picchu, were with me. I could not even finish the whole glass because I have such low tolerance of alcohol. Also, as a nurse, I try to be very careful about my health and well-being and everything in moderation. I like my liver, thank you very much! I do spend a lot of money on food when I travel as I am a total foodie, but I try to budget and cook at the hostel or air bnb host’s kitchen by going grocery shopping at local supermarkets. I make friends with families I stay with and they also invite me for their meals. I rarely eat alone when traveling even if I went solo. Sometimes, hostels have free breakfast. Even air bnbs can provide that sometimes. I lived off of breakfast free Nutella and bread in Italy. Budget the cost of food by planning where you will stay and what food options are available.
2. Something has got to give
Cannot have it all, or can you? So this is where being a minimalist works in my favor. I do not like make up, curling irons, high heels, a million pairs of clothes (besides my Indian clothes collection, guilty of that). Everyone is different, and some love to take 10 pairs of shoes with them for a 1 week trip. Some like to take 2 bags of make up for a hike. I like to take my boots, flip flops, 3-4 pairs of clothes, usually a bathing suit, travel towel that is microfiber antibacterial (https://www.amazon.com/Microfiber-Set-Absorbent-Antibacterial-Swimming-Camping/dp/B072LYLND2/ref=sr_1_34?keywords=travel+towel&qid=1563278676&s=gateway&sr=8-34), travel size shampoo/skin care products, sunscreen, my journal, a book may be. Not much. I still have extra room in my bag because I take lightweight clothes such as leggings, skinny jeans, skirts/dresses, shorts, tanks, and wear the heavy fleece or jacket during my flights or bus/train rides to save room in my bag. I layer up at airports to save money on check in if I have to. A little compromise and adjusting is needed. That $50 for check in fees can be used for food or a discount airline ticket. It is totally OK to travel with whatever “stuff” you want, as it is your journey, and to each their own! However, this is what works for me. I met girls in my hostel female dorms who full out unpack a make up kit and hair straightener. I have also met people that are more simple like me. Nothing is right or wrong, but just what is right for you. You can make it work by choosing what is a necessity, and what can be left at home. If you want to travel for longer on a $500 budget lets say, you have options. Do you want to stay in the fancy resort with all you can eat, room service, wallpaper, lemon fresh toiletries (take them if you pay so much for a hotel room and use them on your next trip!), heated pool and spa (ok I do love heated pools and Jacuzzis, but that is a sacrifice I will make for my longer trips)!? you can, but that budget is not going to go for more than 2-3 days if you count the plan ticket and how an average resort room costs $100-300 per night. If you want to turn that budget into funding a week long trip, staying at air bnb for $20-100 per night can give you more bang for your buck! I go to medical conferences funded by my work because as a NP, I am required to do Continuing Medical Education (CME) to keep Up to Date on medical advances and knowledge/skills/renew licenses. Those conferences are always at super fancy expensive hotels and resorts. Needless to say, they are costly!! Out of pocket, I cannot afford that. I use my CME allowance wisely. I love learning and growing, and I love connecting with colleagues and updating my knowledge bank to provide the best care for my patients, but I am still on a budget. I use my CME allowance very wisely. I have stayed in resorts if the cost is covered, or else, I stay in Air bnb or a different hotel nearby and uber/walk to the conference. I did that in Orlando and Chicago. I am not impressed by fancy resorts. They are pretty to look at, but do not offer much in terms of comfort and adventure. I need the homely feeling I get at air bnbs, and even hostels where my dorm/roommates feel like family or friends. I recently stayed at a hotel in Asheville, and I did not like it. I felt so secluded. If I stayed at airbnb lodge, I may have made friends with the owner or other travelers. There is always a good and bad to every side of things.
Oh I can write a book on this. Again, to each their own, but I discovered how backpacking is the traveling style of minimalists. Backpacking can be many things. It can be long multi-day hikes through the mountain ranges. It can be day trips. It can be weekend getaways. It can be around the world for 1 year, 1 week, 1 month, or whatever duration, which ever place (s). As the name implies, it is traveling with a backpack. All of your stuff goes in a backpack, instead of a suitcase. Backpacks actually are stretchable with more space, they are nifty as you can take them essentially anywhere. It is hard to take a big suitcase on a 1 mile walk from the bus station to the hostel/air bnb/lodge. On the other hand, the backpack can be used a pillow for long layovers. I nap all the time in airports. I crawl up in a corner of on some chairs. I can also hide my backpack under a chair and go use to restroom or get food without being afraid of someone stealing my stuff. Even if they do, there is nothing valuable in there. I do not take large electronics with me. My valuables are hidden on me at all times. That is a secret. Backpacking allows for saving money on check in bags, only taking what you absolutely need, so you spend more time with the place, people, and experiences, than trying to decide on an outfit. Trust me on this, when you are down to the only pain of clean clothes, because you have to find a Laundromat in the international town, or wash clothes by hand, it will take you 5 minutes to get ready. I washed my clothes by hand in India and Europe. I used laundry services in hostels and community laundromats in South America. Some Air bnb owners happily let me use their machines and even gave me their detergent and fabric softeners. so sweet! I make sure I do not spoil myself too much. I like to feel like I earned the trips. I because a pro at washing clothes by hand, which was a foreign concept to me having grown up in states. Apparently, in India, it is very common though, and same with many countries. However, it is sometimes hard to dry clothes outside. When I was in Valparaiso, Chile, I used air bnb owner’s washer, but had to hang clothes outside to dry. It was pouring rain that night, and my clothes were soaked. I had nothing left to wear, so I had to turn the fan on in my room and spread my clothes out on the furniture. Meanwhile, I found a local clothing store and got myself a pair of pants and shirt while my clothes dried. Backpacking is not all fun and games, but I love the unknown, and the adventure of these things. If I had a suitcase, I could have put 10 pairs of clothes in there, but a backpack only allows so much room for clothes. It makes me think out of the box and be creative. Backpacking is a way of traveling for me that I thoroughly enjoyed in the past for those reasons. Save money, be simplistic and minimalist, and my favorite, a great workout! Talk about strength training and cardio all in one! I feel strong with my backpack as I can whip it in someone’s face if they try to harm me. I can also run really fast with it on unlike with a suitcase. I have climbed mountains with it.
I had done a whole post on credit card miles. That is a different story.
Sometimes, I do travel with a suitcase/rolling bag. That is usually not associated as much with my budget travel trips unless there is a free carry on allowance, or I have to pack heavy clothes for some event. There is no right or wrong, but this is just how I make it work. I hope to inspire others to follow their dreams and live vivaciously. Travel has made me so open-minded, and I realize that I would not have gotten this worldly education had I never left my hometown. Follow your dreams and passions. Nothing is impossible. I M POSSIBLE. Money, degrees, awards, status, titles, are all blah. Happiness from those things is temporary. Happiness from creating a life for yourself by pursuing your dreams and passions, no matter what challenges are along the way, is priceless. That is the satisfaction I get from travels because I created this life for myself. Growing up, I could not even afford school lunches. I slept on the floor a lot. I did not know what family vacations felt like. Now, I have attended medical conferences at the Disney’s Grand Floridian. I went to Epcot as an adult and loved it! Happiness comes from sharing your joys with others. That is why I love blogging. I wish to share my experiences with strangers in hope to inspire them to go after what they want in life, especially people that can relate to me with traveling. Earning money does not make me as happy as being able to take care of my patients. I know I deserve much more than I earn, and I have done the math many times. Regardless, my profession is that of caring and helping others. The joy from seeing people’s health improve, or child get better, is priceless. When I travel, connecting with locals and other travelers makes me happy, not how fancy the shower curtain or granite countertops are.