What’s your dream trip? Do you want to travel somewhere far away that fascinates you? Or maybe you have a specific bucket list item to cross off?
Now what’s stopping you from making it?
There are so many reasons why your dream trip is out of reach: family, professional obligations, bad timing or fear. But today I want to talk about one common hurdle for most: money.
“Are you joking? It’ll cost too much! Who’s going to pay my rent while I’m gone?”
If this is you, I don’t blame you for this way of thinking. For me, this was how I felt about Japan.
I treated it as some sort of distant dream that may never come true. I envied my friends who made it there, while I sat at home sighing at the ticket prices.
The truth is: I feared what it would take to make my dream come true.
I heard too many anecdotes of friends spending six months or longer to pay off credit card debts from taking their dream trips – yikes.
So I sat, and did nothing. For six. years.
I panicked – I spent my points on two round trip tickets.
Unfortunately I still had a 15,000 mile shortfall, plus taxes and fees to cover. So I covered that with the vacation money I had spent the last five months saving.
It was thrilling – we had flights!* Then that fear set in: two weeks, three cities, three months to save for everything else. And the last thing we wanted was to walk away with tons of debt.
So how can you make your dream trip come true without being saddled with an ongoing bill?
Plan. Plan. Plan.
Ask yourself: what do you need (and what don’t you need?) and how will you get there? And when you ask yourself these questions, be honest.
What is it about the trip that makes it a dream for you? If it’s a first class flight and a first class luxury trip, that’s great! Make strides towards it. But if not, you can figure out what matters most, and focus on making that great while making some concessions.
For us, our dream trip was about seeing as much as possible, experiencing as much of the local life as possible, while having a comfortable sleep.
Based on that, we immediately knew what we didn’t want or need:
– Hostel (a comfortable arrangement was a must)
– Fancy meals (wanted to experience typical local fare)
– Expensive entertainment (we were there to see the beauty of the land!)
With that in mind, we knew exactly what we needed to do.
We read travel blogs, we read forums, we watched youtube videos of people living in Japan. In scouring the internet, we learned a lot of surprising things that could have easily burned us.
For example, Japanese hotels charge per person instead of per room.
Nuh, your girl was not about to spend double what she normally does.
We opted for Booking.com and Airbnb as our booking platforms of choice. Both allowed us to rigorously confirm that the costs displayed covered the two of us. We averaged $100/night for pristine, comfortable accommodations (mostly apartments) with kitchens and laundry facilities.
Some photos of our Airbnb in Taito-Ku, Tokyo. Uhome with host Rita. 10/10 would stay again https://bit.ly/2HilNzu
Photos courtesy of Airbnb.
When you do your research, you begin to figure out your budget which helps you plan how much money to save. While word of mouth was that Tokyo was an expensive place to stay and eat, we were rather surprised to find that wasn’t the case when we got there.
The hot tips we found online saved us so much.
Konbinis and grocery stores had surprisingly delicious hot foods for cheap. Local vendors peddling snacks outside events offered tantalizing local fare. Chain restaurants had surprisingly large portions for cheap.
But our most delicious, budget friendly options came without any online English language accolades. The only indicators we had were local line ups or online reviews written only in Japanese. These places were the kinds of holes in the wall that held only a small amount of people.
One of our favourites was Sanya Cafe. A cute spot in Asakusa, Tokyo. We had a delicious western style breakfast and japanese style breakfast, each for 500 yen (roughly $7 CAD).
Photos courtesy of Sanya Cafe’s website. We indulged in our meal so forgot to snap our photos!
It kept us full for six hours! And hands down, the most unique tasting (and best tasting) miso soup I had my whole trip. If you look hard enough there are many food options like this available.
The thing that helped us most was learning that Japan is addicted to cash. Not the best news for my points loving, credit card using self. But the upside to relying on a cash budget, is that you travel with real money (no going into debt or borrowing), and it forces you not to go over budget.
We have a bank account nicknamed our “vacation fund.” As we approached our vacation, we saved more aggressively towards it and used that to cover the travel costs hitting my credit card (gotta get them points).
Despite the saving, we were left with a double whammy dilemma: not enough entertainment money, and the worry of covering things at home. While I am on salary, my fiancee works shifts. A two week gap in income, risks falling behind at home.
To mitigate this, we could do one of two things: save more to cover the shortfall, or work more to earn it. With our finite amount of monetary resources, we opted for option two. My fiancee was luckily able to pick up some additional shifts to help with the cost.
But if you find you’re unable to do either, this doesn’t mean your dream trip has to be out of reach. Consider taking on house sitting, or working at a hostel that is willing to trade hours of your time for free accommodation.
As for our other dilemma – well it turns out that wasn’t a real dilemma at all. We filled our two week trip entirely with free things to see and do and still didn’t have enough time to do it all! The biggest jackpot came at the end of Roppongi Art Night. The organizers held a survey for foreigners to give their opinion on the night, and as a reward, they gave us a pair of tickets to three other art museums. We scored three additional art museum trips for both of us, entirely for free. A great way to end what was already an amazing art night.
Whatever it is you want, whatever your dream trip is, you can get it. While all these steps may sound trite, it’s surprising how easily we think that’s not possible for me before we think with a few steps it’s within reach.
Just like with any goal in life, if you break it down into easy, actionable steps, something that seems scarily impossible suddenly becomes possible.
If you plan, research, budget and save, you dream trip can become a reality.
It worked for us. We spent 6 years thinking about a trip that took only 3 months to plan and 9 months to save up for. And when we came back, we weren’t even in debt over it.