“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. see the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that. Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.” Ray Bradbury
I'm at the airport again. It's becoming more natural, more comfortable. Less stressful. I'm proudly beginning to morph into a seasoned traveler. I've been working on my seasoning this year. Through a number of fortuitous events and moments, we've begun to hone our traveling skills this year. Instead of travel being a once-a-year-I-hope kind of pipe dream full of sand, sunscreen, and tourists, we're finding travel to be a regular occurrence. I love the smell of airplane fuel. I love watching people get ready for the places they're going.
This summer, we'd planned (and saved) to go to Cuba on a trip with Lifetree Adventures. That was our only planned trip for the year except for our typical bare-bones anniversary trip to literally wherever we find the cheapest tickets to. Then a friend got married on the East Coast and Jason was in the wedding. Then my sister moved to Connecticut and I went with her to help her settle in. Then we started to feel confident in our ability to travel and we went to visit friends in Louisiana. And then planned a trip back to the East Coast to visit my sister. (This is the flight I'm waiting for at the airport currently.) And after that, it just kept rolling. A road trip to visit grandparents for Thanksgiving. A road trip to pick up a friend from Africa who's moved to the USA. A visit from a friend from Cuba. And our confidence burgeoned and we bought a stupidly low fare to the Virgin Islands for December.
There are typical travel tips: Pack light, arrive early, eat smart, etc. But there are things no one ever tells you. Things we've been learning on our once-a-month travel excursions this year.
First and foremost; be flexible. Not just with canceled flights and TSA. That's small fries. Everyone needs to be able to handle slight setbacks. I mean large-scale flexibility. Look at a map and figure out where you can find the cheapest flight to, and go there. Don't set your destination in your mind ahead of time. It'll cost you in a lot of ways.
Be flexible about travel dates. This is the hardest one for Americans. We like scheduling and our jobs require it. We like neat plans packed in around our busy lives. But your busy life will have to move around a bit if you want travel to be a priority. Please remember I'm speaking from the perspective of someone married to a 2-weeks/year vacation allotment person. You have to get good at working things around each other. If tickets are cheapest on Thursdays, you're going to either jump at the chance and take a couple days off, or you'll miss out. We've even begun working things around our travel schedules. For example, when we went to a dear friend's wedding on the East Coast, Jason's company allowed him to make it a business trip to two of their offices in the State the wedding was in. I drove quite literally all over Pennsylvania. We were road warriors in every sense. And we were tired. But it worked. And we spent a week away from home without using any vacation time. (It helps a lot that Automation-X is a beyond-fabulous company and Jason's boss is quite literally the most incredible guy ever to be anybody's boss, and that's a fact. But we've worked around a variety of work schedules in the past.)
Be flexible about your comfort and your options. Sure, Spirit Airlines is kind of a basic airline and their amenities are situated accordingly. Sometimes, flying with them can be a bit unpleasant (the seats are hard, for one, and sometimes there's not enough leg room for Jason's legs). But if it costs less, it means that money can be saved and spent elsewhere. Spirit is incredibly up-front about their costs. And every little thing will cost you. So it's time to get creative. That could mean more money spent on meaningful experiences, or it could mean more money spent on another trip. Saving that kind of money opens doors. And a few hours stuck in an uncomfortable position is entirely worth the destination. Flying is not about the experience of flying, it's about the destination, right?
Be flexible with your plans. When we went to San Diego for our anniversary, we had a small budget. So we elected not to rent a car. We elected not to rent a typical hotel for a large portion of our stay. And the result of that was us staying on a sailboat floating in the Pacific. It kind of really rocked. We also made new friends who've offered the use of their sailboat should we ever return, and we're seriously considering taking them up on some sailing lessons. Now that we're headed to the Virgin Islands, we're planning to camp the entire time. We'll be saving tons of money and spending about $30 per night. That's so cheap, it's hard to argue with. And when we only paid 1% of the cost of our airfare, it begins to become a question of why we wouldn't choose to spend our time on a beach soaking up the sun.
Now, we're growing in our confidence. I don't see why we can't travel just about every month when it costs about the same as staying home and having an inexpensive dinner out each night. We're learning the things that don't mean enough to us to be valued above travel. For example, we drive a crappy car. We love the car dearly, but it truly is crappy. Bonnie is a '97 Toyota Corolla with over 230k miles on her. She's got peeling paint, a banged-in door, and ceiling fabric that rests comfortingly on your head while you drive...like a cocoon of old car smell. She's brilliant. And gets 40 miles to the gallon. And she enables our lifestyle. So we cherish Bonnie. We also have chosen not to stretch our income on a house. It's comfortable, cute, renovated by us, and it's affordable.
Often when I talk to people who can't afford to travel, our lifestyles are out of sync. We look like paupers because we have old clothes, an old car, and a house that looks like it may have been a halfway house at some point in its potentially sordid history. But we have destinations under our belt that those people often tell us they hope to go to someday. We love those odd things that comprise our daily life because they free us to do the thing we love most: Travel.
Everything is a choice. And in each choice to say "yes" to one thing are the reflections of the thousands of things you've just turned down in favor of that one thing. For a while, we were always feeling poor, always feeling like we couldn't afford things. Then we reviewed our expenses under a critical lens and realized we were spending a lot of money on dining out and on frivolous entertainment that we didn't really remember. So we did away with those things. I started cooking at home for basically all of our meals (and I make everything from scratch, even mayonnaise, yogurt, canned goods, and cream cheese), and I became more resourceful. In all of that, we found we could consolidate those other expenses to make room for that one thing we love doing most. For us, the one thing is travel. If you look through your checkbook, you might find what your one thing is. If you don't like what it reflects, the good news is you're the one in the driver's seat and you can make changes. The kinda bad news is that it's not easy. We still have to often remind ourselves why we're different and the fact that it's on purpose has a lot of weight to it. Trips don't have to be expensive. Destinations don't have to be set in stone. Create a bucket list and whenever one of your destinations has cheap tickets, BUY THEM! Become addicted to travel. It'll only open your mind and eyes to new things. You'll never regret it. Don't take home souvenirs, but memories, pictures, collections of moments that mean more than any Chinese-made attempt at a replica of your destination.