Travel

Determine Your Travel Style and How to Afford It

Know what you love. Decide when you want it. Spend accordingly.

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Determine Your Travel Style and How to Afford ItYour personal style of adventure is all about what you love the most. Knowing that will help you make important financial decisions so that you get more of what you love out of travel and less of what you don’t.

How much you’re willing to invest in each one is a good indicator of your favorite travel. Here are the five major categories of spending travelers encounter:

  • Gear
  • Transportation (getting there and getting around)
  • Lodging
  • Food
  • Experiences

Personally, I love spending on all of these categories, but not to the same degree, and not all at the same time. That’s the beauty of having a clear picture of what you love as a traveler—you can change up your style at any time.

What’s your travel style?

My favorite styles are budget backpacking and taste tourism.

I love backpacking alone. When I’m in a wild place, the real adventure is the place itself—I enjoy sleeping in a tent, eating rice and beans, and slowly losing my powers of speech for a couple of weeks if it means I get a little patch of wilderness heaven all to myself—and all that for pretty darn close to free.

But in cities, I’m a socialite and a foodie. I want a Cajun omelet at that famous cafe for breakfast; the gator sausage Po-boy at the corner store for lunch; and a double helping of andouille jambalaya for dinner—at the jazz club inside the restored 19th-century steamboat, with a Sazerac for the three of us, please.

On long trips, I can pay for my urban travel style with the money I save on my wilderness travel style. They’re wildly different in terms of cost and pleasures, but I love them both the same.

Whatever you love, you can travel anyway you want if you remember a few fundamental rules.

Rule 1: Spend here, save there

All else being equal, the more you spend on any major category, the less you have to spend on any of the others.

If you’re planning on walking the entire Appalachian trail, it makes a ton of sense to take $500 from your transport budget to spend on gear, like a great pair of boots and a solid tent. If you’re planning a two-week driving tour of major West Coast cities, you may want to pay more attention to your transportation and housing funds than your gear.

Using a budget tool like Mint or Cleo, a personal finance assistant, can be a quick and easy way to play with different spending combinations for each category.

Rule 2: Convenience, comfort and privacy cost

The more comfortable and convenient your experience, and the less you share major expenses like food, transport, and lodging, the more your adventure will cost.

The ability to cook on a private stove, take a private shower, and even walk out “your” door and get into “your” car are all privileges with a cost. If you’re working a nine-to-five job in a suburb, spending on those conveniences may very well be worth it.

But you may be surprised how much more you can get out of your travel experience if you’re willing to skimp on comfort, convenience, and privacy from time to time.

Rule 3: Spend money to save time. Spend time to save money.

The faster you travel, and the more pre-packaged experiences you choose, the more you will pay.

Compare the cost of a roundtrip, nonstop airline ticket from New York to San Diego arranged by a travel agent who has already set up skydiving, parasailing, and a private Old Town tour for you and your three best friends—versus hopping in a minivan with the same three friends, sleeping in the car, and freestyling your own tour of sunny San Diego before motoring home on a new route.

These are useful extremes to consider because they both start and end in the same place, but they have vastly different monetary, effort, and time investments. You may decide you like them both. So try them both. Why not?

Know what you love. Determine your style. Spend accordingly.

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Dan Grinthal

Before age 23, Dan lived and worked in 40 states as a disaster relief volunteer, a trail crew member, a budget backpacker, and a toy designer, among other things. Now 25, he is the author of Where the Stones Touch the Sky and founder of AmericaontheCheap.com.

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