Life is a product of our choices. One of the most important choices we make in life—on a daily basis—is what we spend our money on. I choose to spend a disproportionate amount of my money on travel for myself and my family. Spending lots of money on family travel is an investment in my family’s growth and development. The shared experiences in foreign lands help strengthen our bonds as a family and give our daughters new perspectives on the world and their lives.
We’ve been traveling as a family for more than three years. We’ve been to dozens of destinations all over the world, including New York City, Honolulu, Buenos Aires, Taipei, and Phuket. We’ve spent anywhere from three days to three months in certain destinations. And we’ve been able to do this because we’ve made travel a priority in our lives.
To begin to explain how we afford to travel, let’s start with some background information on myself:
First, we’re a single income family when I’m working. When I’m not working, we’re a zero income family, as we are now on our current gap year of travel.
Second, I never struck it rich with a family inheritance or employee stock options from an IPO. In fact, I missed my part of the biggest IPO ever when Alibaba went public on the NYSE in September 2014. But that’s another story for another day… *I previously worked at Alibaba from 2007-2010.
Third, I don’t get paid to travel or write about it (yet).
Where does all the money come from for our travels?
Working Income – In my career, I’ve worked as a full-time employee, a full-time contractor, and an independent contractor. Each of these positions pulled in a paycheck, which paid bills, contributed to savings, and eventually gave us the kickstart to help fund our travel dreams.
Passive Income – When we traveled on our sabbatical in 2014, we rented out our house and our SUV while we were away for four months. This covered all payments on both the house and the car. Similarly, we’ve rented out our house while we’re away on our current gap year of world travel in 2015. The rent payments cover all housing costs with a little buffer.
Savings – Even though I have a mortgage, bills, and all the high expenses of living in the Bay Area, I have been able to eliminate my debt and save up significant amounts of money over the years. That being said, my wife and I are very frugal with our spending. We don’t buy excessive amounts of expensive clothes, toys, electronics, etc. We don’t spend $250 on fancy dinners. When we’re at home, my wife cooks 90% of the time. When we eat out, we normally go to Chipotle or get some Vietnamese pho. We live within our means.
How do I afford to travel for long extended periods of time with my family?
We afford to travel by traveling within our means, setting a budget, and sticking to it. Similar to how we live within our means at home, we keep costs down by spending frugally on transportation, accommodation, food, and leisure activities abroad. In other words, we don’t spend what we don’t have.
How do we keep costs down while traveling?
1. We travel primarily in countries that are cheap to live in.
We spent approximately $80 per day for our three months in Thailand. $80 per day covered our accommodations, transportation, food, leisure, and kids’ education costs while in Thailand. That comes out to approximately $2500 per month and $7500 for three months. $7500 is equivalent to what we would have spent for one month of living costs in the Bay Area.
2. We travel slowly.
Twelve weeks in Thailand, five weeks in Argentina, four weeks in Guatemala…These are just examples of the lengths of trips we have stayed in different countries. The longer we stay, the less we spend on a per day basis because Airbnb apartment rentals become cheaper for weekly and monthly rentals. We eat-in more since we can go grocery shopping and cook our meals. Transportation costs also go down because we’re not flying as much.
3. We get creative on flights.
I’ve booked many free flights on United and Star Alliance flights for my family over the years by accumulating miles on my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. Recently, I’ve booked flights from Hawaii to Phuket, Thailand and Phuket to Hangzhou, China for all four of us, all on points. This has saved us at least a few thousand dollars.
I book cheap flights. I recently booked roundtrip flights on AirAsia from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for $110 each. That price is basically cheaper than a one-way ticket between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I’ve also booked flash deal flights on major airlines for amazing deals on international trips. I’ve booked $249 per roundtrip ticket from San Jose, California to Guatemala City, Guatemala and an unbelievable deal of $149 per roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles, California to Lima, Peru. Since I booked tickets for all four of us, the savings of these deals were in the range of $1000-$2000 per trip.
4. We travel together for my business trips.
I like to mix business with pleasure, especially if I can save on costs for a trip with my family. I’ve traveled in many major cities within the USA with my family for a mere fraction of what it would cost if we were traveling on vacation.
For example, I spent about $150 out-of-pocket for five days in New York City on a business trip with my family while staying at the Hilton in Manhattan. I covered my wife’s and kids’ flights with miles so there was no extra cost there. $150 for 5 days in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world, isn’t too shabby for a family of four.
So that’s it…we afford to travel the world by traveling within our means. Whatever amount we can save up and budget for, we use to travel. And we continue to spend whatever money we have to travel because we believe it is a valuable investment in ourselves and our kids. In the end, it’s the shared experiences, not the material possessions, that make all the difference in the quality of our lives.
*For more reading on how you can fund YOUR travel lifestyle, click here.