How You (Yes, You) Can Afford Your Dream Trip Abroad
I hear the sentiment from my friends and colleagues all the time: They’ve always dreamed of traveling, but actually doing it seems out of reach. With everyday financial obligations and little paid time off available (the U.S. has some of the shortest holiday time in the world), shelling out for a big international trip just doesn’t seem possible for a lot of people.
Since travel has always been part of my life, a lot of my friends ask me how I balance working and traveling—and especially how I fund it all.
In my case, I became to determined to make travel, social good, and education part of my career. But others, who are juggling families, day jobs, and other personal responsibilities, may require different amounts of planning and resources to take a trip. So, in either case, how can you make travel a reality?
It all depends on your travel style and goals for your trip. To get you started on the right path, I’ve put together some traditional—and not-so-traditional—ways of funding your travel, depending on what you see yourself doing while you’re abroad. All you need is some innovation, determination, and creativity, and you’ll be on a plane in no time.
Yes, you can actually crowdfund your travels. If you don’t want to go with a big name company, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, there are sites like Trevolta that specifically focus on travel. In fact, Trevolta even has sponsors that look out for specific trips that align with their brand and fully fund those requests. You can also check out sites like Crowdrise if you’re working on behalf of a cause, or Honeyfund (which is exactly what it sounds like: honeymoon funding).
But before you launch into crowdfunding, make sure you’ve picked out a destination and can articulate your objectives and goals for the trip, so people feel compelled to get behind your request. You’ll also need to craft a detailed budget so your potential donors know exactly how you’ll be spending their money.
In order to do that, be clear and realistic about your travel style. Are you a budget backpacker, a flashpacker, or a luxury traveler? (I’ve seen 72-year-olds backpack through Southeast Asia and have a blast, so it’s truly all about your individual preferences.) The good thing is, any style goes, since you can fund everything from your plane ticket to hotels to specific excursions while you’re at your destination. Just make sure you budget is transparent and honest.
And keep in mind: With crowdfunding, it’s completely OK to pursue funding for a trip for the sole reason of personal growth and enjoyment, as long as you’re honest about it. Just remember, if you don’t reach your funding goal on a crowdfunding site, you can’t keep the pledges, so it’s important to have a backup plan.
Scholarships and Fellowships
As a Fulbright Scholar and Soros Fellow for New Americans, fellowships and scholarships have shaped much of what I do. On a high level, these programs fund research, study, teaching, or projects, either in the U.S. or abroad. They are invaluable experiences to both your personal growth and your career, and, depending on the program, can partially or fully pay for your experience abroad.
When it comes to travel, there’s flexibility for the type and length of your trip to vary widely, because there are so many options to choose from—everything from a few months to a few years in the field. The thing is, you can’t approach this kind of travel as a vacation. You have to apply early—sometimes a year in advance—which means you really have to give some strategic thought to what you can offer on the ground and how such an experience would benefit you. Then, once you’re there, you’ll have to work hard to show your sponsors that you can produce.
International Placements and Jobs Abroad
If you’ve built up some valuable skills over the course of your career, why not see how they hold up in another country? Many companies have programs that allow their employees to work in affiliate offices around the world and still return to their positions and home country after a year or two. (Or, you can request to work abroad for just the summer.) Continuing your career abroad is an incredible way to continue gaining professional experience while traveling—and it won’t create a gap in your resume.
Even better, some of these positions usually qualify you for a relocation stipend, as well as a plane ticket home each year. (Plus of course, you still get paid a regular paycheck.) Talk to your HR department and see what options are available.
If your office doesn’t have an international exchange program, start exploring what other opportunities are available in your field. There are a number of job sites specific to international jobs, like DevNetJobs, FPA Jobs, and UNjobs, which are great places to start.
You may also be able to find location-specific job boards. In Southeast Asia, for example, teaching and tutoring gigs can be sourced from sites like ajarn.com or jobsdb.com. Just make sure to thoroughly research the companies you’re considering and talk to other expat employees who can give you an unbiased perspective.
Ever consider picking olives in a Greek village or herding sheep in Croatia? Work exchanges make traveling a lot cheaper by exchanging work or assistantships for housing and food.
You can find various exchanges and a series of reviews on each on Workaway, which will help you figure out if it’s a good fit for you and what your experience will be like. You can even reach out to people who have worked at the site before you.
This option is great for people who want to live locally in all aspects of the term. You’ll get to stay in local housing, eat local food (instead of the expensive, marked-up tourist restaurants), and interact with locals on a daily basis. You’ll save on the cost of living, and what’s great about work exchanges is you can still take time to travel and sightsee while you’re there.
Of course, your style of travel may not fit into any of the above options. Maybe you want to cover a variety of countries in a short amount of time, sightsee without doing work or research, or just can’t commit the resources to tracking down a job or volunteer opportunity abroad.
It may take a little more time and patience, but traditional savings methods are still great options. I recommend online savings accounts that enable you to open a themed account. Create a specific travel account, and you’ll be able to put away a portion of each paycheck for that trip.
I also encourage you to take full advantage of points systems if you travel a lot for work, and don’t rule out rewards programs—they do pay off eventually.
Taking your dream trip is possible, and now there are more options than ever to finance your travel. So don’t ask yourself, “How will I be able to make this trip happen?” Instead, ask, “How soon can I leave?”
Photo of bridge courtesy of Shutterstock.
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.More from this Author