When I tell people that I travel 10 months of the year and live in Paris, they think I’m rich.
I’m not rich.
Or they ask me how I can afford it. And honestly, not always in the nicest way.
This is the crazy thing to me: Nobody ever asked how I could afford it when I was living in New York City, spending a small fortune on my apartment, and buying the sort of wardrobe I needed to work at a fashion magazine (read: $$$$).
It bums me out that more people don’t understand some of the math behind traveling full-time — because if they did, they’d know that that sort of life is possible for almost anyone who wants to do it.
First rule of travel as a lifestyle: Nobody’s on a vacation.
When I say I travel full-time and live overseas, sometimes people still think that I’m not working. I’m working! I’m working all the time. I love what I do, and I have a job — writing, for magazines and websites — that’s tailor-made for working remotely. Freelance writers have been working remotely since before “working remotely” was a thing.
Of course, this has meant not following other careers paths — sometimes I miss working in a magazine office, like I used to. That is an amazing, glamorous job, and I was surrounded by amazing, super-smart people. But I don’t miss it so much that I’d give up traveling for a staff position.
If anything, I work too much — I don’t remember the last time I took a vacation. If I do take a “vacation,” it’s usually to focus more on bigger writing projects. (That was the whole reason for my trip to Bali.)
You know how they say that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life? I think that’s a little f’ed up, and I think I should maybe work less — but I love it. So — I travel. And I work while doing so.
(And oh: I have debt. I know some travelers make a big deal about paying off their loans before traveling. I respect that, and admire it, but that would not have worked for me. I still have student loan debt, thanks to four years at an Ivy League school and a few more at a pricy art school. My monthly loan payment is around $300. You can absolutely argue with my math — but my philosophy on this is that I set up automatic payments to pay off my loans and I’ve barely thought about them since. I do not feel shame about having student loan debt. I do not feel that I need to devote 100 percent of any extra funds I have to paying them off. And I hate seeing other people shamed into curtailing their opportunities to pay off their loans as quickly as possible. I work very hard, doing work that I love, and I haven’t missed a loan payment since the recession.)
Second rule of travel as a lifestyle: Travel doesn’t have to be expensive.
You can rent an apartment in Bali for $500 a month. You can get a tiny chambre de bonne in Paris for under $1000 a month. What’s the equivalent of that in San Francisco? An air shaft?
For sure, you can spend a ton of money traveling — on fancy restaurants, five-star hotels, last-minute plane tickets, and more. But I’ve never felt like any of those things necessarily meant a better travel (or life) experience. As a travel writer, I’ve stayed in some of the most expensive hotels in the world. I remember one ($1000+ a night) when I spent the night on the bathroom floor throwing up from food poisoning. I remember a night when I slept in a car with my friend at a Russian truck stop. I remember a hostel in Stockholm with super-fast wifi and a view of the sea. There is almost no correlation between how much I’ve enjoyed myself and how much I’ve spent.
Money on travel is useful in avoiding dangerous situations: taking cabs at night, things like that. I cook at home for the most part, work out to streaming yoga videos, walk and take public transportation when I can, and try to resist the temptation to fly off somewhere new every weekend. I try to buy my “big travel” as far in advance as possible and do whatever I can not to change my travel dates. As I write this, I’m wearing leggings and a sweatshirt I bought at a French thrift store for 1€ — that’s my work wardrobe. And of course I do have to dress up sometimes, and invest in clothes that will be appropriate for a biz-y function, but not often.
Compare this to living in New York City, going out to restaurants, buying a seven-day-a-week wardrobe to wear to competitively fashionable events.
I’m not saying that these are the only two ways to live. But they’re the two lifestyles I know best. People tend to only be suspicious about overspending in one of them. But they’re picking the wrong one.
Which brings us to the most important part: Third rule of travel: When you’re happy, you spend less. If travel makes you happy, you may well spend less than you do now.
The people I know who spend most are the least happy. There are all kinds of reasons for spending, but in my experience, one of them is because you want a different life, but you’re too scared to pursue it — and so you do what you can to make the life you don’t want as OK as possible. You buy clothes, and makeup, and wine, and comfort food, and status handbags, because they make you happy for a minute. But it never lasts. That is more expensive than travel. Seriously — what I most see is people who hate their jobs, wish they could travel, think they can’t because they don’t have enough money — but spend a million times more than they would traveling on things to make the lives they don’t want less terrible.
When I was in Bali, an inexpensive place, I spent $10 a day (not including my lodging). I swam. I read. I worked. I did my streaming yoga videos. I talked to my friends over drinks and on Project Fi (for free!). The day I left, I bought three souvenirs: a necklace, a shirt, and a hand-dyed scarf for my mom. What else could I have bought that would have made that experience better?