*Note: This is a guest post by Peter Renegade from RichRenegade.com.
$80,000 of student loans and insatiable wanderlust don’t exactly mix.
Unfortunately, that’s where I found myself after college graduation.
While I always envisioned myself traveling during my 20’s, reality came crashing down in the form of $600 monthly loan payments.
Like any desperate college grad, I took the first cubicle job I could find to save myself from financial collapse.
In the office, I’d spend my days dreaming of exotic destinations as if they were light years away.
Days, months, and years passed by as my travel dreams slowly subsided.
Then one day, I took a hard look in the mirror only to find a shell of my past self.
I was older, but I didn’t feel wiser.
Instead, I felt less creative, less confident and less courageous than ever before.
The rinse-repeat 9-5 lifestyle had broken something in me.
I knew it was time to break the pattern – it might be now or never.
I decided to find a way to travel no matter what it takes.
The odds were not in my favor. At this point, I had:
- $45,000 of student loan debt remaining
- Only 10 days of vacation to use for the entire year
- A measly $41,500 salary (before taxes)
- An overpriced apartment in an overpriced city
- Zero travel experience
Despite these conditions, I was able to pull off a 5 day Rocky Mountain retreat in Colorado for under $500.
For regular travelers, this might seem insignificant.
But for me, a boy who’d never been west of Iowa, this was a life changing experience.
I came back with clarity, focus and renewed vigor.
More importantly, I learned how to overcome the barriers to travel so I could repeat the experience.
Since then, I’ve been on three more amazing adventures and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
You don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy travel.
You can embark on your own incredible journey without breaking the bank.
Simply follow the steps of my proven method below:
1. List your desired travel destinations
Start a running list of all the places you want to go, from the local spots to the far and exotic. Writing them down makes them real and solidified.
If you’re having trouble coming up with destinations, now is the time to do some research.
2. Leverage your network
Chances are, you have friends and family living in different parts of the country or the world.
Next to your list of destinations, list all your friends and family and where they live. If you can manage to lodge with someone for free, you can save some serious cash.
3. Set a budget
How much can you afford to spend on this trip? Your budget will be a big factor in where you go and how long you spend there.
For my Colorado trip, my budget was $500. I came up with this number by simply asking myself this: If I lost all this money tomorrow, could I still get by comfortably? I whittled the number down until the answer was a solid yes.
4. Choose time, place, and people
Using the information from the previous three steps, start deciding the where, when and who. It can help to travel with more people if you split costs, but it can also be more difficult to plan. Traveling alone is always an option, too.
Remember, your first trip doesn’t have to be huge – especially if you’re a novice traveler on a budget.
When you’re ready, write down the top 3 potential destinations with exact dates and names of any fellow travelers.
5. Estimate costs
Now it’s time to see if your destination fits in your budget. Here are some costs to consider:
- Use Southwest if possible and be sure to sign up for their rewards program
- Gas (if you’re driving)
- Rental Car
- Use your network
- Use Airbnb – an amazing service where you can rent homes and apartments around the world which I used it to get a 6 person house in Michigan where we spent $25/night/person
- Book in advance to get better rates
- Food and drinks
- Buy groceries to save money
- Drink before you go out in major cities
- Paid attractions
- Emergency costs (unforeseen medical or travel costs)
Note that travel rates vary, so consider seasons and holidays. Always estimate on the high side and leave a 15% buffer to absorb incorrect estimates.
If your top destination fits in the budget, great! If not, you have two options. You can either 1) shorten your trip until it fits the budget, or 2) jump down to the next destination on your list.
6. Set aside money
I buy as much as I can for the trip ahead of time. That way, I don’t get stuck at the last minute trying to come up with money.
For any remaining expenses, such as lodging and food, I take out physical cash and set it aside until the trip so I’m not tempted to spend it.
When you cover expenses ahead of time, you can stop worrying about money and start getting excited for the trip.
7. Make an itinerary
I like a good mix of planned activities and spontaneous wandering when I travel. I don’t have time to do either if I’m figuring out what to do the whole time – that’s where an itinerary helps.
List the attractions you want to hit and the activities you want to do. Plan a schedule for each day, but allow for some spontaneity too.
8. Enjoy the adventure!
When the long-awaited date finally arrives, these tips will help you get the most out of your adventure:
- Unplug – leave the laptop at home and the phone in airplane mode. You can’t enjoy the scenery if you’re staring at a screen all day.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – you’ll probably forget something or get lost. Don’t freak out, it’s all part of the adventure.
- Leave expectations behind – if you set high expectations before you even leave, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, go in with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
For all who are curious, here is a cost breakdown of my Colorado trip:
- Southwest Airlines airfare (roundtrip): $296.00
- Gas for my friend driving me: $40.00
- Total: $336.00
- Stayed at friend’s apartment: $0
- Groceries: $27.22
- Eating out/drinks: $87.07
- Total: $114.29
- Souvenirs: $23.89
- Vinyl Records: $22.56
- Hiking at 6 different State and National Parks, Boulder SpringFest, people watching: $0
- Total: $46.45
- Total Trip Expense: $496.74
The trip of a lifetime might be closer than you think. Happy trails!
This is a guest post by Peter Renegade from RichRenegade.com.
photo credit: Ishrona