As I pack for my next adventure in Italy, I decided to take some time out to address that million-dollar question that boggles the minds of so many in the minority community. It is a subject that many of my Nomad*ness Travel Tribe and United Arab Emirates friends are very familiar with. “How can you afford to travel?” This is a question that can get you a myriad of responses from “Boo, don’t count my dollars or dirhams” to “How can you NOT afford to travel” or “How can you afford to buy a family set of Jordan’s every release date?” To some that question is like asking a “sister” if that is her real hair or can I touch it. It can be such a touchy subject to many.
Personally, I don’t mind sharing the methods I use that have afforded me the ability to travel with and without my children to seven countries (eight if you count returning to America) in the last nine months. I’ve accomplished this feat as a single parent with only the sole income of a high school educator.
Like most, my ultimate goal upon arriving in Abu Dhabi was to save money. I was determined to stack as many UAE Dirhams as possible. Before leaving the United States, I had a notebook I used to record my financial checks and balances. Every month very few items were checked and rarely did anything balance.
Moving to Abu Dhabi, I was ready to try something different with a goal to eventually transition back to America with a hefty savings in tow.
The first year,other than returning to America, the kids and I did not travel at all. I didn’t see travelling as an option. I was imprisoned by the thoughts and logic that as a single parent of three, I couldn’t afford to travel internationally.
I would take vacations mentally as I scrolled through my social media timelines. I secretly admired all of my single or childless UAE counterparts that were traveling the world with no cares. They would take the ultimate advantage of any and every holiday we were given. They were getting their stamps (passport) up and I was more than jealous.
By year two, I was tired of sitting on the sidelines as a mere benchwarmer. I was ready to get some playing time in the game of travel. Saving money was no longer my ultimate goal. It has since been replaced by filling our lives with the riches of the world.
Below is my playbook on how my crew and I have shut down the travel game one stamp at a time!
Now keep in mind, that just like any sport, my playbook may not completely fit or support the needs of your team. My successful strategies may be considered grand fails in your book, which is understandable, but it works for us.
This is just a synopsis on how I can afford to travel internationally!
When I travel with the children, I never have a set destination in mind. I always utilize the website Skyscanner as my first option. I start by putting in my city of origin as either Abu Dhabi or Dubai based on which one produces the best rates. For destination, I put EVERYWHERE, literally. Then I set my expected travel dates and number of travellers.
Based on my request, Skyscanner provides me with a list of cities and flight prices starting with the least expensive. From that point, I look for a city or a country that peaks my interest and prices that fall under my $450 per person flight budget. By being open to our travel destination, there is room for flexibility. Google Flights can be used in the same manner as well.
Another option when wanting to travel without a destination in mind is flight deals or “glitch fares”. A glitch fare is an airline ticket that miraculously pops up and appears to be priced significantly cheaper than it should be. To my friends in the travel game these are considered the ultimate gift; next to life itself. My Nomad*ness family is straight beasty when it comes to these deals.
Imagine being able to travel to Nairobi, Kenya or Dubai from America for under $300 round trip. Well not to long ago, it was made possible. The Christmas fairies bestowed upon the travel world the ultimate gift that we like to call a glitch. Tickets normally priced at several hundred to over one thousand dollars were all reduced in error to as low as $180 for some.
Sometimes flight deals or not always glitches. In the fall, the children and I will travel to the Philippines. I was able to catch a deal the airline was offering where ticket prices were significantly reduced. The Philippines was never on my radar and on that day I wasn’t even considering buying plane tickets. You quickly learn that when the travel gods bless you, you better act fast and receive that blessing.
I was able to purchase 4 tickets to Manila for about $120 TOTAL. As of today, those same tickets would run me $1,800 total for the exact same dates with the same airline. Ya’ll know I did a happy dance upon purchase, right?
Stretch The Dollar
When traveling with my children, I also have to consider the exchange rate for the country I may be considering as our destination. The children have been requesting we visit Europe. Now, I must keep in mind that the European Euro isn’t as friendly to my American Dollar as I would like.
When I traveled to Europe without the children last summer, I had to be a bit frugal and budget conscious. Although I know it’s possible, traveling to Europe with my crew frightens my debit card tremendously.
Unlike the European Euro, the Thai Bahts is a totally different ball game. The Thai Baht will have you feeling like you are a superstar. I will never forget the first restaurant we visited in Thailand for dinner. It was a normal routine for the children to ask what their limits were; whether they are limited to the kid’s menu only or a set price range. I opened the menu, pulled out my conversion app and sang to myself “You can have whatever you like” in my inner T.I voice. That was an opportune time to try a little bit of all the great Thai options. Give us one of this and two of that.
The Trade Off
In America, it had become a very bad habit of mine to overly indulge in gift buying for my children during birthdays and Christmases. Every birthday, without fail, despite our financial situation, we would opt for a semi extravagant birthday party. Renting out facilities or community pools, making guest gift bags and attempting to buy everything on the “I Want” gift list our children had provided for us.
These same gifts would later be considered a poor financial investment in my book. They would either break, lose or become uninterested within weeks or days in the toys we had purchased . Now I take a different approach. This past Christmas the “I Want” lists weren’t needed. We traded our family holiday tradition of waking up to toys with adventures in Sri Lanka.
My gift to the children was supposed to be a surprise hot air balloon ride through Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the weather spoiled the fun.
By making the trade off, the children now appreciate passport stamps vs the new “it” toy or shoes of the season.
Save The Unexpected
Every once in a while we all get a financial increase of some sort. Whether it is a bonus at work, income tax refund or birthday money that has been gifted. If you are serious about traveling, consider setting that aside to meet your goal. Many people set their hearts on new furniture or splurge on a new designer wardrobe for the family.
For every pair of Jordan’s someone buys I now automatically equate that to a one night stay in a 5 star hotel abroad for me and the crew. To each his own! Since I am now about that travel life, I choose to invest those unexpected financial increases in our pursuit to travel the world. I see the return on investment so much more favorable.
Exchange Culture For Amusement
So far, I can proudly say that I have been able to avoid the ripoff some may call amusement parks, as we travel. As a kid, I would enjoy every minute of our family trips to Six Flags Over Texas. As an adult however, I cringe at the thought of taking my children to receive a similar over priced short lived experience.
In exchange, I opt for museums, temples, impromptu bikes rides, zip lining, elephant feedings and making roti with the locals whilst we travel. A visit to an amusement park would break my budget wide open. It would also gift each child with personal disappointment as I honestly inform them that the $20 cotton candy is a no go.
As a mother, I proudly choose culture over amusement any day. Besides, if you’ve been to one amusement park, you’ve been to them all, in my book.
SPRING BREAK 2015