1. I don’t earn enough money to travel.
According to a Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, if you’re earning more than $35,300 a year, you’re making more than half of all millennials across the country. Incomes in general, when adjusted for inflation, have been falling in recent years.
Yet the people I met while traveling were definitely not the exception to this trend. I met several waiters, retail workers, baristas, and minimum-wage workers who had still managed to save money and travel with the income they had.
A lot of this has do expert budgeting, but much of it also has to do with how you plan your trip. For me, even expensive locations like Patagonia or Europe were affordable by tackling these places with budget tactics: hitchhiking and taking buses over renting cars and taking trains, going during off-season to get bargain prices, or camping/couchsurfing instead of staying in lodges or hotels. Income may dictate the way you travel, but it doesn’t have to dictate whether or not you travel at all.
2. My city is too expensive for saving money.
Surviving the city is no joke these days. A recent study found that the best cities for social mobility and professional opportunities are often also the most expensive places to live, a paradox that leaves most millennials unsure of how they can ever conquer the American Dream. The average rent in San Francisco, the city I moved to at 22 with my first real job, has now hit $3,200 a month, making it the most expensive city in the States.
Still, during those two years working as a teacher in the Bay Area, I managed to save enough money to travel by cutting out city-costs wherever I could: I got rid of a gym membership and biked/hiked instead. My roommates and I turned a two-bedroom apartment with an unnecessarily large living room into a three bedroom by building a partition. I rarely shopped; I took public transportation instead of cabs; and I ate Trader Joe’s frozen dinners instead of buying take-out.
A Silicon Valley techie recently wrote an article describing how he managed to trim his expenses down to $20,000 a year while living in the Bay Area, still saving enough for an occasional backpacking trip at the end of the year. Cities are tough, but they’re not impossible when you place your financial priorities in the right areas. It’s all a matter of downsizing your expenses now to experience something greater later.
3. I can’t give up my apartment.
With rents going up and housing opportunities often scarce, having to let go of a good deal you’ve had on an apartment can be reason enough to stay put. But with websites like Airbnb, House Carers, Mind My House, and others, subletting your place has never been easier. Many travelers even fund their adventures this way: using sublet money to pay their expenses and still having their warm, comfy home to come back to when they return.
4. I have too many student loans.
Millennials are experiencing the worst student debt in history: 40% of people under 35 have student loans, compared to only 23% in 1998. The magnitude of this debt is also far more crippling than it’s been for any other generation before. The Institute for College Access & Success says that on average last year’s college grads carried $28,400 in debt, compared to only $10,000 in 1998. So deeply in the whole, it’s understandable that many young people feel there’s no way to use their savings for travel.
Yet what’s less understood is what a gap year of travel does to a debt-repayment plan. Many longtime backpackers I knew simply budgeted their monthly payments into their travel expenses for each month, and still found it entirely manageable to do both at the same time. For example, a backpacker living off of $20 a day in Southeast Asia, can easily add $300 monthly debt payments and still end up only spending $900 a month to travel, far less than what many millennials would spend in a typical month in the United States.
5. I don’t know enough about handling finances to pull this off.
Much has been written about the financial illiteracy of most millennials today — we fail quizzes asking basic questions about financial planning, we don’t own credit cards, we’re distrustful of banks.
But managing finances abroad is a lot easier than many of us think. With online banking, most bills can be taken care of remotely. And daily expenses while abroad are easy if you prepare the right resources beforehand: opening an account with Charles Schwab ensures that all your ATM fees abroad are refunded. Applying for a travel rewards credit card ensures that you pay no international fees while traveling, and build up points and miles that could later lead to a free flight. Of course, exchange rates can be confusing at first and the stress of daily budgeting can feel overwhelming when you don’t have the safety of a monthly pay check. But most travelers learn that travel-finance skills are not nearly as intimidating as they previously had thought.