Without very detailed budgeting and savings goals, our round-the-world trip and all our subsequent travels since we've returned home wouldn't be possible. When you don't know exactly how you use your money, it has a way of disappearing before you know it. So the trick is to know how you use your money and, more importantly, to make sure you spend less than you bring home. Straightforward, to the point, and very effective when you have a goal in mind that you're saving toward.
There are a few people we've met who have been curious about how we're able to afford our travels. They're almost suspicious about how we can do it, particularly when they remember we only have one salary between us. Tim and I joke that perhaps it would make more sense if we had won the lottery: windfalls are sometimes easier to accept than budgeting.
The simple answer as to how we afford to travel is that we have a budget and we stick to it. We're frugal people, we live well below our means, and we're good at saving toward our goal to travel. It's a quality that began when we were saving every last dime for our round-the-world trip, and it's a quality that's sort of just stuck with us since we've returned home. (And to clarify: Frugal and cheap are not the same thing. We spend money where we want to, we save money when we don't need to spend it.)
Many people spend their money by eating lunch out during the work week, going to the movies frequently, buying new books, drinking Starbucks coffee daily, downloading songs from iTunes, going out to dinner or grabbing take out a few times a week, getting the latest games for their Wii or xBox, and buying new clothes fairly regularly.
These activities, these purchases are normal. They are a part of everyday life. And so when someone spends money on these things (whether it's money they have to spend or not), it's not unusual for there not to be much, if anything, leftover in their bank accounts to spend on travel.
And so travel (or vacations or holidays or whatever you'd like to call it) is seen as an added bonus. It's something exotic, something to be obtained, something that isn't part of everyday life. Above all else, it's seen as expensive.
But Tim and I don't eat lunch out during the work week. (Even if we both didn't work from home, we'd still pack our lunch.) We rarely go to the movies (and when we do, the cash for it comes out of our weekly grocery budget) and simply take advantage of our subscription to Netflix. We use our local libraries instead of buying new books. We use gift cards from birthdays or Christmas to buy new music or we listen to music online. We prefer cooking together for several hours with a bottle of wine (okay, a few bottles of wine) instead of going out to eat. (And when we do go out to eat – nom! – it comes out of the cash leftover in our grocery and gas budgets.) We don't have a television, so things like the Wii or Xbox don't matter to us. And we rarely need new clothes.
(And then of course there are those cell phone bills, cable television bills, gas fill-ups for the car, and payments on new(er) cars that also take up a large chunk of many folks' paychecks. But we don't have cell phones, we don't have a cable bill (remember: no television), we don't have a commute to work, and we own our 16 year old car.)
So the normal everyday expenses that are a part of life for many people, aren't really a part of our lives. It's not that all those things aren't fun or shiny, it's just that they don't interest us as much as travel does. So we're able to save that cash and put it into our travel budget instead.
For us, travel is our everyday life; whereas eating out or going to the movies are seen as the added bonus.
But I know our approach is different. And I know because it's different the amount we travel often surprises people. They expect that we're still buying the everyday things that everyone else buys (and so "how can they afford to travel so much too?!"); when in reality we're saving the money we could have spent on those purchases and using it instead for plane tickets to South America.
Now, when we're in South America we'll go out to eat, buy new clothes, and may even go see a movie. But that's just a part of traveling for us!