The Legal Nomad on Saving for Travel

As you've probably noticed, travel has become a priority in my life. There are number of reasons for this. For one, I love it. I love visiting other cities, other states, other countries. I love seeing how different people live, and how they do things. Here in the U.S., we are so myopic — we tend to focus on just our way of life, so that it becomes difficult to imagine that there are billions of people in the world living in completely different ways.

But there are other reasons, too. For instance, I worry about my mortality. I don't know if I've shared this here at GRS, but my father's side of the family tends to have short life spans. Very short life spans. I don't want to find out at age 49 that I only have a year to live, and then not be able to do all the things I wanted to do. (That's another reason I'm so focused on fitness lately: My father's side of the family also tends to be unfit. I'm hoping that by becoming — and remaining — fit, I can kick the “Roth men die by 50” trend.)

As I've begun to travel more, I've also started to read more about the subject. Not just blogs (though certainly I read those), but also books. I'm looking for ideas about how to travel frugally, of course, but also tips on smart travel in general. That's one reason I've become obsessed with packing light.

One of my travel goals is to backpack across England. The U.K. has a number of designated walking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. I'd love to spend a week or two walking from one side of the country to the other. (This doesn't appeal to Kris in any way, so it's something I'd do alone, or with a friend or two.) In fact, I had tentatively planned to hike Hadrian's Wall next summer, although that may change if we go to South Africa.

All of my rambling is just prelude to an article I read last week at The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris Guillebeau took time to interview Jodi Ettenberg, who retired from life as corporate lawyer to backpack across the world. I particularly liked her discussion of how she saved to be able to do this:

What were some of the things you did to make your dream a reality? (Did you open a second bank account, post your goals on your mirror, etc.?) What advice would you give others with a similar dream?

First and foremost, I thought of every purchase in terms of a plane ticket's value. “I could buy this, but it's basically a plane ticket from Bangkok to Bali” or the like. I felt a bit like a salmon swimming upstream with my “means to an end” mentality in a fast-paced, results-driven city like New York. But you do what you have to in order to stay focused, and for me that meant concentrating on the eventual travel as a way of pushing past the city's obsession with material things. I did open a second bank account, and dumped a set percentage of my salary into it each month.

I was also fortunate for two reasons. The first is that I went to law school in Canada, meaning that as a Canadian resident my tuition was extremely reasonable by North American standards. As a result, I was able to pay off my school debt entirely in my first year of working in New York. The second is that I was in a profession with significantly higher salaries than most. However, the end result regardless of positioning is the same: you put your head down when you can and you work toward your goals. For me, that meant buying kids' clothes to wear under my suits (I'm small, so it's a bonus), hiking in Harriman park instead of weekends in the Hamptons and spelunking for cheap eats in a city known for extravagant food options.

None of these were true sacrifices. The true sacrifice was the time spent at my desk, and the nights where I fell asleep under it waiting for a deal to close. But I was bolstered by my goal of seeing the world, and wanted to make sure I saved a sufficient amount to take my time doing so when I finally did quit my job to travel.

Stories like this inspire me. Even though I'm doing well on my own journey, there are times I do get discouraged or slip into old habits. But reading about Jodi's attitude and choices gives me renewed resolve to travel while I still can. So, yes, that means making South Africa in 2011 a priority. And maybe backpacking across England, too. (That'll be tough. We'll see.)

In any event, I have another travel blog to read now. Jodi writes about her experiences at Legal Nomads.

Remember: A rich life is all about conscious spending. We choose to skimp on some things so that we don't have to skimp on others.

 

More about...Budgeting, Travel

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Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

The mortality thing is depressing– I’m sure that with your mother’s genes and by being fit you can beat that.

I wonder if that explains the lack of saving earlier in life… it’s totally rational not to save if you don’t think you’re going to make it through retirement.

Enjoy travel! (Though, for me, I’m with Kris 😉 )

momcents
momcents
9 years ago

Good for you! I admire the fact that you’ve not only figured out what’s important for you, but you’re actually going for it.

Travel is something I’m hoping to bring back into my life again, once we get our second mortgage paid off. In fact, as a reward for due diligence in paying it off (paying $76,000 in the span of one year), my husband and I are going to take a trip with our son and his parents to Spain. Right now, it really is the carrot at the end of the stick for me.

Adam McKay
Adam McKay
9 years ago

I had never considered that my job is the sacrifice and not the choices I make to cut back. It’s the daily grind of the office that is the sacrifice from doing what I truly want. The choices to save and be less extravagent is the path towards getting me what I want. I always thought travel was something out of my reach but I’ll have to rethink that now. Thanks.

Jan
Jan
9 years ago

You got me at Hadrian’s Wall. Can I come? I promise that I am a much better hiker than I am a runner! Getting past the “short lifespan thing” is tough. My husband (just turned 60) has it. I am betting that you have long genes- but short stressors. You are intense in all you do (writing, cross fit, travel). As long as you care for your body(the stress side)- I have a feeling “it” will continue with all of the travel you desire. Hubby is the same way and we are finding the less the stress the longer he… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago

I think it’s really important to determine your priorities. I had always wanted to travel to India, so when a friend of mine suggested we go on a trip there together a few years ago, I did what I could to make it happen, even though I wasn’t making much money at the time. I took on an extra job and worked overtime, and put all of that money into financing the trip; it was totally worth it.

Darci
Darci
9 years ago

Hey JD, Good for you! Travel is SO necessary, and I’m in the same boat: wanting to see the world, but not spending a mint. One thing that’s really helped me travel light is carrying only a teeny bag and wearing clothes made from technical fabrics. I sew, so I make a lot of what I’m going to be wearing. It has to be versatile, modest and wash up easily in a bathroom sink. (Rose City textiles is a great resource here in PDX, and maybe you can talk a certain Bonus Pants purveyor friend of ours to sew for… Read more »

SJ
SJ
9 years ago

Great JD! But do consider every part of what she says before you spend the $11K on that South Africa trip (think about how many transocean flights that price adds up to (15?), or how many weeks of backpacking in Europe that could last (all summer?))

rubin pham
rubin pham
9 years ago

traveling the world can be quite an educational experiences as well. this is why i try to travel to 1 country a year if my health and budget permit.

April
April
9 years ago

I’m with you, J.D. Glad you decided in favor of the South Africa trip.

ditchtheboss
ditchtheboss
9 years ago

You certainly have what I call the advancing personality. I read this in a book called the Science of Getting Rich. I think your attitude and strong desire to do things which you love will get you far. Stay fit, do the things you love, don’t stress too much and you will be here for a long time.

That is certainly what we wish for you. Enjoy traveling.

Jimmy @ Run, Jimmy, Run
Jimmy @ Run, Jimmy, Run
9 years ago

Hey J.D., for what it’s worth, a colleague of mine just returned from Hiking Hadrian’s Wall two weeks ago and had a fantastic time. He and his girlfriend hiked approximately 15 – 20 miles per day and used a service that transferred his luggage to each farm, b&b, and hotel that they stayed in. He was showing me some of the video he shot during the trip and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. Anyway, if you’d like further information, he’d be more than happy to share and I’d be glad to put you in touch with him – just let… Read more »

Sheila
Sheila
9 years ago

My husband and I walked in the Cotswolds for a week. Like #11’s colleague, we had someone take our luggage from village to village where we stayed in B&Bs and inns. The public paths are wonderful–it’s fun to cross through a field among a flock of sheep. The “Bull in Field” sign was a little unnerving in one field, but luckily we saw no bulls. The pubs are fun, and pub food is excellent, at least in the villages we were in. Our trip was totally impulse, and I’m incredibly glad that we did it, and especially glad we had… Read more »

Ella @ Frugal Ella
Ella @ Frugal Ella
9 years ago

Travel is the #1 reason I want to get our family free of debt. I lived in Russia for 18 months and it was the best experience of my life. I want to do the kind of travel that gets us off the beaten path and away from the tourist traps. It’s the only way to really catch a glimpse of how other people live. Backpacking sounds like a great way to do that!

Brian
Brian
9 years ago

Self contained bike touring is an excellent option to reduce travel costs especially when camping. I spent a month biking across the US and spent 300$ for everything. I also spent a month biking around SE Asia and spent about 800$ including airfare (in 2000).

Cindy Brick
Cindy Brick
9 years ago

We traveled for a summer, across the United States and back, on a motorcycle…for $850 and a lifetime of memories. JD, interested in my expanding this into an article-on-spec?

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

Two quotes I came across recently on travel, both from St. Augustine: “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” And… “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Like everything, I guess, if travel truly adds to your happiness and understanding of yourself and the world, how can it be anything but a good thing?… Read more »

Hope
Hope
9 years ago

How funny to check your blog for the second time today and read this on travel. I am a single mom with two kids who is blessed to have a job that I can work from anywhere and everywhere and therefore am free to travel quite often. The kids and I are just starting a month long travel and I’ve decided to see if I can maintain a blog about it on my personal blog. Would love your feedback! (Will definitely be posting some tidbits on money saving and travel along the way!)

Claire
Claire
9 years ago

Hey JD

I have become addicted to your blog. I am 22 year old US citizen curretnly living in New Zealand for my year abroad. I LOVE TRAVEL and now I LOVE personal finance!

I’ve become a savings addict while also fuelling my “itchy feet” and love of travel. I have backpacked across Europe and have travelled to Australia and now live in New Zealand.

Just wanted to say- Happy Trails and scheming about travel is almost as fun as actually going 🙂

Mark
Mark
9 years ago

One thing I like about your blog is that it’s so personal. From writing about your fear of your mortality to the decision processes you go through. It’s fun to read. One thing about Americans being so myopic though, people from other countries I’m sure have the same myopia but I agree, seeing how others live is a great way of learning and growing.

Jodi (Legal Nomads)
Jodi (Legal Nomads)
9 years ago

Thanks so much for the mention. Ultimately these choices are extremely personal, but I don’t regret having put my money aside for the later goal of travelling. That said, I certainly don’t fault people for making different choices. It’s all about finding what makes you happy and for me, my travels have done just that.

Best of luck!
Jodi

margot
margot
9 years ago

Frugal travel is so easy. Really. Just get a Lonely Planet for your desired country, stay at places in the budget category (which includes options that aren’t dorm rooms!), take local transportation, and eat from markets and grocery stores more than from restaurants.

Saskia
Saskia
9 years ago

If you ever want to visit the Netherlands, let me know!
We’re only 1,5 hr (airplane) away from London, Paris and Berlin and a 2,5 hour drive from Germany, France and Brussels.

sarah
sarah
9 years ago

We had a dear family friend who had a long, long history of male relatives dying in their 50’s from heart issues. Although he exercised daily and ate really healthy (vegetarian, all plants diet), he died last year at 54. His heart issues were totally unpredicted as his massive heart failure had no warning signs – no high blood pressure, super low cholesterol, no meds, etc. the doctors just said it was genetic predisposition. Luckily, he’d been retired for several years and had left a huge legacy in terms of community involvement. He really lived each and every day. If… Read more »

bon
bon
9 years ago

Great article – I really feel blessed to live and work overseas, I think it is a great way to be able to see more of the world without a huge financial outlay (i.e. it costs be $80-300 and a long weekend for flights around Asia vs. $1k+ and 7+ days) Mark – I have a thought on the myopia — First, I don’t disagree with you — absolutely people in other countries have myopic perspectives. However I think in the US, ours is reinforced and in some cases can be much stronger due to a couple of things: 1)… Read more »

Becky
Becky
9 years ago

Great article! I just got back from a month in Japan (with a single, not-so-big backpack), paid for by working a few extra hours a week, living in shared housing, and rarely spending money on anything but food or gas during the year. It’s all a series of tradeoffs, but if you prioritize travel, you can make it happen, even if you make under $20k a year like I do.

Maria
Maria
9 years ago

Do you ever consider going to Tanzania? DH and I went there few years back, and it was one of the most memorable travel we’ve ever done. Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro are just breath taking. All the wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, hippo, deer, etc. are reminder that life is bigger than ourselves. It worth every sweat that we had to put in.

Luke
Luke
9 years ago

Backpacking across England (and Scotland, if you’re feeling adventurous) wouldn’t be nearly as hard as you might imagine (granted, you’d need to be fit).

As well as firms that will move your bags between locations, there’s all the tourist ‘industry’ you’d expect along the way (decent camp sites, access to food and rest and plenty of information).

Why not add the West Highland Way to your (eventual) UK itinerary? I’m actually a little embarrassed that I’m a Scot and am yet to complete it. Also, as an added point to pique your interest, J.D., much of it can be *cycled*

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

This makes me feel better about my job. I barely get paid anything (I’m an academic researcher) but I pretty often get to go to other continents for research and conferences. It is fun. I can sometimes tell after meeting someone if they’ve never been outside the U.S. or Europe for an extended period.

KMJ
KMJ
9 years ago

I would love a GRS post dedicated to financial planning if you have a low life expectancy and/or if illness runs in your family. I was supposed to die “at or before age 5 (yes, five),” according to doctors when I was born. Now, my doctors have no idea if or when my health is going to tank (or how quickly). Makes planning for life and the future more difficult. And yes, anybody can be struck dead by sheer misfortune, but it’s different when you know you have a standing 50% chance. You aren’t playing with the same odds and… Read more »

Jessica the hedgehog
Jessica the hedgehog
9 years ago

When we saved for our 18 month round-the-world (RTW) trip, our approach was very similar to Jodi’s approach. Extra expenses were cut out and required expenses were pared down. We also evaluated the purchases we thought we had to make in terms of our upcoming trip: a new laptop could be a plane ticket somewhere, while a morning coffee from Starbucks could be a meal out in Cambodia. (Actually, neither of us drank coffee…but it’s a helpful measuring tool to think about for folks saving cash for travel.) Although our RTW trip is over, we still travel several times each… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

Funny about mortality. My grandfather and great grandfather both had untimely deaths in their 30’s. My father could never really settle down but would move from one job to the next. When he hit 40 he had a epiphany. He realized he never expected to live past 40 but here he was. That’s when he realized he needed to actually plan for the future and make something of himself.

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
9 years ago

Wonderful article. As someone who was fortunate enough to live in europe for a great many years, I will observe that frugal travel is VERY easy. The expense is mainly the over-the-ocean transport. One of the reasons I’ll probably not get to China. I always encourage people to stay for longer periods of time when they can manage, choose a central “home” or two and do their thing. I mean, local food is usually cheap, you can always find a place to crash and so many sights are free. I wont try and talk you out of South Africa, but… Read more »

Kimberly
Kimberly
9 years ago

I think travel is a wonderful thing to save for/ goal to have. That’s what I spend most of my extra money on, because experiences are worth a lot more to me than things. What I’ve found that saves me a lot of money in traveling is picking places where I know at least one person. For example, my friend went to stay with his extended family in Israel for a month, so I picked Israel for my vacation and planned around his trip. My uncle lived in Egypt for 2 years, so I made sure to visit him while… Read more »

mrs darling
mrs darling
9 years ago

Well I guess I dont fit the mold here. I am wanting desperately to plunk down $14,000 for pavers in my back yard. Thats the cheapest estimate we have found. I would sooner have those pavers than a trip abroad. Now Im wondering about my priorities! Yet there is the indisputable fact that I work out of my home and chaos stresses me! Those pavers would bring me much peace of mind; no more leveling for the kids pool every year, a pad for the hottub that is now on my deck, no more mowing and just an overall cleaned… Read more »

Lina
Lina
9 years ago

The mortality issue that you raised is interesting to me. I was wondering if you read a blog called Mark’s Daily Apple? He writes about eating primally. This means eating less or no grains or any “food” created in recent history. Even if you don’t totally buy into his theories, fighting against inflammation with wild alaskan salmon, nuts, fresh fruits and veggies can do miracles.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
9 years ago

Wow…to think you have solid possibility of dying by 50 would scare the living crap out of me. I am so glad you are travelling and experiencing life now and I hope you get to do it for at least another 60 years!!!

Jessica
Jessica
9 years ago

I believe that we all should do the things we set out to do. Life is way too short to not to do the things we want. I would love to travel and experience the world. That is one of my goals.

Elizabeth Harper @ giftsofthejourney
Elizabeth Harper @ giftsofthejourney
9 years ago

Hadrian’s Wall is pretty special, but you have to come to Cornwall and walk the coast path. I’ve got loads of pictures of the coast path and the ocean views on my blog. Have a look if you’re interested and let us know when you’re coming.

Olivia, the frugal bohemian
Olivia, the frugal bohemian
9 years ago

We got our info from the Rick Steves site about packing light. It did us in great stead. Virgin Atlantic had a 12 or 14 pound limit when we went to Italy (via London). Wearing dark colors, mixing and matching, and quick dry underwear and socks, and a high absorbancy travel towel helped with the laundry issue. The stretchy braided clothesline and small amount of laundry detergent in a zip lock bag worked well. We have modest means and we took the kids so we saved eight years for our trip. It was worth it.

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