Laying it Bare: How I Afford to Travel

By: Talor Stone April 10, 2019

Okay here it goes… I am often asked how I can afford to travel, and I think it’s time you deserve an answer. It’s a very personal thing to talk about and I normally try to avoid it, but here’s the completely honest answer in all its complexity. But, before I dive into this it helps for me to clarify two things.

It’s not pretty, but it’s home!

First, what works for me is not necessarily the same as what will work for you. It’s just not realistic. As you will see, I have a particular set of circumstances in my life that allow me to travel like this and I would never presume that your circumstances would allow you the same. With that being said, always feel free to ask me questions and I will gladly help give you budget tips if travel is something you want to do more of. I definitely know how to stretch a dollar and I’m happy to pass that along to you.

Second, travel does not have to be expensive. If you’re reading this then you have probably followed me long enough to know that my experiences are proof. If you’re still having a hard time believing it, then go read the budget breakdown I did last year. Travel can be afforded regardless of your income level if you’re willing to trade the comforts of a hotel for the experiences of a lifetime. There is absolutely a travel possibility for any budget.

Okay, let’s just get right to it and talk numbers. My stable source of income is just under $18,000 per year. Yes…really. But this number, as small as it is, is responsible for my freedom simply because of the source of it.
Some of you know that I served in the Air Force. Shortly before I separated, I underwent a fairly major hip surgery for an injury sustained while on active duty. This injury has been both a curse and a blessing for me. I could hardly walk for weeks. For a long time, sleep was an endurance act of prolonged, low-intensity torture. When I was finally walking again, I had a noticeable limp for over a year.

I thought I would never hike again. I haven’t run more than a very painful mile since 2013. My hip bothers me day in and day out and on every single hike I do, but I’m either too stupid or too stubborn to quit. BUT… because of this injury I have the luxury of a safety net. Because of this injury and the amazing care of the existing veteran’s assistance programs, I have a form of passive income that sets me free in so many ways.

I know right now you’re probably rolling your eyes along with thoughts like “must be nice,” “sure wish I would get hurt and get to travel all the time,” “nice to see my tax dollars at work,” and countless others. And to an extent I recognize that those feelings are somewhat legitimate. This is the reason I don’t often share this part of my story with others, and it took me a very long time to accept that I had become the recipient of a government ‘handout.’

Trust me! I was raised to be proud and I still believe wholeheartedly in making my own way, but I have also been incredibly fortunate to benefit from the system that was set up as a safety net for people like me who have been hurt while in the military.

It’s a challenge to my pride and self-worth even as I sit here and write this now, but I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded because of this. It means that if I take time off, I’ll still get a paycheck on the 1st. It also means I can worry less about my future and retirement because I can always rely on at least having this one thing going for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry or plan for these things, but it does mean that I worry a heck of a lot less than most other people and that is a true luxury.

A source of passive income is the quickest way to travel more freely, so I’d recommend exploring ways you could create this in your life and reach out to me if you want ideas.

Okay, now that the most humbling part of all of this has been explained, let me continue. As you know, $18,000 alone is not remotely enough to do all the things I do while also paying rent, utilities, insurance, student loans, and all the other adult things I’m supposed to do. Especially when I’m trying to finish my PhD! So, let me explain my strategy for affording the rest of life.
I am a major advocate of income diversification. At any one point in time I have a minimum of 4 entirely independent streams of income, but often I have many more. I wanted to get my PhD, so I told myself I’d only take it on if I could make it happen for free.

Well, I did better than free! I worked incredibly hard on my applications to schools and I have spent a lifetime dedicating myself to exceptional academics, so I was lucky to be offered a teaching assistant (TA) position at my university. This means I get free tuition and a small stipend while classes are in session. Of course, this isn’t always consistent and the money stops as soon as class does, but it’s SOMETHING which is a hell of a lot better than nothing. This kind of hustling means I can finally afford to achieve a long-time dream and the pursuit of that dream can help provide me a modest source of income.

Cooking my own food saves me a ton!

Last year, I set up my website where I sell my prints. It is inconsistent at best and a very small source of income for me. I average maybe $100 a month from the website, but I hope it will continue to grow. If you love what I do, there is no better way to support it than to go buy a print. I can’t overstate how helpful these contributions are both financially (no matter how small) as well as emotionally as a form of validation.

I also recently just had my first art show. After fees and printing overhead I made a profit of around $600. I currently plan to do around 8 of these per year, so the income is inconsistent and there’s no way for me to know how much I will make or if I will even cover my costs, but it’s better than nothing.

In 2020 I am starting to develop ways to offer workshops. I dont plan for this to make me rich by any means, but it is a way to me to support my own travel while also contributing to the experiences of others. If you have ideas about what kind of workshops I should offer, or if you think this is a good idea, send me a message and let me know!
I also drive for both Uber and Lyft and fit that in around my schedule. I really like the flexibility of it and if I have a large expense coming up, I can just drive more. This makes it a really flexible source of income for me and my operating costs are very low considering how cheap my insurance is on my old Honda. On a week when I have some free time, I can make about $400; but often I am so busy with school that I only make about $100 per week. Of course, if you have more free time or free weekend then you can make much more.

In addition, if there are any hours left in the day (which it seems there never are) I will take on freelancing of any kind. I will edit papers, help design websites, check reports for grammar…anything for some extra cash! You name it… if it’s a paying job send it my way (hint, hint)!
I keep all of this organized by sorting my income into two separate checking accounts. I know it’s confusing, so to see what this looks like in practice and where the money goes, check out my little flow chart I made!

A peek inside my finances.

Whew! So, all this means my schedule is insane. I work over 16 hours per day during the week and often over 10 hours every weekend because I still have to find time to do my PhD research! When I’m crunching to make money for a trip I often wake up at 7am, do school work, check on my website, quickly catch up on social media, run to class, get out of school at 10pm, then drive for Uber/Lyft until 3am, pass out, wake up and repeat. I sometimes run on 4 hours of sleep or less for weeks at a time to pull it off, but I find a way to make it work. It comes down to priorities.

As you can imagine a schedule like this puts a tremendous amount of stress on a relationship. If you want to read about how I make my relationship with my boyfriend work, you can check out this blog post about managing time and travel. I’ll be honest… I drop the ball a lot. Sometimes I take the relationship for granted and just assume we are okay so I can put all my energy into my hustle and school, but this always comes back to bite me in the end. It’s a balance and I’m lucky to have a partner who is always there to drag me back to reality when I get lost in the tornado of my life.

Family constraints are a real thing to consider. If your partner is game to support your adventures, don’t be afraid to take some time to yourself and travel alone for a few days. We could all benefit from a break from time to time and it’s healthy to have your own passion to pursue.

If your partner has the travel bug too, try to find a way to make it happen even if it means just a one night escape the next town over, or a three-day weekend out of town, or deciding you want to experience the Christmas holiday abroad for a change.

While I have seen many families who travel full time or mix travel into their home life in hearty doses, I do recognize that this is not realistic for everyone. It’s a challenge or downright impossible for most people to take weeks at a time off work, cart young children all over the country, or quit their jobs on a wing and a prayer. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have an easy answer for you if you fall into one of these categories. What I can offer, however, are two pieces of advice:

First, if money is your biggest constraint, find ways to cut your expenditures by downsizing or increase your cash intake by diversifying your income. When I made travel a big part of my life, I sold my house and all my furniture and refused to own anything that wouldn’t fit in my car. For the most part that is still true for me years later.

My favorite thing to tell people is, “Beware your possessions lest your possessions posses you.” Simply put, the things you own actually own YOU! You must house them, care for them, afford them, transport them. Don’t be afraid to let go and set yourself a little more free. If you own a car, don’t be afraid to pick up a side gig driving for a rideshare company. If you drive for only an hour each day you can make over $100 extra per week. By the end of the month you can afford plane tickets somewhere awesome. It’s really that easy! ***But, if you want to download the app please at least reach out so I can get the referral fee!!!***

What’s this view worth to you?

Second, it comes down to priorities. What do you want to prioritize in your life? If it’s a nice car or bigger house or new furniture, then that’s awesome and congratulations on a very successful life. BUT… if you want to make travel more of a priority, then find a way to shake things around in your home life and make it a reality. You are your biggest obstacle because there is a way to travel for every budget and every situation. Your way may not look like my way but find a way to get out there! If you get stuck, just reach out. I’ll do my best to help you come up with an amazing plan that will work for you!

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