First of all, I must say I don’t think I travel so much. I surely don’t travel as much as I would like to. I’m not a full-time traveler – I’m just a free-time traveler (after all, I’m a PhD student). But still, I get this question often. I guess one could say I’ve managed to travel quite a bit in these last years, in parallel to my Master and PhD programs. (For a summary of my trips in 2015, click here).
So I decided to try to answer this question: how is it that I manage to travel as much as I do? After all, traveling requires two basic things: time and money. And students don’t have either of those. So how does this work?
My first answer to this is: PRIORITY.
In my leisure, work-free time, it is my priority to travel. It’s what I like to do the most whenever I have some extra time. Sure, I have other hobbies, like dancing, writing and learning foreign languages. But these I can do anytime, during regular weekdays after work. So when I have that extra free time, like weekends and bank holidays, I make sure to spend it the way I like best: visiting new places.
Some people prefer to spend their free time resting at home, or going hiking, or catching up on some reading, for example. And that’s completely fine – each person should do what makes them happy. Me? I like to use all of my free time traveling – if possible somewhere I haven’t been to before.
So one of the biggest reasons why I manage to travel so much is because I actually see it as a priority for my leisure time.
That being said, we are still left with two problems: little time and money.
Problem #1: TIME
“It’s easy for YOU to travel, because you live in Europe.”
Sure, living in Europe, like I do, makes it a lot easier to travel frequently. It is very practical to get around different countries here, for their proximity and the affordable options of flights, trains and buses. BUT… there is a catch. If you’re a foreigner living in Europe like me, you probably spend most of your vacation days going to your home country. Yes, that is great, and necessary for my inner sanity (again, priorities!), and I wouldn’t change it. But going home doesn’t really count as real traveling for me, because I grew up there, and it’s not exactly new.
I can take 30 days off from work per year, not counting weekends and bank holidays. I usually go to Brazil once a year, and spend about 20 of my vacation days there. This means that ⅔ of my holidays are used up just by going home. And when I eventually fly there twice a year (as I’ll be doing this year to attend a wedding), even less vacation time is left for me to visit new places – around 5 days a year only!
Bottomline: don’t be fooled – it may look easier for me to travel to new places because I live in Europe, but in reality I don’t really have so much time available for it.
So how do I deal with the problem of having such little time? I basically try to make the most of the little time that I do have.
“I can’t do [insert anything here] because I don’t have time”.
This is NOT TRUE. Everyone has time, even if a little. What varies from one person to the other is what they actually decide to do with that time. It’s not lack of time that stops you from doing something – it’s that you are not willing to spend the time you have doing that. (Maybe because it’s not your priority.)
Like I said, I usually have around only 5 to 10 workdays per year to use for my travel purposes, depending on whether I go to Brazil once or twice a year. However… the good news is that these are only workdays – there are still weekends and bank holidays that are not included in the count. So I really, REALLY, try to make the most of the bank holidays and long weekends that Germany provides me with. And, trust me, they are not frequent at all – at least not compared to Brazil.
What I do is: I plan in advance and accommodate different trips in the holidays that I know I will have throughout the year. The calendar is fixed and you can get that information way in advance, so use it to your advantage. You will most probably not find me in Berlin during a long weekend (unless there is something exceptional happening in town). For me, this would feel a bit like a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Berlin and there is still so much I want to do and see here, but my logic is: I can spend time in the city where I live on any normal weekend. Long weekends? These are rare and precious, and should be spent wisely.
If you live in Brazil or North America or Australia, for example, it’s not that easy to go visit a different country for a long weekend. The distance is huge, and prices are not very welcoming. Living in Europe, I usually go on several short trips throughout the year. But if you don’t, maybe you can go on fewer trips a year, but for longer periods of time. Or instead of trips abroad, you can explore your own country. These are just different styles of traveling, but possible and enjoyable either way. Plus, in Brazil there are so many long weekends – sometimes 11 per year! – so make use of them.
Problem #2: MONEY
This problem is not so much of a problem as long as you’re OK with traveling on a low-budget. Low-cost airlines, low-cost hotels, buses, hostels, etc. At this moment of my life, I really don’t mind staying in a shared dormitory with a shared bathroom for a few nights. I don’t mind eating fast-food eventually, or using a kitchen to cook something easy. I also don’t mind flying on less comfortable airplanes inside Europe and taking hand-luggage only. Probably, in the future, I will want to set higher standards, according to my age and salary, but not for now. Because I know all that means saving A LOT.
Like a good Brazilian, I like to make sure that I pay the best prices. It’s not that I’m cheap when I’m traveling – I will gladly spend my money on a nice meal or an experience that I believe is worth it. But I don’t like to spend extra on things that can be avoided.
“Spend money on experiences, not things.”
The ultimate answer to everything: PLANNING
I ❤ planning. I am a strong believer that by planning in advance you can get the best cost/benefit ratio. And I think I know why I love to plan so much. I’m a very anxious person, and planning gives me some sort of feeling that I’m in control of my life and the future. Sure, this is not always true, and you can only plan certain things. But, fortunately, a trip is one of the things that you can actually plan to a good extent.
By planning in advance, you are able to fit one or more trips into the little free time you have per year, plus you save money. There you go: a solution to both our problems.
- Find out what your priorities for your free time are. Figure out what you love to do the most. (Also, try new things. That’s the only way to really find out what you love to do.)
- You do have some free time – use it wisely (on your priorities).
- If traveling is a priority for your leisure time, plan in advance to optimize time and money.
“OK, planning a trip sounds very advantageous and easy in theory, but how do you actually do it?”
Check out the answer on my next post here:
How I plan my trips (with little time and money)