29 May 2012

Not rich

With less than a week before our trip I'm still counting pennies and finding cheap, safe living arrangements in Berlin and Paris. Despite all the planning I'm doing, people seem less interested in what I'm doing, and more interested in a certain question that I've been hearing over and over:  How are you able to afford this, are you rich?

It takes all I have to not roll on the floor laughing at this question. The answer is absolutely not! We are solidly middle-class, but not rich in anyway... what-so-ever... at all.  And if you haven't noticed middle-class ain't so middle anymore! In order to make these trips happen we live a minimalist lifestyle, we save our money, buy cheap plane tickets, and we do not stay in expensive hotels.  Please allow me to break down each of these things for you.

Live below your means
This is the most difficult part for most people to grasp, but it is very natural for us.  We live in a house we can afford, we don't eat out often, and we drive used cars.  We purchased our home based on just one of our salaries and we did not go for the 5 bedroom house that we qualified for.  We instead decided on a smaller 3 bedroom house that did not have the high ceilings, walk-in closets, granite counter tops, and large bathrooms that most Americans go crazy for.  Our house is cute, practical, and lived-in.  We also do not hold car notes.  Im currently driving a 1988 Grand Marquis.  Yes, you read that correctly 1988!  The car cost us $500, is in great condition, and surprisingly good on gas.  Living a minimalist lifestyle takes a lot of guts, especially in a city like Atlanta.  People look at me in my car as if I've broken the golden rule of conformity.  Many people reading this have experienced what it is like to live beyond their means but have not taken the leap into living with what they need as opposed to what they think will impress others.

 My old school car

Cheap plane tickets
There are many ways to purchase cheap plane tickets.  Personally I just stalk all ticketing websites.  Lately I've been finding the best deals on cheapoair.com.  We are also open to taking lower-priced mutli lay-over flights or red-eye flights, which is actually helpful for jet lag and traveling with sleepy kids.  I know some travelers that make all of their purchases and pay all of their bills with their airline reward credit cards, which allows them to earn points to go toward plane tickets.  Some travelers also take-on part-time jobs with airlines that offer free-flight benefits for the whole family.  We are currently looking for an airline to sponsor the flights for our blog... I thought I'd just put that out there! ☺

No hotels, no resorts
After purchasing airline tickets your biggest expense will be living arrangements once you get there.  To cut back on these cost we have several tricks.  One option is to stay with family or friends who live in the place you are visiting.  My family is very international and we have friends or family on every continent.  We always buy groceries or chip in financially in some way while staying with them. If you don't have friends or family abroad find some!  You may have a co-worker from Korea or a neighbor from Italy who has a ton of family back home that can use a little extra money for hosting you and will gladly show you around their city.  You may have international contacts right under your nose and you didn't even know it.  A second option, is to find host families.  To do this you can look on websites like homestays.com or just do a google search for homestays.  The website will find the host families for you, and the arrangements can even include breakfast and dinner.  Not having to search for food is a huge help while traveling.  When I'm traveling with my students usually I find a local language school that offers packages for language lessons, homestays and tours.  This is a great option for people who want to learn a new language and meet new friends. 

Host student in Nigeria- found on google images

So many people tell me that there is no way that they are living with "strangers".  From their perspective I see how that can be a scary thought, but from my experiences I see a missed life changing opportunity.  I have stayed with 8 host families around the world and each and every one treated me with love, kindness, and respect.  I've never felt unsafe and each house has been comfortable and clean.  I actually feel safer living with local families than in isolated hotel rooms.  Local homestays are the ultimate intercultural exchange, it introduces you to new foods, new customs, a new language, new friends, the list goes on and on.  When I visited the British Virgin Islands 13 years ago, I found a local friend who later introduced me to AlphaPoppa... need I say more?!☺

This will be our first time using couchsurfing.com and the most amazing website ever airbnb.com. Couch Surfing has become very popular among travelers who are looking for a free and authentic traveling experience.  Once you join this online community you offer a space in your house to travellers for free.  That space can be anything from a couch to a whole room.  Your membership also makes you eligible to be a guest in the homes of other members, for free.  First, you create a profile about yourself and simply search your travel destination for available couches and send requests.  Before sending a request I highly recommend reading your potential host's reviews.  Airbnb.com on the other hand is a website that allows you to rent a room, private apartment, or house for a day up to a month or more.  You can pay anywhere from $10 a night to $9,000 depending on your destination and budget.  The apartments and rooms on this website are so cute that I often get stuck on here for hours ooh-ing and ahhh-ing.

There is a huge misconception that traveling requires a big budget.  Travelling is more a matter of faith than finance.  I have had people plan and save to travel with me only to back out at the last minute.  They get afraid and find an excuse as to why the trip will not work out.  Fear is a bitch and if you don't watch out it will sneak up on you and paralyze you.  When you travel you must go into it knowing that something you planned will not go your way, but things will still work out just fine, often times better than your plan.  You may be uncomfortable at times, but in safe location.  You will be scared sometimes, but that fear is usually from something imagined and not based in reality.  I'm an optimist to my core and in my mind things are perfect at this very moment and something amazing is always waiting for me around the corner.  If things don't go as I planned that OK because an opportunity for something better is now available.

Take a leap of faith

I hope you find these tips helpful and I hope you take a moment to reflect on how you can save money on flights and live below your means.  If you live above your means I'd also like you to reflect on why and if a desire to impress others causes you to over-spend.  Please also think about fear and opportunities that you've passed up because of fear.  Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone? Ya know that is where the magic happens...


  1. Great post Erica! I admire your minimalistic ways... It's something that I've been trying to incorporate into my life a little more on the regular : )

  2. Thanks for this info Nena! I've been gifted accommodations anywhere in the world that I want to go so l'll be using these resources to score a cheap plane ticket. xoxo!

    1. I let you know how it goes. We would die slow painful deaths if we could no longer travel. With our budget, we have to get creative, Im just happy we now have options to be safe and have fun during our travels!