August 13, 2014

Up, up, and away.

The question I am asked the most, outside of what mascara I use (Maybelline Volum’ Express for day and Givenchy Phenomen'Eyes for night), is how I manage to travel - domestically and internationally - so much. 

My past two or three years have included two moves, grad school, full-time work, and trips to London (twice), Paris, Dublin, Dubai, Hawaii, New Orleans, Charleston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Nashville, Detroit (woo!), Denver, Las Vegas (too many times), Kansas City, Dallas, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Savannah, Hilton Head, Minneapolis, New York City, D.C., Oregon, San Diego, and, of course, Atlanta. 

Atlanta, where I ultimately settled.

This post isn't to glorify the number of trips I've made. I wholeheartedly acknowledge that there are others who travel far, far more than me, so if you can think of someone else who has racked up more frequent flier miles, please feel free to ask them how they do it. They’re likely a more credible source of information. 

Also, this post is mostly about the financial side of making it happen, so if you're pulling in 100k+ a year and finding the money to travel isn't an issue - finding the time off is - this post isn't for you. Although I'd love to get to know you....

But, if you're any combination of fresh-out-of-school, working in education, travel-for-workless, trust fundless, sugar daddyless, and pilot parentless, this post might be helpful for you.


My current field will never make me rich. I knew that when I chose it, so, because going places is important to me, I've had to find ways to make that happen without touching funds for my monthly saving, general expenses, donations, etc

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. It’s really just a matter of setting priorities and sacrificing for them, as well as the absurd generosity of others. Mostly the latter, to be honest.

Seven is a good number, a Biblical number, so I’m going with that. With no further ado, my seven tips for making travel happen:

Work for it. Beyond my regular, full-time job, I babysit. A lot. I’m 27 and I spend a good number of my Friday and Saturday nights hanging out with kiddos who were born after I graduated from college. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a phenomenal way to buy plane tickets and somehow I still rarely miss out on social opportunities. There's a certainly level of humility in this, I think, too. Think of it as character-building.

Be realistic. I don't dream about exotic vacations that are out of my reach. A five-star resort in the Maldives would be amazing, no doubt, but I know it’s not an option for me while I’m still one year out of grad school. So, I'll happily accept a friend’s air mattress somewhere in Manhattan or the spare bedroom in Chicago, I'll take advantage of the hotel with a complimentary breakfast, and I'll fly at a more awkward time if it means saving $100. 

Utilize relationships. Oh, the couches on which I have slept. This is where that generosity piece comes into play. A perfect example: On a road trip to Los Angeles one summer, I reached out to Alex, a friend I hadn’t talked to in five years, who lived in Denver. I asked if I could stay with her, and she was more than willing to host me. We had a great time reconnecting and exploring her city together. Generally, people love a chance to show off their zip code and spend time with a friend. Two years later, Alex and I are close friends and we are both so thankful I took a chance and reached out to her. I have also been the recipient of some very, very generous people. Many of my more extravagant vacations have been the result of someone else offering me an amazing experience simply because they wanted me to be able to join them. I cannot begin to describe how appreciative I am, and I can’t wait to one day return the favor or pay it forward. 

Look for tricks. I opened a Delta AmEx credit card because I have a proven track record of managing credit cards well and they had a phenomenal introductory offer with air miles. Because I live in Atlanta, I fly Delta 95% of the time, and the opportunity to accrue miles based on purchases I’d already be making on a debit card was extremely attractive. So far, I’ve taken two free flights in the four months I’ve had the card. 

Travel with like-minded friends. Nina and I split meals in Miami. Kristi was fine with staying in average hotels in Nashville. Amy happily slept in my dorm for two nights of of her three-night L.A. visit. Travel with friends who will a) split costs and b) maintain the same standards as you. You won’t feel any pressure to go above your means, and neither of you will feel like you’re compromising.

Take advantage of local travel. While driving to L.A. for a summer internship, I made stops in St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, and Las Vegas. None of these cities were out of my way, and I got a chance to catch-up and explore with friends along the way. While in LA, I also visited San Diego and all of the beach cities. Once in London, I easily and reasonably hopped over to Dublin, Paris, Florence, and Rome via discount airlines or train. Now that I live in the Southeast, I am taking advantage of its accessibility to Southern cities with trips to Nashville, NOLA, Savannah, Hilton Head, Charleston, and Miami. You don’t have to fly across the country or pack a passport to see somewhere new – take advantage of what’s around you. For those of you who live in the States, we have more than enough to explore just a car ride away. I love international travel, but that old statistic about how few Americans own passports frustrates me - America is huge and diverse. Our seven-hour drive to NOLA took me to a city that felt more foreign than a recent trip to Paris. 

Sacrifice. A perfect example - parking at the airport is easier, it's faster, and it's just nicer. It also costs around $40 per trip ($9-$12 for four days). Instead, I take the train, where a roundtrip costs $5. Not as convenient, but the difference, after a few trips, adds up. I live in an apartment without a bathtub – gosh I LOVE my baths – or a dishwasher because it allows me to live in a safe neighborhood with affordable rent. I drive a seven-year-old simple car that has manual windows (the likes of which the kids I babysit for have never seen) because it’s paid off and gets great gas mileage. I pack my breakfast and lunch I've learned not to like shopping. 

These aren’t the musings of a martyr, these are the realities of the choices I've decided to make so that I am able to save money to go towards the things I really love; the things that really give me life. One day I’ll tell my kids about my road trip to Charleston with Mindy, not about the new SUV I bought. The oysters in New Orleans tasted better than Chipotle does at lunch. And the ocean is always more fun to float in than a bathtub. 

So that's seven, but here's a bonus tip because I just had my second coffee and feel a little ambitious:

Plan well. Draw from the expertise of others who have been there, done that. Do your research. For me, part of the fun is planning: putting together flight itineraries, looking up hotels, and calculating costs. Don’t lose the spontaneity of travel that makes it fun, but make the big decisions early and you will save a lot later.

Any questions?


Megan Samuels said...

Kyla, this is fabulous and so very helpful! Thanks for getting to the point. Most definitely sharing!

Kyla said...

So glad you enjoyed! I figured someone needed to just put it out there - work for it.

ctengia said...

Don't you worry -- the children you babysit for will hear all about manual windows! My first car was a Ford Escort and I drove that thing (stick shift, no frills) into the ground! ;) Ha ha! Love this post. Great stuff.

ctengia said...

Also, the picture of you is awesome! Did you edit it? I want to know more!

Kyla said...

And this is why you're the best mom ever! I'm sure I'll be driving my simple little thing into the ground, as well. Pic is unposed by edited by Instagram. We'll do an quick lesson next time I'm over:)