Riding a hot air balloon over the Kenyan savanna. Biking the back roads of Bordeaux. Hiking beneath waterfalls in Iceland.
Planning the trip of a lifetime requires a lot of research, a little compromise, and a saving-and-earning strategy that works for you. Grow spoke with three couples who pulled together enough money for adventurous travel this summer. Here's how they did it.
The couple: Brittnay Sharman, 30, and Jayden McKinlay, 29, web developers based in Melbourne, Australia, who work remotely. Each pulls in $45,000 to $60,000 AUD (about $31,300 to $41,700 U.S.) a year.
The vacation: A summer driving across Europe, complete with road biking, wineries, and cheese.
The strategy: Sharman and McKinlay met on separate vacations in the Australian Alps. A few years later they both quit their jobs and became housesitters for a full year in Melbourne, with the goal of traveling across Europe and beyond.
To start, they paid small annual fees to join online networks like TrustedHousesitters ($80) and Aussie House Sitters ($50), which allowed them to easily apply for gigs and build up a reputation as responsible guests. The fact that they work remotely helped, too: "A lot of homeowners actually really like it because we work from home and can take care of the dogs," says McKinlay.
Before, they had paid $750 Australian a month each to live in a house shared with two other people, plus $250 AUD/month in bills as a couple. Housesitting saved them an estimated $21,000 AUD, or approximately $14,643 U.S.
The big expenses: On April 1, they touched down in the U.K. and purchased their "office on wheels," a used Camper van, for £1,000 (approximately $1,275 U.S.). That allows them to work on the road, so they can keep making money, and gives them a place to sleep between housesitting gigs and the occasional stay at an Airbnb. They can fill the tank for €40-50 ($45-$56 U.S.).
The splurge: The couple does have a few indulgences: "Our downfalls are red wine and cheese," says McKinlay. They prioritize to make it work, choosing visiting wineries, for example, instead of other, pricier activities. "We're more into the food tourism side of things," says McKinlay. "We'd rather go to a local market or a cheese tour" than to more typical tourist attractions.
The couple: Meg and Lindsay Cale, both 32, whose travel blog Dopes on the Road is dedicated to making LGBT travel safer, more accessible, and more adventurous. They pull in about $100,000 annually from affiliate revenue, running LGBT-inclusivity trainings and related activities.
The vacation: A three-week trip to East Africa starting with a safari in Kenya and Tanzania, and ending with a wind-down on the beaches of Zanzibar.
The strategy: In total, they saved approximately $20,000 with the help of "our good friend Excel," says Meg. For big trips like the safari, they generally start planning six months to a year in advance.
As travel bloggers and self-described "full-time nomads," they're on the go almost nonstop, so they budget very carefully. For this vacation, they used spreadsheets to plan their biggest expenses, like accommodations and transportation, and to meet self-imposed saving and booking deadlines months ahead of time. For instance, the Cales set a goal of locking in flights to Nairobi ($1,700 apiece) three months before, so they could focus on smaller expenses.
Then, in the lead-up to the trip, they spent $200-$500 per month on those necessities so they wouldn't be slammed with extra costs all at once.
They also saved by keeping their needs in mind. For example, when they got a $500 Amazon voucher for giving up their seats on an overbooked flight, they spent the funds on sunscreen and hiking gear for this trip.
The big expenses: The Cales opted for a tour that cost $5,800 apiece and included a guided safari, accommodations, transportation, most meals, and even once-in-a-lifetime activities like that hot air balloon over Maasai Mara National Reserve.
"We partnered with Contiki [Tours] because it's illegal to be gay in both" Kenya and Tanzania, says Meg. "It would've been cheaper to travel by ourselves, but our safety is a huge issue for us, and we decided we're going to go [with] a tour group in the areas we were a little bit nervous about."
Another safety must: Travel insurance, which they purchased for $400 total though WorldNomads. "We go with the insurance that can evacuate us out of an area," says Meg, noting that many credit card companies offer discounts on travel insurance when you book travel using your card.
The splurge: Meg puts larger-than-life experiences at the top of her travel must-do list, whereas Lindsay appreciates nice restaurants. Lindsay and Meg make room for one or two dream experiences each so they both feel like they got what they wanted out of a trip.
"I think we learned early on that when we were compromising on the number one thing that either of us wanted to do, then sometimes we left a trip feeling like we missed out," Lindsay says.
The couple: Faris Abraham and Lisa Kisil, both 25, recent college grads in Detroit, Michigan. In addition to full-time jobs in marketing, Kisil and Abraham both have side hustles as photographers, and Abraham does video for local corporate clients, which alone brings in anywhere from $500-$2,000 a month.
The vacation: A week-long road trip in Iceland with three friends in 2017.
The strategy: They decided to go as a group rather than as a couple to cut down on costs. In order to save for trips like this one, Kisil also moved back in with her parents for a few years after college. She and Abraham live together now and have become travel influencers.
The big expenses: To start, the couple and their friends monitored Google Flights until they could snag good deals on round trip tickets for $300 apiece on the now-bankrupt WOW Air. They rented a Kia Sportage for $750 U.S. for the week and split the cost with their friends.
Iceland is not very budget-friendly, says Kisil: "Hotel rooms cost hundreds a night and a simple ham sandwich will cost you $15 in a restaurant!" To save, they stayed in cheap hostels, shopped at local grocery stores, and brought a cooler to carry their own sandwiches on day trips. All told, they spent about $900 per person.
The splurge: Abraham and Kisil work to find balance between roughing it and indulgence, which meant springing for a night of affordable luxury and relaxation by themselves at the end of the trip, says Kisil. Near Iceland's Dynjandi Waterfall, they booked a cabin with a large deck, where they watched an incredible sunset from the hot tub.
"It's all about the balance, if it fits in your budget," she says.
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