I don’t know what it is lately, but I can’t seem to get through a week without at least a few people asking me how I can afford to travel so much. Of course I’m always happy to help out and give advice whenever I can, and I enjoy responding to reader’s questions. However, this particular query is one that befuddles me, because it’s amazing to think that people assume I am traveling nonstop. That couldn’t be any further from the truth!
Compared to most other airline and travel bloggers, I actually don’t travel (and fly) all that often. My current travel schedule has me doing a trip once every 5 to 6 weeks. This means that I’m at home living a normal life like a normal person for 5 to 6 weeks at a time between all of the flying you see me do you here on my blog and YouTube channel. Yeah, I don’t deny that I travel more than most people, but it’s nothing like what Sam Chui or Ben Schlappig is doing.
Anyway, the question of how I can afford to travel so much is a lot more interesting now since I am a full-time travel blogger. Back when I had my cushy corporate day job, paying for all these trips was a lot easier. It was also much easier question to answer. “I’m lucky to have a well-paying job” I said. And it was the truth. Without having had the opportunity to work myself up through the ranks in the corporate world all those years, I would have never had the opportunity to pay for all those trips.
But what about now? I’ve quit the 9-to-5 corporate life, and I’m grinding it out solo as a full-time travel blogger. How the hell can I afford to travel so much now that I making a lot less money on an annual basis?
It’s complicated, but here’s how I do it:
Travel is one of my highest priorities in life
Sometimes late at night when I’m sitting on my $300 IKEA couch watching YouTube on my 12 year old TV, I start fantasizing about what life would be like if I didn’t spend so much money on travel. The funny thing about these fantasies is that they are of the same variety I had while stuck in a dumpy dorm room during my college days. I’ve always been dreaming of a better life, and now that I’m traveling frequently, I still daydream about living in a super nice place with tons of disposable income.
However, the biggest reason why I can afford to travel so much is because I make it a top priority in my life. Yeah, I’d love to go out and buy a brand new 50” paper-thin OLED TV (with nerve-tingling surround sound of course), but that conflicts greatly with my desire to see the world. I definitely can’t have both at this point in time.
The fact of the matter is that I live a pretty simple life here at home. 90% of my disposable income goes towards travel, which is something that I’m willing to bet that most normal people wouldn’t be able to do. I can’t tell you how many household repairs that I’ve put off because I’d rather spend the money on travel instead, because it’s…embarrassing. I spend a heck of a lot more money on travel than I should, but I’m fine with that.
I view travel as an investment
If you didn’t consider me to be a weirdo before reading that last block of text, this next block oughta do it. I mean, as a responsible homeowner, shouldn’t it be my top priority to spend my weekends at Home Depot oogling over the latest technology in refrigerators and washing machines?
As an adult with actual adult-like responsibilities, I can’t deny that I’m always feeling tempted to pour every dime I have into turning my home into a castle. After all, real estate is one of the best investments you can make in life, and I probably shouldn’t be neglecting my own investment as much as I have been. So why am I still living on a shoestring budget just as I did when I was in college?
It’s because I view all of the travel that I’m doing as an investment. An investment for both my financial and professional goals in life.
- The more I travel, the more I learn.
- The more I learn, the more knowledge I have to share.
- The more knowledge I have to share, the more opportunities I get to meet amazing people.
All of these things are highly beneficial when it comes to building a successful business.
I can afford to travel as much as I do because I’m investing in my future. Yes, I’m probably spending a little more than I probably should be at the moment, but it’s been paying off in terms of blog growth and monthly revenue earned. It’s working. Slowly but surely, my plan of becoming a successful (and respected) travel blogger is coming to fruition. Well, the “respected” part is iffy but I’m satisfied with my progress.
So yeah – that new washing machine with artificial intelligence (the kind that’ll clean my underwear extra good) may have to wait a little while longer…but it will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine. #waynesworldreference
I look for opportunities to monetize every portion of my trips
Now that you know that I view all the travel that I do as an investment, you may be curious as to how I’m able to translate that into an actual income. It’s not easy, but it’s a combination of many things:
- Writing blog content (trip reports and helpful “how to” articles) which generates page views. Page views can be monetized with advertising programs such as AdSense, Mediavine, etc.
- Creating YouTube videos about my experiences, which generates income through ad revenue, affiliate links, and paid sponsorships.
Besides blog posts and videos, there are an unlimited number of other ways to monetize traveling. I’m not doing very much of the following yet, but I may tinker with a few of these items here and there in the coming months and years:
- Writing books (travel guides, travel hacking techniques, etc.)
- Creating paid courses (travel photography, travel hacking, etc)
- Public speaking
If you’re curious, ad revenue and affiliate marketing (product recommendations) are my two main sources of income. However, I’ve been seeing an uptick in digital product sales and sponsorships lately, which is nice because it helps me to diversify. Anyway, I can get into the nitty gritty of all this stuff in future blog posts if anyone is interested in learning how I do what I do. Just let me know.
Finally, one last point about monetizing my travels: some may view this as me being greedy or “selling out”, but the amount of time and energy I pour into the SANspotter brand on a weekly basis is ridiculous. I simply can’t produce the content that I do if I can’t get paid for it (as much as I love to do it), so I look for any opportunity I can to create content which helps me survive.
Note that I will *never* promote anything I don’t believe in or review products I don’t use myself. Every piece of SANspotter content you see is absolutely genuine. Providing value (intermingled with bad jokes) will always be my top priority.
I have a very flexible schedule
Being self employed means that I can time my travels to happen whenever it’s cheapest to do so. I’m not constrained by having to travel on weekends because of limited vacation time from work, and I can take full advantage of fare sales – whenever they may happen.
Since leaving the corporate world a little over a year ago, my average cost paid for an airline ticket has decreased dramatically. This isn’t something I track specifically, though I do keep tabs on how much I spend on travel in general. Based on my records, I traveled nearly 40% more during my first year of self employment than I did while I was working a 9-5 job. However, the total amount of money I paid for these trips was nearly equal to what I had paid for a fewer number of trips in years past.
In other words, if you want to know how I afford to travel all the time, having the flexibility to wait for the best deals is essentially the key to it all.
I focus on one specific airline program
Building (and maintaining) status in a single airline rewards program was one of the first things I thought of when tossing around the idea of writing an article which reveals how I can afford to travel so much. Without the existence of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, I wouldn’t be able to travel as half as much as I do at this (early) stage in my full time blogging career.
I’m not suggesting that the Alaska Airlines frequent flyer program is the best one for everyone. My point is that it’s the only mileage program here in the US which aligns to the type of flying that *I* do and the kinds of airlines that *I* fly. Their current list of airline partners is extensive and eclectic – which is perfect for me since my job is to fly (and review) as many different airlines as I can. Not only have I been able to fly some really great airlines over the past several years, I’ve earned valuable Alaska Airlines credit for each experience. Some recent examples include:
- Condor 767-300 business class San Diego to Frankfurt
- Emirates A380 business class Los Angeles to Dubai
- Hainan 787-9 economy class Shanghai to Seattle
- Japan Airlines 787-8 business class San Diego to Tokyo
I’m currently sitting on a bucketload of Alaska Mileage Plan points from these (and many other) trips, and my plan is to start aggressively using them to redeem award tickets on some of their airline partners I haven’t reviewed yet (such as Cathay Pacific, Finnair, EL AL, etc). For the record, I used 55,000 Alaska points for the following two flights earlier this year (which would have cost roughly $2000US if I paid for it out of my own pocket):
- QANTAS 787-9 premium economy San Francisco to Melbourne
- QANTAS 737-800 business class Melbourne to Sydney
Being so tightly focused on one airline program over the past several years has made it possible for me to amass a large stockpile of valuable points which I can redeem for travel on a wide variety of airlines. Not only that, I’ve now reached the point where I won’t have to pay very much for airline tickets over the next 6-12 months because of my plan to start burning what I’ve earned.
A few final thoughts about how I can afford to travel so much
The biggest takeaway from this entire article should be this: sacrifices (sometimes really big and scary ones) need to be made if you’re on a shoestring budget and you’re got wanderlust eating at you from the inside out. Yeah, I’d be making really good money if I decided to quit this whole “SANspotter” thing and jump back into the corporate world again. However, I’m happier to be making a fraction of what I would be if I went back to work for the man. That’s the sacrifice I’m making.
I do recommend having a plan though. If you want to be able to afford to travel on a whim, you need a long term outlook. Maybe you move to a new job / career that involves a lot of travel? Or perhaps you’re a bit of an entrepreneur like I am and you want to monetize your passion for seeing the world? Whatever you decide, make sure it’s something that won’t put too much of a strain on you financially and emotionally for too long, because…well…being broke AND depressed ain’t no fun.
I wake up every day feeling excited about what I’m doing in life because of the plan I put in place for myself. I may be poor and unable to spend freely at Home Depot right now, but the progress I’ve made since deciding to be a full time travel blogger this time last year is highly encouraging. I’m seeing results! So much in fact, that I hope to be at my previous corporate salary level within 2-3 years.
I can certainly wait that long, especially if it means getting to travel all the time AND having a washing machine at home that is smart enough to determine how much force is going to be required to properly clean my skivvies.