I’ve been on the road for about two months now, hopscotching from couches in Chicago to air mattresses in Florida and spending some quality time with my dearest friends. Before I began this journey I wrote a blog about saving money and outlined my travel budget. I set a goal for myself of spending an average of $10 per day (not including travel expenses) and determined to pay as little as possible for accommodation.
I have some miles under my belt and I’ve done my best to stick to this budget. I’ve tried to minimize eating out with friends (though I couldn’t resist trying some Memphis style barbecue!) and eliminated more expensive forms of entertainment. I’ve even resisted the urge to buy new clothes even though all my friends seem to love taking me shopping! Chowing down at the Bar-B-Q-Shop in Memphis, Tennessee
Well. In spite of all my efforts, reality has set in. As I scribble and attempt to do math I haven’t done since I was in the 5th grade, I realize I’ve actually been spending closer to $15 per day. Obviously I’m going to have to adjust some of my expectations. But which ones?
As I write, I’m in a hostel in downtown Nashville listening to young artists jam and sing their hearts out to “Wagon Wheel.” I can’t help but smile and sing along, happy to be part of this community, inspired by their energy and enthusiasm. Still, part of me feels guilty for being here. I had the chance to stay with Couch Surfers for free, but instead chose to spend the $26 a night to stay in a dorm style room, preferring location and community to a bargain.
So I have to ask myself these questions: Is it worth traveling longer if I have to sacrifice pleasure and comfort along the way? What’s the point of traveling if I can’t do the activities I enjoy or experience the best each culture has to offer? How much am I missing out on by sticking to a strict budget? What kind of a traveler do I want to be?
Goofing off with friends in Palm Springs, Florida
Up until this point my time has been focused on reconnecting with friends I rarely see. I’ve been adjusting to a new tempo, slowing down and savoring my freedom. I’ve visited familiar places, taking some of the pressure off of doing all of the “touristy” things. That’s all going to change soon. In two weeks I’ll be in Mexico. A month later I’ll be in Paris, a destination I’ve coveted for a long time. Whether it’s riding crowded chicken buses in Mexico or eating cheese and ham sandwiches in France, I’ll have to find the balance between traveling like a pauper and a prince.
I’m not sure how I will juggle experience and cost. To be honest, I’m a bit of a control freak. There are so many things I’d like to control about this journey. I want to live every moment to the fullest, discover unique places, eat delicious food and avoid getting malaria. I want to give back by volunteering, learn from others, take the best photos and hopefully never get robbed. I want to come home with money left in my bank account. I know intrinsically that none of these things can really be manipulated, that having an open heart and open mind are more important than controlling every aspect of my journey. Sadly, my finances are one of the areas of control I hold onto the most.
I don’t know what kind of traveler I’ll become or if I even really have to choose. I’m not sure if my journey will last a year or if I’ll run out of money in six months. I do know that expectation will only ruin the experience I’m meant to have. I know that obsessing over every dollar and feeling guilty for unaccounted expenses is only going to take away from the beauty of being on the road and living in the moment. It’s time for me to let it go.
Palm Springs, Florida
Do you have a travel budget? Have you been successful in sticking to this budget? How does being on the road change your previous expectations? I’d love to hear from you!