January 19, 2015

The great appleseed travel prep plan: PT 1 - The b-word

Hi everyone to my latest column - The great Appleseed travel prep plan - where you will find handy pre-travel tips from someone who basically knows everything. I promise this won't be half as boring as the first thirty pages of every travel guide you ever bought but still haven't read. 

Who am I to give advice? Well, if you ask nicely I'll share some of my story. I grew up in the heart of Europe, my first passport was issued when I was 7 years old. After years of road trips, holidays and school excursions to foreign countries, I packed a bag at age 19, kissed my family good bye and traveled to the other side of the world. At 20 I packed up my whole life and moved to Australia and have traveled overseas every year since. I speak four languages and most of my disposable income goes towards travel in some form. I am not a trust fund baby and I work a busy full time job to earn me an average salary. But for the sake of my sanity, I manage to put myself on a plane en route to wherever the hell I want without too much hassle every year.

Today I will cover the most tedious and annoying task that comes with travel prep: Budgeting or as I like to call it "the real B-word".

We have to come to terms with the fact that travel is expensive and that you will have to save up a ton of money before you can embark on your next adventure. You're probably not Jessica Stein who has found a magical way to make people pay for her clothes and luxury travel and can call this her job. She did all that while you and I went on drunk hikes in New Zealand, called out people for taking photos of us instead of giving them our good sides and still sent hand written post cards from three towns ago to grandma. If you are indeed Jessica Stein reading this then please consider adopting me, I can become the shorter and less photogenic side kick to give your immaculate blog a relatable edge and open you up to a less attractive audience.
Here's a taste. Hiking boots and holey leggins and all.

But back to budgeting!

Let me tell you that travel is also the only thing that is really worth spending money on. It is perfectly acceptable to work all year and live conservatively and then blow a hundred and fifty dollars at a Robot cafe in Japan drunk on Sake. The point is: There is nothing in this world you could buy that gives you as much in return as travel. Travel opens you up, it lets in the different and the curious, the beautiful and tragic of another culture, it leaves you with memories and a thousand pictures in your head for the rest of your life. You remember the smells, the tastes and the temperature of places for years to come and your life will be riddled with those magnificent and random little flash backs you get when you see, hear or taste something familiar. Most of all it leaves you content and satisfied and it puts you in perspective when you realise the world doesn't evolve around your life, even your city or town. It is the greatest investment you can make in yourself.

So how will you manage to bag a plane ticket and that room key in a faraway land?

I'm going to state the obvious: Save.
Save at least 10 % of your income every pay period. No ifs, buts or whens. No "I have this bill coming in blah blah" excuses. No digging into your savings because of something stupid like a skirt. You want to travel? Well, you're gonna have to be an adult and save. But don't just save those 10 %.
Once you get to the most anticipated day of the week or month - pay day -  transfer any and all money into your savings that is leftover from your previous pay period. See some progress after a few weeks? Good you can take the next step! Add another 5 %. Then another 10. Your savings will flourish within six months.

It ain't easy..

I know, this part is hard. We're a generation of people who sat pretty their whole lives and who are used to instant gratification. We had no post-war crisis where we had to re-build houses and feed a family on seasonal produce that grew in our gardens. We had no great depression where once a week we got to split a stale cookie four ways and thought it was the most precious and delicious dessert out there. Most likely we had parents who gave us that little bit too much because they wanted us to have a better childhood than they did. And let's face it, they probably still help you out well into your late twenties and beyond. And while we can call ourselves lucky beyond compare, all this has also turned us into entitled and spoiled brats who know nothing about saving money or simply saying "enough". So let me tell you, as someone who despite having enjoyed all the above privileges, is magnificent at saving money no matter how little I earn, that it gets so much easier with time. Once you see a small amount grow into a larger chunk, your  competitive nature should kick in and you will aim for the next goal. The next fifty dollars. The next hundred. You'll put away those $ 20 more one week because it makes your $ 800 or $ 8000 whole. And you will memorize those tough moments you wanted to just spend it all on a fabulous Chloe satchel the first time you hand some of that hard earned cash over to the toothless driver of a Tuk Tuk or a Peruvian market stall owner who sells crazy hats and fried ginea pigs. And you will smile and cherish that memory and tell your grandchildren and dogs about it and feel a sense of pride and achievement. And that makes it all worth it.

Technically you can take a short cut and get a loan and that's cool with me but personally I am against accumulating debt in any form. It's expensive and quite frankly I could never spend borrowed money on anything other than real estate or a business. On top of that, by the time you have it all paid off you've probably already forgotten what you initially borrowed that expensive money for. I move on to the next thing too quickly for that kind of trouble to knock on my bank account's door for months to come. Even worse you may get tempted to take out more money for really insignificant stuff and your financial situation will spiral out of control. So save people. Cause debt is bad! But again, your life, your choices.

A whole different circumstance is being well off and having that shit handed to you. To you I say, take all the money you can and explore the world because you're not going to make those kinds of memories carrying a designer bag. Why should you burn it when it comes to you for free? But I am asking one thing of you, trust fund baby: Don't try to tell me you've earned this yourself. Because for one people who push through 8 hrs of work every day to do half the stuff you do will not appreciate your lies and also your Mom and Dad's money making skills deserve more credit than that. What do they do anyway? And can I become a business partner? Get a travel scholarship? No? Oh..ok then. I might see you around on our travels, you're easy to spot! You'll always be the drunkest person in the hostel (you stay in for "ironic" reasons) wearing the most expensive shoes, talking about how "this place sucks".

Shout out to the middle class! Trust me when I tell you that there is no better feeling than stepping off a plane somewhere and knowing you made this happen yourself. I booked into my first and possibly last five star hotel in Bali and overpriced ready-to-wear clothes and stacks of cash don't automatically put a smile on people's faces. I saw bags more expensive than the car I drive dangling on arms that were gesturing angrily in a place that was closer to paradise than anything I had ever seen. So while you may get a bit sad looking at wealthy people's expensively laid out blogs and professionally composed travel photos, remember that these experiences will never have the same value and context to them than yours will have to you.


So you have savings but you don't know where to go from here?

Well, if Leslie Knope taught me anything, it is that ACRONYMS are the best things in the world. Here's my licensed* travel prep acronym:   (*not licensed)


FAVE - my acronym is fave. SO GOOD!  (Can you hear the eye rolls of thousands of hipsters in the distance?)

Part of budgeting is choosing a destination that suits your finances of course, but I find I spend the same amount in South East Asia as I do in Europe. When I travel I get into a bit of a ridiculous drunk-like state where money doesn't matter, but even then I am a lot more tempted to spend endlessly in cheaper countries than in more expensive ones. (See: - three massages, two manicures and pedicures, two facials within 5 days in Bali) So even if flights and accommodation were a bit cheaper, the damage to my bank account is usually the same.

Your flights make up one of the most expensive items on your list, so a well meant tip on the side is to not move to Australia where any and all air travel, including a 50 minute domestic fart of a flight will set you back several hundred dollars. You can still find a bargain if you're flexible. I am not flexible. So there's that.

My preferred sites for comparing flights are travel.com.au, webjet.com.au and skyscanner.com.au . If you are part of an airline program and have a few miles racked up, call the service hotline and see if you can get a better deal there. Call centre prices and website prices aren't always the same and if you're a premium member somewhere you would be surprised how much you can save.

Ok, your tickets are in the bag - now it's onto accommodation.
I love booking.com, not just because of their amazingly weird ads. If you're taking a domestic trip, you won't have to pay for your accommodation until you get there, which is good if you're still struggling with saving your dollars. But no matter where you are staying, they simply have the best selection of all types of accommodation, from luxury to self-maintained to Teepees in the wild, and in all price ranges. Plus if you have booked a few times with them, you become a member and get a 10 % discount. Don't mind if I do.
Now a well meant tip on the side: if you're traveling for the sake of seeing a country, your location is everything, your accommodation is secondary, so don't worry too much about how fancy it is. If it's central, close to public transport and clean, it's good for you. The amount of times I have stayed in nice hotels and didn't even see the pool area or steam rooms or gyms outweighs the times I have actually used any of these. It's not important, the world's waiting for you outside of your hotel walls!

Variables are the hardest thing to calculate, hence the name. This is the part where a lot of novice travelers get discouraged and sometimes bored, because you can't get around researching some of the less fun stuff. Speak: transportation costs, entrance fees, travel insurance, luggage storage, visa and customs fees. You'll also be paying rent back home so that's another painfully sobering thing to consider.
I have always used this rule of thumb for shorter stays: I add the cost of my flights and accommodation and then take that amount as a guide for my variables.
Here's an example: For our trip to Japan this year we paid $ 950 each for flights and are looking at $ 1000 each for accommodation for 13 nights. Let's round that amount to $ 2000.
For our variables we are looking at a $ 500 rail pass to get us around, $ 100 for travel insurance, $ 400 rent - that leaves us with $ 1000 for entrance fees, food and some spending.

Because I am a crazy Ghibli fan, Instax user and clothes lover, I will designate double that amount for our Japan trip. But at least I have the piece of mind of knowing all the variables are covered with that certain amount. And in case something goes horribly wrong you always have...

Emergency funds!
Ok, I get it - if budgeting is a country song, emergency funds are the equivalent of a 20 minute banjo solo. All of these things stink and are boring, but unlike Banjos, emergency funds will get you out of trouble. Huge roaming phone bill? It's cool, you had that extra $ 500 in the bank for unwanted surprises. Catch a nasty cold on the plane but you're only working a casual job and can't afford to take time off? Wait now, it's cool, you have two weeks' worth of rent saved up as a back up. See what's going on here? As an adult the responsible thing to do is having emergency funds. As a child you're allowed to use your parents as an emergency fund. But let me tell you from experience that there are only very few things more humiliating than begging your parents for money on Skype. Especially hungover. On Christmas Day. While in New Zealand. With a bunch of stoned people dancing in the background of the screen. (Did I mention my parents are the best people to have ever walked this planet?)

So now that we got this out of the way, we can tackle all the fun bits! Next week's column is all about planning and culling to get the most out of your trip. I'll see you there, fellow Wanderlust guzzlers.

*Put up your dukes, let's get down to it....*
Photos: Venice 2011, New Zealand 2010, Prague 2011, Bali 2014, Australia 2009
The ones I am in have not been taken by me. The other ones have.