Blog 6

Travel the World on a Fixed Income

By Kate Benzin

The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page. – St. Augustine

Many people can’t wait for the day they retire from their 9 to 5 jobs so that they can start traveling and seeing the exotic places they had only read about.

Then the reality of living on a fixed retirement income sets in and the plans to travel fly right out the window. Don’t let that happen.

You don’t need to be wealthy to travel. You may doubt that right now. You think that you need to be a backpacker to go to the exotic destinations you really want to visit, but there are ways to see the world even when you are on a limited, fixed income.

dreamingtravelGet ready for the good news. When you were working, travel often meant a rushed one-week or two-week trip somewhere. Were you really able to see Spain in one or two weeks? Did you have time to sit along the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and start up a conversation with a local? Were you able to leisurely walk the streets of Paris just to soak in the atmosphere?

Those short trips gave you a taste – rather like eating one potato chip and leaving the rest of the bag. I don’t know about you, but I can’t do that. And when I travel, I like to wake up in the morning without a fixed schedule and just see where the day takes me. In retirement, you have this luxury of time. Yes, you may need to make some adjustments to your travel style, but the reward will be well worth it – longer, more leisurely journeys that allow you to get to know a destination as a traveler rather than a tourist.

moneysavingSaving money in advance of your travels might be the most difficult part of your trip. Here are a few small changes that you can make in order to reduce your regular expenses. These small expenses may seem insignificant, but they can add up faster than you realize.

  • Start using up the food in your pantry and refrigerator. Of course, there are items that you’ll regularly need to buy fresh, but you could probably go longer than you realize on just the food that is present in your house.
  • How many electrical items do you leave on even when not in use – television, radio, air conditioner, lights, computer? Those all add to your electric bill. It may only be a small amount, but those small amounts add up over time. And when you turn them off, you’ll be helping the environment as well.
  • Pay off your credit cards as fast as you can. If you make only the minimum monthly payments, you’re probably wasting a lot of money on interest each month. If your credit card doesn’t give you miles, this would be the time to get one. Put all your purchases on it and you’ll have a free ticket faster than you thought – maybe not for your first flight, but surely for the next.
  • We all have our favorite brands, but you can probably save money by not paying for that name brand. Take the generic route. If you keep track of the money you save, you’ll probably be surprised at how much it adds up to.
  • Do you have monthly memberships that you rarely use – tanning salons, gyms, swimming pools? What about online memberships that charge a monthly fee? Take stock of whether you actually use these memberships. You might be able to eliminate some or all of them to add more money to your travel savings.

These few ideas have probably given you more ideas of lots of other ways that you can cut expenses so that you could travel longer or more often.

You may already have a list of destinations that you’ve been longing to visit. If not, this is the time to make that list. You may make lots of changes to that list, but it will help you focus.

Choosing where you’ll visit first without breaking the bank is next on your to-do list. It’d be a good idea to visit the places requiring physical activity first. You’ll be glad to have those memories later when dealing with the elevation and walking at Machu Picchu in Peru would be too strenuous.

If you want to visit a country that involves long flights, then combine several destinations in the area together to get the most bang for your buck on the long international flights.

high vs lowEach area of the world has a high season and a low season. Do some research online to determine the high season for the destination you want to visit. Just search ‘name of country high season.’ During the tourist or high season, prices are generally higher everywhere. Hotels, restaurants, and vendors need to make as much profit during the tourist season as possible.

Once the tourist season is over, hotel prices often drop dramatically. In addition, you have the advantage of not having to fight crowds everywhere you go. Air fares will also be cheaper in low season. Keep in mind that high season is the preferred season for a reason, and that reason often has to do with climate. So if you decide to go to Nepal when it’s cold, just plan to dress accordingly. Or if you plan to visit Indonesia during the rainy season, remember to bring an umbrella. Remember that you have the luxury of time, so if you have to stay indoors once in a while due to inclement weather, your trip won’t be ruined.

Going during shoulder season might be a good compromise for you. At both the beginning and the end of high season is a period of time called shoulder season. Prices aren’t as low as in low season and not as high as in tourist season. The weather will probably not be as good as in tourist season but better than in low season. So this could be a good compromise.

You’ll need to check whether you need visas for the countries you plan to visit. Be sure to check the requirements of all countries that you plan to visit even if no visa is necessary because there are various other regulations. Some countries require a certain number of blank pages in your passport or a certain number of months before passport expiration. Don’t get caught unawares.

Of course, you’ll buy your international ticket from your home country to your first destination and back. But if you’re going to several locations in Southeast Asia, as an example, it can be much less expensive to buy regional tickets when purchased locally in the countries you’ll be visiting. Buying regional tickets locally also means that you don’t have to lock yourself into a schedule in advance. That can be a big advantage – you can determine how long you stay in a place according to how well you like it, not according to a flight that you booked months earlier.

When looking for flights, check two or three booking sites to be sure that you get the best price on your international flight. And don’t forget checking the price at the airline itself.

The most important thing to remember is that your hotel is just a place to sleep, so clean is more important than luxury ambiance.

A site like HotelsCombined will compare hundreds of hotel booking websites at once to find the best price for you. And you can’t go wrong checking out the recommended hotels in the LonelyPlanet guidebook series which gives recommendations at both ends of the financial spectrum.

My advice is to book your first hotel before you leave home and then book additional hotels as you travel. You are likely to meet other travelers who just left your next destination and have advice about which hotel to use and which to avoid.

Many banks charge a fee when you use your atm card at a bank that is not in their network. I’m not referring to Cirrus and the other names on the back of your atm card. As an example, my Chase atm card charges me $5 each time I withdraw money overseas.

At the time of this presentation, there are two banks that I know of that do not charge a fee when you use your atm card overseas – Charles Schwab and Capital One. Banks change their policies faster than you can turn around, so please double check that this is still true before you get an account at either bank.

And there may be other atm cards that are user friendly, so don’t limit yourself to just these two.

Using your cell phone to call home can be very expensive. International phone rates have come down significantly over recent years, but there’s a better way. Skype lets you call other Skype users for free. Install the app on your smartphone or tablet, and you’re set.

A local sim card is the way to go if you will want to make local calls in the country you’re visiting and/or you’re traveling with a friend you’ll want to stay in contact with on days that you go your separate ways. As long as your cell phone is an unlocked gsm phone, you can switch out your home country sim card with a card for the country you’re in. The cards themselves are generally very inexpensive and sold at the airport or in local convenience shops. You then buy a certain number of minutes and add more whenever you run out.

Eating is likely to be one of your biggest expenses when traveling. And you’ll want to have fine dining on occasion, but it’s one of the easiest spots to cut expenses. When it’s time to eat, look for restaurants where locals eat. Or stop at a grocery store and buy the makings of a picnic.

Learn to enjoy the ambiance of a place by walking around the city you’re visiting. Of course, you’ll want to visit some of the most popular sites. After all, they became popular for good reasons. But there’s no need to race from one site to another. Remember, you have the luxury of time. Sitting with a coffee at a local outdoor café to watch the world around you is a great way to spend some time. You might even get a conversation going with someone at the next table.

Don’t get your wallet out every time you see something that catches your eye. You might be surprised that the tapestry you just couldn’t pass up looks terrible once it’s in your home.

I’ve found that the best souvenirs are photos. It’s easy to take your favorite photos and make a collage. Frame it and hang it on your wall. It will be a conversation starter when guests come over, but even better, it will bring back great memories every time you see it.

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover. – Mark Twain

Kate 8
Kate is a freelance writer who has lived on the island of Java for the past 30 years. Java became her home when she took a 3-month work assignment to train Indonesians on word processing equipment in Jakarta, and she fell in love with the adventurous lifestyle that she found there. She worked as a tour director in many countries of the world, but she now spends most of her time writing in her home/office in Yogyakarta, Central Java, which she shares with her two whippets and four Dalmatians. You can visit her at KateFreelanceWriter or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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  1. Peg
    July 28, 2016

    What a wonderful outlook! I need to travel more.

  2. Kurt Fowich
    July 29, 2016

    Great article, Kate makes some very interesting points. I have the urge to pack my suitcase, but I probably should decide where I’m going first.

  3. Rob Matczak
    August 28, 2016

    Travelling the world, giving up the nine to five and making enough money to make this your life? Sounds like a dream, and one we re betting many of you have had.

  4. AngelajoguE
    January 13, 2017

    You always do the right thing. God Bless you.
    Thank you

  5. Julielox
    January 13, 2017

    Good post! I read your blog often and you always post excellent content. I posted this article on Facebook and my followers like it. Thanks for writing this!

  6. Luisadiole
    January 15, 2017

    whoa1h this blog is great i love reading your posts. Keep up the great work! You know, a lot of people are looking around for this information, you can aid them greatly.