How to Afford to Travel

“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions.” ― Dallin H. Oaks

I love reading travel essays, but before we started traveling I was disappointed when the essays never explained how one affords to travel. I received a comment on my blog the other day asking me how we afford to travel six months of the year and live abroad.

I never gave that question much thought after we started traveling because we just did it, but it is a great question and one that I think deserves a thoughtful answer.

Let me break down the quote above because it explains our process perfectly.


Arthur’s Pass in the New Zealand Southern Alps.


Desires dictate our priorities.

What do you desire the most? For us, it is travel and being immersed in different cultures. When we were newlyweds, we worked for a couple of years, saved our money, then traveled for a year.

We started traveling through the United States in an old camper van that had a leak in the gas line, which we plugged with chewing gum. Gas was 75 cents a gallon and in Texas we got a free beer with a fill up. When the windshield wipers stopped working, we tied strings to them and moved them by pulling on the strings.


The Great Walk in Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand.

We camped in the National Forests free. When our van broke down in California, we shipped our belongings back to my parent’s house, sold the van, and put our dog in a kennel in California. Then we went to the airport and chose a flight to Hawaii. We walked around the Big Island of Hawaii for a month, camped in free places, and met wonderful local people.

What do you crave or wish to happen? Once you know your desires, then it will be easier to make your desires your priorities.


The Glowworm cave in Waitomo, New Zealand.

Priorities shape our choices.

When we understood our desires, we prioritized our lives, which shaped our choices.
Although, when you have children, everything changes. When Cory was born, we reestablished our priorities. Travel was important to us, but we had more responsibilities to our little family.

We continued to travel, but not as much or as far away.  We love to camp and it was easy to find beautiful places near our home to camp, fish, and enjoy nature. As Cory grew, we took longer trips and when he was 14 years old, we took him abroad for the first time.

We rented a car, camped all over Europe, and even helped friends move into a German Castle on the Rhine River. We were teachers and we both had the summers off, so travel was affordable and we had more time to travel.


A New Zealand sparrow

Travel is important and a priority for us. We had to make difficult choices…new car or travel…new furniture or travel…new house or old fixer-upper or build your own or live in an old 1952 school bus.  You get the idea. We never bought new cars and the only new furniture we bought was a huge overstuffed couch that was quickly eaten by our labrador puppy. We built our own Timber Framed house in the Ozark Mountains. We lived in a converted old school bus generating our own electricity. We built an outhouse and walked to our spring for water.

We lived within our means, paid our one credit card off every month, shopped at second-hand stores for clothes and toys, and bought all of our furniture from auctions and refurbished it. And we loved it! We never felt denied. We never argued about money! Our priorities were well established.


On the TransAlpine train across the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

When we couldn’t afford to travel or didn’t have the time,  we hosted foreign exchange students in our home. We learned about their cultures, their customs, and their lives abroad. Then, when we could travel, we visited our foreign exchange families abroad. We were welcomed with open arms and felt like we were a part of a large extended family throughout the world.

Our passion for travel never faded. We knew the choices we had to make in the best interest of our family and we lived vicariously through our foreign visitors when travel was not possible.


A bridge to the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand.

Choices determine our actions.

I still get upset when I read travel essays that say, “Just do it.” I read an article today that said, “Being Broke is the Best Time to Start Traveling”. I disagree!  It all starts with our priorities, that determine our choices, that lead to our actions.

If travel is your priority, then the choices you make will lead you to take action to pursue your passion. It isn’t easy! Travel is expensive. Travel means making difficult choices financially. Travel means researching, planning, and organizing. Travel means living simply and learning how to fix, repair, and make the things you need instead of a trip to Wal-Mart or Home Depot.


The Craters of the Moon hot springs in Taupo, New Zealand.

What kind of action can you take to pursue your desire for travel?


“Where does this path lead?” we wonder.

Of course, you don’t have to be rich to travel! We live on a fixed income and made the choice to move to Nicaragua so that we could live simply and cheaply, build a comfortable and cozy home-base, and still be able to pursue our passions. We are not trust fund babies or millionaires.

Our lives have changed very little in moving abroad. We established our priorities many years ago. In fact, we often compare our lives in the Ozark Mountains to living in a developing country…simple, resourceful, and creative.


The Cultural Center Building in Auckland, New Zealand from a different perspective.

“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.” ― Roman Payne

All of our paths are unique. We approach them from what we desire the most in life. Travel has given us new eyes and different colors.


Lake Taupo, New Zealand

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ― Lao Tzu

The trick is in recognizing your passions and your desires first. Then, everything will fall into place…your choices…your actions…your lives.

And it is always wonderful to return home again!

homeHow do you afford to travel? 

20 thoughts on “How to Afford to Travel

  1. that Salvador Dali-esque photo is great, as are all of the photos, quotes and your story. Thank you for sharing those stories, all which made me smile.

    On that road less traveled, I have found that ‘too firm’ of a plan can often backfire. I try to keep my life as spatial and free as possible, so that I can veer left or veer right or soar over a fallen tree without being frustrated.. Having no domesticated pets also eliminates having to get someone to watch over an animal I had committed to care for…I am free to ‘up and go’ and I am lucky that I can paint/do studies anywhere! Watercolors pack easily and take little space.

    I think it’s also important that one first has that life that owns them – in order to cherish a life that they own. we’ve earned that carrot on the stick – or that cold cervesa at sunset!

    • I hear you loud and clear, Lisa, about not cementing plans because there are always unexpected things that happen. Living in a “manana” world has taught me some valuable lessons.
      I don’t consider you lucky. Instead I think that you have made the choices so you can easily pursue your passions. Have paint brush will travel. And what a marvelous life you have chosen.
      I like the way you think. Have the life that owns you first, so that you can truly appreciate the life you own. Much to think about mi amiga. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Exactly, Deborah! I think my big epiphany came when I looked around our “dream” house in 2011 and realized that my dream had changed. The cost to maintain our old lifestyle was too high in many more ways than just financial. I think a lot of people don’t realize that their needs and priorities change throughout their lives and that goals from 1, 5 or 10 years ago may be completely different from the goals one would set today. I had a huge smile on my face reading this post and your are so right when you say it’s all about deciding what your priorities are and then figuring out how to make then happen. For us, living with (much) less and making travel our priority has meant a far richer life. And your gorgeous photos have me thinking we need to move New Zealand way up on our “Must See” list. Anita

    • Anita, great food for thought. Yes, our priorities change, and sometimes as a result of those changes, I personally have had to make friends with those changes and go with the flow. For example, when I dislocated my knee, I was so frustrated and worried that I would have to cancel our trip. Then Ron had shingles 3 weeks before we were to leave. We were both a mess, but added stress didn’t help us heal, so we had to accept the possibility that maybe we couldn’t make the trip. Once we changed our attitude, the stress disappeared and our healing began. It wasn’t the end of the world if we had to readjust our priorities to taking care of ourselves. We bought travel insurance for that very reason and could cancel without penalty.
      So, a large part of our passion for travel is to make choices that are flexible and to plan for the unexpected…because we all know it happens.
      As for your bucket list, you definitely have to move New Zealand up on that list. It was an incredible trip.

      • Great post Debbie!! You are right on and attitude does make a huge difference. We are on our way to Ometepe in January and I broke two ribs a couple weeks ago. Your comments are inspiring and I was feeling Oh poor me… I won’t be able to lug the big pack of supplies I had planned for the school but we’ll bring what we can. Look forward to seeing you and some sun.
        Best regards Verne and Mary Rainey in Seattle

  3. I’m moving a block and a half south of where I am now. Feels like another adventure given that Jinotega neighborhoods are the cuadra. I’m also deciding to send stock photos to an agency and see if I can make something more to pay for more travel regionally.

  4. You guys are living it! Very well written! It reminds us of this quote that we live by:

    “For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.”

    ― Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

    Good for you guys!
    John and Susan

  5. Great post Debbie!

    My wife and I, after traveling the world for the past two years (plus the years of planning prior to that), have found out how much truth there is in your insights above.

    For us, it has been more a journey of faith, than one of exploration. But they are not mutually exclusive! Our guiding Proverb as been Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: but Yahweh directeth his steps. -Restored Names KJV

    A faith filled life does not mean it has to be void of adventure, or life! We are promised a “life more full!”.

    And a life without debt, is the only life worth living! Credit cards, mortgages, car payments, an endless lituny of insurance payments, and that covetous nature that is rampant everywhere on this planet has made everyone a slave to their own life. Until a person takes control, and puts the effort forth to change that, they are only falling deeper into the pit, and embracing their chains of debt.

    In all things we must bear in mind what our purpose, and goal, in life is. Once we find what drives us, and we focus on nothing but that, there is nothing that can stand between us and our goal.

    We too, sold houses, cars, clothing, furniture, found homes for our pets, and left our careers behind to follow our purpose. And for us, it has been such an eye opening, horizon expanding experience, that I could not imagine ever going back to the life I led before! The freedom we felt when we signed the last paper, handed over the last car key, donated what didn’t sell…. Is beyond words.

    For those reading, and still wondering, “How do you do it?” You need to re-read Debbie’s post above. It is a lifetime commitment, and a passionate drive, that has brought her to where she is. And having a partner who is like-minded is a HUGE, immeasurable asset too!


    • Well written! Thank you for your insightful thoughts. The key is to make a lifetime commitment to pursue your passions. Those who say, “Oh, you are so lucky to be able to afford to travel or live abroad,” haven’t gone through the process, yet. Luck has nothing to do with it.
      I am so glad that someone made a comment on my blog about how we afford to travel because it led me to think about the process that we went through. We continue to make our decisions and carry through with our actions because we know what our desires are. The process of understanding your desires, making choices, then following through with action is a lifetime process. It can be applied to all aspects of life, not only travel.
      Thanks again for your thoughts.

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