how do i travel so much?

i have a lot of trips planned for the first half of this year – and plenty more brewing in the back of my mind – and on a weekly basis i hear some version of “wow, you’re traveling a lot!” or “how are you able to travel so much?” [i am actually in new york as this post is being published]. i don’t know if the responses to these comments and questions are of interest to too many, but i thought i would share them anyway.

enjoying our heated bench. park city, utah. may 2019.
sometimes we love each other. seattle, washington. september 2019.
exploring with jane. baltimore, maryland. september 2017.

first: time off from work.

i am extremely lucky in this regard. i work for a non-profit that allows for a lot of time off and also encourages employees to have a work-life balance. this breaks down in a number of different ways:

  • i get 96 hours – the equivalent of 12 working days – of paid vacation [what europeans would call annual leave] each calendar year; any unused vacation does not roll over, so i must use it each year
  • on top of that, i accrue paid time off [pto] every month in addition to my vacation time. this can be rolled over year to year but caps at 144 hours
  • when i have to work at night or on the weekend i am able to take off those hours during the week, meaning i can schedule appointments and car services during those times and not dip into my time off
  • for each monday holiday [mlk day, memorial day, labor day, and indigenous people’s day], our office closes at noon the previous friday
  • i get one week off each august that doesn’t count against my vacation
  • we close from christmas eve through new year’s day, which usually amounts to 10-12 days off; this also does not count against my vacation

i am very good at maximizing the long weekends, like when i went to cleveland over mlk weekend this year or when i went to new york in october 2017 over indigenous peoples’ weekend; i’m able to get a 5-day trip and only use 12 of my vacation hours.

i also rationed my pto very carefully the first year of my job and only started dipping into it once i had maxed it out and couldn’t accrue any more. now i’ll use 4 hours here and there to leave early on a friday, but my general rule is to keep it above 100 hours.

and finally – and this cannot be stated enough – i am extremely lucky to not have had any major illnesses or emergencies <emphatically knocking on wood>. in just over three years i have taken off a maximum of 5 days for medical reasons and probably another 5 days for personal reasons. i know this is not the case for many people, and i am incredibly privileged to be able to say this.

love these two. sintra, portugal. march 2018.
love these two. key west, florida. december 2019.
sisterly love. brooklyn, new york. july 2016.

second: the finances.

this is the other big question i get. how do i afford it? after all, i work for a non-profit and am not exactly rolling in money. the simple answer – yet another dripping in privilege – is that travel is a top priority for me. there are lots of places in the world i want to see, so almost all the money i save goes toward trips. i have my monthly bills – mortgage, internet, mlgw, car, etc – and monthly savings contributions – 401k, roth ira, regular savings account, etc – which allow me to know how much money i am paying out each month. i’ll spend a little each month on eating out, maybe seeing a movie, tickets to a festival, etc., but most of my money is set aside for trips.

i also use credit card points to offset some of my travel charges, like last fall when i had enough points to completely erase the cost of my ryanair ticket from london to barcelona and back. that was pretty great. a lot of times i will offer to charge a flight ticket or airbnb booking on my card to get the points and have friends venmo me their share.

i have a roommate; each month jeremy pays me rent as well as half of our mlgw and internet bills. cutting those costs certainly helps me have a little extra for trips.

where possible, i visit friends who i can stay with. i am currently in new york and am splitting my time between maggie’s [free] and an airbnb shared with jeremy, kat, alex, and lauren. in london last december i stayed with ellie. if i’m in bombay i’m staying with priyanka and deboo. when maggie, katie, and i went to vienna we stayed with gugi. i love staying with friends and learning their perspectives of their cities, and the saved money allows me to stay an extra few days and explore it for myself.

and finally: never overlook the side hustle. i write around 5 posts a year for the ilovememphis blog. i dog sit a few times a year for various friends. as my schedule allows i work for a local event planner when she has larger events and needs a few extra hands on deck. as much as possible i earmark this extra money for travel.

family photo. vienna, austria. november 2018.
such tourists. siem reap, cambodia. may 2016.
my toto’s crew. bombay, india. may 2016.

third: the logistics.

i am a planner. i love planning trips months in advance and having time to finalize plans and book things. it makes the holiday feel like it lasts longer than it does, and it spreads out my expenses.

for example: our 2018 best friends trip to budapest, prague, and vienna. we decided on our destinations around may of that year for travel in november. in early july i received an email alert from scott’s cheap flights with $400 round-trip tickets from chicago to budapest for our time frame; within a few hours of receiving that email i had spoken to katie and bought our tickets. she booked our memphis-chicago tickets and paid me the difference, so all our flights were taken care of in the first half of july. that august i booked our airbnbs for budapest and prague. because we spread everything out the expenses paid out in intervals and were taken care of before the trip, and i didn’t have to worry about all of those charges hitting my credit card at once.

the other way this plays out is with planning my dates far in advance. my work schedule follows the school year, so i try to plan all of my time off at least 4-6 months in advance. when 2020 started i already had five trips in place before memorial day, and i added another not far into january. here we are at the beginning of march and i already have one trip confirmed for october and am working on another for either august or november. doing this also helps when planning our programming calendar, because i know months in advance what my availability is and what dates i have to be in town.

crazy hair, don’t care. cancún, mexico. february 2020.
bangalore reunions in delhi. delhi, india. may 2016.
favorite travel companions. san simeon, california. august 2017.

fourth: the timing.

this goes a little bit with the other points of utilizing long weekends and planning ahead, but it also ties in to traveling during shoulder- or off-season. when alex and i visited siem riep in 2016, we were there in early may. high season had come and gone and summer had set in, so not only were crowds moderately smaller [i use that term loosely] but hotels were significantly cheaper. we stayed at a 4-star hotel with amazing perks for around $75 a night; in high season that same hotel runs closer to $200. when lauren, jen, and i went to cancun last month we stayed at the westin and got our room for about $45 less than the normal nightly rate.

and it’s not just accommodation. i flew to cleveland over mlk weekend for less than $250; that same flight over memorial day is a minimum of $350; being willing to fly in january saved me at least $100.

this obviously needs to be planned carefully, as you don’t want to be in parts of southeast asia during monsoon or parts of canada in the dead of winter. but with some careful planning and thought and a little flexibility i manage to find some pretty good deals on flights, stay, etc.

this became a little more rambling than i anticipated, but i hope perhaps there was some useful information hidden in here. travel planning is one of my greatest joys, and it brings me immense happiness.

happy travels!


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