I grew up with stories of my parents’ travels all around me. There was the vase from Sri Lanka, and the batik painting framed in the living room. I had to tip-toe around a case of glass ornaments from England, and a silver wrought-iron model of a house from some other exotic countries. Growing up with whispers of stories from lands beyond my reach, and pictures of exotic clothing, extravagant yachts (and even one of a large tortoise carrying my older brother!) made me yearn to see the world for myself, preferably with the comfort of a nice hotel room, but not contingent on that particular luxury. I was willing to rough it.
And so I began to save – scrupulously, and what seemed like endlessly, I pinched pennies off my small luxuries; who needed to watch a movie every weekend anyway? I took small, on-again, off-again neighborhood jobs like mowing lawns, washing cars, walking dogs – anything to get a few extra bucks for my Travel the World fund. My parents were quietly supportive – never discouraging me, but viewing the entire thing as “our daughter’s silly scheme”. So when high school graduation came around, I was determined to prove just how seriously I wanted to travel.
I had to, of course, choose the most affordable way to travel – no Ritz Carltons or Hiltons for me, thank you. It all started with the luggage. I packed light – essentials and comfy jeans only – anything I could carry in a small bag. Then came the most important part – the getting there. When my parents realized that this was going to happen one way or another, they stepped in to help with the planning. I could fly to France, and then take trains like the Eurorail to see nearby European countries. That was probably the best way to maximize my wanderlust to wallet constraint ratio. Speaking of my wallet…
I had enough money to buy a ticket, but then was left with a dubiously small amount to carry me through the summer. Dad offered to pitch in by sharing some of his frequent flyer miles with me. He had around 75,000, which wasn’t enough to get me to England, but was enough to save me a considerable amount if I bought the remainder of the miles instead of purchasing a ticket outright. I went online and looked up the different websites offering airline miles for sale. Some, like The Mileage Club, Award Traveler, etc. had deals that seemed ideal for my situation, and bloggers like the Points Guy offer tips.
With the money that I saved by not buying a ticket, I resolved to be the quintessential European tourist, buying T-shirts and mugs for the family, taking photos of the breathtaking views and always, always learning something new from every culture I got to explore. Some things I did to prepare that might help the first-time traveler: buy a map beforehand – a nice one, in English – preferably one of those books that has all the places you plan to visit in it for convenience. Mark each of those places clearly, and if you can, start to define how you’ll get there – this may seem vague and tricky, but will save you a lot of time once you actually get there. Set yourself reminders of important things you want to experience, on your phone or on a memo pad. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill and confusion of being there, and you may forget something and regret it later.
So that’s the story of my first trip, and how I got around to making it happen. Just goes to show you don’t have to be wealthy, or even “lucky” to get to go on such a trip. You’ve just to set your mind to your goal. Happy traveling!