How to see the world: Saving for extended travel

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There’s nothing quite like travel. It’s an opportunity to experience new sights, sounds, and tastes. To learn about different cultures and even to learn about yourself. But for most of us, travel usually happens in short bursts—one or two week breaks that we take every year to rest, relax, and recharge.

Taking an extended amount of time to travel is something we often associate with youth—something you do before you have attachments and responsibilities. A way to escape “real life” for just a little bit longer. But with some careful planning, extended travel—once you have things like a mortgage, a family, and a full-time job—can still be a possibility.

Just ask NBTA Credit Union’s Mark Gorman. Mark and his wife April sat down to talk to us about how they made their six-month travel sabbatical turn into a dream trip instead of just a day dream.

Honest Money: First things first. What made you decide to take a trip like this?

MARK GORMAN: This is one of those things you always think you’re going to have time to do later. But we had a few experiences that made us realize that maybe we wouldn’t always have the time to do it. So, we made it a priority.

APRIL GORMAN: We love to travel, and every time we would take a trip, it never seemed like long enough. Plus, I’ve been a nurse for 10 years. I love my job, but it’s very hard work. So, I thought something like this would be a really nice opportunity for a break so I could come back renewed.

HM: So, how did you start to save to make this happen?

MG: We both participated in a Deferred Salary Leave Plan* through our employers. But we also tried to save money on the side. At home, before the trip, we sold our second vehicle and we basically lived on a stricter budget for the three-year period leading up to the trip.

AG: Any time we wanted to buy something, we really just said to ourselves “think about the trip”. I also worked a few extra jobs—at a children’s camp, teaching at the local university—and banked all of that money for the trip. And of course, we had the Deferred Salary Leave Plan as well.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: A Deferred Salary Leave Plan is a type of benefit designed to help eligible employees finance a leave of absence. A DSLP is not a savings plan (like an RRSP) or a government benefit (like EI). Instead it is an employee benefit that individual employers choose to offer (much like some employers offer their employees paid vacation, pensions, etc.). In simple terms, a DLSP allows an employee to have a portion of their regular salary set aside (banked) by their employer which can then be used as income while taking an otherwise unpaid leave of absence.

HM: How did you deal with everyday expenses like your mortgage, car payment, bills, etc. while you were gone?

MG: We rented our house, so we were able to keep up that way. We also only paid the minimum amount on our mortgage when we were away. And we cancelled all our bills like internet, cable, etc.

HM: How did you budget on the road?

MG: We did have a daily accommodation and food budget. It was loose! We both love to eat, but we also both love to cook. Most of the places we stayed, we tried to pick places with kitchens so we could at least make a good breakfast, which helped us save a bit of money. Generally, if an AirBnB was a little more expensive than a hotel that didn’t have a kitchen, we’d book it just because we’d end up saving more in the long run through cutting back on meals in restaurants.

AG: (laughing) I bet you’ll get a different answer from Mark! Mark certainly had a daily budget! I didn’t. I feel like we had planned well enough that we didn’t really have to think too hard about it. We had a lot saved and a lot paid ahead of time. We pretty much did whatever we wanted. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

HM: Did you feel like you were prepared financially to go?

AG: Yeah, I feel like we stayed pretty close to our budget and I feel like we did a really good job!

HM: How many countries did you travel to?

MG: 14! Ireland, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Austria, China, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.

AG: And 18 flights.

HM: What were the highlights?

AG: We were upgraded to first class on an Emirates flight! That was something we would have never splurged for so that was a nice treat. And the food!

HM: What advice do you give to others who might be considering doing something similar?

MG: I made a list… It’s a long one:

  • Check your travel insurance and know what’s covered.
  • Know your ATM and credit card options, as well as lost and stolen card information.
  • Carry some cash and know what currency is accepted where.
  • Recognize that you can’t go 24/7 when travelling for an extended period. You need to take some time to experience it instead of just doing everything. You can always go back.
  • 28 days in a camper van is too long.
  • Unlock your phone and buy a SIM card when you arrive
  • It is possible to travel for that long with just carry-on luggage. It just requires a lot of planning.

AG: Do it. If you’re even thinking about it, do it.

HM: Would you do anything differently?

MG: I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I really feel like I came back as a new person with a renewed enthusiasm for my job and really a different, more global perspective on life.

AG: I wouldn’t spend a month in a camper van again. I’m sure Mark said that too! I think I would have taken a little more time off before we left. I only had four days off before we left and it was just a bit of a rush. I felt like we took on a lot right before we left trying to get organized.