For today’s interview, we have Andrew, who travels as a couple with his wife. He works full-time as a medical professional and lives below his means most of the time. Every year, though, he sets aside about $20,000 to travel on his vacation days. Although he only gets three weeks of vacation days per year, he has managed to visit 46 countries so far.
His story is a great example of why working on a career and maximizing your earning potential could be the best way to go — even if you’re an avid traveler.
What do you do for a living?
I currently work as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
What compels you to travel? How much of a priority is traveling for you?
I am an only child and I grew in a family that traveled extensively. Since I was very young, traveling has been a huge part of my life.
I enjoy visiting different places and meeting different people. I feel that my travels have given me a common ground on which I can talk to just about anyone. I find it fascinating how people in other parts of the world live their lives.
Traveling is a huge priority for me. Just about any time I can get time off from work, I use to travel. Besides my love of sports, travel is my other passion in life. As soon as I get back from one trip, I am usually busy trying to plan another trip.
Tell me about your first trip without your parents. Where did you go? How much did you spend on that trip and how did you come up with the money?
From 1999 to 2005, I did very little traveling as I was in undergrad and dental school. I didn’t have the finances or time to travel.
Following the completion of dental school, my passion for travel returned in a big way, including during my oral and maxillofacial surgery residency. I traveled with a classmate to Australia and New Zealand in May of 2005. We traveled for 23 days, which is the longest trip I have ever been on, to date.
This trip to Australia and New Zealand was paid for by my parents; it was a graduation gift from dental school. The cost of the trip was probably close to $5,000.
How much do you spend on travel every year? How do you save up?
Currently, I budget about $20,000 a year for traveling, although this can change from year to year, depending on the type of trips we take. Although this amount may seem like a lot, the expense for two people (my wife and I) does add up quickly, considering we only travel about three weeks a year.
Travel is the one part of my life that I tend to splurge on. My wife and I live way below our means for 49 weeks a year, so we don’t mind pampering ourselves when we travel.
I don’t believe in debt and currently have little if any debt. Saving has always been a top priority for me and I routinely save well over 50 percent of my post-tax income. I have been a saver from a young age and this has continued into my career. I rarely go shopping for new electronics or new clothes (although my wife says I should). Credit cards are paid in full every month. Once you start saving, it really becomes habitual.
What’s your travel style? Do you tend to go with luxury travel options?
We try to stay in nice accommodations because we tend enjoy the trip more that way.
When we go to resort/beach type places, we tend to stay in higher-end and luxury accommodations, and have not regretted doing so. However, if we are sightseeing, then we tend to stay in more middle-of-the-road places as the room is not as important with this type of vacation.
Throughout the year, we tend to go on at least one beach/relaxing vacation (usually during spring break) to escape the Wisconsin winters and one or two sightseeing vacations, usually in the summer.
On vacation, we typically don’t spend a lot of money on food. We like eating out during vacations but almost never go to any high-end restaurants. We also like to stay in hotels that provide complimentary breakfast.
Why are you not interested in the quit-your-job-to-travel movement? What keeps you at home?
First, you need money to live and I believe in saving. Both are tough to do if you are just traveling all of the time. These are prime earning years and I want to make the most of it because you don’t know what the future holds financially. I went through over a decade of grueling training to become a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon and intend to use those skills for the time being.
I also believe in living a life with a purpose beyond my own desires and being an oral surgeon fulfills this. I do feel good at the end of the week after working hard and providing top quality care. Although Monday mornings are tough sometimes, that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the week is still gratifying.
Also, I come from a close knit family and would miss them if I was traveling perpetually.
In addition, I believe the excitement of visiting a new place is diminished or less interesting if you just continually traveling from one place to the next.
Finally, I like being at home for periods of time. My wife and I live in a nice house, have a great dog, and enjoy spending time with friends and family. Plus, the comforts and conveniences of being at home is something you don’t get while traveling. Being a huge sports fan, I can think of nothing better then being around for football season and going to Packer and Badger games.
You’ve traveled to many places (in 2009 alone, you went to seven countries) but you only have three weeks of vacation per year. How do you schedule your trips?
With only three weeks of vacation per year, finding time to travel is challenging.
I generally take three one-week vacations throughout the year, which allows me to always have a vacation to look forward to. For example, if we are visiting a beach or resort, we will generally spend the whole week at the resort just unwinding. If we are sightseeing, we generally will visit multiple places.
A lot of travel bloggers advocate slowing down when traveling, but this is not possible for me. I think Rick Steves once said: “travel to a place as if you will be back”, but I travel to a place as if I will never be back. With limited time, I want to see as much as possible and I tend to be very motivated when sightseeing to pack it all in. Although it’s not always relaxing to travel this way, I still enjoy it immensely.
On your trip to the Balkans, you took 4 vacation days and spent 10 days traveling. What are your tricks to maximize vacation days?
It is nice to take time off during a holiday week. Last year, I took off July 4th week and only had to take four vacation days instead of the usual five.
Also, we generally fly out of Chicago O’Hare, which is only about an hour drive from our house. I look for flights that leave after 8 p.m. on a work day, which allows us an extra day of vacation. In comparison, if you leave in late afternoon or early evening, you would have to take time off from work to make those flights work. So basically, flight times are very important to me and being close to Chicago gives us plenty of options, especially with flights to Europe or the Middle East.
Also, to me a short vacation is better then no vacation at all. My wife and I once spent Memorial Day weekend in Dubai. We left on a Wednesday night (after 8 p.m. so we didn’t have to take work off that day) and spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Dubai, then flew back on Monday. It was a long trip for just three days but worth it to us.
How do you control your expenses when you travel?
We really don’t have a budget when we travel. If you want to do something, we generally do it assuming it is not outrageously priced.
What do you splurge on? What do you skimp on?
We never fly business or first class as I believe this is outrageously priced compared to economy class. Also, I always search out the best airfares. Rarely does a week pass where I don’t look for airfares that might be available. Getting a good airfare always cuts down on cost.
If we splurge, it is generally on accommodation, which has been worth it in our minds. Occasionally, we also splurge on a private driver or a private tour guide for safety and enjoyment.
We tend to spend less on food, never buy alcoholic drinks, and rarely buy souvenirs.
Do you take advantage of frequent flyer miles or other loyalty programs?
I have frequent flyer mile accounts with American and United and have used them successfully in the past, but black-out dates and ease of use is so frustrating.
Lately, I always try to use my Capital One Venture Card, which, in my opinion, is the best card for travelers. You collect miles very easily ($1 = 2 miles; and 10,000 miles =$100). There are no black-out dates and you just submit for a reimbursement once you have booked any type of travel (airfare, hotels, etc.). This summer, I used the Capital One Card for free flights to Israel, which was very nice.
(Check out this post if you want to start collecting air miles: Travel Hacking Basics: 4 Easy Steps to Travel for Free.)
What advice do you have for people who want to travel but don’t think they can afford it?
If you want to make something happen in life, you generally can, but you need a plan.
If cost is an issue and travel is a priority, then you have to cut back somewhere, whether it be foregoing the latest iPhone or eating more meals at home. Also, if cost is an issue, travel during slower times. Go to Europe in winter rather then during the busy summer months, which tend to be more expensive.
Also, make sure you get a Capital One Venture Card. The card more then pays for itself and should be good for at least one free flight per year, which helps reduce the travel cost.
(End of interview)