When we tell people we spent 2 months slow traveling during the summer, their reaction has been pretty consistent. It's been a mix of amazement and restraint. I say restraint because they tend to ask “How was it?”, when I feel like they really want to ask “How could you afford it?”.
Given that I blog anonymously, the individuals referenced don't have the benefit of readers of this blog. You can probably put together some of the pieces to that answer by yourselves. Lucky for you, this post will do all the work instead.
A Slow Travel experience basically boils down to two elementary components: Money & Time.
You have to strike the perfect balance between the two to achieve Slow Travel bliss.
Let’s Start with Money
As I’ve shared before, The MYF household expenses have been tracking around $60K per year on average for the past 10 years.
Over that time period, about half of our expenses were going towards paying off some type of debt. Although we managed to take some great trips during this period, we weren’t comfortable going all-in on Slow Travel while carrying any sort of debt.
Our ultimate long term goal is financial freedom, and we weren’t going to jeopardize it over short term desires
To meet our financial freedom goal, we had to cap our expenses at the $60k per year level. Although that expense level included some funds for traveling, it wasn't enough to splurge on Slow Travel experiences. This meant we had to “free up” some funds from our budget to accomplish secondary goals, such as Slow Travel.
How we got there
We've basically spent the past 5 years preparing our finances to accommodate our goal of Slow Travel without sacrificing our future non-negotiable goal of financial freedom.
Even before that preparation period, we had already destroyed our $100k Student Loan debt, and eliminated all car payments (almost). The only beast that needed to be slayed was our $340k home mortgage.
We aggressively paid off the mortgage over the past 3 years, just a few months before booking our first Slow Travel trip.
This allowed us to be 100% debt free in preparation for our trip(s). And since prior to being completely debt free, that debt accounted for 1/3 of our expenses, we were able to release close to $20k in extra funds for travel.
It took very aggressive saving, and a commitment to keep expenses low to achieve this milestone. In the end, delaying instant gratification was well worth the sacrifices along the way.
How things look now
We’re more than willing to spend at a Gold Package Lifestyle of $50,000 to simultaneously accommodate our Slow Travel dream and our ultimate goal of Financial Freedom.
Since we're now debt free, we would only need a household gross income of approximately $70k/year to live this lifestyle.
So if we go back to the original question of how we're able to afford a 2 month trip every summer, the answer is quite simple. There's nothing to afford!
Our lifestyle spending has remained static, and even dropped by $10k/year relative to our historical spend of $60k/year. We've simply optimized our finances and planned ahead over many years to allow for this extravagance. We delayed gratification and remained focused on our goals throughout the journey.
What about Time?
For some people, the question of how we can afford it with respect to money is not quite as important as how we can afford it with respect to time.
Both Mrs. Max and I work full time jobs in demanding careers. Taking 2 months off during the year goes well beyond the 2-3 week allotted vacation time we have with our employers. We had to get creative to solve this problem, while flexing our negotiating skills in the process.
The Mrs. Max Dilemma
Mrs. Max's situation was a bit simpler since we're not as dependent on her income, and her industry is more progressive. This gave us the flexibility of asking her employer for unpaid leave during those 2 months.
Luckily, she was in the process of changing jobs last year and was able to negotiate the 2 months off (unpaid) in her contract. Since her boss had plenty of notice, he was able to schedule projects around her absence.
She was also able to supplement the lost income during those 2 months with her side-gig, so really no impact monetarily. The best part for her was being able to take a 2 month sabbatical with no work stress. This meant she could focus entirely on relaxing and enjoying our travel period. It also meant she could watch little Max during the entire trip, which one of us needed to do in this arrangement.
Mr. Max was more Complicated
Unfortunately, my situation was a bit different. Taking 2 months off unpaid would impact our financial goals, and beyond that, my company is very conservative. It's unheard of for someone to take 3 weeks off back-to-back, let alone 2 months off. This meant I had to work out some type of remote working arrangement.
Since I'm in a global role, I had a strong argument for working closer to team members I have overseas. I also have a strategic leadership role. This means I'm not tethered to a specific workspace dealing with customers/peers/bosses every minute of the day.
Both aspects of my role were things I had to earn over the course of a long career at the same company. I was very deliberate in pursuing those opportunities since I had our goals in mind all along.
I could essentially do my job from anywhere as long as I had a laptop and a phone. I simply had to convince my boss that being away from my office for 2 months would have no impact on my performance.
Time to get Creative
I was given a considerable amount of added responsibility late last year which would've qualified me for a large promotion. Unfortunately my company was going through a significant market slump during that time, and was focused on restructuring. This meant they expected me to take on all the work, without the appropriate recognition. A typical corporate america response.
It would have been very easy for me to leave at that time and find a higher paying position elsewhere, with the title/promotion I desired. Instead, I chose to negotiate an arrangement with my boss where he would allow me the flexibility of working remotely during the summers.
This was a win-win because the company gets to keep a high performing leader in the organization, and I get the flexibility I was looking for. Since I was clear on my goals and prepared in advance, I was able to transform a frustrating situation into a beneficial one.
This meant I could spend 2 months working remotely, while my family spent an enriching summer full of experiences.
That engineered flexibility is how we were able to afford the time to take these trips.
I'll admit that my time during those 2 months was not easy. My job is very demanding and stressful. All the expectations that come with it had a significant impact on my ability to enjoy the experience to the extent Mrs. Max and little Max did.
Despite those challenges, I feel like the experience was well worth repeating. I will have a much greater appreciation for those trips during my financial freedom years.
I also learned to spend money (relatively) guilt free during that trip, which as most Personal Finance enthusiasts will tell you, is a hard thing to do. What helped take the edge off was knowing that I wasn't spending “extra” money above my normal budget.
I hope this post helps answer the question of affordability both from a Money & Time standpoint. It took many years of planing, strategizing and sacrifice for us to earn the privilege of being able to have such a wonderful experience this Summer. The memories we've captured will last a lifetime, and have shaped our goals for the future.
Investments come in many forms, Slow Travel has become our favorite instrument.
Readers, have you sacrificed financially to accomplish a lifestyle goal? Do you believe delayed gratification is overrated? How much control does your employer have over your time? Would you invest in Slow Travel given the opportunity? Share your thoughts and comments below!