Behind the Scenes: The Heart of a Traveler

If I asked you to tell me 5 places you would love to go in this world, I imagine you could come up with your list pretty quickly. But equally as quickly, you would tell me a lot of excuses, fears, and questions you have before you would EVER consider actually going.

Travel is an incredible opportunity that will broaden your horizons, help you meet new people, and help you see the world from a different perspective. There are also a lot of misconceptions with travel, and things you travel-ancy folks need to hear before booking a flight. So here it is—behind the scenes of travel: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Buckle your seatbelts and let’s get started!

  1. Dream big

Remember that list of 5 places I just asked you to come up with? I bet one of the first things that went through your head after I asked that was a list of reasons why you can’t go. “I don’t have enough money/time/days off/courage/people to go with/energy…(the list goes on and on).” Stop right there. Before we can fully unpack travel, I want you to DREAM BIG and be FEARLESS! Don’t cross something off your list just because you don’t think it’s possible. Yes, it may not be possible. But you don’t know until you try.

I always dreamed of going to Mexico. When my cousin lived there for a season, I had an opportunity to go visit and ended up doing the WHOLE trip in $400. It’s possible. I wanted to travel to Pennsylvania to visit a good friend. I had given up on the idea until I found a $58 round trip flight. It’s possible.

So let me ask you again…where are 5 places in this world you would love to go? Pick one and use the rest of this article as a guide to your DREAM TRIP! It has happened for me, and it can happen for you too.

  1. Set a budget

IMG_6295First things first: we can dream all we want, but unless we have the money, we can’t travel. As much as I love traveling, I don’t recommend going into debt for a trip. Guess what that means? Time to whip out that pen and paper and see what you can actuallyspend. You can decide on a lump sum or break it into categories (e.g. airfare, food, lodging). Deciding that will shape the scope of your trip.

This point comes with a disclaimer. Travelling is the same as planning a wedding…you ALWAYS spend more than you budget for. Keep that in mind. Be honest about how much you think things will be.

  1. Save money, travel better

Doing the traveling is the fun part. What you often don’t see is the months of preparation and SAVING! Although I hope to share more extensively about fundraising tips and tricks in the future, here are a few things I recommend while saving for a trip.

  • Cut out the “extras.” Can you go without Starbucks for a few months? Or a handful of new outfits? What about all that money you spend going out to eat or grabbing those impulse items at Walmart? If you can discipline yourself to live on less, you will be amazed at how much you can save towards the bigger goal—travel. If it’s hard to stay motivated, ask yourself, “Would I rather buy _______ now, or be able to do _________ when I’m traveling.” Suddenly that “extra” doesn’t seem as important.
  • Set aside money. If you set aside a certain amount from your paycheck every two weeks to go in your travel fund, you’ll be able to save money without even noticing. For example, if you set aside $20 from each paycheck for a year, you’ll save around $520 towards your trip!
  • Fundraising is especially viable if you’re going on a mission trip. But even if your travel is for pleasure or studying abroad, you can always send out sponsor letters to close family and friends, sell unique items to make a profit, have a bake sale, babysit on the side, or offer to do odd jobs. Ask for trip money instead of Christmas gifts. If you’re studying abroad, apply for scholarships. All of these can make a HUGE difference in the out-of-pocket cost of traveling.
  1. Get creative when booking

I always start my flight search on Google. This may not be what the experts suggest, but here’s why I like Google Flights: they show you all the options. It will search all airlines and even give you some itineraries using multiple airlines for cheaper prices. This is a great starting point. Here are some tricks you can try when looking up airfare.

  • Book WAY in advance. Booking a flight early is the easiest, most dependable way to save money on a flight.
  • Look up the price of two one-way tickets. Depending on the location, that could be cheaper.
  • Look at the cheapest prices for each “leg” of your journey. You may find traveling with two different airlines could save you hundreds
  • If your arrival dates are flexible, look at different arrivals and departures for cheaper prices. If you simply want to go to a location and don’t care when, Google Flights can also help you find the cheapest time to travel during the whole year.
  • If you’re flying domestically, consider discount airlines. They may not include much, but they will get you there.
  • Search in “incognito” mode. When I use Google Chrome to search for flights, I always use an “incognito” browser so sites can’t track my viewing. I don’t want the airline companies to have any influence over my ticket price just because they see I’ve been searching for it often.
  • Search, search, and search some more. You never know what all is out there until you do your research.
  • Pick a good itinerary. Don’t pick the dirt-cheap option that has 34 hours of travel time and four stops. IT’S NOT WORTH IT. Trust me. Pick a trustworthy airline with decent travel times and few layovers.

Domestically, you can look for joint air fare and hotel deals if you want to save a buck. Mason and I also have IHG rewards to earn points towards FREE hotel stays. Depending on where you are, booking a cheap hotel room may not be so bad. Mason and I once booked a hotel room for $38 and it was great! But again, don’t pick the cheap option just because it’s cheap. Safety and cleanliness are more important.

I don’t have much experience booking hotels internationally, but I do highly recommend using a tour company or organization (church for mission trips), when traveling. For most of you reading this article, having the combined prices and expertise of a professional group will save you time, money, and a LOT of worry. Plus, traveling with others can be a lot of fun.

  1. Travel with friends

IMG_4399My most memorable traveling experiences have been those I shared with close friends. Those are memories I will look back on fondly for years to come. The times I traveled alone, I still had fun! I made friends. But it wasn’t the same. I can still remember being on the island of St. Croix, swimming with bioluminescent organisms that lit up the ocean under the night sky. Or on the top of a mountain in Scotland, looking and the lush green below. Both times I was in awe. Both times I looked beside me, wanting to share the moment with a friend, but only acquaintances were to be found. I call it “living in paradise without my paradise people.”If it’s at all possible, take your “paradise” people with you to travel the world.

  1. Safety first

As I’ve mentioned, traveling on a budget is important. But safety is more important! When I was stranded in London alone for a night, I found an affordable, but slightly sketchy, hotel to stay in. In hindsight, I should have just paid for a better place to stay (disclaimer: hotels in London are REALLY expensive though). Pay for safe transportation. Pay for safe lodging. There’s nothing more detrimental to a traveling experience than to go back to your room at the end of the night feeling uneasy.

Especially when you travel internationally, buy a money belt to carry your most precious possessions (passport and cash) if you’re touring a city. Even when we stayed in safe hotels, one day we came back to our stuff obviously rummaged through by the cleaning staff. Nothing was gone, but it reminded me how important it was to keep my cash hidden. A mother and daughter on our European tour group had their bags (passports, money, everything) stolen when they stopped to take a picture at the Tower of Pisa. It was early and wasn’t even crowded yet! But don’t be naïve! Research your destination before you arrive. I carried my backpack around on my front like a baby every day we toured Europe. I looked dumb. But guess what? I had nothing stolen.

  1. Things no one tells you

Traveling is a lot of FUN! But there arethings no one tells you or shares about on their picture-perfect Instagram posts. You will get lonely. You will get tired. You will get frustrated and confused. You will run out of money. You will get overwhelmed. You will feel like crap. You will get homesick. I don’t tell you this to scare or deter you, but rather to prepare you. The mountain-top experiences you see in pictures, those are REAL! But like anything in life, they don’t come without the hard moments.

  1. Lessons Learned

I have had the opportunity to see things I never thought possible—the famous European sites, the blue, blue ocean of the Caribbean, the colorful streets of Mexico, and crashing waters of Niagara Falls. Some things I’ve seen have left me breathless, others smiling with glee. There’s nothing quite like letting pictures come to life by seeing the places with your own eyes. But for me, that was only half of the joys of travel. The other half—the part that is even MORE meaningful to me—are the lessons I learned as a result of my travel.

I’ve learned that God is there, even when I was hurting, sick, lost, confused, frustrated, or alone. I’ve learned that there is no limit to God’s creativity! His glory cannot be explained or captured in human terms. I’ve learned that I am week and selfish and SO small compared to the magnitude of this earth. What I have seen is only a drop in the ocean of God’s majesty. I’ve learned that people in this world are hurting. Many of them are living without knowledge of a Savior. I’ve learned that I CAN make a difference, even if that difference is simply prayer.

What I want to say to YOU—yes, YOU—the one with aspirations of seeing the globe. The one hanging on my every word because you, too, want to experience the sites. Don’t let the desire to see the world overtake your desire to see the One who created it. God is in EVERYTHING. But it is our choice if we want to see Him or snap our picture and move on.

Go, see the world and all the beauty it beholds! But remember my words. And more importantly, remember the God who set this whole life in motion and respond with humility as you behold the majesty of it.

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