Last year I announced a case study program in which I would work with a cross-section of readers and help them plan and organize their trips, walking them through all the stages of travel planning and creating a roadmap to getting them on the road. And, I said in the beginning, I’d share their stories along the way to help inspire your own trip.
It’s been a few months since I last updated their progress, and, with the project winding down, I want to share one final update for each student – and how they accomplished their goals:
Jianne is a 27-year-old office worker from Manila striving to take a two-week vacation this year. Living in the Philippines, she has no access to travel hacking resources, a plethora of visa restrictions, and a weak currency.
When we started last year, Jianne was a spender. She liked to shop, eat out, and always had “something that just came up!” She was constantly spending more than she earned, so we needed to get her to only spend on her needs and reinforce the idea that any extra spending delayed her trip. I don’t believe in going into debt for travel so we needed a path toward getting her finances in order.
Since you can’t know what to cut if you don’t know where the money is going, I had Jianne track all her expenses so we could see where the low-hanging fruit was. Jianne had never tracked her expenses before and right away we saw there were a lot of little things she could trim back without changing her lifestyle too much. We cut down her eating out, taxis, shopping, and drinking, and had her create a change jar where she would put all her coins and small notes.
Shifting spending habits is a hard process. Half-way through working together, Jianne stopped tracking her expenses, went out a bit more, and overall, fell off the wagon. She was still spending more than her salary each month.
But perfection is not the goal, and she realized her mistakes.
While working together, Jianne never got to go on a trip. We were simply starting too far behind to get her on a trip during the program. However, by the end of our program, Jianne was no longer spending more than she earned and she’s been able to pay off a lot of her debt and start to develop a savings account. She is still far from taking that vacation, but the first step in taking your dream trip is starting down the monetary path toward financial freedom.
I’m super excited and pleased that she did that. No matter what, less debt and more careful spending is always something that improves your life.
Here’s what Jianne has to say, in her own words:
Matt and I started tracking expenses and identifying areas where I should cut down my expenses. It was very difficult at first, and there were times I felt disappointed at myself for not being consistent. I was a shopaholic a year ago — it’s not easy to switch it off.
After a while, Matt taught me another approach: to have a daily cap of expenses instead. This was more effective for me. If there’s something I need to spend on, I would compensate by cutting the budget on other days. It was easier if I had a separate wallet for “my money“ for the day. I didn’t feel deprived or disappointed, but more responsible and in control.
With the help of Matt, I learned that there are different ways that may work for each individual effectively. You just have to try as much as you can until you find what works for you. Now, I feel that I have achieved a huge thing and that I’m halfway done on my journey to that special trip.
Diane, a 59-year-old from Canada, has always dreamed about going to Australia and New Zealand. She and her husband live in the countryside on their fixed income pension. There’s no way for her to increase her income or take lots of advantage of the sharing economy, like Airbnb.
Her income might have been fixed, but her expenses weren’t – and, as a Canadian, she has access to rewards cards that could help her get free flights.
Diane has dreamed of traveling for years but never really thought it was within her grasp. Travel was for the rich, she thought! I set out to prove her wrong. Like Jianne, Diane had to find a way to reduce expenses so she could save most of her limited income. While she and her husband have a small retirement account, we want to avoid tapping into that as much as possible, since that has to last many years to come!
As with Jianne, we started tracking her expenses and we found lots of ways to cut her spending. She switched to a cheaper phone plan, stopped eating out, began planning her meals to avoid buying unneeded food, and stopped making unnecessary purchases from the dollar store (she was an addict). Diane went from saving $20-50 CAD a month to saving over $500 CAD! She has learned to reframe her spending and think of objects as “things that take away from my trip.”
Additionally, she got her husband to cut back on smoking – which not only added years to his life, but also money to her travel fund.
Since she is on a fixed income, she’s been able to save the same amount of money each month and now has over $6,500 CAD saved toward her trip!
The biggest thing we’ve done is to get her on the travel hacking train. She signed up for the American Express and TD Bank Aeroplan credit cards, met the low minimum spending requirements, and — combined with her old points balance — has a total of 90,000 Aeroplan points as well as 17,000 Air Miles (an account that she can use for flights, too). This will cover her entire flight to Australia and give her some extra points for any regional flights she might take. With discipline, the support of her family, and travel hacking, she’s made this long-term dream a reality, all while on a fixed income. It took time but she did it.
Now, she is going to Australia, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands with her sister in August for six weeks. She’s excited to finally visit some friends she hasn’t seen in decades because she never could afford to do it before!!!
As Diane says:
I am so excited to be so far along in my planning. I had been wanting to travel to Australia to visit friends for over ten years but never seemed able to overcome many obstacles. Some of them were that I couldn’t seem to save money for this trip, decide when to go, and I didn’t know how to utilize air miles.
Fortunately for me, Matt was able to take me step-by-step through the planning process so I was no longer overwhelmed. He showed me how to get and maximize Aeroplan miles to fully cover the price of airfare, he showed me where I could cut some costs to save up for spending money, and most important to me, he showed me how to feel good when I was no longer wasting money on mindless shopping since I now had goal I wanted to achieve. The money in my separate “travel account” brings a smile to my face at the rate it is increasing.
But one of the most important things I learned from Matt was how to deal with anxiety. I suffer from claustrophobia and anxiety, so just getting on an airplane is stressful to me. But knowing that Matt also had issues but overcame them and keeps traveling makes me realize I too could travel and enjoy it. I am so ready to go!
Sander and Jolien
This couple from Holland has always been in great shape. They never really needed my help on the financial side, though I helped them get better at tracking their expenses (which they like doing), create a separate bank account for their savings, and work up an ideal budget for their trip. Toward the end of the year, they stumbled a bit in their savings but have now canceled a few bills and really see that every euro spent now is one not spent on the road. They even recently moved back in with their parents to reduce their rent. By the time the leave for Rio next month, they will have saved close to 30,000 euros between the two of them!!!
Since they were financially in the clear (and planned to work along the way anyways), we spent the last of our time together going over their packing list, helping them get the gear they need, and going through our pre-trip checklist to make sure they didn’t forget anything. The packing list they sent to me was over 3 pages long!
After slashing their packing list, I had them put everything in their backpack so they can see how much it weighs in order to find more gear to cut, as well as show them that what we think is necessary is often not. They also did a camping dry run to see what they’ve included but won’t actually use. Most of my work with them was simply getting them used to monitoring their spending (so they keep it up on the road) and helping them with the logistics of getting ready to sell it all and travel the world!
Here’s what they say:
We are right on track moneywise. We will start our trip with €5K more than first anticipated, so we are very proud about how everything went. We really cut down our expenses now. We do not go out to dinner or we don’t see a movie in the theater anymore. We even stopped buying clothes.
In December, it was hard to keep a keen eye on our expenses. We kind of failed it due to all the festivities and parties. We spent too much but Matt’s help put us right back on track.
Our biggest challenge in the last two months before we finally start our journey is probably trying to bring along only the bare necessities. Our first packing list was way too long. Together with Matt we discussed what is helpful along the way and what is just extra weight. In the next month we will buy our last goods and we are going to walk a two-day trail to get used to our backpack, shoes, and just the kilometers.
(Sander and Jolien have a blog and you can follow their adventures on the website No Sprinkles!)
The Brandon Family
The Brandons are a middle-American couple from Indiana with two young sons who are set to take off for a year-long trip starting in June. Husband Michael is retired and wife Jennifer is a teacher (as well as the one organizing the trip).
I started working with Jennifer in November and, like everyone else, our first task was to track her expenses. Her family was in good shape but it was surprising how much the family was spending on food — not only on groceries but on eating out when they had plenty of food at home! Everyone seemed to be buying food here, there, and everywhere! We got the family on a better food budget, signed up for cheaper phone plans, and cut out their expensive cable package for streaming over the internet. Over the last 6 months, they’ve been able to double their savings to close to $25,000 USD!
I had Jennifer and her husband open a second Chase Sapphire Preferred card and a Barclays in addition to the ones they had. They now have over 60,000 points each for their trip. While they didn’t get to completely cover their flights with points (Jennifer used a lot for a different trip), they’ll still have enough points when they travel to cover smaller costs, like accommodations and train tickets. (This is especially true since Jennifer also got a Capital One Venture Card.)
Though $25,000 is not enough for a family of four for one year, with most of their flights and smaller expenses taken care of in the first few months, they plan to rent out their home, which will provide extra income each month while they move on to cheaper countries in Southeast Asia!
Here’s what Jennifer has to say:
We have been dreaming about and saving for this year-long sabbatical for nearly two years, so it is a bit surreal to actually be taking concrete steps toward making it happen. Just recently I realized that our biggest challenge has been the emotional task involved in breaking away from our normal life and community of family and friends.
Practically speaking, our greatest challenge has been saving as much money as we would like. Matt has been great to hold us accountable and to guide us through his travel hacking tips. It is supremely helpful to be able to talk through logistics with someone who has so much experience. Happily, we are making progress on the things that will bring us to our goal, such as passport updates, global SIM cards for our phones, getting our house rented, and getting started on our packing lists.
Over a year in the making, our case study project is now over. Everyone is on their way and packing for their trip. I’m really happy with how this project turned out and hope you enjoyed following along with these four stories as they progressed. I hope seeing how four very different people could make their trip come true inspires you to realize you can make YOUR dream trip come true too!