Priority Management: An Essential Tool for Full Time Travel

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“I could never afford to travel, how do you do it?” This is usually one of the first things we hear after telling people that we travel full time. There are LOADS of blog posts floating around the internet about how to make money for full time travel. Those posts focus on making a remote monthly income. However, those posts rarely follow through with how to survive on a very small monthly income. Today I want to discuss prioritizing your life in order to make full time travel a reality. Priority management is an essential tool for a life of full time travel.

Travel blogs don't always tell the whole story...

Travel blogs are amazing. They provide first-hand destination information, they give you tips and tricks for traveling comfortably, and they often give advice on how to make money while traveling. Unfortunately, one thing that travel blogs don’t do very well is relay the financial realities of a full time travel lifestyle. They usually show the most beautiful moments, the most exciting activities, and the most delicious foods available in a given destination.

It makes sense! People who are planning a vacation don’t want to see the peanut butter sandwiches a travel blogger made in their hostel before they hiked 3 miles across town to visit a beautiful location. I get it, my blog also focuses mostly on the beautiful sights I encounter while traveling.

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This is only a problem when someone is trying to realistically prepare for a life of full time travel. I remember when Tom and I were preparing for our big leap into travel. I had a pretty skewed idea of what that life was going to look like because most of the blogs I read left out the nitty gritty realities of the lifestyle.

Full time travel realities

First I want to talk about the BIGGEST misconception I encounter about full time travel. This is the idea that when you travel full time you can just continue living your life the same way you did in a stationary home. For 90% of long term travelers that lifestyle will not be sustainable at all once they’re on the road. Why, you ask? Because for the vast majority of full time travelers money is tight.

The reality is that full time travelers have to learn to seriously prioritize where their money goes. Most people traveling full time are on a strict budget- either they’ve saved up a chunk of cash and want to make it last, or they’re earning a minimal monthly income that they have to adhere to. In either of these cases, travelers have to learn to say no to lots of things on the road.

Temptations to splurge are everywhere when you travel. There are exciting activities, historic sites, incredible foods, beautiful hotels- essentially a never-ending list of things a traveler can blow money on. Even a traveler with a massive monthly budget can easily overspend in many areas of the world (the USA being one of them).

When Tom and I first started traveling we were surprised at how quickly we were going through our money! After the first couple weeks we realized that we began our trip with a pretty unrealistic idea of how far our money would go. In the early days of our travels we basically lived just like we had in our stationary home- we ate out a lot, and if there was a paid activity that interested us we did it without a second thought.

Priority Management- Why and How

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That kind of spending was not sustainable while we traveled. Back in our stationary home we both had full time incomes, and we were often working (turns out that while you’re at work you don’t spend much money). When we started traveling we had one monthly income, and neither of us was working full time, which meant we had far more free time than ever before! More free time was one of our big goals, so that was awesome. However, we had to learn that we could no longer fill that free time the same way we used to in our non-travel life. We needed to learn to entertain ourselves without spending money!

So we decided to figure out our goals for travel, and then prioritize our spending accordingly. The biggest travel goal for us was to experience new things, and see beautiful, interesting places. Our biggest lifestyle goal was the freedom to live our lives in any way we wanted. Once we recognized our main travel and lifestyle goals it was easier to prioritize where we wanted to spend our money.

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First we changed our spending habits around food. In our stationary life we had often been so stressed and tired after a day of work that we would have no energy to cook, and we ate out frequently. In our traveling life we had continued the habit of eating out frequently- especially after long days of travel. This was the first thing we knew we needed to change.

When we sat down to figure out our new budget it occurred to us that we now had TOTAL control over the pace of our lives. We could reduce the number of long travel days we experienced by breaking our travel up into shorter distances with longer stops (for example- 3 nights in each location instead of 1 night). This reduced the stress of long, tiring travel days, and made it much easier to cook our own meals. After making this change, we ate out only occasionally, and only if there was a specific food (often a regional food) that we wanted to try. This freed up a lot more money for experiencing new things and places!

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Since our second biggest goal was the freedom to live our lives in any way we wanted, we realized that we didn't have to spend all of our time actually traveling! We could stop for a week or two in one location and spend our time doing the things we enjoyed, but never had much time for, in our stationary lives. This was a huge eye-opener for us- we were free, really free, to spend our time however we wanted. 

A major example of this was reading. Tom and I both love to read, but had basically stopped reading entirely before we traveled because we just couldn’t find time for it in our hectic lives.

Once we started traveling slower we began reading a LOT more. In fact, if one of us was into a really good book we might put off moving to the next destination until we were done with the book. We try to get our books from book exchanges and local libraries so we aren't constantly buying books.

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Another free activity that we both enjoy is going for hikes and walks. We started making a long hike or walk part of our daily routine. This allowed us to check out the plants and wildlife in new areas, and also meant that we were getting more exercise. We also began swimming every chance we got- in lakes, rivers, the ocean, whenever we camped by reasonably warm water we swam in it.

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Once we began slowing our pace of travel and managing our priorities we began to really see the benefits of a full time travel lifestyle- we were physically stronger, and emotionally healthier than we’d been in our non-travel lives!

The truth is that full time travel, like any other lifestyle, requires sacrifices. You can’t have everything in life, that’s just not how it works. But you get to make your own choices about what you want to prioritize. There are certain things that Tom and I gave up almost entirely to make this lifestyle work. Most of those things are just that- things, stuff, belongings that we really never needed in the first place.

For example, we don’t buy new clothes unless we have a specific clothing item that needs replacing because it has worn out. That rarely happens, and I think between the two of us we’ve bought maybe 5 items of clothing in two years, and those have mostly been second hand.

The same philosophy applies to our kitchenware, our tools, and pretty much all of our possessions. We don’t buy new electronics unless what we have has stopped working, and we don’t buy paid apps for our phones unless there is a direct and important use for the app (like the Allstays camping app, which is the best $9.99 we ever spent).

Where we do spend money is on experiences. For example, we spent a day exploring Meow Wolf- an insane psychedelic art installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We also visited a gray whale birthing lagoon in Baja, Mexico. We attend several large festivals over the summer months. All of these activities cost money, and because we prioritize our spending we can afford plenty of amazing experiences on our travels!

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In practice, this means we rarely have new stuff because we have prioritized experiences over things. This reduction of stuff has been very positive, because we’ve realized how little we need in order to be deeply content with our lives. But in the beginning this change was a bit of a shock, and it is definitely a sacrifice that we make in order to continue our travel lifestyle.

If you are considering a shift into a full time travel lifestyle I highly recommend that you sit down and figure out your own travel and lifestyle priorities. What do you hope to get out of your travel lifestyle? Is your goal to have big, exciting experiences? Do you want to slow your life down and relax more? Perhaps you’re a serious foodie, and experiencing high-end dining around the world is your goal? In all of these cases you will need to prioritize your travel spending in order to make your travel goals a reality- priority management is an essential tool for full time travel!

Starting your own full time travel adventure? Check out our lessons learned after one year of full time travel.

Interested in camper life? Check out 10 reasons we fell in love with camper life!

Heading to some summer festivals? Read about the time I went to Burning Man all by myself!