Travel: Giving Our Children the World

While walking in downtown Chattanooga the other day, we ran into some good friends who began joking about us actually being in the country.

They are avid travelers as well, so it was all good natured, and we shared laughs. But then they asked, in all earnestness, “Seriously, how do you guys afford to travel so much?”

It’s a question we are asked often, and the frequency is increasing as we begin planning and talking about our trip around the world. While the answer is pretty simple, it’s not something that is easily explained in a casual conversation on the street.

First of all, we are not wealthy. We still have our day jobs that pay the bills, and we work hard to save for retirement.

Just like everybody else. 

I think the difference comes in the little choices we make.

We love to cook and do so as often as we can. We’re not shoppers; in fact, Angela has been on a mission to whittle down our possessions to the essentials for a while now. And we squirrel money away every chance we get.

As the quote goes: You can afford anything, just not everything. And we have chosen to afford travel, at the expense of every other nonessential thing.

That choice is perhaps most notable during the holidays. Early January is typically the season of the credit card hangover, where expensive gifts for family and friends translate into revolving credit fees that don’t get paid off until next November when it’s time to start the cycle all over again.

Angela and I got off that merry-go-round in 2011 when we decided to give the boys (and each other) gifts of experiences instead of material goods that turn into clutter all too soon.

It was the Christmas before our big cross-country road trip, and, although we were saving feverishly to afford it, the adventure was still a secret to the boys. Zack and Ben were 14 and 10 years old, respectively. Not necessarily an easy age to convince them that they didn’t need toys or video games.

By the same token, we didn’t want to rob them of the joy involved in actually opening presents. So we resolved to spend no more than $20 on each of them and wrapped small, simple items that would represent different stops along the way, turning the whole process into a guessing game.

While the presents they opened were just trinkets, each reveal was bigger than anything that could fit into a box: Arches National ParkLas Vegas. The Grand Canyon. California!

When the Christmas ritual was concluded, the conversation continued. Instead of the boys rushing off to their rooms to plug into video games and disconnect from us and each other, they grew more engaged, asking questions, pulling up maps, and making plans.

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Giving the gift of experience had done what no other present could. For the next five months, the trip often dominated our conversation during dinner. The boys began saving their own money in anticipation. And, as a family, we ironed out details and prepared for the journey. The trip itself provided us with ample opportunity to compare our reality to our expectations. And, at its conclusion, we had grown as individuals and as a whole.

We have taken other amazing trips with the boys: Key Largo, Greece, Turkey, India, Iceland, the Bahamas. We’ve even replaced birthday gifts with an annual guys’ dive trip. And, in so doing, we have given our children the world.

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So, when we are asked how we can afford to travel, the most honest answer is: How can we afford not to?

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