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The Brown Girl Backpack's Guide to Travel on the Cheap: A practical guide on how to get out ther

“I wish I could travel!” “I want to go away so bad.” As a frequent traveler, I hear these quotes quite often and I specifically hear these words (or something similar) from my Black friends and acquaintances living in the over-glorified hype that is “the routine.” Nothing that follows is meant to berate or belittle my own people – however there is an observation and item of note I have to mention before I provide some news you can use.

I would like to present the definitions of the two words I hear most when discussed in conjunction with travel: wish and want.

Wish verb

1. feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.


1. a desire or hope for something to happen.



1. have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for


2. a desire for something

Words are powerful and they set the precedent for what is to manifest in your life. As verbs, both “wish” and “want” are not active they are passive. A wish implies that in all likelihood the “thing” you are wishing for cannot or probably will not happen. ‘Want’ is an extension of that and does not represent any type of action except to passively desire “something.” If you are one of my melanin-complected compatriots who “wishes” and “wants” to travel, but are not yet ready to ACT, then my friend – nothing in my practical guide will behoove you as practical or beneficial. Because wishing and hoping has never and will never yield anything, except a thought bubble of excuses as you passively hope that a ticket will land in your lap. But – if you are ready to get out into the world, I present to you the Brown Girl Backpack’s guide to getting out there.

1a. Save: $25; $50; or $75 each pay period automatically in an account you cannot access How? Change your direct deposit to withdraw your set savings amount and route it to a bank account you cannot easily access (meaning you do not have a debit card for it and the settings make it so you cannot withdraw easily). This way you don’t miss it, don’t dip into it, and deplete it (we all have those “savings” accounts, this one shouldn’t be that one!). If you do not have direct deposit, get yourself an old school tin that can’t be reopened and drop the money every pay period in there (you all can thank my Haitian momma for knowing that these tins are sold at almost any 99 cent variety store and/or Family Dollar/Dollar Tree). When you’re ready you will have to break it or saw it open.

1b. Sacrifice: Cut back 1-2 habits that leach your wallets in a measurable way

Why? If you go to Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts/buy lunch, Every. Single. Day. Chances are you’ve bought the equivalent of at least a market price round trip ticket to somewhere already. If you live in New York City, and go out every weekend you definitely have spent travel monies at the bar, club, or dinner. This isn’t an attempt to eschew your entire being though. You can still live your life. Just sacrifice 1-2 wallet leaching habits for a certain amount of time and put the cash into that account you have in 1a. Think of it as Lent for your pockets.

2. Use Uncle Sam to Cover an Experience: Use your refund check towards your trip

Why? Of all the things I have personally heard being done with folks’ refund checks and the auspices under which some folks even get these refunds, I guarantee you buying a plane ticket and/or booking part of a trip will leave you richer and whole lot less suspect. Besides, just like retail stores know when folks get their money – so do airlines and travel companies.

3. Get Your Mind Right: Plan, set goals, and have a timeframe

Why? The biggest frustration as a travel-lover and travel agent when people come to me is that people do not plan. In the travel industry prices change constantly. Literally every minute/hour/day something can go up or down. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Most people know ahead of time how many days they can take off, the busiest times at the office, and the type of place they would like to visit. Get your mind right and plan. If you know ahead of time what you want to do and have an idea for where you want to go, you can set email alerts on deal sites (because booking on a Tuesday and Wednesday does NOT always mean cheaper), you can have your money ready when you see something good, and the best prices for many places is 4 months or more before departure. Many of the places I work with accept deposits if you book 3 months ahead of travel. To the victor goes the spoils – and there’s no victory in booking things last minute. Another trick up my sleeve with travel plans is that if you get a new job offer: have your trip “already booked” so that the company cannot claim that pre-arranged travel as part of your vacation time, it’s already on the table and you have that option waiting for you to takeoff without feeling obliged to someone who really has no obligations to you anyway!

4. Stop Following People: Visit “off the beaten path” countries at off peak times

Why? Everyone travels in the summer. I however do not – at least not internationally. Summer in New York City is fabulous enough (minus the garbage juice stench: eeeuuueeeewwww) and it’s warm enough for me. The prices during the summer are also one of the highest for American travelers going to Europe. Go away in fall, spring, or winter and you will save on the biggest expense: airfare. You’ll also probably have less competition for vacation time amongst your coworkers and a better time sightseeing since there won’t be as many crowds. My experience has been that people are mostly comfortable going where they know someone has been. Off the beaten path cities are great because they are usually more affordable than their well-known counterparts: Slovenia in Europe is a great example of this and definitely on my list. Free your mind and stop waiting for validation. Trust me if it’s on the map – someone, somewhere has been there, and written about it for Google and for you. You’ll be fine and your wallet will thank you before, during, and after your experience.

5. The Secret Stash: Once booked, keep an envelope where you slip in your spending cash

How? Once you’ve gotten your savings looking healthy, a nice game plan of where you want to go and have purchased your ticket, the savings continue – but this is so that you have spending money on your trip. If you set aside a sealed envelope with a slit in it, you can “deposit” your travel money so it’s ready to go when you are!

None of these will break even the smallest of budgets (trust me I make under $35K annually) and if done diligently will get you on your way into the world. Things will come up, but if you take small steps to meet your goals, you’ll be taking off in no time!


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