Budget or Bougie?

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then, take half your clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’m going to finance my potential year-long trip. In my planning, I’ve started to think through why I’m going, what my priorities will be, and how I’ll plan to pay for my days. Thus far in life, I’ve had the opportunity to do my vagabonding with a hybrid bougie-budget travel style. I choose to stay in hostels and find discounts wherever I can, but splurge on the activity (taking a helicopter over the Nazca Lines in Peru) or the meal (La Cabrera, my favorite steak in the world). I enjoy going out, but will go camping anytime I have the chance. However, this will be the first long-term trip where I’m constantly moving, albeit slowly. Though I spent a year abroad in Buenos Aires, I traveled on the weekends and had a very steady home base. I saved up a ton before I left, lived in a homestay, and was lucky to have support from my family, so budgeting wasn’t as much of an issue as it will be for this trip.


It’s difficult to define a traveler’s wanderlust. How do you describe that urge to see the world, experience new cultures and meet hundreds of like- and not-like-minded people? How do you explain why you want to uproot your life in a wonderful city, close to your boyfriend, friends and family, to wander somewhat aimlessly around the globe? I don’t feel lost, I’m not looking for something, and I’m definitely not unhappy with any part of my life. So why still do I have this need to go?In my line of work, I have had the privilege of exploring my identity. I’ve spent days diving into my background and my experiences and how those two elements have shaped who I am, the choices I make and how I operate day-to-day. While I’ve slowly been able to uncover my personal values that all relate to my traveler’s itch, I can’t say that they’ve really helped me articulate why I want to go.  If anything, my value of freedom makes me want to say, “I don’t need to validate why I want to travel!”.Some of me wants to feel the freedom that traveling allows each moment that you’re on the road. Another feels that at twenty-five, I’m afraid I’ll never have the chance to do something like this again (with ease). I just want to go – I’m craving to go – isn’t that enough?


While I might have difficulty defining the why for my next adventure, I do know that I have some focused priorities for this trip. This will be different than any other trip I’ve ever taken in that:

  • I will be traveling mostly as a solo female wanderer
  • This will be a long-term trip with no organized basis
  • I will have no home base

Priority #1: Slow Travel Through 3 Major Regions

I want to explore three regions: The Mediterranean, South/Southeast Asia and Central/South America. I’ve picked these regions for a few reasons, but mostly because they’re generally cheap, beautiful and have fantastic food.

I’ll be kicking off my world tour with a Birthright trip. For those of you who don’t know a Jew (seriously, you don’t know a Jew?), Birthright is a free 10-day trip to Israel for anyone who is 26 or younger and has at least one grandparent who is Jewish. I went on a five-week summer trip to Israel with one of my closest friends when I was 15 years old, which, unfortunately disqualified me from ever being able to participate in a Birthright trip. About a month ago, the eligibility rules changed and now L and I (given we make it on a trip) will be doing Birthright this June. Get excited for our THEN and NOW post after the trip!

After Birthright, my boyfriend will plan to meet me in Israel and we’ll hit surrounding countries. I’m thinking Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece, before we head back to the states for a wedding.  After the wedding, I’ll be off to South and Southeast Asia and then Central and South America with a few scattered trips back to the states in between.

Priority #2: Travel Cheaply, Live Well

While the reasons why it has to be a budget trip are simple – I don’t have a lot of money – the notion of being a budget traveler is also somewhat romantic to me. I like the idea of having to stay with strangers, eat local fair, and take a bus across a country. More exposure to true local culture illuminates an authenticity that as a traveler, especially in well-toured regions of the world, can be hard to come by. I look forward to the gritty.

While budgeting will be crucial, I love a great meal at a fabulous restaurant. Extra expense. I truly enjoy a roof-top cocktail overlooking a perfect skyline. Extra expense. I want to go [insert really any adventure activity here]. Extra expense. And, as I’ve mentioned, returning to Chicago a few times throughout the year is a must.  Large extra expense.

Priority #3: Return Home A Few Times

I’m planning to come back a few times throughout the year, because, as you now know, I am incredibly close to my friends and family. I have two cousins getting married, a best friend who *might* be getting married (don’t kill me), a loving boyfriend and wonderful family who I just don’t want to go an entire year without. It is a travel priority for me to make sure I do not miss these major events or my people for too long.


For years I’ve been dreaming about endless days on beaches, practicing my amateur photography skills on gorgeous temples and reflecting on history and life while exploring ancient ruins. I also think about the extraordinary local food culture and nightlife that exists in each of my destinations. I imagine the festivals, the markets and the many dance floors that will catch me either on a good night (think Miley) or a bad night (think Kevin Smith from Hitch).To be clear, this will definitely be a budget trip, both because I want it to be and because I need it to be. I work for a non-profit and don’t make a ton of money, but I’ve been saving up for the past few months once I thought that this slight possibility could potentially become a reality. I don’t eat out nearly as much (I try to stick to once a week and BYOB restaurants on Saturdays). I cook all meals Monday through Friday, and head back to the ‘burbs for free meals on Sundays.I stopped getting manicures, going shopping, and buying coffees. I look for discounts and coupons for everything and I use the framework of “how far would this get me in Thailand” as my guide for my spending decisions. I also am working to build credit and will hopefully be able to open a miles credit card to assist with the flights. Once this trip is official, I’ll outline how much I’ve saved and my actual spending plan for the year.I’m also thinking through ways to make money and save money while traveling. I may couchsurf, I may work for room and board, and I’m definitely going to try and freelance or stay connected part-time and remote to my current organization to earn some cash. This general planning will happen once a decision is made and I have a better idea of what I’m going to need.

Why do you travel? How do you like to travel (budget, bougie or both)?
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I'm Emily - a twenty-something female travel-enthusiast - here to serve and inspire you. Need help planning your next trip? Email me at emily [at] letsroamwild [dot] com and tag your own travel pics to share with the world @letsroamwild.

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