At the end of the year, I got laid off from my job.
Money was my first concern. My husband had only recently landed a new job, and we’d already significantly dented our savings that year. We have a mortgage, a car payment, and health insurance. There was never much room for luxury purchases, and what we did consider spare cash always went toward our travel budget.
I’m the kind of person who gets antsy without vacation plans — even if they exist in the distant future, and even if they’re only a short road trip away. The best advice I’ve ever received is to book my next trip immediately after returning from my most recent, during that brief period of sublime exhaustion and wonder at what I’ve just experienced. A month ago, when I got the news about my layoff as staff writer at a San Francisco media startup, I felt literally trapped in place.
But after a week of panicking and processing, I remained determined. No stranger to budget travel, I am a firm believer that modest travel plans are never a bad investment. There’s too much to learn and too many new people to meet to ever regret it.
Here’s how I plan to pull it off, while staying ahead of my finances and my sanity, in 2018.
Plan necessary travel first.
I try not to discriminate when it comes to fun trips, but the fact is, some are mandatory. My best friend’s wedding? A given. My overdue promise to visit my aunt? Very important.
The first thing I did when assessing my budget is to map out all the travel I’d committed to the following year and calculate how much I’d already paid toward it. Thankfully, I’d already booked an Airbnb and made plans to carpool. I realized I had more outings to look forward to than I initially thought, at a time when I seemed doomed to my house forever — or at least, until I found a job.
Check airline miles and use them (smartly).
The month before I got laid off, I got a warning from United that my airline miles would expire the following April. I had a built-in excuse to travel, or otherwise lose those rewards. After a quick search, I discovered that by keeping my dates flexible and flying during off-peak hours, I could use those points to book a round-trip flight, from Sacramento to Seattle, for free. And once I get to the rainy city, I have the option of crashing on at least two couches.
With my leftover miles, or those I managed to rack up on my credit card, I should have enough for one more domestic flight. I’m thinking Nashville.
Crash with friends and work from everywhere.
Couch-surfing isn’t just a ploy for saving money. Almost immediately after I was disconnected from my coworkers, staff meetings, and everyday office chatter one takes for granted, I felt really lonely. The isolation of unemployment is real.
This year, I plan to take advantage of offers to crash with friends and family, because staying social is key to lifting my spirits and getting me out of my bubble. In that way, travel is truly therapeutic and further proves my investment theory.
Secondly, I made a goal to get creative with my work environments. Although I’m not on anyone’s payroll just yet, applying for jobs is a full-time job in itself. And did I mention I started a business, too? For the latter, it’s crucial that I get to know my community, which means being proactive about coffee meetings, striking up conversations with fellow entrepreneurs, attending free seminars, and — gasp — networking. I would never have lumped networking and travel together, until I suddenly felt cooped up and broke. Now it’s more than tolerable; it’s actually enjoyable.
Rediscover local offerings — and blog about it.
Consider it a new spin on the staycation. I recently moved back to my hometown of Sacramento, California, and it’s alarming how much has changed. Either that, or I have. Ever since the Bay Area got too expensive, people have discovered all that Sacramento has to offer: an inspiring arts scene, farm-to-fork menus, heaps of outdoor activities, and much more.
I scour local magazines for free or low-cost activities, then I bring my camera and start talking to people. Being able to say you’re a writer helps, but pro tip: Many people will talk to you or pose for a photo these days if you have an Instagram presence. Just be transparent about your intentions. Consider Instagram your new “blog.” Along with photos and video, followers respond to longer, insightful, and authentic captions. Bonus if they help people learn insider tips, such as an off-menu item at a local restaurant.
Take work trips and get the tax deduction.
One of the amazing things about being self-employed is the freedom of schedule. Yes, freelance writing is a hustle but I can do it from virtually anywhere. While I can’t necessarily write that travel off on my taxes, I am discovering the perks of traveling for a small business. Recently, a friend asked to book my services (a video interview of her 96-year-old grandma) in Minneapolis. My travel there for business would be tax deductible. Additional sightseeing is not covered, but hey, it’s a trip!
Don’t be afraid to go off the grid.
Last week, I made a to-do list for myself. My tasks quickly overwhelmed me. By the time my husband got home from work, I had plans to answer emails until I fell asleep on the keyboard. He calmly suggested I head to a yoga class instead, to set aside time for myself so I didn’t burn out. (This is why I married him.)
Go to yoga I did, whereupon I felt immediately calmer. I intend to apply this philosophy to regular travel intervals in the new year. Luckily, unplugging, while a luxury few can spare, can and should be inexpensive. For me, it means camping in one of California’s stunning state parks, hiking around Lake Tahoe, dipping into natural hot springs, or joining small, bohemian travel groups — anything from music festivals to women’s biker retreats. I know, I know. It’s all very California.
I might not be stamping my passport soon, but travel is in my near future. Incidentally, I’m falling back in love with my local community in 2018.
And with any luck, I’ll be back in Paris before the tourists discover that quaint café tucked into a dusky alleyway. Until then, I’ll never tell.