To many, travelling the world may seem like a pipe dream. Whether it's due to a tight budget or a very busy work schedule, many people may feel like they don't have the means to accomplish their travel goals. However, one couple is altering the perceptions of the cost of traveling, while documenting how they can afford to do so and where they get the best experiences. The founder of the popular travel blog "A Girl and a Bald Traveller" gives us some tips on how he is able to travel multiple times a year while maintaining a full-time career in the notoriously expensive Singapore.
1. What made you decide to get into travelling, and how did you decide on traveling to 88 countries?
My mum influenced this traveling passion of mine since primary school, when she brought me along on her backpacking trips. Then when I was 15, in secondary 3, two classmates and I decided to go to Australia for a backpacking trip without our parents. I really enjoyed myself, and that's when I knew I wanted more.
Fast forward 10 years later when I was together with "The Girl". We were thinking of a different holiday experience, and I told her "let's travel to countries that few have ever traveled to." That became our first "exotic destination". That country was Vanuatu.
Since then, my dream has always been to travel to every single country in the world. In 2016, "The Girl" and I got married. While we have still been traveling 4 times a year, each time to different destinations, we came to a compromise to settle at 88 countries before we start having kids. We will—or at least I will—travel to every country in the world someday.
By the of end 2018, we will have been to 85 countries.
2. It's quite amazing you've already travelled to more than 80 countries. How long did it take, and how have you made this plan possible both logistically & financially?
Before we set off on our quest to travel every country in the world, we had already visited close to 30 countries, albeit the more touristed ones though. It wasn't until 2013 when we started travelling extensively, and we've been doing so for 5 years straight.
In my previous role, I had over 30 days of leave per year because I qualified for company incentive trips regularly enough. Now, I have around 24 days leave each year. I only use leave for what I consider proper trips, so that means no side trips to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur—that's the trade off.
If you add in the weekends, 5 days leave is pretty much 9 days away, and that's excluding public holidays. So I plan my leave such that I can travel every quarter. When we first started, we used to take budget trips. We could travel to Europe for everything in between S$2,500 to S$3,000. Multiply that by 4, and we spent between S$10K-12K per year on traveling. Nowadays, we pay a little more for comfort, so we're averaging S$15,000 per year on travel. Considering the number of times we travel, it's actually pretty decent. This year alone, I've visited Africa, Europe & the U.K twice and the Middle East, all under S$13,000.
3. Airfare is usually the most expensive part of planning a trip, especially when going to exotic places. Do you have any tips on making it more affordable?
One good way to save money is to fly to international hubs and get budget flights connecting to the place you want to go. For example, when we wanted to get to Azerbaijan and Georgia, we flew to Dubai first on a promotional fare available from Singapore. From Dubai, we changed to their budget carrier "Fly Dubai". That was a lot cheaper than just booking a ticket to Azerbaijan off Skyscanner or Expedia. Exotic destinations usually have poor connections from major airlines, so get your one way to a "Hub" and connect with a cheaper flight.
4. You mention several things that Singaporeans can cut out of their budget when saving for travel, including overpriced coffee, dining out and expensive shopping. If you had to choose the one that affects their ability to travel the most, what would it be? Does it differ between men and women?
I would say there is no particular expense that affects the ability to travel. Obviously, the level of income plays a part, but hey, when is money ever enough? Someone who earns S$2,000 has their reasons why S$2,000 isn't enough. But some people earn $10,000 and still find it not to be enough. It's one's mindset, not so much income or gender, that reduces the ability able to travel or save as much as one would like.
I would like a Starbucks coffee, but is a S$1.50 coffee from the coffeeshop good enough? Yeah, I would say so. When I travel to Europe for a vacation, am I there to see the country or chill in a good hotel? I don't want to sleep in the slums obviously, but how luxurious of a hotel do I really need?
5. Are there any travel expenses that you think are a waste of money?
The biggest waste of money is buying souvenirs for your colleagues (unless it's a good buddy or someone important). Tidbits unique to the country is fine, but souvenirs? Who really wants another magnet from a country they haven't visited before? It just gives people an extra headache about how to deal with the souvenirs without seeming rude.
6. Alternatively, looking back, what do you think some of the most important investments are for comfortable and safe travel?
If traveling to potentially dangerous countries, pay a little more for security and a better accommodation. Usually, I'm not a fan of paying for guides or staying in the best hotels. But when I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, I engaged a local guy to drive and show us around and stayed one of the better hotels for added security in case of any potential tricky situation. So far, it's worked for me.
7. I noticed you really appreciate travelling to exotic and less travelled destinations like Chernobyl, Vanuatu and Lesotho. What are some tips on getting out your comfort zone when travelling?
I believe is about how much you want it. How much you want to see/experience something different. And if you want it that badly enough, you break through any comfort zone you'd have set up in your mind. The 3 destinations in your question are some of the most fascinating places I've visited. If you don't mind paying a little more for convenience and comfort, a vacation there can be as hassle free and comfortable as a vacation in London.
8. If you could recommend one unique and affordable destination that has been perpetually overlooked, what would it be?
I would highly recommend Georgia, not the USA's Georgia but the former Soviet Republic, Georgia. Amazing scenery, interesting culture, great food, the best wine I've ever tasted, and ridiculously affordable. It should be as big a tourist destination as Switzerland but it isn't.
9. What is the best financial travel advice you've ever received?
The thing is, I've never received financial travel advice. But one piece of financial travel advice I could give is: don't bother changing too much into foreign currency. After you pay for whatever you need to online, store whatever cash your planning to bring in a debit card, say S$2,000, and don't carry credit cards or too much cash. This way, if you get robbed, your maximum loss is whatever is in that debit card. It could be S$2,000 if you get robbed on the first day or S$200 if you get robbed on the last day. You'll save yourself the trouble of calling up the banks to ask them to cancel the card that was stolen as well.