It’s my single biggest regret of my college years. Not drinking too much (though I did), not dating the wrong guys (did that, too), or even wasting thousands of dollars on sorority dues. Nope, my biggest regret from those four years was passing up on my chance to study abroad.
When I chose my university, I did so – in part – on the strength of its international studies program. Whether you wanted to study art history in Rome, economics in Edinburgh, or cultural anthropology in South Africa, my school had something for everyone. In fact, just shy of 70 percent of students took part in some sort of study abroad program before graduation.
That was my plan, too… until life and, I’ll admit it, love got in the way.
I was all set to travel to St. Petersburg (as in Russia, not Florida) the fall semester of my junior year, in hopes of furthering my Russian history major. But as I was signing all the paperwork the previous spring, my boyfriend and I started having troubles. I couldn’t imagine moving 7,000 miles away for five months and coming back to an intact relationship, so I did something stupid: I gave up my dreams of traveling abroad for a guy. I cancelled my plans and decided to stay on campus the following fall to work on our relationship.
Of course, we ended up breaking up before the fall semester ever arrived, but by then it was too late. My space in the St. Petersburg program had been filled.
That decision to skip studying abroad had a huge impact on my future travels. Because of my mom’s fear of flying, we’d never traveled anywhere on vacation where we couldn’t drive to. After graduation, I settled back into my family’s travel habits, opting for beach and theme park vacations in the continental United States. Sure, we made it to Canada once or twice – as a native Ohioan, it was only a two to three hour drive – but I didn’t step foot off the North American continent until I was 28 years old, when my husband and I took an anniversary trip to the Bahamas.
I’ve been lucky enough to see snippets of just about everything our country has to offer. I’ve visited 42 of the 50 states, and been to just about every major National Park you can think of, and some you probably can’t. But I don’t want to limit myself – or my children’s – future travels out of habit.
So my husband and I have made the conscious decision to revise our financial priorities, and put our travel budget front and center.
We’re working to shed our dependence on things – a new TV, a bigger house, a better car – and focus on experiences instead. We know it’s going to be a long process, especially because our children are still so young – a trans-Atlantic flight at their ages really isn’t all that feasible – but the point is we’re plotting and planning. We’ve agreed to start budgeting for travel into our monthly budget. It will no longer be part of our discretionary spending and, like our retirement investments, will actually be a budgeting priority. My husband and I are going to start by putting $100 a month into our travel budget; it’s not a ton – and definitely won’t get us to Europe any time soon – but it’s a start. We hope that by the time our kids are old enough to appreciate it, we’ll be able to experience the sights and sounds of Europe’s capital cities and cultural meccas together for the very first time.
Reader, what are your financial priorities? What “fun” stuff do you make a point of including in your budget?