Dreaming Europe? Make it Happen!

Over a year and a half ago, I walked out on my job – as in left my laptop and my key pass on my manager’s desk with a letter that stated my resignation was effective immediately. I was jobless with rent to pay and only enough savings to cover my living expenses for two months. (You’re damn right I was downing shots of tequila like I could afford to the next day!) It was one of the best decisions of my life. I miraculously survived six months of unemployment without collecting unemployment benefits, without going into debt, without borrowing money from anyone, and without missing a single rent or bill payment. My savings obviously went to shit, but my freedom was worth it. Although it would still be some time before I began making happiness my life priority, leaving that job was an action in support of my belief that people can change their lives whenever they choose.

When I came down from my post-quitting high, I realized that my job wasn’t the only problem with my life. Employed or unemployed, I had no social life, no boyfriend, and no passion. Fast forward eight months to March 2013: I made a decision to change all of that. I chose to stop miserably following society’s depressing, pre-paved path of university to corporate world to death, which did not guarantee a happy future. Instead, I was going to be happy now. Thus, by early April, I was set on going for my dream – the big one, the one I’ve been fantasizing about since I was a little girl: Europe. I’ve been on two short trips to Europe since graduating university, but my life dream is to go for an extended period of time. (Right now, that precise amount of time is undetermined, but I will be there for a few months at minimum.) I thought about all of the things I should be doing by society’s standards: aggressively paying down my student debt, saving for a down payment, advancing my education despite the uselessness of my Bachelor’s degree, climbing the corporate ladder, maxing out a TFSA and an RRSP, etc, etc, etc. Then, I thought, if I’m lying on my deathbed in five years, what am I most going to regret not doing? I pitted everything I “should” do against Europe, and Europe won every time. I needed to start making it happen.

A few weeks later, I was putting my money where my mouth was. I deposited my entire tax return into a bank account designated for Europe savings, which has since been referred to as my dream fund. By the summer, one year following my departure from the life-consuming event marketing world in which I worked, I was regularly adding to that fund. I still am. I will not be one of those people who say they’ll go on a big trip to Europe only to never actually do it. And so, here I reside in the exciting making-it-happen stage. For details on how I’m doing it, below are my tips for financially backing travel/insert your dream here.

1. Start a dream fund! 

Starting a dream fund sounds a lot cooler than saving, doesn’t it? Sorry, friends, there is no way around it; you have to fund your trip, so you have to save. First, you need a vehicle in which to save. I suggest having a separate bank account for your dream dollars (and for everything else you’re budgeting and saving for), so you don’t touch them. I have a saver’s mentality, so once my money is in my dream fund, I know it’s not coming out until Europe. Because that money is going to add up over time, I save within a TFSA to take advantage of the non-taxable interest. If your saving willpower is weak, I advise putting your money into an account with strict withdrawal penalties.

Second, you need a plan. Be excited! Savings plans are fun! I love moving my money around to see how I can make it work for me. It’s empowering! Plus, financial savviness is sexy. Ladies, don’t guys that know how to talk finance and/or the housing market make you want to undo your pants a little? Be that hot guy or girl that has their financial shit together. Take a look at your monthly income and necessary expenses. The difference is what you’ve got left to play with. Decide how much of that you want to allot to spending now and how much you want to save for later. I currently save $250 for Europe per pay.

2. Be realistic. 

You’re not going to Europe tomorrow. (I know, I know, I really want to go too.) Saving for extended travel takes time, so your savings plan needs to be one that you can live with for months or years to come. (You’ll need to adjust it as your circumstances change, but what should remain the same is that you have a dream fund and you’re continuously contributing to it.) In deciding how much you’re going to regularly save, try to strike a reasonable balance between saving and spending. My financial plans of the past typically swayed too far toward saving. Many didn’t allow me any spending money at all. They were horrible. Don’t deprive yourself like that. You need to have some fun throughout the saving process. Your plan won’t be sustainable if it makes you hate your life. However, that is not to say that I condone careless spending. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know where their money goes each month, consider this your intervention: your dream isn’t going to happen if you don’t make it happen, and you can’t make it happen if you don’t get a grip on your income. Come up with a plan that works for your pre-travel lifestyle, but will also give you the opportunity to actually cross that ocean. Here is mine. (Note: It’s about to change, because I’m moving back to my parents’ house at the end of this week. #deadpride)

3. Make it automatic.

Once you’ve settled on how much you’re going to save per pay, set up automatic transfers from your chequing account to your dream fund for every pay day. The money will be out of your sight before you notice it was there. You won’t even have the chance to miss it. Biweekly automatic transfers make saving for Europe so easy. I forget that I’m doing it. My money is saving itself.

4. Love to live like you’re broke!

I currently entertain myself on $75 per two-week period, and I go out more often than most people I know. My spending budget encourages me to get creative. There are cheap or free alternatives to almost everything. If I can find a way to do something for free, I’m sure as hell not paying for it (Toronto parking, for example). Consequently, I get myself into crazy situations that become great stories, like the time I went for a drink alone with four random guys I had just met on the street (because I’m proudly fearless/arguably stupid like that #TheHappinessExperiment) while walking 20 minutes from a Jays game to my fav free downtown parking spot. If I gave myself more money to spend, that and most of my favourite memories would have never happened. Had my spending budget not been maxed out one Sunday evening at the end of last summer, I wouldn’t have gotten myself into the CNE for free and ran a half-hour walk in under 15 minutes for Fidel Gastro’s The Gorgeous Jorge (an epic twist on the peanut butter and jam sandwich), which I also got for free because of the mission I pulled to get to it. Instead, I would have paid for everything like a normal person and missed out on adventure. Clearly, being broke is fab!

5. Make sure your life is fabulous in the meantime. 

When I first decided that I needed an action plan to get to Europe, all I wanted to do was get on a plane. I hated my life, and I thought Europe would change it. Thankfully, I quickly realized that I didn’t need to change places to change my life; I needed to change myself. I made it a point to start talking to new people, making new friends, and going out again. In little time, my social life (a) existed and (b) became so active that I needed to create a social calendar. I began to love my life, causing my anxiousness to get to Europe to fade. As I became consistently happy at home, I stopped itching to leave. I was no longer in a rush, because Europe was no longer something I needed to save me. This has made the long-term money-saving process painless. I’m not counting down to some departure date, because I don’t need Europe to make me happy. I’m already happy, and my happiness is something that I make an ongoing effort to maintain. It is created by me – not by something external. Travel can be a wonderful escape, but it will never allow you to escape from yourself. It’s up to you to be who you want to be, wherever you are. Don’t let your happiness depend on the attainment of a goal. Live happily now, and let achievement be your icing. I’m getting all of the satisfaction of knowing that I’m getting closer to my dream without even noticing that I’m working for it, because saving is automatically happening in the background while I’m having the effing time of my life in the foreground.

6. Play Would You Rather . . .?!

Let’s start! Would you rather travel or purchase a booth and bottles? Would you rather travel or rock Coach? Would you rather travel or take a spin on roulette? Your answers to questions like these will help you allocate your money based on your values. My answer is travel for all of the above. I have no problem forgoing expensive nights out and pricey material things for Europe. Saving is all about tradeoffs. You have to be willing to give up some things now to live your dream later. There isn’t much that I’d prioritize over my dream. Therefore, I will continue to walk in freezing temperatures from free parking spots, order iced tap water at bars, and avoid cover charges like they’re STDs, because I’m going to Europe. I’m not a dreamer; I’m a doer. Which would you rather be?
About the Author

Maria Bellissimo was the protagonist of a sad, boring life until she turned her story into a happiness experiment. She chronicles her search for happiness on her supremely awesome and appropriately named blog, The Happiness Experiment, which she hopes will inspire others to launch their own happiness experiments. Follow her adventures on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.