How I Afford to Travel and Compete

It must be in the genes. My Mom is an organizer who specializes in lists. She says it is because she is going senile and won’t remember things otherwise. Regardless of her reasoning, I’ve learned a thing or two from her about planning.

Over the past few years, I have had a lot of conversations with people at competitions who seem to think I have a huge income or sugar daddy/sponsor who pays for my expenses. The truth is, occasionally (once or twice a year) someone may offer to cover my registration fee, but most of the time I pay out-of-pocket. My average monthly income is under $1,000 and I’ve learned how to get the most out of each dollar.

There are two major things that allow me to travel and compete in Jiu Jitsu competitions around the world.

  1. Budgeting at Home
  2. Budgeting Abroad

 

At Home

My car broke beyond repair about 4 years ago, and I never replaced it. I bike and walk everywhere, and occasionally take the bus.

I pay a flat monthly rate to rent a bedroom from someone. I train and work all day anyhow, so an actual apartment or house is wasted on me.

I got rid of my smart phone plan and got a free google voice account. I can text and talk while on a wi-fi network for free using the apps on my iPad and old iPhone.

I only go out to eat maybe once or twice a month. I can cook at home for just $2 a day and that adds up!

Before I make purchases, I weigh it against possible travel/competition expenses

  • $1 – a pastry in Lisbon, canned coffee from a vending machine in Tokyo, several skewers of chicken or veggies in Taipei
  • $5 – metro fares to get to and from competition venues
  • $10 – food for a day in any city
  • $10 – a night in a comfy hostel in Taipei, Lisbon, Athens, etc
  • $20 – a night in a private room in Lisbon, or a hostel in the heart of Tokyo
  • $30 – a flight from Amsterdam to Italy
  • $60 – flight from Tokyo to Taipei or Hong Kong
  • $100 – registration for a competition

 

Abroad – Flights:

When planning a trip, I start as far in advance as possible. If I have to rush at the last-minute to find airfare or lodging, there is a much lower chance of me finding a really good deal. Using Japan for example:

In 2015 one of my clients traded me the air miles for my plane ticket. It was relatively last-minute for me (6 weeks out) and the dollar amount for the ticket was a little over $1,800. I would not have been able to do that out-of-pocket myself!

For the 2016 competition in Japan, I started planning in January (for a trip in September). As soon as the dates for the competition were announced, I was watching airline tickets.

  • I keep a list of upcoming trips and do searches for tickets at least a couple of times a week in order to keep an eye on prices. This gives me an average ballpark so I can recognize a sale price.

Lo and behold, my airline of choice ended up having a fare sale in January and I got my round trip plane ticket for $1,123

I was pretty pleased with myself! However I have managed to top even that. I have completely changed the way I hunt for plane tickets since I booked that ticket. My last flight to Tokyo cost $650 round trip.

It did take weeks of sitting at a computer all day to figure out a new search system, but now I am definitely going to compete in Japan every year!

Moral of the story: Plan ahead!

 

Abroad: Lodging, Transportation, Food:

This part is pretty simple. My concern for lodging is that it is safe and easily accessed by the local transportation system. Hostels, and guesthouses are usually conveniently located and include free wi-fi and lots of other perks. I don’t see the point in paying for my own hotel room when all I need is a place to sleep and recharge for the next days adventures. Even in central Tokyo, which is considered to be one of the more expensive destinations in the world to visit, I was able to find a well located place to stay for just $15 per night. Plus I can make friends from all around the world! Who knows? Maybe we will visit each other some day! Airbnb has been my friend, but I have also started searching through my airline so that I can possibly earn extra airmiles as well.

Public transit has been top-notch in most places I have visited so far! Lisbon, the home of the European Championships, is SUPER easy to navigate by subway or bus (subway station is right outside the airport). A lot of countries offer special foreigner metro passes which are usually a good buy if you are going to be doing lots of exploring within the city.

For food, I usually will set myself a daily budget of $10 or $15. I usually buy food at grocery stores or from street vendors. Most of the time I don’t even use my whole budget so then I’ll save the balance and go out for a few special meals during the course of my trip. I’ve never felt like I was missing out on anything food wise (and I LOVE food!)

 

ETC:

Oftentimes, I will offer to work at an event when I am competing. Not only can you get paid (or free registration depending on the organization), but oftentimes you get fed or have access to snacks/water. It’s good for networking as well!

The trick is to determine what it is that I really want out of a trip (Jiu Jitsu! Food!) Once I know what is important, I can plan around that.

Don’t go for the first or easy offer. I decided that it was absolutely necessary that I visit the Studio Ghibli Museum while in Tokyo. Tickets are notoriously hard to come by for foreigners since they must be purchased a month in advance and sell out quickly. It took some digging but I found a concierge company that was selling admission tickets for $61… but I decided to dig beyond that and I found that the museum was implementing a new online sales system. Tickets for September went on sale August 9th at 8 pm and I was right there! The system crashed immediately and it took me 15 minutes to secure my ticket (they were sold out in 20 minutes). The ticket cost me 1,000 yen which is just under $10.

 

In Summary:

Competition travel planning takes practice. I have to do a ton of planning because of how small my budget is. Once I get there, I can just kick back and relax until it is time to compete.

The more I am able to save, the more adventures I can have!

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