lllustrations by Ryan Snook

Can busy, budget-conscious millennials incorporate travel into their lives? Kay Rodriguez ’15, the proprietor of Jetfarer, a website that’s packed with travel guides, tips and itineraries, says, “Yes!” A self-described “adventure addict,” Rodriguez turned an undergraduate summer travel blog into a travel career focused on helping “ambitious, travel-loving young professionals” see the world in a smart and budget-friendly way. We’re happy to share this travel pro’s advice.

A Jetfarer Is Born

After her freshman year at Rice, Rodriguez decided to sell her car and use the money to travel all summer. She went to Guatemala, the Philippines, Malaysia and Hong Kong. “That whole summer really opened my eyes to different types of travel, traveling on a budget and traveling by myself without family members,” Rodriquez said. To keep family and friends up to date, she started a blog called The Kay Days, where she posted her travel stories and photography. “By the end of the summer, I had more than 500 subscribers,” Rodriguez recounted. “I said to myself, ‘Well, these people care about what I’m writing about and like seeing my photos, so I can’t just stop.’” 

Rodriguez continued to travel and share her experiences while still a student at Rice. After graduation, she landed management consulting positions — including a stint at National Geographic — but her wanderlust could not be stifled. She grew The Kay Days’ audience to about 5,000 viewers per month but considered going in a different direction. 

“I started writing posts that I would want to read as a millennial, as a full-time employee and as somebody who loves travel but feels constrained by the amount of time and money that I had.” It was then that Jetfarer — a name she invented that combines “jetsetter” and “wayfarer” — was born. “I decided to build Jetfarer from scratch,” Rodriguez said. 

While growing Jetfarer, Rodriguez learned how to monetize the blog through travel-related display ads and affiliate marketing. Seeing that alternate source of income, she took a major risk. “I decided I would take a year off [from work] and give this Jetfarer thing a spin,” Rodriguez said. “I would use the money that I’d saved, travel around, write about my adventures and if at the end of the year I could not make this business work, I’d recruit for jobs again.” At the time of writing, Rodriguez is nearing the end of her trial year. In that time, she has visited more than a dozen countries and more than doubled Jetfarer’s audience to 50,000 viewers per month. She has been successful in supporting herself with income from the blog, supplemented by freelancing and independent consulting gigs.

To date, the 26-year-old has seen more of the world than many adults twice her age — so much so that she no longer counts how many countries she’s been to. “I lost count in 2018 at about 55 [countries],” she said.  

Travel Like a Pro

Consider the per-day cost of your destination, not just the cost of a cheap flight to get there. 
“A lot of people get sold on this idea that if you get a cheap flight, then you’re going to have a cheap vacation, but that’s definitely not the case. For example, there are cheap flights to Iceland, but Iceland is a super expensive destination. Once you get there, you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars a day. On the other hand, a flight to a place like Peru or Guatemala is a little more expensive, but places are significantly cheaper per day.” 

Be flexible with your time to save money. You’ll pay more for speed and convenience. 
“People often choose to take a taxi from the airport to their accommodations because public transportation is difficult and there’s a language barrier. For example, in Chile, depending on where you’re staying, a taxi could cost anywhere from $60 to $100  from the airport. Taking a direct bus to the bus station and connecting to the metro is easy. You don’t need to know Spanish because all you have to do is look at the names of the stops. You would pay about a tenth of [the price of a taxi] or less.”

Identify where you want to splurge and cut back elsewhere.
“I have an article on Jetfarer called ‘On Dining at a Michelin-Star Restaurant While Staying at a Hostel.’ I paid more than $100 for my meal at this Michelin-star restaurant, and I went back and stayed in the dorm room at a hostel.” 

Maximize time off by combining company holidays, weekends and
vacation days to extend your trip.

“Every Thanksgiving, I took the whole week off. I only used three vacation days, but I was able to travel for nine to 10 days.”

Don’t be afraid of traveling solo!
“If there’s any aspect of travel that’s impacted me the most, I would say it’s traveling solo. It’s really forced me to get out of my comfort zone, to be independent and resourceful, to put myself out there to make friends and meet people, and to evaluate risks and learn how to identify warning signs when they show up.”

Choose a place where you actually want to go, even if it isn’t the most popular destination with the most tourist infrastructure.
“I recently spent four months in Central Asia. For most of the time I was there, there were zero tourists. I met tons of locals and I got to learn about nomadic living, which is totally unique and different from anything else I’ve ever experienced.” 

Set up a travel savings account.
Rodriquez advises setting up two bank accounts for paychecks. Put 10% into the travel savings account and 90% into a household account — or whatever percentages work for you. “[Funds] go directly into savings for those vacations and big trips. I think if it had come from my checking account first and I had seen it there, I would have been more reluctant to put it away.”

Top Travel Regions for Young Explorers

“The most expensive places in South America are about the same price as traveling around the U.S., and the least expensive places in South America you can easily get by on less than $40–$50 per day. You also only need to learn one, maybe two languages in order to get around multiple countries. It’s great for hikers and for people who love culture, food and history. There are a lot of amazing places that people have on their bucket lists, like Machu Picchu in Peru or the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia.”

“After I graduated from Rice, I spent nearly four months in Southeast Asia. There are so many different cultures there that you can get to know. The locals are really kind when it comes to helping with directions, even if there’s a huge language barrier. There’s also great tourist infrastructure, and it’s budget-friendly. The flights between countries are cheap, and you’ll meet plenty of other travelers — whether you like it or not.”

“An up-and-coming area of Europe is the Balkans. I’ve spent significant time in Slovenia in particular. It’s an under-the-radar destination and economical — much cheaper than traveling in Western Europe and Scandinavia. Because it’s not such a hot spot for tourists quite yet, it’s a lot easier to meet locals.” 
— Kay Rodriguez ’15

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