People ask me this question a lot. Generally they mean, “how can you afford to travel so much?” But there is a fundamental reason why I can even begin to think about saving money to travel:
I travel because I make it a priority.
I travel because I want it badly enough. It’s that simple. Many people who don’t travel but wish they could, don’t do so because they have other priorities. Perhaps they’re working towards a career right now, or going to school, or maybe they have responsibilities they feel they can’t leave behind like pets, partners, or family.
Travel has to become more important to you than $90 boots, or $600/month rent, or your dog. Sometimes it has to become more important than your long-term career aspirations (don’t take on an unpaid internship if you’re trying to save money!) or your own expectations about the kind of work you would be willing to do for money (cleaning, babysitting, caregiving, and pet-sitting all pay relatively well).
If you want to travel, especially in a long-term way, you have to first make it a priority. Once it becomes important to you, then and only then will you really be prepared to start preparing to afford to travel.
Practically speaking, I can travel because I don’t have “anchors” that keep me in one place right now, and because I save money, both before and during my travels.
1. I try to bring in as much money as possible in as little time as possible. I worked three part-time jobs simultaneously one summer during college. I refuse to work jobs that pay less than $10/hour, and I shoot for positions paid under-the-table like babysitting or serving so I don’t lose money through taxes. Care.com, craigslist, Varsity Tutors…Waiting tables, if you’re good at it, is a very lucrative job. Having at least one day off a week, I’ve learned, is essential for the sake of my own sanity though.
2. I don’t pay for accommodation. This is absolutely key! Rent sucks up a huge chunk of any monthly paycheck. If you can eliminate it you can save hundreds, even thousands. I lived with my parents at home and will probably continue to do so until I know I won’t be needing to save money anymore (i.e. if I have a steady income and am not planning on traveling).
3. I don’t go shopping, or if I do, I buy used items like clothes, electronics, and books. Goodwill and Plato’s Closet are my go-to’s. I don’t go out for dinner or drinks very often when I’m trying to save money. I mean, everything in moderation, but I tend to get comfortable staying in and watching movies.
1. I’m frugal while I travel. I travel not because I have a lot of money but because I spend what money I do have veeeeeery slowly. I try not to pay for accommodation. Again, it’s the biggest moneysucker. Strategies I use to eliminate the cost of accommodation from my travel budget: Couchsurfing, work exchanges, networking (if you don’t have friends in a particular place, chances are your friends have friends! Ask them. You’ll be surprised how kind and generous people are if you just give them the chance to be. I’ve stayed with friends of friends or friends of family countless times while on the road, and it’s always a warm, wonderful experience.)
Another big cost while traveling is food. Shopping in the supermarket and cooking your own food is usually much cheaper than eating out. UNLESS you’re somewhere like Southeast Asia where streetfood is even cheaper than cooking for yourself.
2. I set a budget for myself. $30/day has done me well in most of the regions of the world that I’ve visited. Of course, it’s exceptionally easy to keep this budget in Thailand and exceptionally difficult in France or England. So difficult in fact that I had to up my budget to $50/day while in Western Europe even though I only paid for accommodation for three nights out of the entire five weeks! In Thailand I was staying in hostels, bungalows, and guesthouses on $30 or less a day. I ate all of my meals out at street food vendors, drank all the beer I wanted from 7-eleven, went SCUBA diving, and took all the night buses I wanted up and down the coast. In Europe, I stayed with friends, cooked many of my meals using groceries from the supermarket, wandered around cities by foot instead of paying for museums or tours or buses, and very rarely went out drinking. Regardless of where you are, budgeting is essential. I do it by writing down how much money I withdraw every time I visit the ATM (and I try to only have enough cash for one or two weeks at a time on me).
3. I work and volunteer abroad. I worked for eight months while living in Thailand as an English teacher, all the while slowly saving most of my monthly paycheck for my travels afterwards. I’ve spent time volunteering in exchange for food and accommodation in hostels in both Israel and Germany while on the road as well. Work exchanges of course don’t bring in any money, but they give you the opportunity to stretch out your funds over a longer period of time while getting to know a place a little bit better AND maybe combating a bit of the aimlessness that accompanies long-term backpacking with some daily responsibility and routine.
Well, that’s the bulk of it I think. I hope I’ve answered your Frequently Asked Question!
Yes! I would also say that some of those money-saving things you do during your travels also help you understand the culture and reality of the place you’re visiting even better. You are grocery shopping where the locals shop; walking instead of bussing or cabbing helps you see real neighborhoods; staying in one place for work or work exchanges helps you get to know real citizens, and see deeper than a casual tourist. I know; I’ve been there!
Hi AJ, yes that’s a great point. You don’t have the luxury of isolating yourself in some all-inclusive resort when you’re trying to save $$. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Nice! Thanks for the insight. I’m just about to start teaching in Thailand, and with food and accommodation already part of the package I’m hoping to save mostly everything I make so I can continue on after this!
Where did you teach in Thailand? And what were your biggest challenges throughout your 8 months?
I taught in a school in a suburb just north of Bangkok called Nonthaburi. I lived in Bangkok in Pinklao. Biggest challenges? Well teaching itself is a pretty huge one. Language barrier of course. Loneliness. And ennui.
Good luck teaching! Thailand is an incredible place – I’m jealous!!