Want to travel the world for a while? Or just take an epic vacation? You don’t need to be rich, but you’ll need to get creative about saving money for travel. Here’s how I did it.
There’s a popular myth floating around that travel is an expensive hobby. Certainly people who travel a lot must have rich parents, lucrative lottery winnings, or work high paying jobs… right?
Normal people can’t afford to travel. It’s far too expensive for the rest of us…
Don’t worry, I understand where you’re coming from. I used to think that way too. As an American who didn’t even know what a hostel or GAP year was, I thought international travel was only for the rich and privileged.
But after traveling the world extensively for the past 6 years, I’m here to tell you world travel is possible for the rest of us too.
After countless emails from readers asking about how I’m able to travel the world seemingly non-stop exploring incredible destinations, I wanted to share some useful tips about how I learned to save money for traveling.
Because I had to learn too — it didn’t come naturally. In fact I used to be horrible at saving money.
When I quit my job in 2010 to embark on a year long adventure in Central America, I wasn’t rich. I was living in South Florida earning $28,000 a year working as a photographer for used car dealerships and nightclubs in Miami.
Incredibly glamorous, I know…
Even with my very average (American) income, and living in a pretty expensive area of the country, I managed to save $7000 in 12 months by transforming my lifestyle and living below my means.
I learned how to spend less, save more, and earn extra cash on the side.
It wasn’t easy, and it required plenty of hard work and sacrifice, but if I could do it, I’m confident you could too. It doesn’t matter if you want to travel for two weeks or two years, the process is the same.
Here’s my simple formula that will help you save money for your next trip.
This isn’t intended to sound judgmental. We all start here. What did school really teach you about financial planning? For many of us, not much.
Money management is a learned skill – but most of us don’t master the basics until we’re adults — if ever. I was clueless for a long time.
If you want to save money for travel, now is a good time to revisit those basics, and maybe iron out a few of those bad financial habits we all acquire along the way.
Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
You are making a significant long-term commitment that’s sometimes going to be really hard to stick to. Saving up enough money for travel, or anything for that matter, is tough on the soul and demands sacrifice, which is why so few people succeed. The right mindset is everything!
How much do you want this? Because nobody else will do it for you. It’s your responsibility the whole way.
Equally importantly, how many times are you willing to try and fail until you’ve successfully learned all the habits and strategies that will put the required amount in the bank to get you traveling?
Good. I think you’re ready for this then! (Just don’t expect it to be easy.)
Money itself isn’t stressful. Neither is effective money management. Not knowing what your money is doing? Being afraid to check your bank balance? That’s where all the stress happens.
The solution to this is simple.
Put aside a day this weekend, buy your favorite bottle of wine (you’ll need it), and go through all your accounts to find out EXACTLY what your finances look like, down to the dollar.
Tracking expenses is an important part of learning where you can cut back, or even eliminate your spending.
I know, you’ve probably heard this before. But have you actually done it? On a regular basis? It’s a powerful way to identify how much money you piss away every month on random crap you don’t need.
Write it ALL down. How much do you spend on food each week? Don’t forget to include groceries, eating out, bottled water, and snacks. How much do you spend on entertainment? Movies, books, music, sports tickets, dates, etc.
What about vices like alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee?
What are your monthly bills? Rent, mortgage, utilities, car payment, insurance, credit card interest, cell phone service, gym membership, student loans, etc. Don’t forget miscellaneous shopping either. Video games, clothes, pet toys, etc.
Now, grit your teeth and look it all in the face. You may be surprised at how much you’re spending. Little things tend to add up. This isn’t an easy thing to do, I know. That’s why you might need that wine.
But it becomes a lot easier if you approach saving with the right attitude. You’re not here to judge yourself or wallow in regret. Take your feelings out of the equation because they’re not needed.
This is simply about awareness. You’re looking your financial situation right in the eye and saying, “OK – this is where I am. This is where I need to be.”
If you’re like me, building this kind of awareness, and tracking everything, takes time. That’s the nature of habits – you don’t suddenly change your behavior overnight.
There are two types of budgeting you need to do here. The first is budgeting your trip. The second is budgeting your life.
First, you need to work out how much your trip is going to cost you. If you know what you’re doing, your travel budget can be as low as $50 a day.
The amount is going to vary wildly depending on where you want to travel, and how thrifty you are. But for long-term budget travel, I usually recommend planning to spend at least $1500 per month.
So that means to backpack around the world for 6 months, you should have at least $9000 in your bank account before you leave.
If you want all my best advice for ways to save money on travel, start here.
You’ve got 16 months before you leave? Great! Your monthly savings goal is 1/16th of that total – and you need to budget successfully to put that amount aside every month, more or less, until you hit your target.
Now the big question becomes – how are you going to hit that target?
First step: create a running budget, assigning strict numbers to recurring expenses – and stick to it religiously. Some expenses are fixed, for example, your rent (although, keep reading below for one way to lower it).
Other expenses are flexible, like the money you spend on food every month, or socializing. The trick with these is to make sure you always know how much of your budget is left, so you’re not a victim of “phantom expenses” that nibble away your hard-earned savings without you being aware of them.
Going shopping? Decide in advance how much you can afford to spend, and use the calculator on your phone to total everything up as you walk round the aisles. Going out with friends? Withdraw cash, and leave your cards at home so you can’t blow your budget.
Budgeting effectively isn’t scary. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. When you have complete control of your money (and not the other way round), your confidence will soar – and you’ll work even harder towards your goal.
Grab a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of it. At the top left, write “NEEDS” – and at the top right, write “WANTS”.
Now place everything you spend money on into one of these two columns.
Be as brutally honest as possible. Do you need Netflix right now? Do you need that cappuccino you always have on your lunch break? What about those beers on Friday night? How about new clothes?
Consult your spending diary that you’ve hopefully been using. How many of those daily entries were things you actually needed? Will your life end without them?
Once you’re finished, look at the “WANTS” column – and write down how much they cost, next to each item. Now total them up. That’s how much you can instantly start saving every month if you cut all these out.
The final step here is simply to stop buying those things you don’t need. I know, it’s harder than it sounds.
Our extremely effective and profitable marketing industry will try its best to convince you to buy that Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino. Don’t let them win. It’s time to take control of your finances right now.
How about getting up a little earlier, skipping the bus and walking/riding a bike to work instead? Ever heard of ride-sharing? What other daily expenses can you replace with money-saving habits?
What skills can you learn that will cut your daily costs?
I’ll give an example. By cooking your meals instead of buying them prepared, you can save thousands of dollars every year. Which is exactly what I did when I was saving money for my own travel adventures.
You don’t have to give up excellent coffee and tasty avocado toast — just make them yourself and save money.
Cooking for yourself, especially lunch & dinner, can save somewhere between $6 and $11 per meal – so if you previously spent all your time eating out, you’d save between $125 and $230 every week just by cooking.
It’s a skill that puts decent money in your pocket. Plus, it’s fun too!
This is extreme – but also extremely effective. If the place you are renting (or own) costs a lot of money, how about taking on a roommate to share the rent and bills? What about two roommates?
If that’s not an option, and you’ve got a year or more before you hit the road – why not move into a smaller apartment, or a cheaper neighborhood? This is one way I was able to save money for my trip.
By moving into a cheaper neighborhood on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, sharing a small house with 2 other roommates, I was able to save hundreds of dollars on accommodation every month rather than living in the much more expensive city of Miami.
Other travelers I know moved in with their parents for a few months to save money. Or they rent out their homes and move somewhere cheaper. Obviously these aren’t ideal situations, and may not even be options for everyone, but I just want to open your eyes to the possibilities.
Sometimes you need to think outside the box to make your dreams come true. And drastic measures can be uncomfortable, but effective.
If it’s worth good money and you can’t travel with it, then is it really worth hanging onto? In my case, I took a long, hard look at my car one day, decided to sell it, and bought a used folding bicycle to replace it.
Instant injection of much-needed cash! Not only from the sale, but also from canceling my auto insurance and no longer needing to buy gas.
Instead, I purchased a public bus pass. Sure, my commute was longer. Riding my bike to the bus stop in the rain kinda sucked. But you know what? I was dedicated. I was determined. Wearing a poncho and riding in the rain isn’t the end of the world. Other people do it, why can’t I?
In addition to my car, I also sold my DJ turntables, sports equipment, and some furniture I really didn’t need. Everyone’s “crap” will be different. But we all collect it in one form or another.
No, simply quitting avocado toast and frappuccinos isn’t going to pay for 6 months of travel. But, when combined with other money saving lifestyle changes, it all adds up to make a big difference.
Instead of spending too much money at a club or movie theater, invite friends over to your place for a movie night. Get outside and go on a hike.
Now is a good time to learn the art of cooking. It’s entirely possible to buy low-cost, healthy ingredients, and cook your own tasty meals at home.
Did you compare prices while grocery shopping last week? Did you buy the cheapest toilet paper? Are you shopping at places like Costco & Amazon?
I can’t remember the last time I used a landline. Cellphones work just fine. Switch to the cheapest provider, with the cheapest plan possible.
TV is a waste of time. Stop paying to live vicariously through shows, and make your own life more exciting. The internet is full of free entertainment!
No need for a gym membership when you can go running, hiking, or practice bodyweight exercise routines outside while enjoying nature!
No, you don’t need the latest smartphone. No, you don’t need new clothes every month. No, you don’t need 5 different shades of lipstick.
Turn down your air conditioning and use a fan or wear a sweater. Unplug electronics when not in use. Take shorter showers.
Everyone wants to earn more money, right? Well it doesn’t grow on trees, but there are opportunities, even if you already have a full-time job.
Find part time work on the side. Maybe as a waiter, bartender, supermarket cashier, etc. I worked as a nightclub photographer 4 nights a week, putting up with drunk entitled assholes…
It doesn’t need to be an amazing job! Just something to boost your income. Do some research, and figure out what kinds of part-time positions match your skillset & talents.
Selling arts & crafts on Etsy. Stalking garage sales & re-selling on eBay. Walking dogs. Tutoring students. Babysitting. Audio transcription. Playing music.
The only limit is your imagination!
Not earning enough money from your current job? Maybe it’s time to ask for a raise (as long as you can prove you actually deserve it). What makes you an important asset to the company?
Alternately, why not attempt to re-negotiate? Ask if there’s any way you can cut back your hours, or work from home a few days a week, so you can use that time you would normally spend commuting… on your side job.
If those aren’t options, you can start looking for another employer who pays more. Train in your spare time for something that pays better.
You’re not a slave to your job — if you don’t make enough, shop around and find a better place to work.
I know I’m making it sound easier than it is… but I never promised this would be easy. It’s not.
This is a nice short-cut. If you can earn money as you travel, you won’t have to save quite as much. This is what I did. Before I began traveling, I’d built a small online business selling eBooks about topics I was knowledgeable on.
I managed to squeeze a money-making opportunity from my limited free time – which reduced the amount I needed to save for travel, as I could earn income on the road.
Because I was earning about $1500 per month from my online business, I left to backpack around Central America with only $7000 in the bank — confident I could continue working from my laptop.
Selling ebooks is no longer how I earn income. These days I make a good living from my travel blog. But that took a few years to accomplish.
How can you earn money online? Well there are all kinds of ways.
Affiliate marketing. Freelance writing. Graphic design. Computer programming. Becoming a virtual assistant. Language translation. I don’t know what skills & experience you have. But there are options.
Saving money doesn’t come naturally to most people. Nearly half of Americans don’t even have a $400 emergency fund.
The formula is simple. Live below your means, and save the rest.
Yet implementing this formula is not always easy. There are social pressures. We’re bombarded by marketing. Our willpower is lacking. We make excuses and lie to ourselves.
Others may have additional roadblocks — like obligations to support loved ones, student loans, debilitating injury, chronic disease, or a lack of job opportunities where they live.
If that’s the case, it may just take longer to reach your savings goal.
Following through is the difficult part. I know, I’ve been there. If this was easy, everyone would be doing it.
To help you start saving money for travel, I’ve included some of my favorite resources below. These are useful tools for learning how to track your spending, budget your life, save money fast, or earn extra income.
YNAB – Excellent budgeting software & system to help you get out of debt and save money.
Mint – Popular free app for tracking your finances and managing your money.
I Will Teach You To Be Rich – My favorite book about becoming financially responsible & independent.
Remote Job Directory – Wonderful resource that lists websites for finding a location independent job.
The $100 Startup – Inspiring book that highlights 50 people who built their own businesses with minimum investment.
The 4-Hour Workweek – The book that convinced me to enter the world of online business and entrepreneurship.
As you’ll discover when you’re traveling, things rarely go exactly to plan.
The ability to think on your feet and adjust your trajectory on the fly is an important skill for travel, and life.
Expect many course corrections. Don’t be surprised when obstacles get in your way. Life is messy and the best-laid plans have a habit of fraying at the edges, or falling apart completely.
That shouldn’t matter though – you’re committed to this, right? You’ll find another way to get there. The specific plan you choose isn’t important… the destination is everything.
Best of luck – and I hope to see you out there! ★
Have any questions about saving money for travel? Drop me a message in the comments below!
This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.