I’ve been traveling full-time for the most part of the last six years and traveled all of the worlds seven continents. At 25 years of age I have been traveling pretty much since I finished school and life on the road is all I know. Airports and bus stations are very familiar places for me and exploring new cities and countries is now routine.
The question that I get asked the most, therefore, from friends and strangers alike is just how I manage this lifestyle. “How do you afford it?” is the most common of them all.
I want to make this very clear. All of my travels have been self-funded. I have never been paid to travel. I have never been given anything for free. I have never been given money from anyone. I’m sure many have thought, “her parents must be rich,” and that pisses me off. That belittles all of my sacrifices and all of my hard work. Besides a few hundred dollars here and there for birthdays and christmas gifts my parents have never funded my travels (though they have given me much more, with their generosity time and again in letting me stay rent free during my periods at home).
Besides being born in a developed country I have had no extra privileges from anyone else. No more privileged than any of those who ask me “how do you afford it?”
Anyone can have this lifestyle, even you, if you want it bad enough. But don’t be fooled. Luck has nothing to do with this. It has all come down to hard-work, sacrifice and extreme budgeting.
Here is how I did it…
As soon as I finished school I got a full time job and started my savings. In order to really save a lot of money you have to really want it, because you will have to sacrifice everything.
Gone were the days of partying. Whilst my friends were out every weekend and even most weeknights I was at home, saving my money. Would have I liked to be out with my friends, drinking cocktails, wearing pretty dresses and dancing the night away? OF COURSE. Who doesn’t like having fun with there friends? But with cover charges (entrance cost), costs of drinks, costs of taxis and the cost of having to keep up appearances with pretty new outfits each night it all added up to a lot of money quickly. Even if I went out once a week it would have cost me $50 minimum. So instead I stayed at home, watching movies, reading books and saving money. I would go out once a month instead.
I said goodbye to shopping. Like most girls I love clothes. I love buying clothes. I love being able to put beautiful, fashionable outfits together and looking pretty. But clothes are expensive and fashion changes too much to be able to afford to keep up when you are trying to save. So whilst my friends always looked stunning from their new purchases I would wear very basic, indistinctive clothes again and again. I learnt to love black and other neutral colours because wearing the same black shirt again and again is less obvious then wearing the same patterned shirt regularly. Rather than keeping up with the latest styles I chose a personal style and stuck with it. Not only can you not afford to have nice clothes when you are constantly traveling but you wouldn’t want to have them anyways, they will only get wrecked. Between the industrial washing machines you often find on the road (or hand-washing in sinks in hostels), to getting dirty daily from dirty buses and roads or hiking up mountains, from sweating in the crazy heat or from losing items/having items stolen. My backpack is full of simple, basic and versatile clothing that I can wear anywhere, that I can wear multiple ways and doesn’t matter too much if they get lost or dirty.
Instead of buying lunch during my work break I would bring food from home. Instead of eating delicious meals at lovely restaurants and cafes with my friends I would limit it to once a month and instead have cheap picnics on the beach.
I would fill up my car with petrol once a week and if it ran out early I would stay home. I canceled my gym membership and would instead go running in the park. I cancelled my phone plan and switched to pay as you go so I could never be surprised with a crazy phone bill at the end of the month. Instead of going to the cinema I would wait until the movies were released on dvd. For every birthday or christmas since I was 17 I have asked for money in lieu of gifts (I really miss opening presents). Instead of getting my hair done professionally I would colour it myself at home and get a haircut twice a year at most. I used to love buying the best make-up on the market. Now I have a tiny make-up bag of basic, cheap (yet chemical free) make-up that lasts me two years or more as I wear make-up very, very rarely. I ate food that was very cheap, lots of pasta, rice and bread. Cheap but definitely not healthy.
I lived with my parents and in return for living rent free I would cook and clean the house regularly.
I worked a lot. I picked up every extra shift I was offered. I worked nights. I worked weekends. I worked public holidays. I worked double shifts. I worked every opportunity I could.
Within six months I saved $20,000 AUD. Of course it majorly helps that we are so well paid in Australia.
(In the last six years I have returned home twice for six month periods to save some more cash and have worked at two summer camps in the USA and worked a ski season in Canada, which has helped earn extra cash whilst on the road too).
When I travel I travel cheap. It’s the only way I have been able to attain this lifestyle. That is 100% the secret. You have to be willing to get very basic. No fancy restaurants and five star hotels. If your aim is to stay in nice hotels and eat at nice restaurants you are more suited to holidays and vacations. These luxuries are great but it’s just not possible to do long term. The only people who can travel full-time and stay in luxurious hotels and eat three course meals at expensive restaurants are either the rich or the travel bloggers who get paid a lot of money to do so. And honestly, it’s not really traveling in my eyes. Sure, sometimes when I am in a dirty hostel full of bed bugs I am so jealous of those people and their luxuries. But they totally lack adventure. Traveling, not holidaying, is the whole package. It’s not always fun and games. You have to be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly. I like that about travel. You get pushed to change your view on the world, on your limits and on yourself. You learn more. You experience more. You learn you can survive on a lot less. That you can rough it. You make more memories and stories to look back on and laugh at. Not only are those travel bloggers missing out on so much adventure but they are creating false expectations for people who dream to travel. I’m sorry but it’s not as glamourous as they make it look online. Unless you are the select few lucky ones that are either blessed with a large bank account or the one in a million bloggers who will get paid the big bucks you will be staying in hostels and eating street food. It’s not always glamourous but it’s what traveling is all about.
If you can accept these things then you will have the best adventure of your life.
I stay in cheap hostels. I eat street food. I cook in the hostel kitchens. I fly on budget airlines. I catch 24 hour buses instead of flights. I do my research and spend hours comparing prices and dates online. In the last two years I have flown from Sydney to Japan, Japan to Thailand, Thailand to France, France to England, Return England to Italy, England to Ireland, England to New York, New York to Canada, Canada to San Francisco, San Francisco to Colombia, Colombia to Panama, Mexico to England (and many buses in between) for less than $1500AUD. I research my flights a lot before we book. I think ahead. As I write this, in fact, I am sat at the airport in Cancun, Mexico about to board a flight to England. I am surrounded by restaurants serving meals at around $16. I am sat eating plain bread rolls I purchased from the supermarket earlier today for $0.10cents. I am getting weird looks and probably being judged but they can judge all they like. Because of decisions as simple as this I have been able to travel around the world. I think it’s worth it.
‘What’s your secret? How do you afford it?” The answer is simple. There is no secret. You make budgets. You sacrifice a lot. You save hard and you travel cheap. You just have to want it bad enough. Sometimes it still surprises me how I have managed to travel the world so much with so little money but it’s not rocket science. If I can do it then you can too!
Over to you! What’s your tips to saving money for adventures??