How I Afford to Travel

I’ve been travelling around the world on and off for fifteen years, sometimes long term and sometimes on short holidays. But regardless of how I travel, or where I travel, there is one thing I’m always asked:

How do I afford to travel?

I’m asked this by friends, family and strangers, in person and online (and I’m guessing there are a few blog readers who have wondering the same but are perhaps too shy to ask!)

I know that talking about finances can feel a bit ‘taboo’ but I want to answer this question because it’s the same exact question I had before I started travelling! I was a poor college student, living paycheque to paycheque, daydreaming about travelling the world but wondering how on earth I could make it happen??

The short answer is there is no one answer; it’s a combination of hacks, hard work, sacrifice and a lot of good luck. The truth is travel isn’t possible for everyone BUT the good news is it is possible for many people who think it’s out of reach. Here are the details of how I make it work for me.

All the details of how I afford long term travel (and practical tips to help you afford your own adventure.)

Note: for reference, this post was written while I was on a seven-month, round the world honeymoon.

HOW DO I AFFORD TO TRAVEL

First things first—the question of “How I Afford to Travel” is really two separate questions:

  • How much do I spend on travel?
  • Where do I get the funds to travel?

I’m going to start by addressing the first question because the truth is I spend a lot less on travel than you may think. In fact, the real ‘secret’ to frequent, long term travel is learning to spend less on travel >> I usually have a budget of about $150 USD/week! (Although of course sometimes I spend more or less depending on the trip I have planned. On my current trip, I have a bigger budget but I saved more in advance—more details below.) Here are some of the ways I keep my travel costs low.

TRAVEL TO CHEAP COUNTRIES

The vast majority of my travels have been to developing countries where the cost of travelling is very low. For example, in Guatemala or Laos, you can easily live off less than $20/day.

Some regions to consider travelling to if you’re on a tight budget are South America, Central America, Southeast Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe (although there are expensive destinations within each of these regions.)

TRAVEL SLOW

Whenever possible, I prefer to travel slow. In general, the slower you travel, the less you spend:

  • You save money on transport costs (buses, trains, etc.) These costs can really add up, even in developing countries.
  • The longer you spend in one place, the more ‘inside’ tips you get to know (like where to buy cheap groceries or which bars have the best happy hours!)
  • Sometimes hostels/guesthouses offer discounts for longer stays. (This is especially true on Airbnb—use this link and get an additional discount off your first trip!)
  • When you travel slow, you tend to enjoy more free activities (like hiking and people watching) because you’re not trying to pack as much as possible into each day. You still spend money on activities, but your overall cost per day goes down.

I’ve also found that slow travel invites more opportunities; you have more time to meet locals or other travellers, often leading to fun (and money saving) adventures—like the time I hitched a free ride from Guatemala to El Salvador with a van of surfers (in exchange for my limited translating skills!)

TRAVEL WITH OTHER PEOPLE

I’ve travelled alone and absolutely loved it, but it’s often much cheaper to travel with friends or family. You can split accommodation costs, car hire, groceries, etc.

For example, earlier this year I did a private tour in Morocco with friends. The tour price was per car, not per person, and I would have paid double the price if Mike and I had gone alone.

All the details of how I afford to travel long term (and practical tips to help you afford your own adventure.)

LOWER YOUR STANDARDS

Sorry to be blunt! But if travel and adventure are your ultimate goals, sometimes you have to sacrifice comfort (or cleanliness ?).

Here are just a few examples of times my standards have hit rock bottom:

  • Slept in filthy and/or basic hostels (mattress on a cement floor, sheets with sheets for walls and squat toilets)
  • Forgone comforts like air conditioning, fans, or even windows in the heat of summer (sometimes to save as little as a $1 a night!)
  • Chosen local buses over tourist buses (turning a 5-hour trip into an epic 14-hour journey!)

I’ll be honest, this gets harder to do as I get older! But a good money saving tip is to use a ‘high-low’ approach: rough it for a few nights and then reward yourself with a more comfortable option.

VOLUNTEER OR DO A WORK EXCHANGE

This is one of the best ways to travel on the cheap. There are a variety of sites (WWOOF, Workaway, HelpX) where you can find free or low cost opportunities to work in exchange for room and board.

A few years ago I volunteered in Thailand with Safari Park Volunteers and the total cost for two weeks (including full room and board) was less than $300. I also spent a summer in China, teaching English for 6 weeks, for only $500 including flights from the US. (Unfortunately, it was a LONG time ago so I no longer have their information.)

All the details of how I afford to travel long term (and practical tips to help you afford your own adventure.)

WHERE DO I GET THE FUNDS TO TRAVEL?

Hopefully, I’ve been able to show you that it’s possible to travel for less than you may have originally thought! I truly believe that you can have an amazing adventure with as little as a few thousand dollars to get you started.

But of course—the longer you travel, the more money you need! And I’ve travelled long term several times (including my current trip) so I’ve obviously needed a lot more money to fund my trips.

So it’s time to get personal. I’m not suggesting all of these methods are suitable (or possible) for everyone, but I’ve tried to be as honest and transparent as possible about how I have funded (and am currently funding) my travels.

EARN MONEY ABROAD

In my early twenties I funded my first long term trip by working abroad.

I moved home for a few months to save money for a one-way plane ticket to Europe (these days you can find fares for under $300 from the US or you could get a credit card with a frequent flyer point offer.) After buying my ticket I had $500 left to live off until I found a job.

I ended up working for six months in the UK, four months in Ireland, and nearly a year in New Zealand (and I did a lot of travelling on the weekends and in between jobs).

Here are a few things to know about working abroad:

  • If you’re young (usually under 30) there are ‘Working Holiday’ visas that allow you to work and travel. You don’t need special skills and the application process is usually very simple. There are different rules depending on where you’re from and where you want to go; Google ‘Working Holidays visas for {insert your nationality}’ to find more info. I used BUNAC to work in the UK and Ireland; the visa scheme I participated in is no longer available for Americans, but there are some alternatives.
  • I was able to travel long term because the wages abroad were much higher than what I earned in the States doing similar jobs (waitressing, pub work, office administration). It was also possible to find jobs which included room and board.

In interest of full disclosure I want to mention two things: first of all, it was very risky for me to go overseas without a backup plan or more significant savings (but I was young and very optimistic!) and second, before I went to New Zealand my brother passed away and I received a small inheritance. However, I spent very little of my inheritance on travel and continued to fund my trip by working abroad.

BORROW MONEY

In my mid-twenties, I funded what I like to call my ‘quarter life crisis’ trip by borrowing money. (I did save some money but I borrowed much more.)

I have very mixed feelings about borrowing money for travel.

On one hand, being in debt is absolutely one of the most horrible feelings in the world. It’s a slippery slope and it can easily get seriously out of hand. It took me a very long time to pay off all the debt I acquired travelling and I wasted so much money on interest payments.

On the other hand, this trip (and a few other smaller trips I funded by borrowing money) have absolutely shaped my life. I know with 100% certainty that I would not have the life I have right now if I hadn’t gone on these trips. So I have no regrets about my choices.

I think that ultimately, borrowing for travel is similar to taking out a student loan. After all, travel teaches you so much about life! It’s a personal decision and you need to think carefully about what you can afford and how you will pay for it later—before signing on the dotted line.

SAVING MONEY

I currently fund my travels by working, living simply, and saving money. It’s not sexy or exciting but it’s true!

For the past two years I worked full time in a ‘normal’ paying administrative job and my husband had a similar job. During this time, we paid off all our debt and started to save between 50-75% of our income.

How? By living well below our means. Here are a few examples:

  • We lived in a small studio apartment (bathroom and kitchen was shared with our neighbours.)
  • I drove a small, older car and my husband walked to work.
  • We bought most of our clothes, household goods, etc secondhand (and we didn’t buy much.)
  • We chose not to have cable TV (actually we don’t own a TV), Netflix, and we don’t have phone contracts (we have older phones and prepay what we need.)
  • We buy a lot of our groceries at local markets (and buy what’s in season), limit our meat consumption (we eat meat but in small portions), and reduce food wastage. (Check out this post explaining our Simple Eating philosophy.)

We aren’t completely frugal —we choose to spend money on things we love (like eating out, my weakness!!) but we choose not to spend on things that don’t really matter to us. A few years ago I started adopting a minimalist lifestyle, which has made savings so much easier.

ON A FINAL PERSONAL NOTE

I believe that life is about tradeoffs. For the most part, you can’t have everything, but you can have what you want most.

For those who are curious, I’m not employed. I don’t have a job waiting at home for me and I don’t make money on this blog (at least not yet, although I do hope to do so one day.) I used to own my own home but I sold it a few years ago. I don’t have security in the traditional sense.

However, I do have savings and investments (separate from my travel fund) and at this stage in my life, I’m confident in my ability to find work when I need it. I never burn bridges, I have a good professional reputation and a network of references.

Am I guaranteed work when I need it? No, of course not, but I’m okay with that because right now, I value freedom over security.

My plans for the next few years are to continue travelling. I will work along the way when I need to and I’m not sure when (if ever) I’ll return to stable, 9 to 5 work. Maybe I’ll regret this decision one day but for now, it’s what feels most authentic and right for me. Choosing to travel is about choosing my priorities.

I hope this post has given you some insight into how I afford to travel and given you some ideas about how you can travel too if you’re so inclined.

What sacrifices have you made to travel? Or what sacrifices would you make to travel? Let me know in the comments! x

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16 thoughts on “How I Afford to Travel”

  1. I just had one thing I wanted to say and please don’t take this the wrong way because I don’t intend for it to come off as mean but, having a Husband makes it so much more possible to not have to work/be employed. I imagine he works a full time or steady job in order to provide an income that you can both live on that also offers at least health insurance and other benefits for the both of you.

    Again, I’m not trying to be negative, but I think this is important to point this out to people reading this post (unless I am mistaken and he doesn’t work either). Trust me, I get it. I don’t have cable either or a phone plan; I use a prepaid phone too. I don’t spend money at the salon getting my hair and nails/toes done every month like most everyone I know, etc. and I can agree that these are all fantastic ways to save money. I made it a goal to pay off my mortgage loan on my condo and have done just that a couple of years ago. One main difference though, I am not married, therefore, being employed is a requirement in order to provide myself with income, as well as health insurance.

    Reply
    • Hi there! Don’t worry, I don’t take your comment the wrong way. You make some good points and I’d like to address them.

      Personally, having a husband has had little to no impact on my ability to travel. When I wrote this post (it’s a few years old now) we were both in the middle of a round-the-world trip and neither of us were working.

      Instead, what made a bigger impact was definitely our decision to live well below our means for a few years. Most significantly, our decision to live in student housing during a time when we were “professionals” with decent-paying jobs. (We basically lived in a boarding house, renting a room but sharing a kitchen and bathroom with other people.) We did this for 3 years at a time when most people our age were buying houses.

      If I wasn’t married, I would have shared a house with a roommate, so my relationship didn’t save me any money at this stage.

      We’ve since settled down for a bit and we are both working. I’m self-employed now and don’t have a “traditional” job, but my husband doesn’t support me.

      Having said that, there is one MAJOR advantage I have (that wasn’t mentioned in this blog post) and it’s that I live in Australia. I don’t have to worry about health insurance because we have public health care.

      I actually grew up in the US, so I understand how that could be a huge limiting factor for travel or flexible work arrangements. I haven’t lived in the US for a very long time so I don’t know what things are like now. But I think it would have been hard for me to take the leap into self-employment if I was worried about health care, so this is definitely an advantage not everyone has.

      Reply
      • Oh hey, thanks! …….because part of me was thinking I should have just kept my thoughts to myself and I truly did not intend for it to come across as mean or anything, so I am glad! I’m from the U.S. and it’s funny how I am in that U.S. mindset about the health insurance and I forget that other countries do offer free health insurance to their citizens. Definitely a limiting factor here in the U.S. since most health insurance is offered as a benefit through a person’s employer, or else you have to pay for your own policy which is very expensive per month, even for the most basic, crummy coverage. It all makes more sense too now about the roommates and student housing. Anyways I love the blog (just recently discovered it). Back on here today to see what else I can learn. I will eventually get around to reading all of your stories hopefully! Very Inspiring!

        Reply
  2. Interesting tips! I don’t currently travel because I’m paying off student loan debt, but these tips will come in handy in the future. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  3. This is a great post Jennifer and shows that travel can be a possibly as long as your prioritize it! I have funded my travels through my savings (I don’t really work right now or have a job back home waiting either), but I’d also be hiding part of the truth if I didn’t admit that my bf making some money online. So we don’t have to lower our living standards too much (I’m pretty sure I will never live anywhere with a squat toilet!). But we do look for the most reasonably priced rentals in a city and eat local food or cook if that’s cheaper. And when I tell people how much our travels cost, they are always surprised that the two of us travel for LESS money per month (including rental, food, fun stuff) than what we were spending on rent alone back home in Los Angeles!!

    Reply
    • So sorry Anna – I was sure I responded to this comment but somehow it’s not here … anyway, thanks so much for sharing a bit about how you fund your travels! I completely agree that so many people don’t realise that travelling is often cheaper than ‘living’! Happy travels x

      Reply
  4. Great post, Jenn! It’s important to prioritize your travel savings if travel is something you want to do. I deprioritize other spending areas in my every day life like dining out or clothing so that I can save that money to go abroad.

    I have no problem lowering my standards when I travel except my partner works in luxury travel so he’s use to the 5-stars and comfort. It’s nice to have that luxury sometimes but I travel for the authentic local experience. We’ve compromised with our Asia trip by splitting the cities up so he plans our itinerary for half of the places we’re traveling to and I plan the others. Problem is, it’s his first time to Asia and he’s not use to the “cheap” prices. Last week he brought up taking a hydroplane from Hanoi to Halong Bay! We’ll see how that goes 🙂

    Reply
    • Ahh Christine, I definitely understand! I used to work in luxury travel for a bit myself 🙂 Now I try and do the high/low method and throw in something a bit nicer every once in a while. (The key is always doing something a bit ‘rougher’ first, not the luxury first, so that you’re not disappointed! Good luck with your trip planning xxx

      Reply
  5. Three cheers for lowering your standards! 🙂 I’m reminded of this time in China when I took a 14-hour ride on an overnight bus that had no bathroom and played super loud techno music, and in case that wasn’t bad enough, at 3am the bus drove onto a ferry and they made us all get off and stand in cold sloshing water on the deck for an hour. It was awful. And by awful, I kind of mean awesome (and I definitely mean CHEAP).

    Anyway…these are such great tips — thanks for sharing them!

    Reply
    • Haha – yay for lowering standards 🙂 It reminds of me of a quote that goes (roughly) something like this: If you want to be rich you need to earn more or want less. That bus ride reminds me of all the travel moments that drive you mad at the time, but make great memories. Thanks for sharing yours xx

      Reply
  6. Wow– this is the most transparent piece on this topic that I’ve ever read. So insightful– and full of realities that are rarely ever represented on pretty travel blogs or on Instagram. Thank you so much for this; I completely agree that long-term travel requires real, long-term sacrifices. It’s not for everyone, but for those of us who love adventure, it’s more than worth it.

    Reply

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