I get asked this question all the time: how do you afford to travel? Or how much do you have to save? It’s a good question. It might seem like you need thousands and thousands of dollars or be handed an amazing digital nomad job. Good news: you don’t. Every traveler I’ve met has a different method; some traveling with almost no money and working along the way, some have online jobs and some saved money before traveling (like me). I’d never claim that my way of saving money and traveling is THE smartest way or the only way. I’m hoping this blog helps show it’s not a far fetched dream to travel long-term and that it can be possible with a little hard work and sacrifice.
How much do you save? I budget to save around $500-$1000 for every month I’m planning to travel. For this trip, I saved around $7,000 with the plan of traveling for 6 months to a year. I also put aside an emergency $1,500 that I don’t touch for emergency plane trips home or money if I need to come back home.
How do you save that? I served at The Cheesecake Factory downtown Chicago for a little over a year. Serving has a flexible schedule and it’s really good money. I only worked lunch shifts and took days off. I could have slept on someone’s couch, worked nights and easily saved what I needed in 2 or 3 months but I chose to have an apartment, take small trips, buy kombucha– enjoy life while saving.
How did you lower your monthly bills?
- I lowered my student loans from almost $300/month to $20/month by switching to income based repayment. On previous trips, I deferred my loans.
- I sold my car and bought a bike. Car payments, car insurance, maintenance– it’s all a trap. I chose to live in the city to avoid those costs. I rented a car when necessary.
- I found cheap rent. I lived with Darien in Humboldt Park where we only paid about $500/month per person. We also lived in a place that did not require signing a lease. For previous trips, I chose to live with my mom and family to save money, but this time around I wanted a little more freedom. Find a shared space, live with friends or family, live in a less popular area of the city.
- I lowered my phone payment by switching from Verizon to T-Mobile.
Tips to Saving Money for a Trip
- Set a monthly and overall goal
- Use a savings account and DO NOT TOUCH IT!
- Once I put money into my travel savings account, I pretend that money does not exist.
- Minimize your bills (examples above)
- Hide your credit cards
- Cancel Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.
- Steal your friend’s passwords!
- Change/money jar
- We saved $5 from every serving shift and ended up with $1,500 in our money jar.
- Live like you’re poor
- Shop at Aldi, avoid malls, skip luxuries (your friends might start calling you a dirty hippie, but trust me, it’s worth it)
- Shop at thrift stores
- Don’t go to Target for everything (I know this one is probably the toughest!) I buy books, kitchen stuff, work clothes at thrift stores
- Stop coloring/cutting your hair frequently
- I used to color my hair religiously, now my hair is healthier and I saved a lot of money by skipping the salon
- Use public trans or a bike, skip the Uber
- Choose free activities for your free time
- Give up alcohol
- I rarely went out to bars with my coworkers and saved going out for special occasions. It saves you money and headaches.
- Cook at home
- Go vegetarian/vegan
- Surprisingly, going vegan forced me to cook a lot more and not go out to eat as much.
- Vision board
- Have pictures of where you are going. Set yourself up for success!
These are all things that saved me money. Remember, it is not the only way. There is not one way to save money!
Know your limits. You do not have to sell your soul to travel the world. You can live comfortably and save money. But you have to minimize. You have to make sacrifices. And I truly believe minimizing your life and making those sacrifices will help make you a better person. It highlights what’s really important to you. Some days I cursed the Chicago public transportation system and missed having the freedom of having a car. I wanted to buy new shoes and clothes. The zipper on my old winter coat (that my mom loaned to me) was broken. I survived the winter with a shitty coat and it reminded me of my goal: I will never experience another Chicago winter.
Tips on How to Save Money while Traveling
My saving mentality does not end once I hop on the plane! I continue to live cheap and pretend to be poor regardless of what’s inside my bank account. Personally, I feel like you can have so many more interesting experiences the poorer you live. Here are some tips for budget traveling:
- Pick a region that is inexpensive. Latin America and Asia tend to be overall cheaper than Europe and Australia
- Skip expensive cities
- Choose a few expensive activities on your travel bucket list and skip the rest
- Work exchange
- Hitchhike or take cheap buses
- Skip planes or use cheap flights
- Travel credit card (we use Charles Schwab)
- Couchsurf or cheap hostels (Airbnbs are cheaper for couples!)
- Shop at el mercado and cook your own food
- Give up alcohol
- Make money while traveling (blogging, teaching English, find paid work, etc.)
- Free walking tours
- Make friends with locals
I hope this was helpful in some way. If you have any other tips to add or questions, leave them in the comments. Thanks for reading! ❤