One of the most universal things novice travelers ask me is: “How can you afford to travel the way you do?”
Not having enough money to travel is one of the most common misconceptions I’ve come across when I’m talking to travel-hungry people who aren’t in “the biz.”
Over the past year, I have been extraordinarily fortunate that, as The Girl Who Wanders brand continues to grow, most of my travel is now covered through affiliate programs or sponsorships.
But that hasn’t always been the case.
Back before I started The Girl Who Wanders, I was working a dead-end job as a bank teller, netting only 17K a year after taxes. And after you factored in living expenses and the monthly, soul-sucking abyss that was my student loan payments, what I was left with was a pittance.
Yet, I still managed to travel.
That’s because you don’t need to be swimming in cash to become a jetsetter.
You just need to figure out your priorities.
- Is that $150 shopping spree more important than spending the weekend lounging on a beach in Acapulco, Mexico?
- Would you rather blow $90 on another round of drinks for you and your friends at the bar or a week of meals on a European getaway?
- Would you rather own a brand new car or spend a month backpacking your way across the U.S.?
If you're committed to traveling more, the first step is taking a hard look at where your money is already going.
Right now, my go-to budget option is Mint.
If you’re looking for a down-and-dirty look at your money (and how/where you spend it), look no further.
I started by looking at each purchase I made a month and figuring out what my “necessities” were.
I made sure to write down how much I spent on Rent, Utilities, Car Payment, Phone Bill and Student Loans. Once I had those down, I made sure to put aside a small budget for groceries, and a small portion into an “in case of emergency” fund.
Anything after that was fair game.
I saw the most success putting aside money I spent on takeout food, my (third) cup of coffee per day, and money I would throw away on trips to the nail salon or shopping online for clothes.
That simple strategy alone helped me save almost $5,000 before my first solo-trip.
Step Two is learning how to travel hack like a pro...
Use AirBnB to Fund Your Adventures
AirBnB completely changed the travel game. While most people have started to jump on the AirBnB train when it comes to vacationing, it is still an under-the-radar way to fund your travel.
For those who are willing to rent out their apartment/home/couch, AirBnB can be a steady and secure source of income for travelers while you're out seeing the sites.
Consider Giving Up Your Lease/Selling Your House
I’m going to be honest here.
Unless you plan on travelling long-term, becoming a full-time travel blogger, or currently have the funds to support several months of non-stop travel, this travel hack isn’t for you.
While cutting the cord on your pad and pocketing the cash might sound like the ultimate wanderlust dream, it’s not a step you can take lightly.
I’ve seen a lot of ambitious travel bloggers give up their “safety net” only to have some “unforeseen complication” pop up that sends them back to the states with nowhere to go.
If you’re considering taking this leap don’t forget to…
- Set up an emergency fund – Put aside enough money for a security deposit and (at least) one month’s rent. I recommend doing a little research here. Look around and find a place that fits your needs, get a rent + average utilities estimate and budget at least $150-200 more than that. Chances are the place you find won’t still be available when you get back, but it will give you a reasonable budget to find somewhere similar.
- Give yourself plenty of time to sell – Selling off your wares, or your home, doesn’t happen overnight. I cannot emphasize the value of time when it comes to purging your items enough. When it comes to selling, my three main go-to’s are OfferUp, Craigslist and ThredUp.
- Have a game plan for the items you can’t let go of – Let’s be honest, chances are you’re not going to want to give up everything you own and trying to shove the antique lamp that belonged to your great-great grandmother into your luggage is a big no-no. Whether it is begging friends and family for attic space, or paying a premium for a storage locker, make sure you have a game plan for your valuables.
- Make a copy of your important documents (AND ONLY CARRY THE COPIES ABROAD): I CANNOT stress this one enough. If you are thinking of ditching your home base, make copies of your passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card and any other sort of important documentation that you can think of and leave the originals with family, friends or in a safe deposit box at your local bank. Accidents happen abroad, and even the most responsible ones among us can leave their carry on in the backseat of a taxi in Florence (not naming any names, obviously).
Have a Smart Travel Plan
Travel hacking flights and hotels is the easiest, most talked about way see the world on a budget.
Before you even think of hitting the “confirm purchase” button, make sure that you are picking the right time/place to travel.
Before booking a trip, even now, I follow the “3C's Rule”
If you want to travel on a dime, knowing where and when to book your flight at the cheapest price is key.
As a general rule of thumb, January is the cheapest month to travel and booking early in the week (Monday – Wednesday) will help you score lower airline prices.
But when it comes to destinations, things get a little more complicated.
To get the best bang for your buck, sites like Hopper can save you hundreds.
Just plug in your destination (or the block of time you want to travel during) and Hopper sleuths out the cheapest deals on flights.
Learning to break up with luxury hotels was one of the biggest money-saving travel hacks I learned.
Typically, I recommend saving on housing one of three ways...
- Couchsurf: This is the best way to stay with amazing locals across the world. Using sites like Couchsurfing allows you to connect with millions of hosts around the world – all while securing a safe (and free) place to crash.
- Housesit: The basic idea is simple, keep an eye on someone’s home while they are away, and you can stay for free. It’s a win-win scenario. A number of sites, such as MindMyHouse, Trusted Housesitters, HouseCarers, or House Sitters America can save you thousands on long-term travel plans.
- Hostels: If you still haven’t bought in to the hostel trend, it’s time for a serious wake up call. Just make sure to do your homework. With the recent rise in hostel popularity, certain “deals” end up costing you the same amount as a 4 or 5-star hotel. With over 33,000 accommodation offerings worldwide, I make sure to use Hostelworld.
Consider a Job Abroad
Once you’ve got a destination in mind, picking up a side-job abroad can be a great way to extend your travel plans.
Here are some of my favorite opportunities abroad..
WORK ON BOARD
From waiting tables, to tour guides, IT support, doctors to entertainers, Cruise ships are swimming (sorry, bad pun) in job opportunities for budget-stretching travelers. Check the job openings on major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, as a way to get paid to travel.
Teaching English overseas is easily one of the best (and most in demand) ways to make money for travel. While a teaching salary is never extravagant, most TEFL programs offer free housing and travel credits for teachers who sign up. I suggest checking out places like TEFL Online, CIEE or ESL Cafe if you’re interested in learning more.
BECOME AN AU PAIR
No one strikes it rich working as an au pair, but it is one of the more satisfying ways to travel for virtually free. Typically, au pairs have all expenses covered – including 3 meals a day, private bedroom, public transit pass and even enough to cover your flights in exchange for a few hours of childcare and “light” household duties. While I’ve personally never tapped this resource, I’ve heard amazing stories from sites like AuPairWorld and AuPair.com.
Fact is, whether it is a weekend trip or a three-month vacation, traveling doesn’t have to eat away at your budget. The key is to focus on out-of-the-box ways of travel that can lead to massive savings over the long-run – giving you the freedom to travel that way you’ve always wanted to.