How I Funded My Travels (And How You Can Too)!
Let me start by reiterating that I am by no means a wealthy person, and neither is my family (though I'll give my mom plenty of credit for helping support me in many ways). I worked two jobs throughout most of college, and after graduation continued working for minimum wage. I have bills like everyone else: rent, groceries, cell phone, you name it. Yet here I am about to leave on an extended trip!
This is the first, and definitely the most important step in saving money. You absolutely have to make traveling a priority in order to keep yourself motivated to save money! Do this by getting your optimum departure date in mind, and then by researching travel and cost-of-living expenses in the country (or countries) that you want to visit. After doing some research create yourself a budget and a savings goal. There will certainly be sacrifices and hard work required on your part, but ultimately it will all pay off. Once you make traveling a priority all the inconveniences that may arise will be easily forgotten by reminding yourself of your goal. There where plenty of times when I really wanted to go out for sushi, or to a concert, or any number of other things; when this happened I had to remind myself why I was saving money. If traveling had not been my number one priority I would have certainly succumbed to my costly whims.
Okay – so now you have your priorities in line. What next? Cut your costs ya dingus! Start with basic things:
• Cancel your cable subscription (Netflix is only $8/month!)
• Cooking your own meals and pack your own lunch to work
• Make your own coffee at home
• Give up going out to bars
• Evaluate your electricity and water bills and figure out ways the can be reduced
• Remember that no matter how minor an expense may seem things can quickly add up!
The toughest sacrifice I had to make was giving up my gym membership. I love the gym, and the idea of having to go without my daily workout was horrifying! However doing away with this would save me $30/month, so I knew it needed to be done. What I did instead was research body-weight workouts and similar exercises I could do at home for free!.
Next start looking at bigger costs that you may be able to do without:
• Give up your car and bike/use public transportation. This not only saves you gas and the cost of insuring and maintaining a car, but it's also healthier, more environmentally friendly, and much more enjoyable (at least in my opinion).
• See if you can reduce (or eliminate) your rent by either moving in with your parents (horrible, I know) or subletting a room in your place.
Remember that no matter how horrible the idea of moving back home or biking to work every day may be it's only temporary. A great way to keep yourself in check is to remind yourself of how far the money saved can take you in your country of choice. For example, in Thailand you can get a plate of delicious Pad Thai for $1. So next time you are debating on if you should go out to the movies with your friends, just remember that the $10 ticket could buy you 10 meals in Thailand! Or that $20 night at the bar could pay for 4 nights at a hostel!
The most obvious way to increase your income is by picking up a second job. Yes, folding shirts, flipping burgers, answering telephones, or in my case serving coffee are all pretty menial (and all-around crappy) jobs, but none of that will matter when you are lounging on a white-sand beach in the gulf of Thailand.
Another avenue to explore is by picking up freelance work. Surely you have some marketable expertise! Do you know how to code websites? Graphic design? Sewing? Tutoring? All these are very feasible ways to earn a little extra income. I supplemented the income from my two part-time jobs by teaching private music lessons and doing freelance graphic design and data entry. There are plenty of great websites out there for freelancers such as elance.com, odesk.com, and 99designs.com.
Sell Your Stuff
This option isn't for everyone. The first time I traveled I certainly did sell anything to fund the trip. This time around though I knew that I would be gone for a long time, and would have zero reason to store most of my possessions. Through the magic of the internet (Craigslist) and local thrift-stores, I was able to sell all but a few of my possessions. This not only brought in a good bit of money, but also was an incredibly refreshing experience. We tend to collect a lot of junk that we think we need, but after scrutiny it's easy to see that we really don't need most the junk we hold on to. I sold clothes, books, albums, furniture, and all kinds of things that where sitting around collecting dust and taking up space. In the end the only things I didn't sell (aside from stuff I'd be packing with me) where a select few books (my Harry Potter collection has sentimental value) and a few music instruments. However for the most part I was able to condense everything I truly needed into a backpack.
Rewards Credit Cards
Yikes. Just the word 'Credit Card' is enough to scare most people. However they certainly aren't as bad as they are made out to be, they can even be beneficial to your bank account if used correctly and intelligently. First off it's important to understand that a credit card should never be used to pay for things you can't afford. If you can't pay for something with cash/debit then don't put it on your credit card! Secondly it's crucial to always pay your bill in full. Never fall into the minimum-payment trap; once interest starts to accrue it's a downhill slide. If you can't do these two things, then you certainly don't need a credit card.
You also want to be sure that you don't just apply for any credit card offer. Spend time on creditcards.com and nerdwallet.com researching various cards and all their rates and perks. Some cards offer cash back, some offer points, some offer free airline miles, and some offer free hotel stays. Ultimately it's up to you to decide what you're looking for in a card. I personally use two, one that offers cash back and one that offers airline miles. Doing this has earned me a fair amount of cash (getting paid to swipe a card, easy money!) and I hope to be able to pay for my next flight using flyer miles.
The most important thing to remember is really just to be sensible and keep a clear idea of your goals. Did my social life suffer from not going to drinking with friends? Did I miss my weekly sushi dinners? Sure, but it was a sacrifice I made in order to travel and it's one I'd make a hundred more times. Travel doesn't require you to be born into wealth, or to work at a Fortune 500 company. It just requires you to prioritize. Many of these tips can probably benefit you even if travel isn't really your goal. Have a little extra pocket money, eating healthier (since you are preparing your own meals), reducing your carbon footprint (biking and public transport) and reducing some clutter around your house surely can't hurt your wallet or your conscience!
Ultimately, it is important to keep in mind how lucky we are to have the ability to choose to travel, as there are people in the world that may never see a town outside of their own. Learning how to appreciate what I do have and the opportunities I've been afforded have been some most life-changing lessons I have learned from traveling.