Let's talk about money. Finances can be hugely discouraging for people who dream about travelling the world, but feel like they'll never have the cash to do so. I'm here to tell you that you don't need rich parents, a sugar daddy/momma, or a massive Instagram following that will reward you with comped trips to lush destinations, in order to travel the world. Yes, saving up enough money to travel can be challenging, but it's totally possible. My trips are fully self-funded, and have been since I left Canada over 10 years ago. Now, I'd like to share some creative tips that have helped me, and can help you, afford to travel.
1. Keep your travel fund separate
Stash your travel cash someplace you won't touch it, and keep the fund separate from the rest of your money. Back in the day I was working a couple of waitressing jobs to save up to leave Canada- most of my earnings were cash tips, so I took out only what I needed to cover my living expenses then tucked the rest away in a shoebox (literally). After brutal double shifts serving messy families during the day, followed by drunk hockey teams all night, I'd pull out that shoebox and count my cash and know the hustle was worthwhile. These days, I have a separate travel bank account, and keep a portion of my salary in there for my adventures. Even something simple like dumping your change into a jar at the end of every day can help you squirrel away a bit more cash for your trip.
2. Drink a lot of water
Why? Because water is free! Sodas, juices, and other non-essential beverages can add a surprising amount to your grocery and restaurant bills. Aside from the very occasional glass of wine (or shot of tequila on the rocks), I don’t drink alcohol, and it saves me a ton of cash. I meet so many travellers who blow their budgets going out drinking every night, and therefore cannot afford awesome adventures like learning to scuba dive. Everyone has their own priorities… but if going on an epic adventure is one of yours, it will help to at least cut down on drinking anything but water (and coffee, because coffee is life… but make it at home instead of buying it out).
3. embrace minimalism
Before you make a purchase, no matter how big or small, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Chances are, you’ll realize you don’t need that tenth pair of shoes or eighth pair of jeans. Every time you decide against buying something you’ve been eying, pop the money in your travel savings account/ piggybank and watch your travel dreams get that much closer to becoming your reality.
4. shop secondhand
When you do really need to buy something, opt for getting it secondhand. I buy almost everything secondhand, and it’s amazing the deals I can get. Since I live in Thailand, I do most of my shopping on eBay, and score crazy deals on all kinds of new and secondhand stuff, ranging from technical gear for my adventures, camera & electronic accessories, and even high end makeup and skincare (I buy these new, as factory seconds or unwanted gift sets).
When I’m traveling in the western world I love to browse thrift stores, charity shops, and sidewalk sales. In addition to scoring killer deals, I also always end up with great memories, like when I practiced my Spanish bargaining with locals at a beachside sale in Barcelona, or when I missed my train in Geneva because I was buying the perfect leather bag from a sidewalk sale in the Red Light District (it was worth it, I love that bag and it was only 10 Swiss Francs).
By shopping secondhand you can spend a literal fraction of what you would if you bought everything new from retail stores, and bank the savings to spend on your adventures instead.
Have a quick look around your place. Do you see anything that you don’t use and/or don’t love? Sell it! I’m absolutely ruthless when it comes to decluttering. I frequently go through my belongings and pick out anything that I don’t need anymore: books I haven’t been reading, uncomfortable shoes, my least favourite yoga leggings, and kitchen gadgets I don't use. Then, I sell them. As an added bonus, since I buy almost everything secondhand to begin with, when I sell things I can usually get back the original amount I spent (or even turn a profit, cause I’m a bit of a hustler)! When I prepared to leave Canada, instead of paying to keep my belongings in storage, I just sold it all on Craigslist, and the cash made a huge addition to my travel fund.
At this point I have a pretty well decluttered house, but I do make a point to go through it after I return from every trip, and somehow still end up selling enough stuff to pay for a flight, a hotel room, or at the very least a good meal in my next destination.
6. become more self-sustainable
Learn to do more for yourself, outsource less, and you’ll soon start to bank some savings. A simple place to start is to buy food in bulk and meal prep food for the week, so you're not stuck spending extra cash getting takeaway every night. After 8+ years of getting my laundry done for me (it's the norm in Thailand), I've finally spent $50 on a mini washing machine so I can wash my own clothes, and I'm already starting to save money (and kicking myself for not doing this sooner!)
When I've needed to cut expenses as much as possible I've gone so far as to learn how to bake my own bread for pennies a loaf, and even made my own organic deodorant (which I ended up selling to my hippie yogi friends and even in natural grocery stores in Vancouver). Fun fact: my first blog was dedicated to self-sustainability; I posted all my handmade clothes, recycled craft projects, secondhand furniture makeovers, knitting projects, and food recipes. It's still alive on the internet so bonus points to anyone who finds it.
7. Find alternative ways to socialize
So many social events revolve around going out for food, drinks, etc.. Of course you don’t want to give up on your social life to save up for your trip, but these gatherings can eat up a significant chunk of your travel savings. So, find alternative ways to spend time with your friends/ partner. Go for a hike instead of to the movies, or organize a potluck dinner instead of going to a restaurant. Invite your friends over for a girl’s night… have fun with DIY beauty treatments, and have everyone bring their unwanted clothes so you can trade with each other. You'll and get new threads, declutter, and spend time with your friends all at once. You don’t need to sacrifice your social life to save up for your trip, you just need to get a little creative.
8. move abroad
Wait, what? You want to travel, and I'm telling you to move abroad? I get that it seems a bit extreme, but hear me out. There’s a reason why so many digital nomads and location-independent professionals are based in places like Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America. My living expenses in Thailand are really cheap, which is very helpful when it comes to saving cash to travel. My rent is the equivalent of $300USD per month (including utilities) which I split with my girlfriend. Our internet bill is $15 per month, and my cell phone, including data, costs me under $15 per month. Instead of paying lots of money for car payments, insurance, repairs, and gas, I drive a $150 motorbike that costs about $3 to fuel up every couple of months, and a few extra dollars to tune up or fix once in a while. My low living expenses also mean that when I’m away, I’m not spending a fortune on an apartment I’m not living in, nor a car I’m not driving. It’s also pretty easy to travel from Thailand to many different parts of the world, and flights can be ultra-affordable if I plan well (I just bought 4 flights for about $100 total), so living here facilitates my wanderlust in lots of ways.
I know this tip isn’t logical or desirable for everyone, but it is an option! If it's not the right suggestion for you, you can still decrease your living expenses by downsizing your home, getting a roommate or renting your place on AirBnB when you're away, selling your car and using a ride share, public transport, or bicycle instead, giving up your landline, limiting your phone plan, turning down your heat/giving up aircon, cancel cable TV, etc.; with a bit of brainstorming I bet you can find a bunch of corners to cut!
When it comes down to it, the difference between a dream and reality is often just the energy you put into getting shit done. It's not enough to just want to travel... you need to be willing to work for it as well, and to sacrifice if it means getting where you want to be (literally and metaphorically). Travel is not only for lucky, rich people. It's for people who make it a priority, who commit to living life on their own terms, and who will do what it takes to make it happen. So, make it happen.
What's your favourite way to save money to travel? Let me know in the comments below!
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