If you want to travel the world, you need money. That’s a fact. Of course, as I try to point out often on this site, the amount of money you do need isn’t nearly as large as most people imagine (How Much Money Do You Need to Start a Life of Travel), but you still need a little cashola in order to achieve your travel goals.
At the same time, your ability to travel long-term (or short-term) is not fully dependent on how much money you earn. You can always make money all over the world. It’s what you do with that money that really matters.
Even with myself, I know perfectly well that had I not learned a few very valuable lessons early on in my own travels, lessons about how to save and avoid wasting my money, there’s a good chance that I would have been forced to stop traveling a long time ago.
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that can help you make your money last longer while traveling…
Staying With Friends
Every now and then I receive an email or comment telling me that I’m a fraud because I sometimes stay with friends in different countries for a few days or even a couple of weeks, and therefore do not pay for accommodation during those times. I am told that this is ‘cheating’ and that I should admit to my readers that I save a great deal of money by staying with these friends. First, I certainly don’t hide the fact that I stay with friends. And second, I don’t see it as cheating. When I first started traveling, I really didn’t have any international friends and I definitely didn’t know anyone who I could just call up and ask to crash at their place for a while.
It was only natural that the longer I traveled, the more friends I made around the world, friends who would kindly let me sleep on their sofa whenever I was in the area. The good news is that the same would happen to any traveler. The more you travel the world, the more people you will meet and in the end, you’ll have great friends in every corner of the globe too that will offer you a place to stay. And not only do you get to spend time with your friends, you do get a chance to save some money on accommodation, something that can definitely help a person stay on the road much longer.
Flexible Destinations and Dates
The more flexible you are (flexibility with travel planning, not yoga flexible!), the cheaper your travels will be. For example, if I am thinking of flying to Thailand and the airfare is $800, I might start looking at other destinations that I’m interested in visiting. Maybe I’ll find a $400 flight to Cairo and so, I’ll go there instead and save Thailand for another time. If you’re flexible with your dates as well, you can really shop around in order to find the cheapest possible flight to any destination that appeals to you. I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years as a direct result of being flexible with my plans.
Almost Zero Monthly Payments
I don’t own a home, I don’t have a car, I don’t pay for utilities each month and, apart from health insurance (here’s a post I wrote about how I’ve handled health insurance over the years), I don’t have any other major expenses that I must pay on a regular basis. Even my mobile phone is on a plan that allows me to stop paying whenever I’m outside the US. Just think of how many thousands of dollars all of this saves, freeing up the money I do earn to be spent directly on my travels and again, keeping me out there wandering the world for many more years that I once thought possible.
By staying in some locations for long periods of time, such as 3 or 6 months, or even longer, I am able to pay far less money for accommodation by renting a local apartment at local rates. Spending 30 nights in budget hotels while traveling around Mexico could cost $1200 USD but I could stay in my own studio apartment near the beach in Playa del Carmen for one-third that amount if I stay in that same town for a month or more. I also save on transportation by not having to travel long distances during these periods and I can save even further by using the kitchen in my apartment to cook my own meals. Staying put in Mexico, Romania, Thailand and other locations over the years has played a major role in helping me keep my dream of indefinite travel alive.
Some people love technology, some hate it, and I find myself right in the middle. If used wisely of course, technology can reduce your travel costs drastically, simply because you can usually find the cheapest airfares, cheapest accommodation rates, cheapest everything, online. (This isn’t always true and it does depend on your style of travel, but for the most part, the internet does allow you to search around and make more educated decisions that will save you money. It also allows you to get real time information about travel costs from bloggers or other travelers who are currently in the destinations you are about to visit.)
Always Saving Money
After deciding that I wanted to try and travel indefinitely, I remember sitting down one day and making a list of all the things I needed get in order. On that list I wrote something like “Always save money” and I have stuck to that rule ever since. No matter how much money I’ve earned over the years, I’ve always saved a portion of it each month and I’ve always made sure my bank account never went below a certain level. If it started to approach that threshold, I knew that it was time for another cruise ship contract or time to find some way to fill my account back up again. And as the years passed, I began increasing that limit in order to make sure that I was saving more and more money. This way, I’ve always had some extra cash in case I hit a rough patch at some point at a time when I am still not interested in giving up my traveling lifestyle. This savings plan has really forced me to be disciplined and the result is that I never found myself completely broke with no money for a place to stay or no money for my next meal. This goes a long way in keeping me motivated to continue my travels as I’m not sure I would have carried on exploring the world if I was barely surviving day to day.
No Set Plans
As I mentioned above, being flexible with dates and destinations is key, but being flexible once you arrive in a particular destination is as equally important. I’ve talked to many travelers who plan out their entire six-month trip beforehand, pre-paying for accommodation, transportation and activities, only to discover that once they arrive, they no longer want to follow their original plan. Sometimes we learn about places we had never heard of before and want to head there instead or sometimes we meet some new friends that we now want to tag along with. And changing our pre-arranged plans at this point can be costly. I learned early on that locking myself into a plan had some serious risks, mainly that I would waste money by paying for things in advance that I would no longer want to do once I arrived in a particular country. Things change and going with the flow allows me to change with them without throwing my hard earned money out the window, money that I would rather use for my new plans.
As you can see, achieving your travel goals is not only about earning money. It’s about making smart travel decisions, some of which are quite simple, that help you spend your money wisely, or in some cases, save your money when it doesn’t have to be spent. As I mentioned above, had I not learned these lessons myself, I would not still be traveling right now. I would have burned through my money at some point and given up, forcing myself to return home and admit defeat. Instead, I managed to make the money I did have, and that I did earn, last much longer, something that naturally lead to more opportunities to not only earn more money, but to continue traveling the world as well.
What did I miss? What other decisions have you made that have helped you spend wisely or save money while traveling? If you haven’t traveled yet, what do you think of the above, does it make sense?