Myself at Versailles, France
Disclaimer: I find that photo (above) a fitting “money shot”. 😉
The time has come for me to address the elephant in the closet: how I was able to afford long term travel.
If I was being more technical, I was just traveling on and off for the past two years: long trips that went on for months, breaks at home, and holiday within breaks.
However, doing that for 2 years is quite a long time as compared to what most people do. Thus, raising questions and interests on how I was able to afford it.
For starters, let me point out:
- I am not rich.
- I saved some money that could support my travels for 2 years (more or less) plus an emergency fund.
- and I did not work in the duration of my travels.
How I earned and saved money to travel long term:
(Clue: It’s pretty straightforward)
1. I kept my eye on the price: long-term travel.
- I wanted to go backpacking without time restrictions, having the flexibility to move around whenever I wanted to.
2. I got lucky: I had a well-paid job as an Engineer in Dubai.
- In 2009, I took the risk of leaving my job in the Philippines for just a 3-month contract. My utmost objective was to save for my scoliosis surgery. Somehow, another opportunity came and I worked and lived there for more than 3 years.
3. I did not acquire any property or long-term loans.
- While most people have acquired land, real estate, or a new car, my priority was to just be debt free. Of course, I dream of having a place of my own and perhaps, the convenience of riding my own car. But that would have to wait until I am ready to settle.
4. I lived a low-key lifestyle.
Except for the occasional dining out and necessary travels/holidays, I’d like to believe that I am pretty much low-key.
- As an expat in Dubai, I shared a flat with a friend.
- In the Philippines, I stayed at our family’s house, saving myself some rent money and instead, sharing with the house bills.
- And although I could’ve learned and drove a car, I am proud to say that I took public transportation (unless I hitch a ride with a friend) and endured Metro Manila traffic on a daily basis. (Note: On a rush hour, a one-way trip meant 3 modes of transport and at least a 3-hour total transfer). A car would’ve been more convenient. But as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to be debt-free. I could swallow the inconvenience.
5. I saved consciously and did not spend unnecessarily.
- I allocated my salary accordingly (personal allowance, bills, family, savings, travel fund, emergency fund, investment, and extra money) and I tried my best to not buy things that I didn’t need.
I can’t really comment on volunteering to get free food or accommodation, having a travel-related job, working remotely while traveling, or getting sponsored trips.
However, there are some ways to stretch your budget as you travel.
Here are some tips (that I did) to save money while traveling:
1. Join FREE walking tours.
For starters, it’s FREE (although, it’s customary to give a tip based on how you feel).
Next, you get a glimpse of the history and what the city has to offer. Most of the time, some good tips on what to do and where to go around.
And lastly, you saved yourself from paying a more expensive amount for a day tour.
2. Don’t spend on unnecessary souvenirs or presents from every city for every person you know.
It’s not practical to buy every single thing you fancy especially if you’re traveling long-term. You would have to carry it around otherwise you’d have to mail it home which of course, can be pretty expensive.
Although, if you really want to do it, go for it. But I suggest do it on the last leg of your trip.
3. Stay away from vices, alcohol, junk food, and soda.
Other than keeping yourself healthy, you are saving a huge amount of your budget without even realizing it.
In London, 1 soda = 1 GBP ⇒ 1 soda/day x 30 days = 30 GBP in 1 month
In Mexico, a 200g potato chips = 35 MXN ⇒ 2 bags/week x 4 weeks = 280 MXN in 1 month
In Indonesia, 1 pack of cigarette is roughly 1.5 USD ⇒ 1 pack/2days x 30 days = 22.5 USD in 1 month
In Prague, 1 pint of beer = 1 Euro ⇒ 1 pint/day x 30 days = 30 Euros in 1 month
Can you imagine not spending that amount of money when you travel for a year?
4. Opt for an accommodation based on your financial and personal comfort.
- Stay in hostels – it’s cheap and you have the option to stay in a dorm or get your own room. You have the opportunity to meet fellow travelers and join each other’s agenda if you want to. You can also look for a comfortable spot if you’d rather be alone.
Just remember, you get what you pay for so inform yourself well with their reviews and description.
- Couchsurfing – as a guest, you will be hosted by a local in his/her home for free while at the same time, you could get an authentic cultural exchange by hanging out with them, exchanging stories, point of views, recommendations, or even by sightseeing together.
Note though that the worst thing you can do is to take advantage of their hospitality. So, treat your hosts and their rules with utmost respect like the way you do with your family and friends.
- AirBnB – if you will be staying for a few days, it might be more practical to use AirBnB because the longer you stay, the cheaper the price gets.
Even if you paid for your accommodation, please be mindful because you’re still staying in someone else’s house.
5. Use the most practical mode of transportation.
Book you train/bus/flight in advance as they tend to be cheaper. Otherwise, be flexible in terms of the travel time or money. If you have flexible time, leave when your preferred price is available.
- Take the bus – the prices don’t change that much even when you book last minute. In other countries, they even tend to be cheaper as they want to fill the bus before it leaves.
- Hitchhike – I’ve only done this a few times because I couldn’t wait 3-4 hours for the next bus. That being said, this is a money-saver if you have flexible time as well.
- Take local public transport – it’s so much cheaper especially if you’re traveling by yourself. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t speak the language. Locals are generally friendly everywhere in the world and would help you out if in need.
- Find people to share a ride with – you meet travelers every where and on most occasions, you’re headed on the same direction. Whether it be a car, a cab, a tuk-tuk or a scooter, you can split the cost. Just ask, there’s no harm in that.
- Walk – a lot of must-see tourist spots in a city are walking distance. Save your money, invest on your daily steps and manage your carbon footprint.
In Europe, there’s a paid carpooling service called blablacar where car owners get to share their ride with travelers on the same direction.
6. Bring reusable water bottle and small bottle containers.
- In the US and Europe, you can drink tap water. Save yourself a dollar or a euro and refill your water bottle. Unless you have no choice, buy water from a refilling station or a gallon from a grocery. Then refill your bottle.
- When flying with carry on items, they limit liquids to 100ml only. Save your money from either throwing the whole big bottle of sunblock or shampoo OR from paying for check-in luggage.
7. Pack light and small
A smaller bag means better mobility. It also saves you from paying luggage fees in every flight. And most of all, prevents you from buying unnecessary stuff.
So, there you have it. Mystery solved on how someone (like myself) was able to afford to travel and stretch my budget a bit.
To summarize, 3 things:
- Know your priorities and focus.
- Be smart about your money and your spending.
Happy travels! 🙂