Budget is often the number one concern for anyone hoping to travel long term. How do you save for it? And what are the best ways to stretch your money while you are on the road? Here are eight ideas to help you get on the road and keep you there longer:
- Before you go, set up an account that you use only for your travel savings. I saved for five years for my travels and set up the account somewhere in the first year of the five years of saving. I had the bank take $500 from my checking account and deposit it into my savings account on the first of each month. As I could, I increased the amount of the monthly transfer. I also added things like my tax refunds into the savings account. When I first set up the account, I did not know if I would ever go on this trip or not, but I figured savings are always good. Start with whatever amount you feel like you can do and keep increasing it as you can. I could have easily spent $500 on clothes, eating out or a television to replace the large box with rabbit ears that I used for so long. The separate account helped me put it aside and use only my primary account as my “current” money. I did dip into the savings at times when big expenses came up, but it still worked. And, overall, I did not miss the money I set aside. When I have more, I tend to spend it, and when I have less, I figure out ways to make it work. (For more on how I saved before I left, see this post about year one.)
- Play the miles/points game. I had roughly 150,000 miles with one airline alliance in the year before I left. By applying for various credit cards with miles bonuses after reaching certain spending requirements, I accrued roughly another 120,000 miles in that final year without flying anywhere. There are others who will earn even 1,000,000 points each year. Sites like Flyer Talk, Travel is Free, The Art of Non-Conformity (Chris Guillebeau) or Nomadic Matt may be helpful if you want to learn more about so-called “travel hacking.” I am not interested in spending oodles of time and effort on it, but it is definitely worth putting at least some effort into it. In the past year, I have used miles to fly long haul flights to Namibia, France, Iran, Jordan, the U.S. and Myanmar. I will soon fly to the Philippines using miles and have already booked an award flight from Bali, Indonesia, to Tbilisi, Georgia, for later this year. My favorite card for accruing points is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which gave me 40,000 miles as a bonus after the initial spending requirement. I accrue points on every dollar I spend–money that I would be spending anyway. I can use those points for multiple travel purposes, and there are no foreign transaction fees.
- Travel slowly. Slow travel is good for many reasons–you get to know a place much better; you do not get as worn out; and you discover the better deals. When I arrived in Myanmar, the cost of the accommodation was surprising to me. $30 for a single room? I thought this was Southeast Asia, where everything is cheap? I thought I would have to leave earlier than I had planned and switched my flight. As I spent more time in Myanmar, though, I began to find cheaper places. Yes, single rooms in some places were still $25, bit I found them for $20 or $15 in others and $10 in one place. If I had only been there briefly, I would not have discovered the cheaper places. And while this sadly is not the practice in Myanmar, in many other countries I have visited, you can often bargain for cheaper rates when you are staying longer. In Jordan, some places I stayed even offered me free nights after I became a regular.
- Enjoy the simple pleasures. While I packed year one with lots of adventures, in general I do not need to spend every day “doing” some activity–nor do I want to. In France, I spent many days simply walking through neighborhoods or exploring markets. In Egypt and Jordan, I passed afternoons sitting in restaurants drinking cup after cup of mint tea and talking with restaurant owners or their friends who stopped by. The point is, there are many simple ways to explore a culture that are either free or very low cost and give you great opportunities to absorb what regular life is like in a place–walking, looking at the foods sold in grocery stores, sitting in parks, sitting in a cafe having tea, watching kids play football, or taking a bus to nowhere in particular just to be with people who live there.
- Research work exchange opportunities or even ways to earn money while you travel. Web sites like Workaway, HelpX and WWOOF all list opportunities for working in exchange for free room and board. I have done two workaway projects so far, one in Jordan and one in Myanmar. Both had their challenges but were rewarding ways to connect with a culture. Be sure you read the information and reviews about each project carefully and try to be as honest with yourself as you can about whether it is right for you. Some people also try to make some money while they travel through teaching English, yoga, diving or other classes or working freelance jobs from sites like upwork. To help myself through my year two, I am looking forward to a work exchange later this year and have set up a profile on two housesitting sites: Trusted Housesitters and Nomador. You can read more about housesitting on Hecktic Travels.
- Leave yourself a cushion. After many long days of bus travels in Africa, I was exhausted and could not shake a stomach problem. Though I had planned to take a bus from Kigali, Rwanda, to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, I decided to take a break and fly instead. I also spent more on hotels in Rwanda, not only because it was more expensive than I had thought it would be, but because I needed more comfort and rest when I was not feeling well. You will likely have these types of moments. And you will also want a cushion for the fun times. I did not plan to do gorilla trekking in Rwanda, but when I was offered a chance to do the trek for less than the usual cost, I decided to go for it. If at all possible, make room in your budget for these types of spontaneous adventures. For me, it may mean having to make it up by spending less elsewhere–or even that I cannot travel as long as I would like–but I prefer not to be so wed to numbers that I cannot take advantage of a great opportunity.
- Remember that you can travel for significantly less than what it costs to live in the U.S. or many other western countries. While, yes, most of my year one travels disprove that statement, I have spent no more than $1,200/month in the last four months of my travels. And I could have spent even less had I been willing to sleep in dorm rooms or stay in the cheapest of the cheap accommodations. Sleep is uber-important to me. I like to have a decent mattress in a clean, private room. I often do not get all three, but I do most often have a private room, which adds a bit to my budget and leads me to my last point…
- Know thyself. When saving for travels, it is important to take into account what kind of traveler you are. Can you really stand sleeping in a room with four or eight strangers who might snore or go to bed or get up at different hours? Or would that be part of the adventure for you? Can you handle long, hot, dirty bus or train rides, or do you need to take the shortest route possible to preserve your sanity? Do you like eating street food or dining in the local cafes? Or do you enjoy something fancier either most of the time or from time to time? The answers may change over time or in different situations, so I am always adjusting how I do things to suit what I need for the moment. Recently, I am having to consider that, while I will do my best, I have to put my own ease over accomplishing my budget challenge. This could mean that I will not be able to travel for another full year. If sticking to a certain budget means I have to live in a way where I am not enjoying my experiences, the point of this time is lost.
There are endless resources to help you save money online. These are just a handful that I have found helpful.
In addition to researching the costs of my specific travel plans, I used many travel blogs to help me consider generally how to budget. These were some of the blogs I referred to the most:
Legal Nomads (for top-to-bottom budget suggestions and links to fellow bloggers who had written about their spending)
Wandering Earl (for suggestions on how to make money as you go, as well as places to live inexpensively)
Booking Hotels/Hostels/Guest Houses
Sometimes the best way to get a good deal is to go to the hotel/hostel/guest house in person. They may be willing to give you a better rate than you would find online. That said, when I arrive to a new place, I prefer to have a place reserved for at least my initial stay. Guide books and word-of-mouth from fellow travelers can be helpful for that, but the online sites I use most for booking are Agoda and Booking.
How have you stretched your money during your travels? Share your tips below!