So you want to travel, but don’t feel that financially it’s a possibility? Well guess what!? It is! I have been traveling and living abroad for the majority of the past two decades, and I have always found a way to make it work for me.
I also constantly get asked how I can afford to travel so much, so I’m here to spread some long term travel knowledge all over you! Money fluctuates and sometimes I have more, sometimes I have less, but I still kept traveling. If I can do it, so can you!
Like everything in life, travel is a priority. If you really want to travel, it needs to be a priority in your life, and not just in your dreams. When I was 23, I went to speak to a cafe owner in Denver, CO about displaying some of my travel photography on the walls. After he looked through my portfolio, the first thing he said to me was, “You must be a person of means.” He is not the only person to something similar to me in my life. Travel feels like some distant dream that costs millions of dollars and is reserved for only a few select people. That’s just false.
Do I have privileges? Certainly. I am a thin, white, educated, English speaking woman in a world that places a lot of value on those things. But I knew that he was referring to financial privilege in that moment. Financial privilege is not something I ever connected to. I did not grow up in a family with a lot of money. I always knew where my next meal was coming from, but I was also aware that we could not afford a lot of things other families could. At school my friends would talk about the multiple items they received at Christmas, and I could never relate. I started working at 15 years old so that I could buy a car, and for that car I also paid the gas and insurance myself. I paid for university on my own with the help of scholarships and financial aid.
All this is to say, I was not a person of financial means, but I was a person with a priority, and that priority was drastically different from the cafe owner’s priority, which was to invest in a building, and a business. We both put our money into our priority, and I can guarantee you that owning a cafe costs more than travel.
So if you want to travel, make it a priority. Focus on what will bring you closer to that goal. Take the small steps every day that will lead you there. Research a country. Watch YouTube videos. Look at flights. Follow people on Instagram who are doing what you want to be doing. When you make it your priority, it will happen for you.
So travel is your priority and your dream and you want to do it, but still feel financially strapped? A lot of people say that they will travel “when I have enough money.” But I’ll tell you now that you will never feel that you have enough money. So don’t make your goal be, “when I have enough.” Set a real goal. An achievable one. When you have $1000. $2000. Choose an amount, and when you get there, it’s time! My best friend Art, from Gringo Nation, is practically broke but still manages to travel full time (check out his channel where he talks a lot about budget travel).
There are plenty of other ways to save while traveling as well. Get a credit card that gives you travel points, or free flights. Most American credit cards have $0 fees for international transactions, and you’re gaining points every time you spend. If you’re going to spend money anyways, why not get something back!? Not to mention, the majority of credit card companies offer a big bundle of points when you first sign up. Before moving to Florence several years ago, I opened an account with Capital One/American Airlines, and got a free flight to Italy out of it. I currently have the Southwest/Chase credit card for flying domestically, and the Chase Sapphire card for everything else (which I LOVE). I choose to use one card over the other depending on what’s coming up. If I know I’ll be headed back to the States in a few months, I’ll favor the Southwest card to start building up my points.
Yes, it’s true that credit card companies also charge a yearly fee, but that usually comes with points as well. I look at it like this. I’m paying $100/year for my Southwest card, but at the same time I am rewarded 6000 points at the time of renewal. 6000 points is a whole flight, and generally a flight that is worth more than $100. I’m really just breaking even, if not saving a little bit.
Speaking of affordable flights, here are a few other tips: Skyscanner, Hopper, and WayAway. Hopper is an app you can download. You put in your location and your destination, and the ideal dates you want to travel. Then you can “watch” that flight, and Hopper will give you tips and notifications about when prices are going up, going down, and when is the idea time to buy. Skyscanner is a website that allows you to compare the most affordable flight prices by selecting “whole month” rather than specific dates. It will lay out visually when is the best time to fly. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, you can also select “anywhere” and let Skyscanner show you where the cheapest flights are from your home location. WayAway is a fantastic website that does both flight searches and offers money back on your travel purchases if you are a WayAway Plus member (only $100/year). Click here to get 10% off your yearly membership at WayAway (or use code TP-374798).
$1000 is not going to last you very long in London. But it is going to last you a long time in Western China. In India. In Argentina. In Georgia. In Turkey. Go to where your money is going to work for you. Where it’s going to last longer and allow you to do more things. This is Geographic Arbitrage.
I got laser hair removal in Argentina for $13. The same treatment in Georgia for $40, and in South Korea for $50. In the United States it would be in the hundreds. I got 4 veneers (after breaking my tooth) in the country of Georgia for $460. In the United States it would be in the thousands. My rent in Argentina per month costs $250. In Georgia it was $300, and in Florence it was $600. People in the United States are paying thousands of dollars per month JUST on rent. Traveling abroad is often much more affordable than just living your life in the United States. Make your money work for you and go where it can last you longer!
When I first started traveling, I carried a backpack and went from one town to the next, or even one country to the next, every couple days. This is fine if you are short on time, and/or don’t have much interest in getting to know the culture or the place very well.
But there are thousands of ways to travel, and the longer you stay, the more affordable it is. Airbnb gives monthly discounts; you can save hundreds per month by staying longer. There are also exchanges such as helpx or WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) where you can work a few hours per day in exchange for room and board. This not only helps you to save money, but it also helps you get to know the local community, people, and culture better. I worked on several farms throughout New Zealand, and barely spent any money at all. But I did make a ton of friends and got to know the locals.
You can also consider Couchsurfing. This website was free once upon a time, yet alas it no longer is. It is now $14.29/year. While it’s annoying to pay for something that was once free, it’s actually a great investment if you plan to truly use it. It’s like a social media for travel, where you create a profile, and can then communicate with other travelers. You can be a host or a guest. Hosts open their home to guests who can stay for free. There are also several Couchsurfing meet-up groups around the world so it can also be used to make friends while traveling. Staying one night at a host’s house essentially pays for the membership fee. I Couchsurfed across Russia, throughout New Zealand, Poland, and several other countries.
One of the best ways to get to know a place, or live abroad, is to study. Generally, studying is much more affordable outside of the US anyways. When I was 20, I did study abroad in Seville, Spain, though universities often have exchange programs in addition to Study Abroad Programs, which are much more affordable. I studied film in the Philippines, and graphic design in Italy. Both of these programs were thousands of dollars cheaper than programs in the US. The living expenses in those countries were also a lot more affordable as well. Getting a study visa is also a lot simpler than most other visas in many cases. When you study, you have a built in social network and make friends quickly and easily. There are programs in the local language, but there are also TONS of international programs that are in English. Both programs in the Philippines and Italy were taught exclusively in English. Some universities in Europe even offer free, or extremely affordable courses, even if you’re an international student.
Stay longer somewhere AND make money while you do it! For those who are 30 years old or younger, you have the option to get a working holiday visa in Australia, New Zealand, or Ireland. This means you can enter the country for at least one year, and have the legal right to work. In some cases, you might even have the option to extend for another year. Australia will extend visas if you spend at least a few months picking fruit, for example. I worked at pubs, and an art store in Melbourne. A Russian cafe in Auckland. There are several possibilities!
If English is your first language (or if it’s not but you have a really good handle on it), becoming a teacher is a great option as well. I taught English in Brazil, Argentina, and South Korea. This is a great opportunity because you get the opportunity to make friends with your students (if they’re adults), and get to know the country and culture you’re living in much more. A good place to start is with Daves ESL Cafe. Take a look at the job boards or even submit your resume, but expect a ton of recruiters to contact you. Lots of English teaching jobs, mostly in East Asia, will also provide housing, so you’re living rent free plus receiving a salary. You’re not only living abroad, but you’re also SAVING money!
I never did this, but thousands of people do it every year- au pair! This is essentially a live-in nanny situation. You get room and board covered, plus an additional salary. There are several companies around the world who can assist you here. I suggest doing a Google search of “au pair + country you want to live in,” or take a stroll through the several websites out there and see what they offer.
Also, people! It’s 2022! There are SO MANY online jobs. Get yourself one of those, and then you can live wherever, assuming they allow you to work outside of the US. I had a great online job until they stopped allowing me to work from abroad. But that’s not the only job available. Take a look at flexjobs and see what kind of opportunities that are available to you.
JUST GO! WHY NOT?!
So now you know several of my tips, my secrets, and my experiences. Start planning your travels. Research an affordable place where your money will last you. Get a new credit card, buy that ticket, and start making plans. Stay longer, enjoy the culture, make friends. Live the life you’ve been dreaming of. Just go, why not!?