“I don’t want to earn my living, I want to live.” – Oscar Wilde
It’s no surprise that a majority of people associate travel with financial fortune. I, too, am guilty of brushing off opportunities of globetrotting due to lack of funds. Traveling can rack up expenses quickly and easily, and often that scares people off taking the leap into their dream trip. You ask yourself, is it worth using my entire savings for this excursion? Will it affect my day to day life in the interim? The answer to both these questions is yes. Yes it will be worth it, and yes it will affect your day to day life as you are saving towards your desired goal. If you are prepared knowing both of these things, budgeting your life in pursuit of your trip will be much more pleasant.
At first I wondered if my dream of traveling for an extended period of time would ever be possible with my current financial situation. I don’t live outside my means, I rarely shop for material goods, and I have roommates to lower rent; and yet I still didn’t see much extra spilling over into my savings. In my frustration, I scoured blogs from those who achieved the seemingly impossible lifestyle of a travel nomad. I found some truly inspiring pieces disputing the notion that I needed a massive savings to embark on my journey. Instead, these posts said the opposite, they reiterated how many opportunities are missed due to this misconception that you have to be rich to travel extensively.
What I like most about these blogs is the mindset these travelers have, one that I share. They discovered the beautiful truth, that if you are open minded, creative, and passionate, you can make a life of extended travel possible with only modest savings to start. I found lists of ideas to make money while traveling, about how to find the cheapest flights, and ways to find free accommodation – the tips are endless. One blog I stumbled upon called Wandering Earl, argued that it was even more beneficial to not have a heap of money to fall back on. He said he would have missed many off-the-beaten-path experiences had he not needed to creatively find ways to support his voyage. I find a certain romance in this mindset, to allow yourself to be open to situations you wouldn’t normally opt for, to seek out relationships with wonderful people you may not have met otherwise, and submerge yourself in foreign cultures in an entirely different way.
With that being said, dedicating a solid savings towards your trip is beneficial, even if it’s not entirely necessary. While I will absolutely find odd jobs and utilize volunteering opportunities to extend my adventures, I also want to have a balance. I don’t want to spend all my time abroad worrying about how I will get through the next day. So now I am analyzing my spending habits and finding ways to cut wherever possible. Since I am a creature of balance, I do not want to cut back so much to the point where I can’t partake in anything social. I believe maintaining your relationships and active lifestyle is important, but now I must simply do it in a smarter way.
First, I listed all the monthly expenses I incur.
Bills: $20-$60 depending on the season
Scooter Payment: $62
Social Activities: $300
In total, my approximate monthly spending is between $1,544 to $1,600. My total revenue currently per month is $2,540.
This, in theory should be the maximum I spend throughout the month, covering all my expenses, and leaving room for fun and savings. However, as I mentioned, I wasn’t putting away much in savings, so where was all this money going?
It’s no secret that if money is available our lifestyles will increase to match. The challenge is not to constantly acquire more, but learn to enjoy less.
We all know how easy it is to excuse our unnecessary spending when we don’t have something to save for. “One lunch out won’t hurt,” “I need this drink after a long day,” “Oh this concert isn’t too expensive,” the rationalizations are endless. I knew this would be my issue; because I love the day to day adventures of life, I love being around friends, and I love live music. I don’t expect to cut these things out entirely. I am simply going to be cognizant of how quickly they add up and remind myself that $20 could sustain me in Southeast Asia for one more day. It truly is a changing of mindset and lifestyle, but does not have to mean you will sacrifice happiness.
Here are some of my ideas for cutting back on my monthly expenses, and ways to get creative with activities.
- I got a second part time job. I only get paid $15 an hour and work 10 or less hours a week, but that little bit extra will go straight into my savings. Working will also occupy my free time without needing to spend money, so this is a perk too.
- Consider using Craiglist and NextDoor for part time or one time job opportunities, lots of people in your neighborhood are looking for help, whether its pet sitting, house sitting, landscaping or yard work – you name it. I posted on NextDoor and found a woman who needed help with her business, so I am working as her personal assistant.
- My roommates and I decided to add two roommates to our house. We have plenty of room and while $600 a month is not expensive considering the location, it is more than we want to be spending. With five people total, we will cut rent to $360. I will happily give up some space and a bit of comfort for the savings on rent.
- Consider asking friends on social media or posting on Craigslist for renting a room or adding a roommate to your living situation. If you live alone, consider moving into a roommate situation. I’ve had very positive experiences with random roommates using these methods, and you foster unexpected friendships. It also gives you experience on how to go with the flow, an ability that is critical when travelling.
- I don’t drive my car much unless I am inhibited by the weather. My primary mode of transportation is my scooter. The gas is nearly nonexistent as I fill it up about once every two weeks for no more than $4. Another huge perk is that I don’t have to pay for parking. Luckily Denver is a very sunny city, even in the winter, so it makes it possible for me to utilize the scooter often. I now plan to only take my scooter, my bike, or the bus to work if the weather is not allowing. Paying $10 a day for parking, on top of gas, adds up very quickly and seems like an unnecessary expense.
- Consider biking to work, and being ruthless about it. Remind yourself on those chilly days that you are gaining physical strength and mental character that will benefit you in your travels. If you are unable to bike to work, look into bus or public transportation passes. They are often very convenient and cut down on the traffic congestion. You can also post on Craigslist for a ride share, sometimes people will be looking to carpool which would allow you to split the costs. Talk to people at your work to see if they live nearby and would be willing to ride together.
- Gym memberships can be very expensive and often times can be replaced by free workouts at home. I plan to start biking to work again, developing a running program, doing nightly yoga, and utilizing the gym in my office. Unfortunately my gym contract does not end until the summer, but once it does, I will create my own gym.
- Activities like running and yoga don’t need a specified area to perform, so they are great for forming a habit of. You can create a travel routine with these to stay healthy even when your days are far from routine. Running is a great way to explore new places as well. Utilize the great outdoors as much as possible and workout your mind, body, soul this way.
- Food is a difficult one for me, I love good food (who doesn’t) and often find myself yearning to go out and try a new restaurant or satisfy my ramen craving. However, the reality is you can save loads of money by buying your food and cooking at home. I love to cook, so this won’t be an issue, but remembering that those meals out add up very quickly will be trickier. I will cut down to eating out once or twice a month. I intend to cut my food expenses to $175-200 per month (groceries and meals out).
- Consider splitting groceries if possible. I split mine with my partner, who I also live with, and this cuts down on food waste. Making meals for multiple people is often easier then cooking for one. Remember you can cut down on food costs without sacrificing your health. Research a few delicious, cheap, and reliable meals to keep in your repertoire. Also remember to write a list before you go. Often time if you are shopping without a plan, you end up with a lot of food that doesn’t always make a lot of meals. With a list, you’ll be less tempted to start throwing extra stuff in your cart.
- Social activities are another vice for me. I love my friends in Denver, and the city has so much to offer – there is never a dull moment. We all experience the fear of missing out from time to time. I’m now challenging myself to get comfortable with these feelings, and in those moments of sadness to remind myself where the money is going. Sometimes I visualize myself on the beaches of Thailand and it quickly erases any thoughts of reluctance. I am going to cut my social activities to $40-50 per week, and anything I don’t spend from this, put directly away into my savings.
- Consider inviting friends for dinner at your house, a hike in the mountains, or camping under the stars. Many of these activities are cheap and wonderful, and will create more magical memories then those out at the bar night after night. Utilize Groupon and other sites for deals on social activities.
- The miscellaneous expenses are difficult because they will sneak up on you. That coffee you love from Starbucks, the expensive salon haircut, that little something off Amazon – they’re easy to ignore since they may not seem like a large expense on their own, but that $5 coffee four times a week begins to add up fast. I hope to cut miscellaneous expenses to $75 or less.
- Consider keeping a log of your expenses and categorizing them accordingly. Cut out anything you can. Make your coffee at home, grow out your natural hair color, and ask yourself if you really need that new nail polish or shirt. Be hard on yourself, it is only difficult at first, but you quickly get used to minimizing.
With all these cuts, I hope to reduce my monthly spending to $900 or less. My part time job will provide an additional $400-600 per month. That should leave me with a possible savings of about $2,100 per month. Upon leaving, I aim to have $20,000-$25,000 saved. There are a few other things I plan to do in the summer to add additional money to my travel fund, and I will share when the time comes. Please remember, you do NOT need this much to take an extensive trip. My goal is to travel for about 2 years. You can travel on much less than this, but since I have the means to save I feel I should do so.
Of course, there are unexpected expenses that come up, and those nights out that you really need for your psyche – and that is okay. The point it to make cuts wherever you can, and get serious about putting that money away for what you really want – a beautiful trip to a place you’ve never been. In the end, it will always be worth it, and those memories you make in your travels will forever trump those months you spent cutting back and saying no.
I will have more tips and tricks as my departure date gets closer. I am really excited about my upcoming journey of minimizing my possessions, I know it will be very freeing.